Superheroes and Aging
It’s something we all get to look forward to: growing older. At least, it’s something we get to look forward to if we are not on a comic book reality. And, last time I checked (ten minutes ago), we weren’t.
It is an issue that really never comes up in comics. This is mostly because it is possible to take a full year to tell a story that happens in one day in the comic. The very nature of comics prevents aging from coming into play, except in a severe long-term fashion, or for story effect (“Superman, you aged 300 years in 30 seconds, and Lex Luthor is attacking!”)
For those of us who wish to create our own comic world (thus keeping control over our ideas), we can either follow the lead of the majors, or we can adopt our own ideas in dealing with aging. After all, it is quite possible that and creator could create the hero that readers will want to follow for years, or even generations.
So, beyond just ignoring aging entirely, what can a reader do to deal with it. Surprisingly, there are a number of options out there.
This approach, utilized by DC Comics, do not lock events into specific years, but into a sliding timeline that adjusts as the book continues. For example, a new comic will be published as ” now.” Flashbacks in the book will not be dated by years (2010, etc.), but by a passage of time (2 years ago, etc.). Thus, the event of that flashback would be 2 years ago from the now of that issue.
The problem that you run into with this is that you still need to account for aging, since it would be impossible for the events of issue 100 could be only two years removed from a flashback in issue 1.
Locked Time Frame
This is a very simple concept, and one that is pursued by not only comics, but novels as well. The idea is simple. The adventures of, say, The Shadow, happen between 1935 and 1955. Needing to take a year to tell a story is not an issue because you are constraining yourself to the years you have chosen for your time frame. Of course, this limits you to what you can feature in your book. If you are setting your story in the 1920s, you cannot have everyone walking around with cell phones.
This is one that I personally don’t like to deal with, at least on a broad scale. The problem with making all your heroes immortal is that while your hero does not age, you still have to account for your minor characters, all of whom cannot be as immortal as the hero.
Of course, you can create your world to account for heroic immortality. It is possible that your world is a heroic world similar to the Highlander reality. That is, something gave a number of people superpowers and making them “immortal,” except that they must fight each other. You still have to deal with non-heroic characters aging, but you establish how some heroes can stay around for decades while others disappear.
DC Comics practices this, sometimes often. We have all seen the practice. Every 20 years or so, characters are restarted. Origins are retold, adjusting for a new era. Characters tweak, again reflecting the new era. It can be quite effective is done right. It can be downright annoying if done too often.
This, I have to say, is my personal favorite. The concept of a legacy hero is simple. The hero continues throughout the years, though the man (or woman) behind the hero change. Legacy heroes abound throughout the media. The Phantom is a shining example, with multiple generations of the Walker family assuming the mantle of the Ghost Who Walks. There is also DC Comics Starman, the heroic identity that had been carried on my a number of individuals over the years. To a lesser extent Green Lantern became a legacy hero once the adventures of Alan Scott turned to those of Hal Jordan.
The biggest problem with legacy heroes is that it is possible for readers to identify with one member of the legacy, resisting the change when it happens. I always see the key to avoiding this issue is to establish the legacy early, setting into motion the very concept that at some point, our hero will be replaced with someone else at some point. Nothing is stopping you from telling tales of previous generations of your hero, though they will be, obviously, locked into the time frame you established for that hero. Legacy heroes also allow you to age your hero closer to your readers, thus leading to the eventual passing of the torch from one generation to another.