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Friday, 2 October 2015

Editorial: Five Comics Characters That Have Changed Drastically.

Editorial: Five Comic Book Characters
That Have Changed Drastically Since
Their Introductions.

We've had a lot of comic book editorials lately - looking at the worst characters, the ... other worst characters, and also the worst characters. Today, we're taking a bit more of a history bent, and looking at five comic book characters who have changed drastically since they've been introduced.

1. Catman, DC Comics.

When Catman was introduced, was meant to be a parody of DC's tendency towards ridiculous, ineffectual female counterparts to male characters, because even in the 1960s people could see that that particular trend was ridiculous and more than a little bit sexist. A male counterpart to Catwoman (much to her irritation), he did everything she did but about ninety percent less effectively and while dressed in bright orange and yellow.

(At one point, in a slightly bizarre turn, Batwoman became Cat-Woman, Catman's own ridiculous, ineffectual female counterpart, creating an odd situation in which she was the female counterpart to the male counterpart to a female character.)

Later comics would play up how ridiculous Catman was, culminating in 2003 where he was eating by a monkey. Cut forward to 2005, where Catman returns as possibly one of the most changed characters in comics, now being an antihero, cunning hand-to-hand fighter, and the leader of the Secret Six, and looking like this:

He's on the right.

This reinvention is almost entirely the work of Gail Simone, and he's functionally an entirely different character now - and, unlike most things in comics, it's actually stuck. The in-universe explanation is that he lived with a pride of lions for a few years, which is a pretty lazy reason, but is more than most of the characters on this list get.

2. Power Boy, DC Comics.

We're talking specifically about the third Power Boy here, and in many ways his development is nigh-on identical to Catman's. Created by Eddie Berganza as a male parody of the cliches associated with female characters (and particularly of Power Girl, she of the inexplicable chest window that writers have bent over backwards trying to explain in a way that doesn't make them sound incredibly creepy), Power Boy would later show up as a totally serious teenage superhero and a member of Teen Titans East.

It didn't last, as Power Boy would die during the Teen Titans East very first training session, along with - more or less every single other member of that team, actually. Very short lived team, that one.

3. Deadpool, Marvel Comics.

Deadpool is best known as Marvel's goofball, fourth wall breaking mercenary who is more or less a gleeful parody of the early nineties' obsession with gritty, ridiculous antiheroes with names like 'Painkiller', 'Deathstroke' and 'Blood Hunter'.

That's not how he began life, though. Created in 1991 by gritty, ridiculous nineties antihero factory Rob Liefeld, Deadpool was initially meant to be written entirely straight-faced, as a genuine attempt at yet another gritty, ridiculous, nineties antihero.

It wasn't until 1997, when Deadpool got his own title with Joe Kelly as the writer, that he became a parody of the very thing he was originally intended to be. Kelly would later note that the only thing that made it possible for him to enact that change is that nobody was really paying attention to the series - everybody at Marvel expected it to be cancelled anyway, so Kelly could do whatever he wanted and nobody cared.

The series actually lasted for sixty-nine issues (albeit with a change in writers - Christopher Priest, the new writer, decided to make Deadpool even sillier), only ending when a company wide revamp of all X-Men related titles forced it to be.

4. Lobo, DC Comics.

Lobo's had an odd history. He was initially introduced as a villain in the 80s, but almost never used, and eventually ended up being totally revamped as a parody of Wolverine in the early 90s. Despite this version of Lobo being utterly over-the-top and ridiculous, with such storylines as 'Lobo has to assassinate Santa because the Easter Bunny told him to', he had the misfortune of showing up during the early nineties when this was basically the norm. 

The result was that Lobo warped, slowly but inexorably, into an entirely serious antihero. Even Keith Giffen, who had created 90s Parody Lobo, was confused by it, noting that the character had become the very thing he had been created as an indictment of.

This was not the biggest change in store for Lobo, though. With the New 52 reboot of the DC Universe, and its various revamped characters, came an entirely retooled Lobo, one that resulted in no end of complaints from long-time fans of the character.

This Lobo - still pretty much an entirely serious antihero - was a quick-witted, cunning, morally ambiguous rival to Supergirl, and in my opinion is actually much improved over the previous version of Lobo. DC did eventually respond to fan complaints, with a short storyline in which the big, burly version of Lobo showed up as an imposter Lobo, and was swiftly and violently murdered to death by new Lobo.

5. Batman, DC Comics.

It's true to say that all of the Big Three have gone through drastic changes over their long publication histories, but none perhaps so much as Batman. Originally introduced as a pulp crime style detective in a mask, Batman was basically Philip Marlowe in tights, and was quite happy to kill and maim villains with careless abandon.

It wasn't until the introduction of Robin, some two years later, and later on the post-WW2 editorial decision to make DC's comics much more light-hearted and colourful, that Batman started to turn into the character we know today, eschewing the use of guns and becoming the clever gadgeteer that Batman is generally known as today (let's face it, even at his most grimdark, Batman's solution is generally 'make a cool toy').

Since then, Batman has almost always changed to fit whatever the current fad in comics was. In the Silver Age, he was a fun, bright, jocular figure who was constantly getting caught up in hijinks; in the Dark Age, he was one of the aforementioned gritty nineties antiheroes; and in the current age, everything is a horrible mess and it's all awful.

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