Blood will tell, but sometimes I wish it didn’t

A lot of people dislike the Chosen One trope, the idea that one individual is marked by destiny to do whatever has to be done: defeat Voldemort, blow up the Death Star, free humanity from the Matrix. Some people object that it implies nobody else can do anything, or that a male Chosen One is innately superior to a much more capable woman.

While I’m not hugely anti- the trope, I’m beginning to be annoyed at one particular variation on it: the hero was born great because it’s in their blood, an ancestry that makes them far more than an ordinary human.

I’m not at all bothered by characters like Supergirl, J’Onn J’Onzz or Marvel’s mutants. It’s established from the first that the hero’s genes make them more than human. But I don’t get the benefits of retconning a character to reveal the power was inside them all along. Case in point: Captain Britain.

As introduced by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe in the first issue of Captain Britain (collected in the Birth of a Legend hardback) Brian Braddock was an ordinary guy until the Reaver attacked a research facility where he was interning. Fleeing the chaos, he met visions of a mysterious old man and a woman who offered him a chance to fight back, by choosing either a sword or an amulet. Not being a warrior, Brian chose the amulet (later stories established this was the right choice) and became transformed into Captain Britain.

I enjoyed much later relaunch of Captain Britain (after appearing as a backup strip in other books) but there’s a point where they lost me: Roma (the woman from Brian’s vision) reveals that twins Brian and Betsy Braddock are no mere humans and Brian’s powers don’t come from his costume or his battle stave. Their father was actually one of Roma’s other-dimensional guardsmen; the power was always in him, Roma and her father Merlin just had to bring it out.

I found that oddly disappointing. An ordinary guy who rises to the occasion when danger threatens is one thing (“greatness thrust upon him” in the words of a previous post). I can sort of imagine myself doing the same thing in the same boat. But if his greatness comes from his bloodline? Much less interesting or inspiring.

Comments on The Mary Sue make the same point about a Marvel Comics retcon that reveals Carol Danvers is half-Kree by birth. If Carol’s exceptional because she was born that way, what sort of role model does she make (by the way, the speculation about the then-unreleased Captain Marvel movie is hysterical in hindsight)?

Or the reboot of Wonder Woman to reveal that instead of being shaped by a woman out of clay and brought to life by a goddess (which is, admittedly, another form of Born Great), she’s awesome because she’s the child of Zeus?

It’s one reason so many people (myself included) were pleased The Last Jedi revealed Rey comes from nobody and was born nothing special. Luke and Leia descended from greatness (albeit greatness that turned to the dark side); Rey proves even an ordinary person can become a great Jedi (hopefully the final chapter won’t retcon that back). I had the same reaction to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Fighting Man of Mars, the only book that doesn’t involve either John Carter, his family or another transplanted Earthmen. It’s just cooler that even an ordinary Martian swordsman of no special lineage can find excitement and adventure under the moons of Mars.

I can understand wanting to make your characters exceptional and special, but I don’t think a bloodline retcon is the way to go.

#SFWApro. Cover by Ron Wilson and John Kalisz, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Comics, Writing

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