I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it before, but I’ve always been fascinated with the superheroes who quit and why they would do so. I’ve railed against the endless cycle heroes who, after a time, become responsible for the deaths that their enemies commit despite numerous examples that the ‘don’t kill bad guys’ policy is completely ineffectual. “Sorry, Batman, but the Joker will kill again no matter what and you know that, so...” It’s a fairly common argument and one I won’t bore you with here. But, related to it are the superheroes that give it up. For whatever reason, they decide to stop doing what they do and, as a result, people almost certainly die. While these absences are almost always temporary, there is that middle period where they have given up and I love what it means. Futures End has, in a large part, been about this.
I have always agreed with the view that Peter Parker can’t have a kid, because that’s the end of Spider-Man. “With great power comes great responsibility” isn’t just about superpowers, after all. What’s surprising about Futures End is that none of the heroes that have quit have done so because of this scenario. In none of the cases is there a sense that they have chosen a personal responsibility that could, arguably, outweigh the responsibility that their great powers have laid on their shoulders. In every case (the three being Red Robin, Superman, and Firestorm), the cause was, in one way or another, the war with the other Earth. They either don’t want to have to kill or to face that level of death or to even have to put aside who they are as people because there is a demand that they save everyone all of the time. These are all reasonable motives to not want to be superheroes anymore.
(An aside: There’s something almost bitter in Tim telling Lois to go to the coordinates instead of him, like he’s turning around to all of the people he saved who might look down on him for not continuing to do it and saying “Do something for yourself.” Given Lois’s role in exposing these private matters (or discovering them and not exposing them yet), she represents that sort of person: she hounds these heroes, demanding to know why they don’t save her anymore, but won’t do it herself when she seems capable. Tim tells her to be a superhero, too. And she does it. We don’t know how it will turn out, but she does it. That’s kind of cool.)
Last week, we had Batman telling the Firestorm boys to man up, get over their issues, and be Firestorm again. For the past couple of months, we’ve had John Constantine telling Superman to man up, get over his issues, and take on Brainiac. This week, we almost have Lois Lane tell Tim Drake to man up, get over his issues, and investigate the package that Red Arrow sent her (but meant for him), but he jumps ahead and makes it clear that his priority is his missing (ex-)girlfriend. Given that we know the true stakes at hand, how do we feel about this? About any of these characters giving up for, seemingly, reasonable, valid reasons? We want them to become superheroes again. In fact, I imagine most of us read Batman’s scolding last week and said “About time!” These may be fictional characters, but we ostensibly care about them. It seems, though, only as fictional agents of keeping the story going. In superhero comics, the only true standard is that they keep on going and heroes giving up threaten to break that.
That’s what I find fascinating. It’s why Peter Parker will never have a kid. We will see possible futures about things like that, but they’ll always act as a reminder about why it matters that these characters remain heroes. We’re reading one of those right now.