Comic Books & Dates

I love comics. One of the things I love about them is that they go on for years and are written and drawn by vastly different creative teams, so you get to see the characters go through all kinds of stories and interpretations. There are characters being written today who have been around for 80 years, and I think that’s special.

It does cause a problem with timelines, though.

See, these days, most comics avoid putting hard dates on anything. People have gotten used to the idea that these characters will be around forever, so tying them explicitly to real-world events is a tricky proposition–if you establish firmly that a character was, say, born in 1997, then it’s not going to make sense when they’re still in their twenties 50 years from now.

DC gets around this a bit thanks to their semi-frequent continuity reboots–those are great for handwaving that kind of thing. Marvel, however, has never done a major reboot (not of its main universe, anyway), so the problem is a bit worse there… and there are a lot of characters who are tied to real-world events.

Perhaps the best-known example is Magneto, whose origin ties him to World War II in a major way. It’s a defining aspect of the character, in fact; you can’t really retcon away his being a Holocaust survivor. When this backstory was established, it made sense–he was the right age to have had that experience. Since then, 40 years have passed, and while Magneto is meant to be on the older side, I don’t think we’re supposed to read him as a 90-year-old.

There are handwaves, of course: sometimes characters are dead for a while, and you can just sort of… fudge it. If a character should really only be 30 but has stories explicitly set in ’70s, you can point to a story where they died and say, “Well, they were dead for [x amount of time] in which they didn’t age. That fixes it.” In Magneto’s case, he was de-aged into a baby and then aged back up (god, comics are so weird) so you can use that as an excuse for why his age doesn’t make much sense.

As I said, this is less of a problem these days… but it still crops up. One instance that just hit me today is Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord.

Thanks to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Quill is very heavily associated with the ’80s. He was an ’80s kid! That’s cool–it’s a fun aesthetic and it gives him a unique flavor and style. But think about this: the Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy video game that came out today portrays Quill as turning 13 sometime in the mid-’80s. In fact, he specifically mentions not wanting to miss the new episode of Knight Rider, which aired from 1982 to 1986, so let’s suppose his 13th birthday was in 1985. That means he was born in 1972, so assuming this game takes place in modern times, he’d be pushing fifty!

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a fifty-year-old superhero, but his whole ‘goofy manchild persona’ is something that works for someone in their twenties, makes sense for a washed-up thirty-something, and then just… sort of gets less fun from there. And this problem will only get worse as time goes on!

I don’t really have a point here, I just think the whole thing is weird and fascinating. What other characters are weirdly tied to specific dates and events? Two that come to mind are the X-Men Storm and Karma; can you think of any others?


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