Ever watch Friends? I enjoyed the series a great deal, because I felt like I got to know those six characters, and I found them all to be very likeable. I knew that, week after week for ten seasons, I would spend a half an hour with the same half-dozen friends, and I would enjoy the brief glimpse into their lives.
Would I have kept watching if, for a six week period, Ross had been portrayed as a dark, driven, almost psychotic man? Had it turned out that Phoebe was an an amoral killer who would turn on her own friends? If, for another four week arc, Chandler had become a foul-mouthed self-indulgent character who mocked those close to him?
Television, one of the most successful forms of episodic continuing-character entertainment, would have little room for such unexplained abandonment of character. However, it is not only tolerated in comics, but it seems that too many writers and editors think it is necessary in order to advance their storylines.
Reading the latest issue of All Star Batman and Robin, unarguably the worst comic ever produced by major talent, I realized that, if this were television, Frank Miller would have been fired over as storyline that so ignored established personalities. He's not the only offender--only the worst. Ed Brubaker, Judd Winick, Mark Millar, and others are throwing away established characters with a long-standing reader relationship in order to "reinvent" these characters in an image more to their liking. And unfortunately, editors allow this to happen, offering no guidance and setting no barriers to a writer's radical reinvention of established characters who are as significant to their readers as the characters of Friends were to their viewers.
Bad storytelling, bad writing, bad editing... the industry really needs to demand more of its talent if it wants to win readers over long-term.
In the meantime, I'm convinced DC could do much better if they'd reissue All Star Batman and Robin with blank word balloons and encourage readers to fill in their own stories. I guarantee they could do a far better job than what Frank Miller is doing...