Post by Rick N –
The other day I found myself wondering what makes the difference between a successful character such as Spider-Man, Daredevil or Batman, and lesser characters such as Green Arrow or the Punisher. Before fans of lesser known characters get irate, let me explain what I mean by lesser known. To the common, non-comic book fan who has perhaps watched an Avengers movie or two, maybe caught part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and might recall Michael Keaton wrapped in black leather chewing the scenery alongside Jack Nicholson, the Punisher is just a comic book character and not a representation of your childhood like it is for me. The Flash has a TV show but might be not the title of the first comic book you ever bought and thus subject for unrestrained trips down nostalgia lane.
I looked at the little screen versus the Silver Screen. Green Arrow has been licensed but only as the TV show, Arrow. They did make a few Punisher movies, but one had Dolph Lundgren and therefore should be declared null and void. By comparison, when Hollywood cranks out another Batman movie it comes complete with Oscar Award winners. Even if one omits Ben Afleck, one has to admit that’s true.
Another difference might be the talent assigned to narrate or illustrate said characters monthly exploits. However, this tends to fall apart when you consider Neal Adams penciled Green Arrow and Green Lantern for awhile and Jim Lee did some of his best early work on the Punisher War Journal.
One difference I struck on was the development of side characters. Ponder this for a moment: where would Daredevil be without Foggy Nelson? Where would Spider-Man’s life be now without J. Jonah Jamison or Gwen Stacey? Batman without Alfred? Superman without Jimmy Olsen? Olsen by the way had his own comic book at one time.
Punisher without Microchip? Green Arrow without Speedy? Just doesn’t have the same cache. Quick, name the current incarnation of the Blue Beetle and any side character in the book? Any one of them. Don’t worry, I got as far as Ted Kord and fell apart too.
Take for instance the character development of Foggy Nelson though. He’s had cancer, been married, fired, divorced and declared dead which is kind of normal compared to Matt Murdock’s tale of woe. Jonah Jamison is an ex-newspaper publisher, step-father to Peter Parker and now mayor of the fictional New York city in some the latest Spider-Man story arcs. Alfred is a bit of a mystery being either ex-British secret service, a spy or some kind of autodidactic polymath. The real kicker is this though: ask that common, every day, non-comic book nut what Batman’s butler’s name is or the name of the newspaper owner who hates Spider-Man? You’ll probably get a few correct answers from the crowd.
At least one of the reasons, among all the others, Batman and Spider-man have achieved the status of iconic figure is the development of the world around them. Yep, Batman is an easy sell on the shelves any time, anywhere, as is Spider-Man. But at least a part of that is because we believe in the characters of Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker and of those around them.