In the back pages of
Noble Causes #33, author Jay Faerber wrote an editorial titled “Under
the Influence.” In that piece, Faerber wrote eloquently about
his love for the early New Teen Titans comics by Marv Wolfman and
George Perez. I read the piece with gusto as I share a love for that
Faerber specifically mentioned the New Teen Titans supporting cast:
second thing that made the Titans really stand out was the attention
that Wolfman & Perez paid to the characters’ civilian
identities and their respective supporting casts. Wonder Girl had a
boyfriend and a career as a photographer. Cyborg had a girlfriend, a
pair of wacky grandparents, and he spent time with disabled kids.
Changeling had a drunken stepfather and an annoying butler. This
really helped flesh out the characters, and helped the illusion that
they lived fully realized lives.
I agree. One of the things that I loved about the New Teen Titans was that each of the characters had a personality and a private life outside of the team. Faerber mentioned some of the specifics, but not all of them. Kid Flash had a normal, Midwestern nuclear family back at home. And Robin was attending classes at Empire State University.
One of the things that set New Teen Titans apart was its excellent depiction of a diverse cast of normal people surrounding and supporting the superhero stars. Yet, while New Teen Titans was one of the best at it, it wasn’t the only title paying attention to normal people. Chris Claremont’s X-Men have sometimes been accused of being insular, but he developed recurring roles for Stevie Hunter, Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander as Kitty’s dance teacher, a local cop and a nurse. Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes had a huge, sprawling superhero cast, but they still found room to include normal people like time researcher Rond Vidar, United Planets president Marte Allon and Science Police officer Shvaughn Erin as friends, parents and lovers.
Louise and Walt Simonson did an especially good job with this during their days on X-Factor. A lot of people remember the main romance that was going on between Scott Summers and Jean Grey. But they apparently forget that the rest of the X-Men were all dating normal people. Angel, aka Warren Worthington, dated the belle Candy Southern and then police officer Charlotte Jones. Beast, aka, Hank McCoy dated tele-journalist Trish Tilby and had a momentary fling with his old Silver Age flame, librarian Vera. And Iceman, aka Bobby Drake, dated Opal Tanaka, whom he met at a record store. The heroes of X-Factor were truly living the Xavier dream of peaceful coexistence between mutants and the rest of humanity.
Yet, as much as I loved the interaction between heroes and normal people, that does seem to be something that’s a thing of the past.
As Jay Faerber remarked
in the same article:
It’s hard to find team books that capture that feeling these days, since so many team books are so insulated, the characters have no lives outside of their super-hero team, and all the subplots revolve strictly around the team itself.
I’ve noticed as well. It doesn’t seem to be as much of a
problem in solo books, as solo
heroes are surrounded with normal
people almost by necessity. But it’s becoming an issue in team
books. I wonder if it’s partly a side-effect of the rotating
creative teams. Writers don’t have years to develop a cast or
the luxury of spending time on a subplot since so many of them are
working on short contracts, hired to write one year or even one arc.
Furthermore, the next writer may not be as enamored with the normal supporting cast as the one who created the characters and might quickly write them out as a result. That certainly happened on Wonder Woman as first George Perez’s supporting cast and then John Byrne’s were largely ignored by the next writers. It’s not quite as obvious when a writer spends three to five years or thirty to fifty issues on a book, but it becomes striking when writers turn over every six months or so.
Maybe my head is just stuck in the comics of my youth, but it’s something that I’d like to see make a comeback. I love my heroes. But I also like to see them interact with normal people. I like them to have friends, and lovers, and family. It makes them more real to me. And that can only make the books better, too.