Sporting more salt in their hair than pepper, the elderly characters of the world don’t often get to take the spotlight in comics. With the majority of heroes in our books being young, in their prime and ready to take on the world, our senior citizens often get overlooked.
But just because you’ve seen a few more sunsets than most, doesn’t mean you can’t play the hero…
The Grumpy Old Men of Southern Bastards
Earl Tubb, the protagonist of the series first arch, is a senior citizen after my own heart. This Southern Bastard‘s tale of heroism in the face of small town bigotry has it all, heart, corruption and a Vietnam War veteran as its lead.
Seemingly subdued by his years, Earl Tubb struggles, as we all do, to make peace with the emotional baggage he’s collected over time. But it’s his age that makes the character such an intriguing read. He’s a man who should know better, but doesn’t. One who wants to amend his wrongs, but after so long isn’t quite sure how. A creature deemed too old to change his ways, who, in the end, discovers that old dogs really can learn new tricks.
In a world saturated with younger heroes, Earl Tubb’s quest to bring justice to his small town home, brings to the page a valuable message: that it’s never too late be your own hero.
The Ensemble of East of West
East of West is an apocalyptic tale for the ages. Not taking into account the ancient entities of the Four Apocalyptic Horseman, it’s still one of the most age diversifying comics on the shelves.
However, in this series, where an alternate version of Earth is on the brink of destruction, the elderly take the form of opportunistic leaders; the ruthless she-devil, President Antonia; the double-crossing political rat Chamberlain; and guilt-ridden Texan, Bel Solomon, to name a few. Each duplicitous character working their own angle, in the plot to bring about the end of days.
With a story that hinges on the long and sordid histories shared between characters, it works for the players to be of a vintage age – this way they’ve had more time to store up skeletons in their closets. But with the elders of the series caught up in various power struggles and betrayals, it also portrays dangerous side to having walked the earth for longer than most. For secrets and misdeeds can sour the soul, and while some grow soft with age, others turn to stone.
The Grandmother of Saga
While still young by some elder’s standards, there is something marvelous about Grandmother Klara’s character in Saga. She’s no midriff-baring Gwendolyn, no sassy mouthed Alana, but the character is depicted with such grace, elegance and gusto, that she has no trouble holding her own with the younger females of the Saga universe.
If you look close enough, the character sends a positive statement about aging with grace. She harbors no resentment of youth, has the confidence to know hold her head high, and the wisdom to accept things as they happen. It’s certainly refreshing to see an older woman portrayed as nothing more or less than what she is. In this case, a mother, a warrior, and one hell of a lady.
The Future Selves
There is another form that the older generation of hero takes, and its one that’s almost more fun than watching an original protagonist wander the page.
Batman Beyond. Old Man Logan. Kingdom Come. The heroes we know and love, X years into the future.
Stories that let us steal a glimpse into a hero’s future are always a delight. Our familiarity with the hero’s past, coupled with unraveling the mystery of what occurred while we weren’t with them, makes for excellent storytelling. And whether it’s elderly Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon’s struggles in Neo-Gotham or Old Man Logan facing his demons in the future west, these older versions of characters showcase how much, and how little, time can change.
In an era where aging is often something to be feared, these older versions of our heroes show that it’s not as scary as we might think; the characters are still the same capable heroes on the inside, even if their outsides look a little different.
With age being merely a number, it’s the experiences that come with it that shape us into the characters we are, and more representation of senior citizens in comics could help shatter the negativity attached to gaining years.
On the other hand, I could be reading too much into this.
But isn’t that the beauty of art, and in particular the sequential kind.