For those of you already familiar with the character above, please note that my hope is to not turn this into another rant, I simply feel he is the best character to illustrate this literary device.
There are three stages to this process:
The Core Character
Totally Ridiculous, Completely Harmless, Absolutely Fun.
While reconstruction can be applied to any genre, it will be easiest for me to explain and show its process with comics. To start with you need a core character, this is a full character who in many cases was created years ago… the author made them and hopefully they are a well-rounded character who the author felt never needed to be reconstructed.
The Core Character is where the character’s essence is held, and is apparent throughout any adaptation of the character. Batman is probably the best example here as he has been viewed through so many different lenses but his core values and ideas remain the same. Batman had his parents killed, he doesn’t use guns, he fights crime, and he has the best belt ever. However the way this character is portrayed can be completely different while still not moving into deconstruction, both Adam West and Michael Keaton fit here without moving onto the next stage. Which is completely fine, there is absolutely nothing wrong with NOT going though deconstruction.
If it’s not broke don’t fix it.
The character that I feel represents this part of the process is Squirrel Girl. Doreen is a PURE core, she doesn’t need to be reconstructed because everything she is, she wears on her sleeves. A silver age character who now lives in the modern age, she is a breath of fresh air amongst the modern character who have been rebuilt because she doesn’t need to be.
Love her so hard.
So now lets get to the character that we will be following through this, Robbie “Speedball” Baldwin. Speedball was a silly character who could throw energy balls and fly. He liked to joke around and while not a big character wasn’t a horrible one. Mostly Speedball was left unused and forgotten, which is the kind of character author’s LOVE to deconstruct, because even it allows them to do horrible things to these characters and drastically change things and their editors will let them because these characters don’t sell comics i.e. don’t matter. So they decide to change things up which gives us…
The Deconstructed Character
I AM A ROLE MODEL!
Yes that is Robbie Baldwin, no not the guy on the ground, the guy covered in spikes. What happened? Deconstruction.
While many would confuse this with making a character darker and more extreme, this is a general side effect, not the cause. Deconstruction is where you take a character and begin adding in real world cause and effect on them. The entire Dark Knight film series by Norton is a deconstructive take on the Batman Mythos. Bruce gets damaged over the years, he loses someone and is in mourning for years, for the first time in the movies we see how and why he became what he became.
At this moment, the character I feel best sums up deconstruction is Cyclops. Scott currently fought a war against the Avengers and was possessed with the Phoenix Force. When given this power he then started working on making the world a better place, we see that he is at his core a good person. However over the course of it we see him spiraling, he wants to be listened to, respected, and eventually obeyed. While it is hard to separate Scott from Phoenix as far as actions here, looking at Scott post AvX continues his deconstruction best. Now imprisoned and considered the world’s worst terrorist, he regrets what happened in so far as what he did, but looking at the bigger picture he views that he has won because the mutant population was saved. Scott is being deconstructed here, obviously being torn apart, and while its not pretty, we are getting a better idea of who he is today.
Now with Speedball we have an example alongside an extreme example of darker and edgier. Speedball was part of a team called the New Warriors who got a reality tv series that would follow them around being superheroes. However while being douchebag reality tv stars they screw up a mission and a good portion of a town, including the school, gets nuked. Speedball survives and carries the guilt with him. The world blames the New Warriors for their actions and Speedball goes crazy and starts wearing spiked armor that has spikes on the INSIDE and calling himself Penance… cause symbolism and depth?
Squirrel Girl’s rebuttals are examples of how Core and Reconstructed characters dealt with similar things. The last panel is just an example of why darker and edgier can be utterly wretched.
The core of deconstruction is that you are taking a character apart to see how they tick. You are applying real world psychology and environment to characters who generally occupy a static environment to see how they deal with things. By learning from this we can, hopefully, improve the character, this is best stated by Kurt Busiek.
“It strikes me that the only reason to take apart a pocket watch, or a car engine, aside from the simple delight of disassembly, is to find out how it works. To understand it, so you can put it back together again better than before, or build a new one that goes beyond what the old one could do. We’ve been taking apart the superhero for ten years or more; it’s time to put it back together and wind it up, time to take it out on the road and floor it, see what it’ll do.”
This leads us to….
The Reconstructed Hero
The same core but stronger because of what it has gone through. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Once you have learned what you needed to from Deconstruction its time to see what happens when you pick up the character. While results may vary, this is usually a return to the light from the darkness. A great example of this in a Universe is the Dark Reign of Marvel, where the Avengers and SHIELD were being run by Norman Osborne aka The Green Goblin. Once he was defeated Captain America took charge and started the Heroic Age and it was a return to form, with the deconstruction having begun with Civil War and Reconstruction beginning with the Heroic Age. This is further illustrated by the return of Robbie Baldwin as Speedball. He gave up the darkness and became well.. a fully rounded character, an adult. Speedball didn’t joke as much anymore, he took safety and training very seriously, and you knew why. In a fantastic issue of the Avengers Academy he returns to the town that he had damaged and you can see that he is still in essence working through his penance, trying to make up for what happened because it has become something at the core of the character, but he is no longer punishing himself.
Wow, its almost like she is a person with dreams, desires, and a rounded personality!
The character that best represents this stage is Jessica Jones. Jessica is from a series known as Alias, she was a private eye who used to be a heroine, and when we meet her she was already a reconstructed character, having reached a new place in her life based off of her deconstruction that we would get to see later. Jessica was a character created for the modern age and had a history the represented a past through the other ages of comics, but when we meet her she is already a fully-rounded person due to her past experience and what she learned from them, they have become part of her core and she is better for it. Since we met her, Jessice has never undergone deconstruction, she is always moving forward, her life changes and she adapts and grows with it. Jessica became a wife and mother, joined the Avengers with her husband, and then they left to raise their family safely, everything about her is natural, unforced, and a delight to read. Hands down, Jessica Jones is the spirit of reconstruction.
Reconstruction is an important process as it allows us to make character more relevant in a modern age, we get to see our heroes break apart and see them for human… but its always important to see them rise back up. Because at the end of the day that is why they are here, to inspire us to be better. The main problem with deconstruction is that it became popular with being combined with darkness, the prime example of deconstruction most likely being The Dark Knight Returns. A dark story that showed Batman as old and helped introduce the idea that he may be just as crazy as those he fights. These stories are popular, they sell well, so deconstruction is attached to darkness now, but it isn’t always so and the darkness isn’t a bad thing. The worst thing is that some authors never make it to reconstruction… allowing their characters to constantly be taken apart till not even the core remains, these are the things that betray the audience who have come to love their character. Reconstruction is not however a return to the static core. One More Day could be viewed by some as a deconstruction of Spider-Man albeit not a good one, however when Brand New Day started and he was happy and joking again… it wasn’t a reconstruct because he didn’t remember what had happened before, the act of taking him apart didn’t matter because nothing we learned matter because he had learned nothing, it was a reboot. Stepping back to square one, not moving forward to something new. My advice for this process is as follows:
Always move forward, always keep learning, never give up hope.