There’s another Marvel movie due out before the end of the summer. I’m cautiously optimistic about The Wolverine. Many (some might say all) of Logan’s most interesting stories come from his time in Japan, a time that has not happened in the films until now. I can understand why some might be trepidatious given the abyssmal misfire that was X-Men: Origins – Wolverine. But I keep coming back to Marvel’s track record, and the overall good quality of their recent films, and the more I see of the new film, the more I think they’re keeping with the mentality of better titles such as The Avengers and Iron Man 3. The key, I think, is the focus on characters, rather than events.
I’ve said in the past that Marvel’s heroes are characters, while DC’s heroes are icons. Other examples of the difference exist, but this one comes to mind most easily. Icons are mythological creatures, as much as gorgons and pegasi and kraken are, fulfilling their roles in epic tales and illustrating ideals to whatever audience happens to be handy. The tradition of using such constructs as a vehicle to move a story from beginning to middle to end is ancient and, for the most part, respectable, even if it is a bit simplistic at times.
It’s entirely possible to make your tale with icons. I’ve watched the Justice League animated series in both of its incarnations, and they were enjoyable, for the most part. But even as I watched Batman being generally awesome, Superman act upstanding and unstoppable, and applauded the valiant efforts to characterize and flesh out so-called second stringers like Hawkgirl and Green Arrow, I was bothered in that I was never really surprised by any character turns or plot points. It always felt like the characters were reacting to the plots involved and moving forward at the pace of the storyline rather than taking much time to be their own people. While a good story can still be told in this way, I find a lot more investment, enjoyment, and fulfillment comes from a tale that studies its characters rather than its outline.
Take the television show Supernatural. The original plan was to create a “monster of the week” series involving all sorts of creatures born from folklore, myth, legend, and nightmares. But the creators quickly realized they had a much better resource for storytelling in the characters of Sam and Dean Winchester. Between the natural chemistry and charisma of the leads, the depth of the issues in the characters’ psyches and histories, and their connections to the world in which they operate, many more interesting developments have occurred over the course of eight seasons that might have been possible with the otherwise simplistic original intent of the series. Creatures like ghosts, vampires, and demons are, after all, iconic. Breaking them free of their iconic or stereotypical natures can be difficult. Even so, I doubt that the show would still be going if it focused on the iconic creatures and not the interesting, flawed, fascinating, hysterical, and very human characters at the center of it.
Do you prefer characters, or icons? Can a story function well with both? What examples do you reach for of either? Or both?