Where Did the Supporting Cast Go?

Is it my imagination, or are there fewer supporting cast members in superhero comics than there used to be?

It was always, to my mind, the humans hanging around the superfolk that made their stories relatable. I couldn’t be Superman, but I could dream of being as feisty and determined and accomplished as Lois Lane. (I know she’s still around, but by the time I stopped reading the DC reboot, all we knew about her was that she was shacked up with some other guy.) Other kids could imagine being Superman’s Pal, like Jimmy Olsen was. Plus, more supporting cast means more kinds of stories other than “beating up the villain”.

Maybe I have blinders on — please enlighten me in the comments if so — but I can’t think of many non-superpowered supporting cast members left. Alfred, of course, but there are so many costume-sporting Bat-family folk running around these days there’s no room for the unmasked. The teen heroes are all hanging out with others like them.

Have superhero comics lost something important by getting rid of the regular people from their pages?

18 Responses to “Where Did the Supporting Cast Go?”

  1. Patrick Wynne Says:

    I stopped reading it a few issues ago so this might have changed, but what about Blue Beetle?

    Granted, the New 52 version of Jaime’s supporting cast is more like an off-model version of the original, but it’s there.

  2. Leask Says:

    Spider-Man (both Amazing and Ultimate) still feature has an extensive, important supporting cast members. Daredevil features a strong supporting cast (anchored by Foggy Nelson, but featuring characters like the ADA, too). Before they ended, Herc and Spider-Girl focused a lot of attention on the supporting cast, and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics features Lois and Jimmy in larger roles than in the Superman title. Similarly, Nightwing’s first arc spent a lot of time introducing a non-powered supporting cast at Haley’s Circus, and Batgirl still features Barbara Gordon’s mother, father and roommate. Invincible Iron Man features Tony Stark’s entire staff of supporting characters.

    I think supporting characters are doing just fine.

  3. Leask Says:

    Please forgive the poor editing/grammar in my first sentence. Dang, that’s embarrassing.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Blue Beetle’s supporting cast was one of my all-time favorites in the previous run of the book, but in the reboot, one of his two friends was changed into a supervillain. So that supports the point I’m making.

    It’s interesting, Leask, that a couple of the titles you mention are/were my favorites: Daredevil and Herc. I want to like Spider-Man and Iron Man more than I do, but with Spider-Man, especially, every story I enjoy is followed by some superpowered battle or crossover tie-in I dislike. (It’s tough balancing that stuff on a flagship book, I know.) I’ll have to take your word on the Bat-books, because I’m just not interested in them after the reboot.

    I think the bigger point is that we can each cherrypick titles based on what we’re looking to demonstrate. Which is why I wanted to talk about this in a post — to see whether others were feeling the way I was, or I was just looking at the wrong superhero comics.

  5. Michael Paciocco Says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head – supporting casts are gone and it’s part of the reason supercomics are so insular – there’s no point of reference or human dimension to the characters.

  6. Sean A. Veira Says:

    Noticed that awhile back and that is one of the reason I think I purchase few comics now then in the past. If there is a supporting cast in some comics today, they are other superheroes instead of normal folks.

  7. Patrick Wynne Says:

    Well, that sucks about Jaime’s supporting cast. Was it Paco or Brenda that got villainized? No, nevermind; I don’t want to know. *sigh*

  8. Rob Barrett Says:

    Invincible still has a decent human-scale supporting cast–it’s smaller than, say, Spidey’s or Darededevil’s, but it’s still quite crucial to the feel of the book. The good people of Broxton, OK, are also players in the two Thor books at Marvel. At DC, Flash has a number of normals playing crucial parts in the book, and of course Animal Man’s family helps to ground that title.

  9. James Schee Says:

    I guess it really depends on what the book is about, for whether human supporting cast is needed.

    Daredevil is set in Matt’s world, his role as a lawyer is as (if not more) important than his role as Daredevil. So having Foggy, etc. is needed and Waid has done wonders.

    Wolverine and the X-Men though, their world revolves around mutant kind, teaching, etc. Having normal humans as regular supporting cast would take some hoops to jump through I think.(though one teaching tolerance might be nifty)

    Superman(in both titles) is the one that I feel they’ve dropped the ball on. None of the supporting cast really supports Superman or Clark so far. I know they’d talk about making him isolated, but I also feel isolated as a reader. Before if it was the Kents, Lana or eventually Lois, having someone he could talk to about his stuff made me feel more connected to the character.

  10. Signal Watch Says:

    The Superman books forgot how to keep the supporting cast involved way, way back under Eddie Berganza’s editorialship. There seemed to be an opportunity after Infinite Crisis to fix that, and they tried, but then they took Superman off Earth for more than a year with New Krypton. Then a year where he walked America. Then… reboot and New 52.

    Its not just a loss of reference for the character, but a loss of a sense of wonder that the characters are unique or special in the world and not just part of a population of superheroes. But, mostly, I think its indicative of the fact that superhero books quit being about superheroes as heroes in a world that needed them, and became about, as Alan Moore said “tactical superiority”, and poorly realized characters slugging it out for reasons that didn’t amount to much but them.

    I’ll take my Superman with one foot firmly in the Daily Planet and his actions meaning something to Metropolis. I think there’s been some of that in the New 52 Superman, but I doubt it’ll continue as DC dumps cross-overs and Wildstorm U stuff on the characters rather than just building Metropolis as a location with a strong supporting cast.

  11. Suzene Says:

    The X-Men used to have a passel of human supporting cast — Stevie Hunter, Charlotte Jones, Moira MacTaggert, Lee Forester, Tom Corsi, Sharon Friedlander, Amanda Sefton, Maddie Pryor, hell, even Nurse Annie — to balance out the isolationist tendencies of the mutant books. The only ones I can think of these days are Northstar’s boyfriend, Kyle Jinadu (whom I do rather like), and that terrible excuse for a therapist who crops up now an again in New Mutants.

  12. Suzene Says:

    Oh, and Val Cooper. Shame on me for forgetting her.

  13. Johanna Says:

    James, good analysis. I hadn’t thought about Wolverine & the X-Men, but you’re right, there’s a wide cast in that book, even though they’re all mutants. Perhaps it’s not having humans around so much as having a diverse group of characters to balance the over-the-top super-deeds.

    SW, I agree about losing sight of the “world that needed them”, and that makes me sad.

    Suzene, who’s Val Cooper? I like that therapist character in NM myself.

  14. Anthony Says:

    Agree with the above. Too many superhero books nowadays feel too much like watching some superpowered gang war (for lack of a better way of phrasing it). Wonder when the last time some of them stopped a bank robbery, or mugging, or dealt with a job (or even *have* a civilian identity)…

  15. Rob Barrett Says:

    Oh yeah, Miles Morales has a great supporting cast, but then that follows for a character related to Peter Parker.

    Val Cooper is the X-Men version of the Avengers’ Henry Gyrich, a government handler/liaison.

  16. Kard Says:

    Re: Blue Beetle

    Paco was “changed into a supervillain” for maybe 1 issue, thanks to an alien virus (which was accidentally added to him and controlled him without his say). That’s all been sorted now – Paco is back to being Paco again. Back to a full-human cast again.


  17. Johanna Says:

    Oh, good to know, thanks. I was disappointed and didn’t check back in.

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