09 December 2007

Year One and Year Forty-Two

Superhero comic book timing is crazy. Successful characters are supposed to remain recognizable for decades, yet almost always operate in the present. In recent decades they all undergo drawn-out psychological challenges and life passages, yet they never age. Or, at most, they age very slowly.

For teen superheroes, those paradoxes are especially tough because the differences between fourteen and nineteen are much bigger and more visible than the differences between twenty-four and twenty-nine, or thirty-four and thirty-nine. Mostly because writers get tired of portraying the same characters at the very same age and/or because editors want to reach a slightly older audience, teen superheroes usually do age, but very slowly.

Robin burst onto the Gotham scene in 1940. Although his age was never stated, he appeared to be in his early teens. Twenty-five years later, Robin was portrayed in his mid-teens as he formed the "Teen Titans" with other superheroes' young sidekicks.

In 1969, Dick Grayson went off to college, taking his Robin identity along with him. Slightly over a decade after that, he was still said to be about nineteen years old as a new Teen Titans series created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez reinvigorated the whole DC line.

There have been at least two clock-resettings in the DC Universe since (heavily hyped events called Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour), which have wiped some previous adventures "out of continuity." Nevertheless, it's been another quarter-century, and Dick Grayson is still in his twenties, and probably there to stay. So in that regard, comic-book timing is timeless.

On the other hand, Dick Grayson definitely has a past. Fans find that past meaningful. They want most of those past stories still to apply, and to make sense together--at least since the last major clock-resetting.

Furthermore, the Batman franchise is particularly backward-looking. DC has published "Year One" volumes showing the earliest adventures of:

Those books retell the characters' origin stories in times that are clearly not the present, yet closer to the present than when the characters first appeared in print. This year, the company announced Year One treatments for four more heroes, at least three linked to Batman, and one group: the Teen Titans. The first issue of that miniseries, due in January, will show teenage Dick Grayson help form the group. As I wrote before, the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans issues were the last comic books I read regularly, in my late teens. So won't this new series take me back to those youthful years? Let's see. Here's a detail from some preview art for that comic book, script by Amy Wolfram and art by Karl Kerschl. We can assume that Robin's summoning the Titans for one of their first cases. By instant message. On a computer with a flat-panel monitor. Hooked up to an iPod.

In The Brave and the Bold #60, the forty-two-year-old comic book that first showed the Teen Titans summoned as a group, the call came by ham radio. So when does the scene above take place? Wayne Enterprises ensures the Batcave has the latest technology, so Batman could have used a flat-panel monitor in the early 1990s. But instant messages became popular a couple of years later, and iPods appeared in 2001. So let's compromise on the late 1990s.

And that's what I mean by crazy timing. According to Teen Titans: Year One, Dick Grayson first assembled his friends more than a decade after I'd stopped reading about their later adventures. And what hurts most, Robin was supposedly using technology in the 1990s that I still don't have. This doesn't leave me feeling nostalgic. It leaves me feeling confused and rather old.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

But then again, anything involving instant messaging makes me feel confused and rather old.