Does persona power the person in the pamphlet?

March 7, 2005

By Avi Green

When people read comics, is a personality for the characters what makes it work for them, or is only the entertainment value what's needed?

Some people have argued about characters who they feel donít have a personality, which doesnít mean they dislike them, but because of the lack, they donít consider them to have much value and may not consider them worth keeping around.

However, whether or not you like the characters, does a lack of personality really keep anyone from enjoying the series, especially if itís an action/adventure series where the idea is to enjoy seeing the goodies whup the baddies every week or month?

If the overall theme is an adventure for your enjoyment and escapism, then thatís why Iíd think it a very good idea not to let any lack of persona get in the way of what enjoyment there is to find there. That is after all what many of the big twoís series are for, right?

Some people slammed Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, the Flash and Green Lantern of the Silver Age, respectively, for not having any serious personality in the past. But thatís where I have to ask: surely even Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman didnít lack personality as well?

So it puzzles me as to how these leading three superheroes at DC never seem to have taken the kind of flak that Barry and Hal did. Because their popularity somehow outshone theirs? How indeed did they manage to evade whatever Barry and Hal didnít?

But for anyone who thinks that fixing such a possible flaw is the answer, be wary, that sometimes, doing that with characters who may not have one, or without a true expert, can have very clumsy results!

Back in the late 1960ís, DC, possibly in an early attempt to imitate Marvel, tried to do something like that with Hal Jordan, when they broke him and Carol Ferris up in the 49th issue of Green Lantern volume 2, when she got engaged to another pilot around the company, and he took it very wimpily. He went to a bar with piloting partner Tom ďPiefaceĒ Kalmaku to drown out his sorrows over having thought to propose to Carol too late, and acted like a real wimp, acting as if it were his being Green Lantern and sometimes staying away from Coast City for long periods that was the problem. Quite the opposite, it was the fact that he was taking the news so badly that was, acting like a lovesick clod. He then started wandering from job to job, from being a pilot to an insurance sales adjustor, and worst of all, when he discovered that two or three of the new women he met were in love with his alter ego, including an alien girl, this had the effect of making him want to just quit his job and not make any attempt to seriously try and win them over.

Thank heaven and Denny OíNeil for stepping in and taking some steps to fix that part, by making Hal bolder again even when it came to dating, and in 1971, he revealed his secret ID to Carol too! But you see, that may have been an early attempt to follow the Marvel example of soap-opera storylines, when here, most of their writers at the time didnít have the proper experience to know how to write such things.

In any case, even Marvel wasnít immune to attempts to imitate the kind of lunacy and hijinks that DC specialized in during the Silver Age (they had also done so during the Golden Age too, but more so during the Silver one) Ė in 1971, Peter Parker ended up growing several extra arms, in a possible attempt to imitate said lunacy from DC. But not only was it a disaster in storytelling, it was also done during a time when DC had all but moved away from such ideas, as they worked to become more serious in their approaches to storytelling, certainly in books like what OíNeil worked on at the time, including Batman and Green Lantern.

But aside from that, why is it so much more important to have personality than entertainment?

Thatís exactly the reason why I personally have thought it a better idea not to complain about whether or not the book I read is lacking in personality for the characters. If the main theme is indeed to enjoy the action, then in all due honesty, why let the lack of personality ruin the enjoyment for one?

Not for me it wonít.

Of course, Barry and Hal arenít alone in the argument about personalities. Even Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four over at Marvel was often thought to not have a really in depth persona for many years, but that didnít detract from my enjoyment of the FF either. And then, just look at how various writers attempted, rightly or wrongly, to repair that rather petty flaw of not having personality in Reed, and it goes without saying that they didnít get very far in making an accomplishment with it. There are other characters, major and minor both, at Marvel whose persona might not amount to much, but which doesnít mean they arenít likable nevertheless.

The same goes for Barry and Hal.

So if you ask me, letís put aside all this nonsense about personalities and just enjoy what mainly matters in DC and Marvel comics: the fun and adventure. If we let the lack of those oh-so precious personalities get the better of us, weíll only be depriving ourselves of the best reason to be reading comic books to begin with.

And what might that be? Simple. Escapism, entertainment and fun.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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