April 13th, 2006

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Tonight's Top Ten List Comes From The Home Office . . .

John Byrne is kinda nuts.

(John Byrne is a comic book artist and "writer," best known for his artistic run at Marvel in the 80s, drawing Chris Claremont's X-Men stories like "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past." He also drew and wrote the Fantastic Four for several years, and relaunched Superman after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in the miniseries "Man of Steel." He changed a number of things about Superman for unusual or less than fully relevant reasons, and as many people dislike his personal mucking around with continuity as enjoy a fresh take on what has always been. Mr. Byrne has developed something of a reputation as a "Retcon King," for good and bad.)

However, even a Frank Miller is right twice a day:

From Byrne Robotics: The John Byrne Forum:

Ten Reasons You SHOULDN'T Be Writing Superheroes:

1. You come from screen writing, and think writing comics is just the same.
2. You think the civilian guise is much more interesting than the superhero.
3. You think having superheroes say "fuck" is "sophisticated".
4. You think being assigned to a long established title is an automatic mandate to blow everything up and start over.
5. You think the characters should serve your stories, not the other way 'round.
6. You think Batman is "crazy".
7. You think Superman is a "boy scout".
8. You use the characters and stories as therapy.
9. You pepper your stories with "jokes" (usually at the expense of the characters) to amuse your fanboy friends.
10. You've "always" thought superheroes were stupid (and have often said so), but they sell better than your own comics, so you're in it for the money.

Now, there are exceptions to everything, but on the whole, he's right. Screen writing is similar to comics writing, since they're both for a visual medium. But the pacing of a comic is very different than a movie or TV show. And you can get into the head of a comic-book character easier than with a character on a TV or movie screen. A civilian guise may be very interesting, but he still shouldn't be more interesting than the superhero. It's fine for Peter Parker to have a life that's as interesting as Spider-Man, and it might be that Matt Murdock is as interesting as Daredevil, but if you're writing a teenaged or post-teenaged soap opera, or a legal drama about a blind lawyer (who has senses so attuned he can reliably tell when a sworn-in witness is lying), then do so. Don't do it in a book called "The Amazing Spider-Man," or "Daredevil, Man Without Fear!"

Superheroes can swear, but most people don't consider swearing to be sophisticated. It can be entertaining, but putting "edgier" subject matter in something that has traditionally been aimed at pre-teens, teens, or even an all-age audience isn't exactly the brightest move. Wolverine probably swears. Guy Gardner? Yeah, he swears. Even Superman and Batman drop a "damn" every so often. But that's not sophisticated or "mature." In fact, it's often a sure sign of the opposite.

You may want to make your own mark on a long-running series, if only to distinguish your work from another's, but change for the sake of change is almost always a bad move. #5 is probably the best of the entire group, though: the stories serve the characters, not the other way 'round. All too often, writers are too busy trying to go for an "event"--so much so, that they'll have characters act in ways they normally wouldn't just to serve a plot point. This is not unique to comics, of course. Any long-running piece of fiction could fall into the trap, especially if there's a high turn-over rate in creators.

Batman isn't crazy. He's crazy-intense but not crazy.

Superman isn't a boyscout is problematic. On the one hand, yes he is. But that doesn't mean he's only a boyscout. Superman knows what's right and wrong--that's actually his greatest power. But he's still a man, and imperfect. He's constantly striving for the ideal, though. Limiting your characterization of Superman to "boyscout" is the same as limiting your characterization of Wolverine to "he drinks, he smokes, he swears."

Fiction isn't therapy. Ever. You can use stories to deal with problems you're having, but only if your problems aren't huge. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

Pop-culture jokes are fine. Used sparingly, they can add a bit of leavening to a dark, psychological tale. But unless the focus of the story is on humor and pop-culture humor in particular, you probably shouldn't use too many.

If you've always thought "superheroes are stupid," then you have no place writing superheroes. Not seriously. If you want to do parody, fine, but remember that the best parodies are as much about celebrating what's being parodied while poking fun. There's nothing wrong with only "being in it for the money," I mean, most original superheroes were created either to make money, or to horn in on the super-hero cash cows already out there. But if you are incapable of spotting what others like about superheroes, you shouldn't be writing them, especially if you've got a chip on your shoulder about the other kinds of stories you could be writing.

Well, there you go. Ten signs you might not be suited to superheroes. But just because you aren't doesn't mean much. Superheroes exist almost exclusively in comics. Comics are just a medium. Movies/TV are a medium. Radio is a medium. Novels, poetry, and so forth. If you don't fit in with the majority of one medium, either find another one, or create something so great in that medium that people take notice.

Quality stories find an audience.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque
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