Apr 03 2016
We’re up to 62 superhero movies since 2000. You can download the full data here. Some observations:
- R movies are making up the quality gap with PG-13 movies.
Apr 03 2016
We’re up to 62 superhero movies since 2000. You can download the full data here. Some observations:
Mar 24 2016
This is the worst Batman movie since Batman & Robin ~20 years ago. The writing was sub-cartoon grade. If you didn’t enjoy the latest Fantastic Four movie or Man of Steel, I would stay far away from this one.
Feb 29 2016
We read a book to experience the journey a hero takes and to relate to the person they once were. However, a hero’s journey runs stagnant without a villain capable of proving their worth. Without a cunning villain, you have a hero basking in his awesomeness. Without a memorable villain, you have a hero walking a path we’ve grown bored with. Without a compelling villain, you have a story falling flat on its face and just going through the motions. The superhero can only be as mighty as the super villains they face.
Brian has already discussed the motivations for both heroes and villains. It is true the majority of motivating factors can be boiled down into a mere handful, so how is it possible to make a villain stand out amongst the plethora of evil organizations and bad guys with advanced degrees? While the overarching reasons to turn to villainy can be simple as love or the temptation of power, it is the flaws of these well-known troupes that create a character strong enough to rival our heroes.
For the sake of discussing supervillain archetypes, I’ll use three whose construction is elevated beyond many. The first is Magneto, to this day, my favorite villain of all time. His backstory is as complex as his emotional state. Born to Jewish parents and witnessing the Holocaust, Erik Lensherr’s primary motivating factor as a villain is to rule the world to bring order to a chaotic system and to a lesser extent, punish those who have done him wrong. Magneto has arguably one of the most impressive powers in Marvel (he did nearly destroy the planet, steal nuclear warheads, and create an outer space base of operations) but he holds a fundamental flaw as a villain: he knows what he is doing is bad.
How can the knowledge you are a bad guy create a villain to survive the ages? He witnessed one of the greatest horrors as a youth and later, as Genosha is nearly eradicated, he witnesses it again. We have a man who is reflecting on his life’s work, realizing that his mighty strokes of villainy has done nothing to change the course of mankind. Worse yet, he realizes that he has become the thing he loathes and he moves from villain to dubious hero. We hope as an audience he will find absolution, not only for the horror’s he’s witnessed but the ones he’s perpetuated. The weight he bears as he rescues Kitty Pryde from certain death is but one of the many grand gestures he partakes in to regain a piece of himself loss to his misguided efforts. We witness Magneto, master of magnetism, feel sorrow for the wrongdoing he’s committed. A flaw as a villain that give us perpetual hope he’ll become a badass hero.
However, not all memorable villains need the hope of redemption to be seared into our minds. I think one of the greatest portrayals of a villain in the live action world is Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s original series Daredevil. The mystery of who is running the crime in Hell’s Kitchen was well known to the viewer, and we eager anticipated the despicable businessman turned crime mastermind entering and dominating us with his unrivaled tenacity. Our first image of Wilson Fisk is not acting as the Kingpin, it’s of a man trying to understand the meaning behind a piece of art. What we see is Fisk lost in an emotional state, pondering sensations he’s uncertain of how to process. Fisk has a backstory a mile long in which we feel he is the victim, but in this single moment, we experience his humanity as he relates the work of art to a wall from the days of being abused.
Now, it’s not enough we see our villain as human. Fisk is the perfect example of how villains are created, not born. It’s rare for our super villains to be perfectly evil, instead, more often we find them driven to their profession. Fisk’s abuse at the hands of his father creates a common story and accessible by many viewers. As he is beaten, we root for him to go from the underdog to the man in power. What we don’t realize at the time, he becomes a man of power, to a man we detested in the first place. While he is now this powerful man, we see glimpses into his humanity. The need to feel sorrow fuels him as he stares into the painting. We only see him become more vulnerable when he courts the gallery owner, Vanessa. We sympathize with this man, forgetting his power or influence as he awkwardly tries to ask a woman he finds beautiful on a date. We’re geeks, we’ve been there and we feel a victory when she accepts.During the final battle, I found myself wanting him to win, not because I wanted to see Daredevil lose, but because I wanted the flawed man, who had endured so much, to walk away with yet another victory.
