The Status Quo of Comics
There are two types of people in the world: those that read comics and those that don't. If you do then you're already intimately aware of the status quo in comic books. If you don't then I think you'll find the medium fascinating. Even if you don't like the stories themselves, the nature of weekly comic books is unlike any other form of media out there. Specifically, mainstream superhero comics from the Big Two publishers: DC and Marvel.
They're kind of like soap operas that go on forever and the actors never age (yet they somehow manage to have kids that grow up from babies to teens). Because these characters are so iconic, publishers are very hesitant to make big changes in their lives. And when they do, there is an inevitable assumption that the big change won't last forever. That eventually everything will return to the "status quo." This is why character deaths in comic books is considered such a joke. Because no one stays dead forever.
I've been thinking of this phenomenon recently in regards to one character: an infamous Spider-Man villain by the name of Doctor Octopus. In order to demonstrate the status quo of comics in action, I'm going to take you through Doc Ock's journey over the past couple years. If you plan on eventually reading this story arc and haven't yet then BEWARE! I will be going into some spoilers below. So you might want to skip ahead to the end.
Doctor Octopus is one of Spidey's first and most dangerous villains. He has a pretty trademark look of a fat nerdy scientist with four mechanical arms strapped to his back. Really, it's hard to mistake him for anyone else. He was already on the older side during his first comic appearance back in the 1960's, and what happens to old people after five decades of villainy? Well, they get older. Doc Ock's iconic style got upgraded in 2015 to a dying old man hellbent on world destruction.
Of course, Spider-Man stopped him, but not before the doctor managed to swap his mind with Spider-Man's. So...when Dock Ock's old body eventually died it was Spider-Man who really died with it, while Doc Ock lived on in Spider-Man's body. Rather than continuing to be a villain, Doc Ock decided to become a brutal hero calling himself the Superior Spider-Man. What can I say? The guy has an ego problem.
Nothing in comics lasts forever, though. The original Spider-Man eventually returned to his body, but Doc Ock refused to die. His mind was transferred into a robot then eventually a clone of Spider-Man's body. He briefly became a villain again (calling himself the Superior Octopus) before returning to the mantle of Superior Spider-Man. (Both Spider-Men were alive at this time. It was very confusing for everyone.) This entire saga culminated with Doc Ock making the conscious choice to return to his original form as a villain in order to defeat someone he couldn't have otherwise. And so...where do we wind up? Right back where we started.
After all that you might be asking yourself...what was the damn point? Why put the character through all that if he's exactly the same in the end? What I believe (and I may be wrong) is that when it comes to mainstream superheroes there is no "end" to their journey. They can grow and change over time, but these stories are timeless. As long as there's a public who loves them then there will be writers who will give their own unique spin on their mythos. And when a new generation comes along to take over the reigns, it's fitting that they start at the beginning with the character in their "natural" state.