Monday, September 10, 2007

Things I Could Do Without Seeing In Comics Ever Again

I warned you guys when i quit comic blogging at Comic Fodder that it would come back to haunt us all. If you make it to the end of this post, you get a gold star.

DC Comics have been around for 70 years, give or take. Superman himself has carried multiple titles for decades. Add in team books like JLA, hundreds of series that didn't quite make it, books that did make it, and tons of one-shots, mini-series, etc... And, anyway, multiple all that by comics coming out monthly, and you've got a whole lot of stories they've tried to tell over the years.

I'm not saying comics are creatively bankrupt, but there is a certain point at which story ideas are recycled. Unfortunately, in an industry where your writers are mostly lifelong comic fans, you tend to get a lot of similar plot elements woven into the fabric of comics. There seems to be a tendency to write to what you know. Unfortunately, sometimes this means that the fanboys writing the comics only know how to go to the well and tend to repeat themselves over and over.

There are just some odd conceits of comics that make me roll my eyes.

1) Mind-Control used against Superman. You aren't going to top "Sacrifice" in the foreseeable future. Busiek handled the tendency for the topic to get overplayed a bit in "Camelot Falls".

2) Prophecies. Seriously, you're giving away the ending, and if everyone is a "Chosen One", nobody is a chosen one.

3) Revolving Door of Death. DC claims to measure the importance of a death and if it was a good idea and was the impact severe on the DCU. And yet Jason Todd runs around the DCU, featured in Countdown. In some ways, I think it speaks ill of DC editorial's understanding of how death effects people in real life.

4) Third Person Descriptions of Batman's insane thirst for justice. I got it. He's a big, spooky guy. But it breaks the first rule of writing: Show, don't tell.

5) Time Travel (Legion excepted). It's too complicated and its rarely handled well. The Legion is just kooky enough to keep me from thinking too much about the ramifications. They get a pass, even if the whole Mon-El thing makes no sense.

6a) Female Superheroes and Villains in heels and improbable outfits. You can't fight in heels, run or do much but walk around. And, really, who decides their action suit means they need to show as much cleavage as possible?
6b) Female Superhero costumes that shred but leave tatters in convenient locations

7) Endless armies of anonymous henchmen in million dollar armor. I've never really understood how any supervillain was supposed to gets o many goons on their payroll and then outfit them better than the average US soldier.

8) Heists that appear to cost more than the take. If your technology is that good, you'll do far better selling the technology to the US government or a contractor than knocking over banks.

9) Teases for the return of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. You're not bringing him back. Stop yanking my chain. That said, I can't say "No" to a whole army of speedsters. On this, Didio and I will just have to disagree.

10a) Two Superheroes meet for first time, immediately fight one another
10b) Two Superheroes who turn a disagreement into a reason for a fistfight. Both of these sceanrios make the hero look like a hotheaded idiot. You don't catch a well written JLA slugging it out over petty disputes. That's because there's an understanding that these guys are pros.

11) More muddling of Aquaman. Could a character be more mixed up? For the love of Mike, how little faith do you have in your own writers that you can't trust someone to just restore the original Aquaman to his place in the DCU? He doesn't need his own title, just... fix it.

12) Awkwardly written flirting scenes. It just reinforces that comics are written by dateless geeks for dateless geeks.

13) Another teen hero who gets picked on in high school. Was there ever an actual high school where things were so bad for quiet nerds who kept to themselves as the ones they portray in comics? Another sign that comics are written by geeks for geeks. Not everyone needs to be @#$%ing Peter Parker.

14) Writers who forget the meaning of the term "supporting cast". If all your hero does is heroey stuff all the time, and spends his life thinking in caption boxes, it can get dull pretty fast. A Lois Lane for your hero to talk to can do wonders. I think the dirty secret of why Blue Beetle is such as fun comics is that Jaime has a large, colorful supporting cast. Robin has... Robin.

That's my list...

What have you got?


J.S. said...

Man, you're kicking some of the cornerstones of comic book writing right out from under the poor bastards. I don't mean to be cruel, but some of these complaints just make it sound like you're progressing as a reader beyond the scope of the traditional good versus evil costumed comic book superhero (I mean, aren't the costumes always going to be improbable, the schemes of the villains a little overwrought, the characters constantly finding ways to return from the dead, and the heroes arising from backgrounds as picked upon nerds so that the audience can relate to them?) Personally, I think the future of comics, to the extenet that they continue to evolve in a realm appreciated by adults, lies outside of the superhero format, although not necessarily outside the realm of fantasy, sci fi, and/or horror. We'll always need superheroes, but the same traditions and familiar plot devices that make people love them and admire them also kind of limit their ability to expand and change. One dude's opinion.

The League said...

I more or less agree. I do think superhero comics try to break the mold, sometimes more successfully than others. Those stories of superheroes that do move beyond the tired tropes of the medium, or which manage to use the tropes in a new light, are the ones that keep me excited not just about comics, but superhero comics in general.

Unfortunately, as with any medium and genre, 90% of the stuff that comes out isn't much above average. Editors are trying to create events rather than letting comics become a phenomenon naturally, and often the folks writing those stories are the same guys who seem to love treading well-worn ground.

I'd point to Grant Morrison's SeaGuy and Alan Moore's Supreme as prime examples of comics that appear to be fairly standard hero stories at first blush, but have a lot more going on.

But, I certainly would like to see non-comic writers step into the realm of comics, or folks with fresh ideas who aren't going to be fenced in by editors who don't know how to handle new ideas (see the recent utter failure to cultivate Jodi Picoult on Wonder Woman).

Fans need to expect more as adults, editors need to be willing to challenge fans. Different kinds of stories need to be tried out.

Luckily, a quick perusal of the shelves at Austin Books will tell you that a huge number of genres are represented in comics, although the success of the creators is always up to debate. And comics defying genre make appearances as well up in the black and white indies.

All that said, the particular elements in the list are so overused that it indicates a laziness on the part of editorial and writers that I feel is bogging down the industry for longtime readers. It's more or less a checklist that I would hand editors at DC to suggest: hey these stories are overdone. These ideas are overdone. Let's try again and see what we come up with.

The guys who first wrote comics were mostly kids who were fans of pulps and b-movies. There's heavy influence of the Shadow and Zorro in Batman. Superman is a combination of Doc Savage, Tarzan and mythological ideals. But one of the great differences between the unpolished writers of those days and a lot of what is currently passing for comic writing is that the writers seem to be informed only by what they read in comics, and too little by outside forces, be they fictional or based in reality. Writers who seem to read stuff outside of comics while having an appreciation for what made many of the comics they liked work in the first place seem to be the ones who tell the stories which seem the most fresh or have the most resonance.

Michael Corley said...

Hear hear!

Time travel is a particular bone with me. I love and hate it, but mostly I hate it. It never makes sense, it's too great a plot point (too easy to undead someone or correct a horrible mistake).