Writers spend a great deal of time discussing and thinking about how to introduce a major character. Have them walk in and sit down at the bar with the rest of the cast, as in many roleplaying games? Resort to the hoary Marvel Comics template (which in fact dates all the way back to the epic of Gilgamesh), in which the characters fight before settling down to be best friends? The ‘meet cute’ of romantic movies is popular– but it is possible to be too cute, and it is crucial to select a ‘meet’ that illuminates character all around and hopefully kicks the plot further down the road too.
Unfortunately, a quite good example of how not to do the job can be viewed in the latest issue of Superman. The backstory: Supes is leaving town on an extended mission off planet. Metropolis being totally incapable of managing by itself, Superman has lined up a couple of pinch-hitters. First among them is Mon-El, featured on the cover. Mon is best known as a member of the undying Legion of Super-Heroes, but his appearance here is very complicated; essentially he is here before he was a Legionnaire. Pay no attention to this; with luck it will not be important.
What is notable about this first splashy appearance (in Superman’s own comic — Superman himself does not really appear at all) is how bland and uninteresting it really is. Guys, guys! You are supposed to grab us by the neckbands of our tee shirts and twist! To have poor Mon talking like a dummy and being spoon-fed by Superman to all his former allies — it’s depressing. If he’s going to be the hero, he has to be pro-active! Quite good art (this cover, for instance) cannot make up for wussy storytelling. A first appearance has to be compelling, and there are many fine examples in the history of comics.
The only ray of hope is that this issue is the first of a fairly long arc. They can’t get Superman back for a while, so Mon-El has a chance to pick up the ball and run. They need to get him a long ongoing problem to solve, stud it with an issue-by-issue range of smaller crises and adventures, plus a crash course in personality and character development. If all this is done well then we can, once more, look to the transplantation of another Legion character into the current DC universe. If it’s a dull disaster, then Mon-El will just have to pop back into the Phantom Zone until the Legion is ready to rescue him a thousand years from now.