The other day in the noisome depths of the internet where That’s Not Current contributors speak with each other in awed hushed tones, the idea was posited about doing features on “overrated characters’’ in comics, film or TV. In theory that’s an easy thing to do, except as I said when I mashed my paws on my keyboard, what do we mean by the term ‘overrated’?
Now That’s Not Current’s Esteemed Editor suggested we can go with our own criteria, which means the expression ‘’overrated character’’ is effectively turned into a Rorschach test. Take the example of Superman, a character today not many people will cheer on because he’s not Batman, or that he’s so powerful that he’s unable to be written for or any number of reasons to consider the character “overrated’’. Yet we write our own perception onto a character with our own bias’ – even our own prejudices – so I can make a case for Superman by saying he’s the embodiment of the American immigrant dream. An immigrant comes to America, fights on the side of right and becomes an icon embracing his new homeland while never forgetting his past. I can also make a case against Superman as a symbol of American exceptionalism, ethnic nationalism and a symbol of capitalist American supremacy.
Or the TL:DR version, he’s a cool guy in a cape or a dick in a cape. Grant Morrison wrote him as the former, Frank Miller wrote him as the latter. Both are equally valid but your own tastes decide what you prefer, assuming of course you prefer either.
Then there’s the example of Wolverine. Is he as a character overrated? No, he’s still essentially a cool character, though with a better costume these days to the one he had in his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #181.
He is, however, overused. Ridiculously so. Plus over the years the mystery which added to the character has been destroyed by telling us his backstory which we didn’t need to know. The more writers essentially chip away at the mystery of a character the less we see them as being different so now Wolverine is just another anti-superhero in a field of hundreds. It’s the same when creators strip the mystery from say, Doctor Who or James Bond. In their desire to tell us something new they look back instead of looking forward, so they fill in what is frankly, fan-fiction. instead of using what’s there to update and make relevant characters who seem stuffy, or overused.
A fine example of this is Warren Ellis’ splendid James Bond stories for Dynamite Entertainment. These comics contain the Bond of the novels published in the 1950’s and 60’s, but in a 21st century world. What Ellis has done is to look at an often tired, overused and yes, possibly ‘overrated’ character like James Bond and make him work, but then again Ellis is a talented, skillful writer, which brings me, in my rambling ways, to the point I’m trying to make .
No character is ‘overrated’. The critical and fan reaction to them makes them so, which makes us react not to the character per say, but how people react to that character, so in say, Superman’s case it isn’t just that you may think he’s a dick in a cape, but people like this dick in a cape and you can’t work out why? A character can have their moment in the sun if they’re fortunate enough to have people writing them who don’t necessarily have to care (that can lead to its own problems), but look at a character objectively and make them work by understanding their core essence.
People are allowed to hate or like whatever character they want to, but rather than class characters as ‘overrated’ look at how they can be made better, or look perhaps at that critical reaction to decide whether that’s the issue you have with a character. Every character has some sort of potential audience if done well enough by talented creators, even The Torpedo, a superhero with jet turbines on his wrists and ankles.
Alright, maybe not The Torpedo… But you get my point.