This may be extremely unusual (or perhaps extremely common), but I’ve never really liked characters my own age. Growing up, I always liked the character who was older than me. That was who I wanted to read about. When I was a pre-teen I loved stories with teenagers but it seemed the moment I reached High School I got sick of reading about High School students and moved on to twenty-somethings. I’m in my mid-twenties now. I still like some characters in my generation (I suppose Kyle Rayner and Wally West are my generation at the moment), but they were technically made for my sister’s generation and were older than me when first grew to like them. I want them to mature a little to be older than me now. I like some younger characters (again, the ones who — like Jubilee and Monet St. Croix — were actually older than me when I first encountered them) but I can’t seem to get as interested in their story range. More and more I find myself latching on to Silver and Golden Age characters and wishing to see them retain their seniority, not be kept forever young.
This is frustrating, because most of the heroes (particularly the female heroes but this is pretty widespread among male heroes too) are kept young perpetually, despite being aimed at adults who grew up with them and might possibly appreciate growing along with them. There’s an attitude that nobody would want to read a gray-haired Wonder Woman or see crow’s feet around Storm’s eyes.
I suppose that’s reasonable with the iconic characters they want to keep publishing for as long as possible. Eventually a character like Batman would pass the 80-year mark and things would get uncomfortably implausible, so there should be a stable setting for the universe and a few excuses for keeping people in good physical condition. That doesn’t excuse the lack of variety, though. We have plenty of heroes who start in their teens and early twenties and settle into an age close to when they started. There’s considerably fewer who age to maturity (Three or four characters in JSA, I believe, and one of the writers who made that group of old men popular still felt a need to make Hal Jordan young again when he brought him back!). There’s a lot less who start out when they’re older. (Very few men, almost no women over 40 star in adventure stories.)
There’s this strange idea that people want to read about people their age or younger. This idea that nobody wants to see or hear about anyone over 30. That the audience wishes to recapture their youth and not be reminded that they are growing older.
I can understand, to some extent, that way of thinking. I’m not old, but I can feel my youth ticking away. I can see the missed opportunities, the what-ifs. I’m on a set path, it seems, and it could be another decade before I’m free of certain responsibilities. The years are getting shorter and shorter, and I know it only gets worse from here. And I’ve always been like this. I felt this same sort of melodramatic aging in my teenaged years. I’m something of a pessimist who sees her future as shrinking rather than her past as growing.
I’m not sure the blame for that pessimistic attitude is entirely on my shoulders, though, and I’m reasonably certain that the cure is not only ever seeing people younger than me get to do cool stuff.
Everywhere I look, everything I read and watch, is drenched in youth. Images of heroic young men and women are plastered throughout our culture. They are there so that we can settle down and imagine ourselves as them, in their places, having their adventures. They’re there to show us the possibilities and the impossibilities. They are dream fodder, pure and simple.
I’ve always liked dream fodder that has just the slimmest possibility in my future.
No, I’m not saying I believe in superpowers and pseudoscience and all of the impossibilities, but I have a weak spot for the option that I could run off someday and have an exciting life that spans the globe and involves running, ducking, and maybe shooting things as they run and duck. This is extremely unlikely, and it is even more unlikely that I would actually enjoy such a life were I to suddenly get it, but there’s a bit of a wish buffer there when I need a break from my own reality. Ten minutes or so from time to time when I need to imagine I can be someone else when I get through whatever I’m dealing with, and the dream fodder we find in our fiction fuels that.
But every once in a while the dream fodder runs out, even when I need that break. And here, at the tender age of twenty-five I find it already running out. I’m at the final age of adventure for women. The vast majority of the visual media I’m exposed to insists that women eternally appear as though they are in their early twenties. I’ve grown up on this, and these images have shaped my imagination. Now that I’m in my mid-twenties and casting around for an older female character to read about, some pathetic shaky proof that I still have a few more decades to dream, I’m coming up short.
And the ones I love to read about already are sadly not going to grow ahead of me. I’ll pass them. I will read about them in a few years and they will be younger than me. I might enjoy their stories. I might not. I’m only sure that they won’t give me quite the same uplifting feeling anymore. When the hero is older, there’s a feeling that I could be like that someday. When the hero is younger, there’s a feeling that I missed the chance to be like that.