Bryan Hitch’s JUSTICE LEAGUE “Legacy” Arc Highlights Comic’s Character Permanence Problem

The Justice League comic, currently written by Bryan Hitch—with art by Fernando Pasarin, Oclair Albert and Brad Anderson—is three issues into a story arc called “Legacy”, which sees the children of Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Mera & Aquaman, and Barry Allen & Jessica Cruz traveling back in time to escape a world destroyed by a villain named Sovereign. These first three issues have largely been about introducing the super kids (Hunter Prince, Nora, Jenny & Jason Allen, George Stone, and Eldoris Curry) to their parents in the League rather than explaining what these kids’ actual goals are in the past, although at the end of this week’s issue #28, we find out that the key to saving the future might just lie in killing Wonder Woman. Whatever the ultimate solution to the problem is, however, one thing we know for sure is that this whole arc is ultimately pointless.

The Future of Comics is the Present

Justice League #27

Justice League #27

Why is it all pointless? Hunter and his friends come from a time twenty-two years in the future from current DC continuity. Twenty-two years from now, if the world even exists and we’re still reading comic books, what do you think we’ll be reading about? The adventures of the Allen/Cruz offspring? No. In twenty years time we’ll still be reading about Barry Allen and Jessica Cruz, along with all the other current members of the Justice League, just like we have been for the past eighty years.

I know, I know, this principle of character permanence—where characters never get older and never undergo any radical changes—is a well-understood part of the comics industry. We all love reading about Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, and the only way we can keep doing that until the inevitable heat death of the universe is if they never grow old and die, or change in such a way as to make them unrecognizable. So no matter how many years go by in the real world, Batman and his friends all stay the same age, at the peak of their physical prowess, within a largely unchanging status quo.

For the most part, this fact about comics publishing is easy to ignore, because it’s not something that calls attention to itself on an issue-to-issue basis. Every once in a while, however, a writer will come up with a story that puts the concept front and center. “Legacy” is just such a story; bringing the children of the Justice League into the past confronts the League with a future that will never exist, not just because they’ll assuredly prevent whatever events led Hunter and company’s dark future from becoming a reality—wiping this potential version of their children from existence—but because for adult versions of the Justice League’s children to exist in mainline continuity, the current League members would have to age out of active duty.

The Eternal Ten-Year-Old

This is a problem that, once I start thinking about it, I can’t stop. Take my boy Damien Wayne, for instance. Damien was introduced by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert in 2006. Eleven years later, Damien is still a ten-year-old boy. Once upon a time, comic characters like Dick Grayson grow from Batman’s plucky kid sidekick not just into his own hero—Nightwing—but into an adult. Nowadays, Damien is still ten, Beast Boy and Raven are still in the Teen Titans, and we’ve got a newly introduced Johnathan Kent who I assume will stay a kid forever, too.

Editors at the Big Two are so concerned that changing the status quo of their books too much will kill already slumping sales that young characters are no longer allowed to grow up, because it would mean the adult heroes get older as well—never mind the fact that Dick managed to grow up just fine without Bruce ever aging a day. “Fans” these days are too nit-picky to allow for such a blatant chronologic contradiction.

If beloved super kids like Damien are never gonna be allowed to grow up, then there’s no chance we ever see Hunter Prince or any of his companions at any point in the future. And yeah, I guess the present day Leaguers can learn something valuable about themselves by meeting their potential offspring or whatever, and I do like this crazy future robo-Aquaman, but to me, stories like “Legacy” always ultimately wind up feeling like pointless and frustrating reminders of one of comics’ glaring problems: the fear of change.

Justice League #28 is in stores today

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