Crazy Ideas: Having Comic Book Characters Age In Real Time
It gets brought up every once in a while why comic book characters, specifically super-heroes don’t age in real time, specifically, super-heroes. There have been times that authors have explored the concept, the first that comes to mind is John Byrne’s Superman & Batman Generations series of mini-series. There are also some characters that simply won’t age like the rest of us. Superman, Thor and Wolverine come to mind. However, some characters have such a broad supporting cast, that the hero becomes a mantle to be donned by many people over the years. Prime examples would be Green Lantern, Iron Man, Batman, and the Flash. Why couldn’t these characters age like the rest of us, instead of recycling the same stories over and over?
Let’s start with Superman. Kal-El doesn’t age like the rest of us, but his supporting cast does. Let’s assume that Lois was in her mid 20s when she debuted, which would put her approaching retirement age around 1978. However, Lois could’ve been the Daily Planet’s first female Editor-In-Chief, and kept around until the early 1980s, when sheer old age would’ve necessitated her retirement. Clark Kent would have to be retired sooner, as Kal-El’s slower aging process would’ve no doubt been noticed, but Superman would still be capable of action. Jimmy Olsen would get to retire much later than Lois, but still wouldn’t make it to 1990, when presumably, many new staff members could step into the role Jimmy leaves with his absense, perhaps a son or grandson? Cat Grant debuted in the 1980s, Steve Lombard in the 1970s, so the precedence is there to have the cast constantly renewing. Superman doesn’t need to vanish.
Or does he? Superman does have legacy characters, namely Supergirl, let’s go with his cousin Kara and Superboy, partially cloned from his own cells. Some stories have shown a future Conner Kent as Superman, and most likely, there is where we’d see the passing of the torch. Kal-El remains around to lend a hand but leaves more and more of the job of inspiring people to his heirs. Supergirl debuted in 1959, but being Kryptonian, doesn’t age like everyone else. Most likely, she could have taken over the bulk of Superman’s role in the 1970s or 1980s, and still appeared to be in her 20s. Superboy becoming Superman would be more recent, and would represent a return of Superman to generate sales. Even an iconic character like Superman can be transitioned into other characters.
Batman is harder, but assuming that when he debuted Bruce Wayne was in his late 20s, the first passing of the mantle goes to Dick Grayson in the 1960s, but Grayson debuts in 1940, and assuming he’s 12 there, he’d be ready to pass along the mantle around the mid 1980s, conveniently around the time Jason Todd emerges. Along the way we have Batgirl debuting around the time he takes over as Batman, serving the role of Robin for much of the time until a new Robin comes along. Could Grayson keep on as Batman long enough to adequately train a successor? Perhaps if we weren’t so locked into Batman always being Bruce Wayne, we’d have had the stage being prepped and new heirs being brought in along the way. Batman becomes less the story of Bruce Wayne and more of the legend that each person who assumes the mantle takes responsibility for.
So, what would the DC Universe, assuming that Flashpoint didn’t happen to restart everything from scratch, look like with legacy heroes? Conner as Superman, Bart Allen as the Flash, Damien Wayne pushing a middle-aged Tim Drake to relinquish the Batman identity to him? It would look very similar, but with new characters carrying the torch of a great many heroic identities, and new villains needing to be developed as old villains passed away.
The Marvel Universe would be even more radical, as only a few heroes could be considered iconic, demanding a passing of the torch. Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man come to mind. Wolverine doesn’t need to change as soon as the others, given his established slow aging, but who would the X-Men be? The Fantastic Four would have no original members, but what would it look like?
Green Lantern and Flash passed along the mantles to different men between the Golden and Silver Ages, why couldn’t we have seen the same happen not only at DC but at Marvel, who’s experimenting lately with new characters taking up the mantle of iconic heroes. Ultimate Spider-Man has shown that even as unique a super-hero as Spider-Man can have a successor to his identity. Being locked into having a character being defined by his alter-ego has kept us from seeing the stories developed until now. It’s also stagnated the process of creating new characters, and developing any that are created into the kind of character to carry the mantle going forward.
I know that this is a crazy idea, but it has been explored before, as in the aforementioned Generations series by John Byrne, Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come and Earth X, and in the Vertigo series Hellblazer, wherein John Constantine aged in real time. It could still be explored by someone ambitious enough to launch it as a series.
If you want to keep this conversation going, what ways do you think comics characters aging in real time could have been developed throughout the eras? Would the current Fantastic Four essentially be Power Pack? Would the X-Men have Kitty Pryde playing the role of Professor to a team consisting of X-23, Hope Summers, Molly Hayes, and some of X-Statix and Generation X? Leave us a comment and share your ideas! We may just revisit this crazy idea or explore some others.