Sometimes one needs a fresh start.
See also: Batman & Robin, fatally flawed first drafts, Hulk poodles.
A lot of the time, though, a reset button can hurt you and your story. When we read or watch a series, we’re invested in these characters, their growth, and the changing status quo of the world they live in. It’s why we continually pick up the next book or record the next episode. If, at the end, nothing changes–for either better or worse–it can feel hollow, unnecessary, like filler.
We want to see growth.
Which is why it can be so, so vexing when creators seem to want to avoid this at all cost. To name a few recent examples:
[SPOILERS BELOW FOR RECENT WAREHOUSE 13, THE LEGEND OF KORRA, and CATWOMAN.]
Warehouse 13. At the end of last season, the warehouse was destroyed. Blown up. Gone. I watched and went, “Cool. Gutsy move.”
At the start of this season, we picked up right where we left off: the MCs stand in the middle of the destroyed warehouse, numbly taking in the debris surrounding them. Everything they’ve worked for over millennia–gone. Worse, the destruction of certain artifacts has nasty consequences. Things are set free that really shouldn’t be.
I got excited. Here’s what I thought would happen: Now, they have to fight to contain the effects of those destroyed artifacts. They’ll have to find new artifacts without the occasionally deus ex machina-y aid of previously captured artifacts. They have to rebuild the warehouse, one piece at a time.
It would have been awesome.
Here’s what happened: Artie turned back time. The warehouse is perfectly intact. Nothing to see here, move along.
Legend of Korra. At the end of the first season, Korra has her powers taken away by Amon. She’s powerless–until her airbending kicks in (and let’s not go into how that happens) and that ends up being the only skill left to her.
As an Avatar, she is destroyed.
Here’s what I thought would happen: Korra spends the season two perfecting her airbending and finally getting in touch with her spiritual side. This is great! She’ll finally learn to be less dependent on the “hit things with fire/stone/water” approach she’s been using all season! She’ll finally shed some of that Avatar arrogance!
After a frequently disappointing first season, I was all geared up for an amazing season two. The creators were shaking up the status quo, and now they were getting down to business.
Here’s what happened: Spirit!Aang showed up, restored Korra’s bending, and offered the Avatar state as a special treat. She then restored all the bending abilities Amon took away from other benders.
Catwoman: This is a different case from the above two. With comics, you need a reboot on occasion. Decades-long histories get incredibly unwieldy to manage, and they’re very unfriendly for newer readers to boot.
I appreciate that, so after some hesitation, I picked up some of the rebooted Catwoman comics this week. Between seeing The Dark Knight Rises, playing Batman: Arkham City, and reading some Gotham City Sirens trades, I had a craving for some Selina Kyle, and if there’s an active solo going on, welllll…
… I read it with a feeling of dread.
This new iteration of Selina is 23. She’s a thief. She’s self-destructive to the point of being suicidal. She has few true friends.
Here’s a taste of the plotlines: Selina’s apartment gets blown up. Selina gets a friend killed. Selina gets thoroughly beaten up. Selina has an emotional breakdown. Selina almost kills a man in revenge. Selina spars with Batman. Selina steals from the wrong people and gets into trouble. Selina helps out Gotham prostitutes. Selina has trouble opening up to her friends.
We’ve seen all of this before. These areas have been very, very well-covered in Catwoman’s previous solo run–except, wait, that doesn’t exist anymore. All the growth she had as a character is gone, and we’re repeating the same things with a sense of, “Been there, done that.”
We’ve back to square one.
What upsets me just as much as the erasure of her emotional growth is the resetting of the status quo. I loved seeing Selina turn from a thief to a fully-fledged (anti-)hero. She found out Batman’s identity. They talk to each other as equals. They have a mature, established relationship–be it as allies or lovers–and not this self-loathing, self-destructive ripping off of clothes where they can’t even hold a normal conversation.
Ted? Maggie? Holly? Helena? Gone.
Moving in with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, and the three of them grudgingly helping each other stay on the straight and narrow? Gone.
The friendly banter with Dick when he assumed the Batman mantle? Gone.
Playing on the same level as the other Bat allies? You’ve got it. Gone.
It’s hard to stick with a character for so long, root for them, and then be told, “Nope. Sorry. Classy? Mature? She’s no fun like this. We need her as a twenty-three-year-old with her bra showing in every other panel. Oh, and can we tie her to a chair and beat her up some?”
A similar thing happened to Spider-Man a couple of years ago. He’d grown up to be a confident, strong man, married to a fantastic woman. They had a loving, trusting, healthy, mature, equal relationship.
“Oh,” the company went. “Our readers can’t relate to that.”
So they wiped the marriage from the characters’ minds. Petey’s back to lamenting his inability to get a date.
I got my geek on for a moment there; sorry.
My point is… shake up the status quo. Have your characters evolve. Have the world change. Embrace the consequences of your plots.
As long as you do that, you’ll have an infinite supply of story.
And you’ll also avoid my bitching about you in my blog. (But seriously. Guys. Guys. What are you doing. Stop. Stoooop iiiiit.)