Top 5 Dead or Dying Comic Book Tropes
A trope is a reoccurring pattern or cliche recognized in works of storytelling. Different forms of media have their own tropes, and superhero comics are no different. Just like every other form of media, different tropes are invented as well as left behind all the time. Here are a few that are either gone or are on their way out.
Continuity is something comic readers take VERY seriously…or at least used to. It was at the point that fans would even buy a crappy book solely for the reason of keeping up with continuity. Comic companies knew this, and in that’s why every major event had 20 crossover titles that may or may not be required to keep up with the main story. Remember the Clone Saga that ran for over two years in all of the Spider-Man comics in the 90’s? The entire story sprang from a story from the 70’s that was made before most of the reader base was even born, much less heard of.
Nowadays comic companies are no longer depending on hardcore readers for revenue, but instead thinking of everything possible to attract new readers. New 52, Marvel Now, etc. They’re abandoning their own continuity to give new readers a jumping off point to start. Marvel will cancel a title and reboot it with a #1 and a new creative team at the drop of a hat. DC You was even an experiment to ditch continuity altogether. One story featured a powerless Superman in t-shirt and jeans, another showcased regular New 52, while another featured him as a freaking New God. How did they connect? Who cares? Even though DC You was a SPECTACULAR failure, it’s showing that the industry is favoring creativity over continuity, where it was the exact opposite case 20 years ago.
The easiest way for an artist to showcase that a character was a pure badass was having him smoking a cigar. Indoors. During mission briefings. The 60’s however was even worse. Reed was never considered a badass, but it was very common to see him in early Fantastic Four issues smoking a pipe while relaxing (and ignoring Sue flirting with Namor).
Fast forward to 2016. Marvel is now owned by Disney…and Disney mandates a no smoking policy in its comics. Sorry Wolverine. Sorry white Nick Fury. There may be some Nicorette gum out there for you. Even bad guys like Kingpin had to clean up their act. Don’t want to influence the kids while you’re running a criminal empire, right Wilson Fisk?
3. Cheesecake/male fanservice
Comics in the 80’s and 90’s knew their audience. Of course that meant their audience was horny 14 year olds that bought any book with scantily clad ridiculously proportioned female superheroes. If Rogue’s superpower meant she couldn’t touch anyone…why was she half naked every other issue? It only became worse with characters specifically designed for male fanservice like Vampirella, Lady Death, Witchblade, Gen13, etc. Marvel even sold Swimsuit Specials which sold sadly way more then they should have.
Along the way however one of two things happened. Either the comic industry realized they had more female readers then they realized, or their 14 year old readers finally grew out of puberty. That being said, readers expected more out of female characters. They were required to have actual personalities…as well as actual clothing. Keep in mind this is one of those tropes that isn’t quite dead, but the fact that not every single female character isn’t dressed like a stripper is a step in the right direction. Even fanboy favorite Power Girl is covering up nowadays.
2. Women in the refrigerators
This is actually a very controversial trope that was coined in the 90’s. Once upon a time comics were simple: Hero rescues the damsel in distress from the villain. Rinse and Repeat. However, everything changed in The Amazing Spider-Man #121. Spider-Man couldn’t save his longtime girlfriend Gwen Stacy from his arch enemy Green Goblin, and in a shocking twist ending she died. What became was a landmark issue eventually meant open season on pretty much any and every female character. Jean Grey committed suicide, Hank Pym physically abused his wife, Joker crippled Batgirl, Ms Marvel was raped, etc. It all came to a head when current Green Lantern Kyle Raynor came home one day to find his girlfriend who’s name I can’t recall corpse stuffed in a refrigerator by supervillain Major Force.
There have been SEVERAL articles have deconstructed this trope. I’ll link the most popular article right here. This year however we learned violence towards women in comics will be watched much closer than before. Earlier this year there was a huge controversy over a Batgirl cover where Joker is holding her hostage. DC found themselves under pressure to change the cover. It makes you wonder if the people demanding the cover be changed were familiar with the obvious nod to The Killing Joke. If the cover came under so much heat, how do you think they would respond if that story was released today?
1. Secret Identities
This was just an assumed trope. If you’re a superhero you MUST have a secret identity. Why? Reasons. This is why the ending of the first Iron Man movie was so brilliant. The movie ends with Tony Stark telling the entire world that HE is Iron Man. Is this the moment the trope was destroyed? Not at all. It just brought attention to the idea that aside from the really iconic characters that the fans would revolt if they exposed their identity (which was NOT the case for Iron Man in 2008) comic book writers either revealed their secret identity or never bothered to even give them one. Comic writers obviously felt telling the ordinary lives of these fantastical characters slowed down the pacing of the story. Even for characters that still have secret identities, ask yourself, how long do you see Bruce Wayne in a comic before it’s time for some Batman? One panel? Two?
Earlier this year Lois Lane even outed Clark Kent as Superman to the world. Keep in mind this plot point hasn’t been resolved yet, but what if DC never does? What if “Clark Kent” stays dead? Let’s be honest, he barely existed in the New 52 in the first place. Batman even had to convince Superman to keep his secret identity because Superman was actually debating being Superman 24/7, since every moment of being Clark Kent could get in the way saving people. One could even make the argument that the trope died the moment Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four. In fact they didn’t even get costumes until the 3rd issue.
This trope is not completely dead, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years from now Bruce Wayne holds a press conference to tell everyone, “I’m Batman.” Think about it, who’s left in Gotham that hasn’t figured it out yet already?