So many recent entertainment franchise failures boil down to a simple failure by creators to respect characters.
Across movies, television, video games, books and comics, long-time fans of franchises have seen familiar and beloved characters badly mishandled. Newer writers decide the work of those before them is outdated or uninteresting. They twist characters they didn’t create into shapes that fans often find off-putting, if not outright grotesque. The writers demonstrate a clear lack of understanding of long-running characters and possess zero insight into what has made those properties popular.
Reasons for such catastrophic mishandling might be some combination of arrogance, ignorance and agendas that have nothing to do with telling a good story. In some cases the treatment is so bad that it’s difficult to see how the damage done to a character can be remedied.
While there are many permutations of the disrespect shown to franchise characters, the mistakes tend to fall into a few broad categories.
With long-running characters, it can feel difficult to find anything fresh to do with them. It’s not a surprise, therefore, that some writers will take a chance on outlandish character turns just to attempt to present something different. That’s not a bad thing in theory.
The problem arises where the changes are so fundamental that they erode the very fabric of a character. The arc where Captain America was revealed as a life-long asset of the Nazi-affiliated Hydra is an example of taking a chance with a character that really didn’t pay off. The explanation involved a reality-altering object and the real character was eventually restored, but along the way the plot burned a lot of fans, exhausting patience and good will, especially since the story’s climax didn’t really justify the set-up. The recent Krakoa Era of the X-Men comics is another example, with once-noble heroes turned into true believers in a mutant cult where characters act nothing like the versions many fans know and cherish.
Writers should make bold moves when handling characters and try to chart new territory. But never at the expense of a character’s integrity. Changes should enhance characters, not damage them in ways that can be difficult, if not…