Netflix has proven it can create a villain we love to hate, they only solidified this in Jessica Jones when we met Kevin Thompson, aka Kilgrave (known as Purple Man in the comics) played by David Tennant. With the ability to control anybody with his voice, he previously forced Jones into a “relationship” against her will. Exerting his abilities on Jones, we understand her past with him equates to rape. So how can a man who is so extremely vile be considered memorable? Kilgrave wants the one thing he can’t have, a woman, Jones, to love him of her own free will. Again, we see a flaw, a flaw we have been victim to many times, wanting the object of our affection but not having our feelings returned. We see a sinister form of ourselves and we’re faced with the question, “If I had his powers, what would I do?” With such a great power, his machinations are extremely shortsighted and he has little desire for world conquest or even to be more than what he currently is. The only thing he wants: the thing he can’t have; a do-gooder with a serious attitude problem.
Kilgrave spends the series, forcing her into situations in which she must confront herself. She fears that his abilities will trap her again. Even when we discover *spoiler alert* that he can not trap her with his abilities, he creates situations resulting in her volunteering to become his girlfriend. For a moment, we witness Kilgrave being capable of good. Because underneath the destruction he causes to obtain Jones, he feels he is doing what he must to court the girl and win her over. His incredible intellect is flawed by his inability to comprehend the world beyond himself due to his sociopathic behaviors. We understand that he’s trying to win her over and has no idea how to do it because he can’t understand anything beyond himself. Jones has to face this reality and in a moment when she believes she will be captured by him forever, she confronts her demons and imperfections and walks away victorious. We’re left understanding why it ended the way it did, but we feel pity for the poor Kilgrave and his need to be loved.
In these three villains, we have a range of one who wants to rule the world for the betterment of his people, to a man who wants to overcome his past, and another desires love. Each of them are the product of their insecurities and we find their insecurities, partly because of the scale, and partly because of the super-status, blown so largely out of proportion we’re left wondering as the viewer, “Would that be me?” A villain can not be a hurdle for the hero to overcome and surpass to prove their own heroism. There is a formula to create a memorable villain, but it does require a certain amount of willingness to delve into the mind of the villain and explore them as a character.
Amazing powers and an awesome uniform do not make a villain memorable. It’s the flaws in their humanity that breathe life into the characters. Be sure to treat them as a character and not just a punching bag for your hero. Let them develop, because as they develop, the strain between them and your protagonist will increase and you’ll be left with a dynamic that has us turning the page to see who will emerge victorious. Give them chances to be human and let the reader inside their world more than just the confrontations. Let us see them on date night or how they take their tea. The more we connect, the more we remember.
About the Author
Jeremy Flagg has written several books including the young adult Suburban Zombie High Series as well as a non-fiction book memoir, I.Am.Maine: Stories of Small Town Maine. He lives and writes in Metrowest Massachusetts. For more information you can find him at http://www.remyflagg.com
Children of Nostradamus (Nighthawks, Book 1) is currently available for order on Amazon.
Feb 21 2016
Are there any circumstances under which a highly inactive protagonist would be more promising dramatically than a more active protagonist? E.g. a main character that is weakly unenthusiastic about participating in the plot*, or opts to do nothing in situations where almost every protagonist in the genre would have taken some sort of move (like a superhero story about someone that develops superpowers but doesn’t want to be a superhero/villain or otherwise interact with superhero activity).
*Weakly unenthusiastic: not all that promising. In contrast, I think someone who’s being coerced into doing something but actively rebelling/sabotaging is helluva more promising.
Feb 03 2016
Under what circumstances (if any) would it be possible to make a grossly incompetent main character likable and engaging? Are there any cases where making the main character consistently incompetent would make a story more interesting?
Jan 27 2016
God, how many hours of counting character lines must have gone into this? Thanks, researchers!
