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Author Topic: Superheroes and Personality  (Read 2626 times)

Offline BentonGrey

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Superheroes and Personality
« on: April 06, 2019, 11:26:43 PM »
Howdy guys!  My wife, who as some of y'all may remember is a psychologist, recently published a paper on what we mean when we say people have "a lot" or "no" personality, as we say these things often but there's no research on what is actually meant by the terms.  The paper has gotten a lot of cool attention, including an article written about it in The Atlantic, and she is planning to do a lot more research on the subject.  We were talking about this and, as I do with most things (:P), I related it to superheroes.  One of the places she's starting with her research is with fictional characters because they provide a common frame of reference, and it occurred to me that superheroes are a pretty perfect subject pool, since folks often use these terms (at least "no personality") in relation to comic characters.  We're actually toying with teaming up to do a lit/psych paper on the subject, but in the meantime, I thought I'd pick the community's collective brains about it.

First, I know that comic fans often talk about most superhero characters having "no personality" in the Gold and Silver Ages, before the heavier and more detailed characterization became the norm.  I am wondering if any of y'all can think of any books/articles on American comics that discuss this change and might use that language.  I have a couple of places I'm going to check once I finish my dissertation and have time to do the research, but I thought y'all might have some ideas.

Second, I imagine we can all think of characters that we might describe with these two terms.  I know I've often heard people say they didn't like Hal Jordan because he had no personality.  Can y'all think of any characters you might characterize with these terms?  If so, what do you think you mean when you use them?

I don't want to explain what I think is meant by those terms, as that would rather defeat the purpose.  ;)

So, what do y'all think?
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Offline Deaths Jester

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2019, 03:21:55 AM »
While not a comicbook view, check out Sampson's Yesterday's Faces series. Those books will give you tons of pulp characters - from the beginning all the way up to comics - and how much they lack or have personality. Sampson does great break downs on alot of the big characters.

As for comic characters...I spec in villiany and they gotta have a personality to make up for all those boring heroes!
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Offline daglob

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2019, 03:41:58 AM »
DJ's right about Yesterday's Faces. I enjoyed that series a lot.

Philip Josť Farmer said that while Doc Savage seldom displayed much in the way of a personality, after a hundred or so stories you got a pretty good idea what he was like.

I remember reading the Showcase Presents: Green Lantern, and being impressed by what a jerk Hal was...

Then there was The Doom Patrol: all sorts of personality just slopping all over everything. This was not necessarily a good thing; Arnold Drake was trying to do Stan Lee-style characterization, and, while not actually succeeding, the result is interesting.

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2019, 04:51:11 AM »
Do you mean with no charisma or no real personality traits
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Offline daglob

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2019, 05:01:17 AM »
No,GL was petty much a self-righteous chauvinist.

Offline Cyber Burn

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2019, 05:02:54 AM »
While I'm unsure of any actual research on the subject off the top of my head, I always thought that DC Comics' Elseworlds' tale "The Golden Age" did an excellent job of fleshing out the personalities of the JSA/All-Star Squadron characters.

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2019, 05:09:38 AM »
I meant the opening question- what do we count under personality?
Are we talking about Hal Jordan?His Silver Age version was...into sexual harrastment at workplace.Ok,its the 60's so I might be looking at it by todays standards.
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Offline kkhohoho

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2019, 02:32:48 PM »
Hal is the big one, though I think Barry and Ray Palmer might also count. (Maybe Adam Strange.) The problem with Hal, Barry, and Palmer is that they are basically archtypes. Heroic paragons representing certain ideals or values. Hal represents willpower and the ability to overcome fear, Barry represents having the time to do what you need to, etc. The problem is that they never moved beyond these archtypes. Being little more than archtypes was fine for the Golden and Silver Ages or old myths, but by the end of the Silver Age, Marvel had changed the playing field. It wasn't enough to just be an archtype. Now you needed a personality to go with it. And while most of DC's characters fell in line, Hal and the others... didn't. While Green Arrow was getting retooled into a social crusader and Batman was becoming the Dark Knight Detective, Hal's persona wasn't expanded on that much. He was more reflective and contemplative, certainly, but his core 'personality' or lack thereof remained intact. Same with Barry.  There was a reason these two were given the boot for the longest time, and that was because they weren't that compelling compared to their peers. And it's also no surprise that both of their replacements were all about personality. (And even their predecessors by comparison, surprisingly.) Wally was impetuous, doubtful, slightly apathetic, and even somewhat selfish at first, though he also had a lot more room to grow. Whereas Kyle was an easygoing laid back artist who had to learn how to take his job seriously. They had life, energy, and room to grow and improve as characters. Whereas Hal and the others... didn't.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2019, 04:22:30 PM by kkhohoho »
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Offline daglob

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2019, 03:09:00 PM »
When they introduced Katma Tui Hal hypocritically "proved" to her ("For Her Own Good") that being a Green Lantern meant she didn't have time for love, romance, or a family. Yet, somehow he could still romance Carol Ferris...

I think it's as Kkhohoho says, the archetypes are kind of like stereotypes: literary shorthand so the writer can get right to the story without having to take a lot of time explaining each character's background. I remember the weird thing about Don Pendleton's Executioner stories was that he would sometimes take a few paragraphs to a few pages to give the background of one of the villains or secondary characters. He usually made it fit in the narrative. That was what was jarring when Mack Bolan became a franchise: some of the ghost writers would shoehorn some exposition into the story anyplace they could, just because they thought they ought to.

I remember too, that when Green Arrow was given a social conscience, the reason was fairly well presented. I know later they made him a a barely competent businessman who was secretly relieved when his fortune was stolen from him, but I never really liked that. Other changes to the characters in attempts to "grow" them were hit or miss, since no one really had any experience in writing these characters as human beings. Funny thing is, did Marvel characters really come off as real people? Okay, yeah, I know; I tend to call them by their first names like they are old friends ('cuz they are), but didn't Stan start with some different archetypes, or, maybe kind of create his own? Look at The FF: Not Quite Absent-Minded Scientist (at least he didn't used to be clueless), Mother Figure Who Is Georgeous, Hot-Headed Immature Kid (who cycles through growing up over and over and over and over and over...), and Kind-Hearted Monster. And, each of these characters had aspects of other archetypes: they were the Dysfunctional Family that Loves Each Other, for instance.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2019, 03:43:19 PM by daglob »

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Superheroes and Personality
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2019, 03:30:08 PM »
But it was new back then,Having a hero who was as monstrous-looking as the Thing was new.Superheros without secret identities was also new.
Now its harder to think of a Marvel character who has a secret identity- other then Spider-man.Even Daredevil got outed a few years back.
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