Why Marvel and DC Should Finally Let Their Heroes Age Up

In the current House of X series from Jonathan Hickman, many different timelines have been introduced into the Marvel Comics canon. But one interesting thing stuck out at me: it’s a reiteration of the idea that the X-Men as we know them today have only been around for “ten years.” Hickman didn’t invent this notion, it’s been a long standing staple of the comics. Which means the entire Marvel Universe of heroes — at least since the Fantastic Four started — have only been around for roughly one decade.

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Marvel Comics

Now, the idea of “ comic book time” has been around forever, and it serves the purpose of never letting these characters age up past a certain point. And this is a good thing, in my opinion. The comics medium allows for a special kind of serialized storytelling that allows its protagonists to always be in their prime and ready for the next adventure. But it seems that 30 years old is that arbitrary number not to age past for most of these iconic characters, and by modern standards, this just doesn’t make sense anymore.

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DC Comics

This isn’t just a Marvel problem. Their chief rival, DC Comics, has also fallen for this Logan’s Run idea that most of their main heroes should not be portrayed as being over 30 in recent years. Part of the reason DC had their big New 52 reboot in 2011 was to age down all these iconic heroes, making them hover under 30 as well. This was meant to attract younger readers, who theoretically didn’t want to read about “the olds.” But our ideas of what is considered “old” by society has drastically changed since the time these characters were created, and it’s time the comics reflected that.

“Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30”
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Marvel Comics

What is the root of Marvel and DC’s obsession with never letting their greatest heroes hit the big Three-Oh? The genesis of this can be found in the 1960s, the era when Marvel changed the game for comics. Marvel Comics as we know it today was created right in the middle of the youth culture movement of that time. Sure, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were well into their forties, but they knew who their target audience was. And just how old they were. So they made some of their most popular heroes into teenagers, with average teenage problems and melodrama surrounding them.

Peter Parker was in high school when he became Spider-Man, and the X-Men were essentially teens while students of Xavier’s School. DC was less youth oriented than Marvel, but the Marvel ethos filtered through to them eventually. By the ’70s, Superman and Batman’s official ages were always given by the publisher as being 29. The ’60s youth culture motto “don’t trust anyone over 30” has been like a secret mantra for the super heroes who were both born in that time, and also revitalized in that era.

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Marvel Comics

Over the succeeding decades, various superhero characters have been allowed to age somewhat. Peter Parker graduated high school, went to college, and even became a teacher. The original X-Men not only graduated, but eventually became professors at the school they themselves were taught in. Despite all this, Marvel seems to imply that almost none of these characters are over 30, or even that more than a decade has passed since they donned their colorful costumes and started fighting evil. (Iron Man and Thor might be big exceptions). At DC, Superman got married and had a child, as did Batman. DC’s reaction to this was to eventually de-age their heroes, for fear of making them appear too old and alienating young readers. But is age even a factor for anyone’s enjoyment of these characters?

The Movies Proved Everyone Wrong
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Marvel Studios / Warner Brothers

The funny thing is, in the past two decades, Hollywood came along and proved everyone at both Marvel and DC wrong about how old these characters should be portrayed as. When Christian Bale started to play a young Batman, he was over 30. Robert Downey Jr. was 44 when he became Iron Man. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is 48, and is about to get his own series! With the exception of Spider-Man, none of these characters are hinged upon the notion of being young. If the masses of general audience fans can accept these characters as being older, why must the comic versions always avert getting past a certain milestone?

DC at least seems to be going back on its “everyone’s a twenty-something” notion in recent years. Superman is once again married and has a teenage son. Batman, meanwhile, has raised four kids, meaning he has to at least be 40. While I’m not suggesting that these characters should age in real time or get geriatric, I think the arbitrary age of the modern DC and Marvel Universe hero has reached its breaking point. None of it jives with how we perceive age in the 21st century. Marvel wants Peter Parker to be the eternal struggling bachelor, but there are tons of struggling bachelors in their mid 30s in the modern world, and it’s not perceived as strange. It’s far weirder in a 2019 context to think that Cyclops has been married three times and become a college professor by 28.

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Marvel Comics

Allowing Marvel and DC heroes to age up to or around 35-40 at least would correct the timeline problem, and allow for a 20 year history instead of a mere ten. That alone would make lots of things in both continuities make more sense. But more importantly than continuity issues, it would be a stand against any leftover ingrained cultural ageism. So much media has been telling people that their “story” is done by the time they hit 30. Everything exciting in one’s life supposedly happens before that. But we all know that’s hogwash. Let these heroes be vibrant characters with exciting lives past the “Do Not Cross” age  milestone. If it’s good enough for the big screen versions of our heroes, then it’s good enough for the comics.

Featured Image: Marvel Comics

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