I’ve seen countless stories where characters get reinvented, sometimes radically. Holmes in the far future. Holmes on Mars. Black Holmes. Gay Holmes. Female Holmes. Countless versions of the Arthurian legends that go where Thomas Malory would never have thought of going (e.g., Merlin or Tears to Tiara). I’ve written Conan wooing Elizabeth Bennett in a Pride and Prejudice riff. But still, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes a reboot or reinterpretation stretches a character beyond what works.
Three Y/A and intermediate graphic novels I read recently reminded me of this. They all try for new approaches, tailored for the age range, to various DC characters; two of them worked for me, one didn’t (I will make the obvious point that I am not the target audience for any of them) and I thought it might be interesting to right about why.
The one that didn’t was TEEN TITANS: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo (cover by Picolo). Raven Roth is in the middle of a heated, ominous discussion with her mom during a cross country trip when there’s an accident that kills her mother and leaves Raven with amnesia. While a friend of her mom’s takes Raven in, the death and the loss of her memory leaves her feeling pretty miserable. Plus, she’s in high school, which is more misery. Plus these weird things happen around her as if she was able to curse the school bullies or something — that can’t be true, right? By the end of the story, Raven’s learned she’s a half-demon, child of Trigon, escaped his grasp for now and set off on new adventures (this is the first graphic novel in a new Teen Titans line).
Don’t get me wrong, the story is perfectly competent, it’s just that it’s perfectly generic. I don’t expect a project like this to hark back to the 1980s Wolfman/Perez version of Raven, but if they’d made her Zatanna or Jean Grey the story would hardly have had to change. There’s nothing that makes me think “Raven,” not even the tart-tongued, short-tempered Raven of Teen Titans Go (which is not faithful to Wolfman/Perez either, but it works).
By contrast, DIANA, PRINCESS OF THE AMAZONS by Shannon and Dean Hale and Victoria Ying feels very Wonder Woman. Diana’s a pre-teen in this story, the only child on all Themiscyra. When she was the first baby, everyone made a great fuss about her, but now she’s older, everyone including her mom takes her for granted, and she has nobody her own age to play with.
Diana’s solution? Make a girl of clay and try to wish it to life the way Hippolyta did Diana. To her surprise it works, and she now has a new friend, Mona. Only Mona’s ideas about having fun are decidedly mischievous — and wouldn’t it be a wonderful bit of mischief if they opened that Doom’s Doorway the Amazons are supposed to keep closed forever? This is a different take on the Amazing Amazon’s childhood than I’ve seen before, but it fits Wonder Woman perfectly.
Last of the three is ZATANNA & THE HOUSE OF SECRETS by Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani (cover by Yoshitani). Here Zatanna is thirteen, living with her stage magician father ever since Mom died. She’s a bit of an outcast at school, not quite sure where she fits in, but it doesn’t dampen her ebullient spirit too much. But then her dad disappears, after warning her to take good care of his pet rabbit, Pocus. Zatanna finds evidence her Mom is really alive. And then a creepy kid named Klarion and his mom steal a key chain from around Pocus’ neck and proclaim themselves the new owners of Zatara’s House of Secrets, the supernatural template on which all houses are built. Can Zatanna regain control? What’s going on with Mom? Just how many doors are there in the house, anyway?
This is as radical a reworking of Zatanna’s story as Raven but it feels like a recognizable version of the character I know. It’s also not at all generic — it takes the premise and does fun stuff with it (weird house with infinite doors is a great premise).
None of that translates into any insights I can use in my own writing, but analyzing other people’s writing is fun even so.
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