Misfits and Mavericks

There is a legend among comic books.  The legend goes that sometime in the early sixties Jack Liebowitz, publisher of DC Comics, and Martin Goodman, publisher of Marvel Comics had a game of golf. At this time DC Comics was doing well but Marvel Comics was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Liebowitz was telling Goodman how well they were doing with a title called Justice League of America which featured Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Aquaman, along with others to fight crime.  Goodman went back to the office and told his editor, Stan Lee, to create an ensemble comic.  (Did I mention this story is legend?  The heads of both companies deny any such thing happened, but I like the story anyway.)  They didn’t already have a stable of characters to use like DC Comics did, so Lee started from scratch and created The Fantastic Four.  But he did something DC Comics didn’t do.  He made them have problems.  And bicker.  And be wrong.  And have bad days and bad luck.   It was a turn around for Marvel.  And soon the Four were upstaged by another, even more disfunctional hero: Peter Parker, otherwise known as Spiderman.

Comics weren’t the first or only place that worked with disfunctional, misfit, yet special characters.  Most of them are.  Sf is riddled with "chosen ones" from Neo in the Matrix, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Harry Potter (if you haven’t read books 5 & 6 yet, I may have just given something away).  Ender in Ender’s Game is also a chosen one, though very specifically allowed to exist as a third child because of the rest of his family’s potential.  Even when not specifically chosen, there is still something unwilling but special about main characters of stories.  Leisha Camden in Beggars in Spain separates herself, not only from the sleeping society, but also from other sleepless like herself, because she doesn’t agree with them.  Anita Blake, of Laurell K. Hamilton’s series has talents and tenacity that put her a step ahead of her enemies.  And almost none of these characters has lots of friends or win popularity contests.

I don’t think we are interested much in characters who have lots of friends and win popularity contests.  (Even among The X-men, a group so big you can have lots of other misfit friends, the most loved character among readers is Wolverine, who barely gets along with anyone in the comics.)  We are interested in the people who stand out, who do things, who learn things, and risk being unpopular. Even reading biographies of famous people, most of them were not prom queens.  They were too busy breaking out and if that made them a little antisocial, fine.

I like these sorts of characters.  Maybe it is wish fulfillment, but most of us aren’t winning popularity contests either.  You have to be a little off to be an sf fan anyway.  We have a few friends.  We have our family.  We live our lives.  And maybe, if we get lucky, a radioactive spider will bite, or someone will come along and notice we are special too.  And we still won’t get to be prom queen.

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