There are plenty of reasons to create a new character in a comic book related work – to add diversity, to tell a story set in the universe but separated from the main characters, to flesh out the cast, to make a distant prequel or sequel, and so on. But opinion on these original characters tends to be polarized. While there are plenty of people that like them without hesitation – usually non-comics fans – there are many that cling to their source material so much that they hate them for existing.
We need new characters, but therein lies the rub – oftentimes, the audience doesn’t like said new characters. And they continue to dislike said characters for not being canonical. With time, these characters could get redeemed in the eyes of the audience, especially if they were introduced into the comics and became a canon immigrant, but why introduce a character in the comics when they weren’t liked? We need new characters to appear in comics and their adaptations, because how boring would it be if the only characters we ever encountered were the original casts? Without new characters in adaptations, we wouldn’t have Harley Quinn. We wouldn’t have X-23. We wouldn’t have Kaldur’ahm. Hell, we wouldn’t even have Jimmy Olsen or Barbara Gordon. Not all new characters are as immediately liked like these were. But they can be redeemed, and it’s better to have the conviction to try to make that happen than to just cram already canon characters in roles they don’t fit.
Sometimes, writing a new character is just easier. That’s not bad. It just is. In The Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce’s love interest for the first two movies was an original character. Rachel Dawes. She was okay. I personally found her a little bland and forgettable, as well as being bothered that her primary role was to die, but that’s fine. My opinion. What I found more interesting than her as a character, though, is that she existed at all.
Batman’s iconic love interest is Catwoman. She’s the one most people think of when asked to name Bruce Wayne’s love interest. She appears consistently throughout Batman related media, because like Superman and Lois Lane, there’s Batman and Catwoman. And yet she doesn’t appear until the third film in the trilogy. Rachel was introduced because the writers wanted a romantic subplot in the first two movies, but didn’t want the complications that would arise as a result of using Selina or Talia or any of Bruce’s canonical love interests. She was new and therefore malleable. She could be anything. She could be anyone.
I fully support the creation of new characters. Comics and their adaptations are a unique medium/form of storytelling. It’s just as valid to introduce a new character in an adaptation as it is to do so in a comic. Comics aren’t static, and new characters and new interpretations of old ones are how they evolve. It even makes sense to do it for a specific purpose. Marcos Diaz from The Gifted; Laura Kinney from X-Men: Evolution; Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series; everyone from Powerless, that gorgeous comedy that was cancelled far too soon. All likeable original characters, created to serve a purpose in the plot, but more than just plot devices.
But when the creation of new characters is handled poorly, you get Sara Lance, who could be a good character, except for how much she embodies white feminism. I want to like Sara much more than I do, to the point where she pushed me away from a show I used to enjoy. You get Felicity Smoak, who started off well and with potential, but then had everything good and interesting stripped away from her when the writers turned her into a love interest at the expense of her character. While I can’t say Felicity is the reason I stopped watching Arrow, she was definitely one of them. You get characters that are boring and forgettable – like the previously mentioned Rachel Dawes, more plot device than person.
What I hate more than the creation of new characters, though, is when an already canonical character is completely changed in a new medium. I take issue with the changing of random aspects of a character to fit them into a premade box. Call me crazy, but Arrow turning Dinah Lance into a lawyer felt like a terrible move to me. It was fine when we were just talking about her working for a nonprofit. That was fine. That was good. We were talking about a woman using the legal system to fight for the marginalized. But then she became a prosecutor, and while she was a prosecutor, she was also breaking the law through the pursuit of vigilante justice. I didn’t like that change. I could accept it, though, because her personality was identifiable as Black Canary.
There are changes that I get and accept, even if I don’t necessarily like them – take Laurel instead of Dinah. Yes, it’s weird to have a name change for such an iconic character. But it also makes some amount of sense. Dinah is quite an old fashioned name, Laurel is a gorgeous one, and you’re much more likely to encounter a Laurel today than a Dinah. But Arrow‘s version of Oliver Queen shares a name with his comics self and little else. Zari Tomaz from Legends of Tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with her comics counterpart. Scott Summers from Apocalypse has none of comic Scott’s backstory or personality. It’s lazy. It’s a clear sign that someone isn’t actually interested in writing the character they were given. If that’s what a writer does, it seems like they want to have it both ways – they want the freedom to write a character however they feel like doing it, but they want to take the already paved road to get there by using one that’s already canon and thus has a fanbase/name recognition.
New characters aren’t fundamentally good or bad, they just are. But they’re much easier to accept in original properties than adaptations, where viewers go in with a set of preexisting expectations and opinions. And the visceral dislike for them that so many people have results in writers altering canon characters to avoid it, which may end up being even worse. I’ll admit that I’m not always quick to embrace the original characters myself. But I think we all need to work on getting better at it, because I’d rather see any number of poorly written new characters that could get better eventually than an already established character twisted beyond recognition to fit a role that they shouldn’t be in.