Behind most masked (or sans mask) superheroes or continuing comics characters is a huge company that, in turn, is probably owned by a gigantic media corporation. Very often, that means writers do not have control over the characters they create—editors do (like I’ve often said, the two es, editors and engineers, rule the world). That means minor characters in books get taken out and have entire comics franchises built around them. John Constantine, a.k.a Hellblazer, is one such; he was created by Alan Moore as a bit character in Swamp Thing (and yes, he was modelled on Sting but only because Moore as well as the two original illustrators wanted to have a character modelled after the rock star), but Vertigo (the graphic novel imprint of DC) decided the character was promising enough to have his own gig. So, they took him out and had Jamie Delano do the first book.
Since then, a succession of names in the graphic novel business, Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello and Mike Carey, have done Hellblazer books. Which brings us to the second thing that happens to such characters—the publisher sort of decides on the best writer to approach for the next series involving him or her or them. The characters, while retaining their basic personality, are endowed with unique angularities by each of the writers. With illustrators, pencillers, and colourists, the other people involved in the trade, changing from issue to issue, or series to series, the effect, or the difference, is even more magnified at one level, and extremely subtle at the other. Which is to say that there are differences that only who-is-the-better-James-Bond experts will catch, and there are those that they will not. This makes following superhero comics in particular, entertaining, diverting, and illuminating—for characters that first made their appearance in poorly produced but brightly coloured books (for some reason, all Golden Age comics look like this; reprints of first editions are available, albeit at stiff prices, even in the better Indian bookstores), these superheroes are definitely not two-dimensional. Superman and Batman, by virtue of their vintage, have had the most people try their hand at them. Some recent (given the age of the franchise) Batmans, including Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, and Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush books stand out for their plot structures, but are quintessential Batman books. There are good guys, there are bad guys, and sometimes you don’t know where Batman stands. In contrast, Steven T Seagle’s Superman book, It’s a Bird, tells of a writer’s struggle to portray Superman differently (Superman himself never appears in the book).
In many ways, the differing portrayals are probably the reason for the longevity of some of these comics franchises.
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