WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Shatterstar #1 by Tim Seeley, Gerardo Sandoval and Carlos Villa, on sale now!
Sometimes a comic book character needs to find a new voice to feel relevant again, even if the character is deeply beloved by fans. Doing so can be a slippery slope. The balance required to maintain what made the character appealing in the first place while also making them seem fresh is a tricky one. Straying too far from what the hero means to their fanbase can feel like an act of betrayal, but keep them running in the same story loops for too long and things get stagnant.
One way comic book characters find new life is when they are simply dropped into a situation they have never been in. Yes, that sounds like the most obvious thing to do, but it’s strange how often creators don’t push familiar heroes and villains outside their comfort zones. When executed well, these iconic figures find themselves in a comic series that operates in a genre that isn’t often associated with them, yet somehow functions brilliantly.
When Jason Aaron kicked off the series Wolverine and the X-Men, the hardened, warrior mutant went from being the premier badass of Marvel Comics to the headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, where, instead of dealing with throngs of ninja assassins, he was forced to teach class and wrangle teenage mutants. The series played like a cross between the television shows Community and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, utilizing A and B plotlines that would eventually clash in a classic sitcom fashion, making the series hilarious and consistently engaging.
Other characters have found similar success in doing the same thing: Animal Man took a brilliant, hard left into body horror territory when DC’s New 52 initiative launched, while Rogue & Gambit (and the subsequent ongoing series Mr. & Mrs. X) took everyone’s favorite star-crossed X-Men and had them work through their long, storied relationship history in what could best be described as a romantic comedy. Both of these examples seem obvious in hindsight.
The new genres through which their stories were told helped to further develop the characters and their ever-expanding worlds. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said for all these narrative experiments. When a shift in genre doesn’t work, it’s not always because the initial setup is presented poorly. Sometimes there is a lack of perceived follow through. The new miniseries starring the interdimensional, genetically-engineered gladiator Shatterstar sets up an interesting premise, but changes gears in its first issue.