Oct 19 2015
If you happen to find yourself in Hong Kong from November 2-4, Marvel is hosting a preposterously swanky 8-course meal at Bo Innovation, a 3-star Michelin restaurant. “From the Avengers to Spiderman to Guardians of the Galaxy, each chef will have one night to create an exclusive Marvel-themed menu…” At a price of $300/person, this better include a flambe raccoon and a super-serum apertif. If you’re interested, you can reach Bo Innovation at +852-2850-8371 or via email at email@example.com
Aug 31 2015
In the Deadpool trailer, Ryan Reynolds’ character takes a shot at his last superhero movie, Green Lantern. I predict that it’ll actually do even worse critically than GL did (26% on Rotten Tomatoes). His movies (e.g. Green Lantern and RIPD) tend to be fanatically committed to comedy but have an awful record at actually being funny. For example, in the Green Lantern oath scene below, the desperate attempts at humor suck the time/space out of anything else the scene could have contributed (like character development, interesting choices/motivations, conflicts, or side-plots). DP’s trailer looks like it’s headed that way.
Aug 25 2015
John Lucas just published a superhero novelette about a superhero whose marriage counselor told him to grow a set. “Less than 24 hours later, he finds himself mired in an underworld of crime, violence, and ill-advised self-improvement.” The novelette, A Hero Is Always Alone Sometimes, can be downloaded for free on Amazon from 8/26 to 8/28. Unlike the last novel I reviewed, this is one that I definitely wouldn’t recommend for a 4th grade classroom.
Aug 07 2015
Jul 19 2015
My expectations for the Ant-Man movie were exceedingly low — mainly based on concerns about the source material (no memorable villains, not much interesting personality, not conventionally useful superpowers, etc). In actuality, it’s a consistently funny movie with reasonably good fight scenes. Right now it’s averaging 79% on RT and I think that’s about right. Some observations:
–The main villain is a one-dimensionally psychotic businessman. His lack of style and depth is probably my biggest knock against the movie. At the very least, if you absolutely need a psychotic businessman (which has already been used quite heavily in superhero movies), other movies have blazed this path better. E.g. generally Spider-Man 1′s Harry Osborne and Incredibles’ Syndrome felt like they could be real people with major mental issues. Not so much here. That said, I really liked the scene where the villain asked his mentor Dr. Pym why he kept the villain at such a distance. At the very least, the villain did give a really good opportunity to develop a side-protagonist’s personality.
–Using reformed sort-of-criminal* Scott Lang rather than generically brilliant scientist Dr. Pym as the main protagonist was an excellent choice. I think we’re overstocked on brilliant scientists at this point.
*He committed one theft, a Robin Hood-style crime where he returned the money to people that a company had overcharged them. The filmmakers softened the edges on his criminal work so much that it didn’t look like they were completely convinced that a criminal-turned-superhero could work. For PG-13 movies, I prefer the Guardians of the Galaxy mold (where protagonists have more latitude to at least talk about committing selfish crimes**, even if most of the things they actually do aren’t).
**Even removing someone’s spine, which is actually murder, and also illegal.
–In the comics, Scott Lang gets back into crime to help his sick daughter. Boohoohoo. In this case, it was to make child support payments (after a hilarious failure at Baskin Robbins), which felt a lot less cheesy/generic than the comic version.
–The side-cast in this movie and the (somewhat outre) comedy were much better than anyone had any right to expect. E.g. I believe comedic side-character Luis was created for the movie, which must have been a series of leaps of creative faith. “I know this guy, Michael Pena. Well, my cousin was at this PTA meeting, you know, and…”
–Falcon’s cameo is probably the closest he’s come to being interesting, especially when Luis goes into storytelling mode for the second time. This is also the most interesting SHIELD/Avengers cameo in any of the Marvel movies so far. Doing it with Falcon (who doesn’t have a personality independent of Captain America yet*) is just plain impressive.
*E.g. “I do what he (Captain America) does, just slower.” I believe the most charitable interpretation for Falcon is that his main purpose is to replace Captain America if/when Captain America’s actor Chris Evans stops making CA movies. He’s essentially a slow-rolling reboot.
May 21 2015
The most important thing in writing comic books is finding and honing your own unique voice. A unique voice makes your writing exclusive and authentic. Authenticity connects with readers.
Many comic book writers have trouble developing their own unique voices when they are starting out. Fortunately, there are a few exercises you can do to develop your voice and improve your writing.
Study Another Writer’s Voice
Studying other Writer’s voices will make it easier to identify and develop your own voice more clearly. Picking a comic book you really like and aping the style makes a fun writing exercise that will help you do this. Everyone has their own style of writing comic books. Good writing styles are practically invisible. Aping a comic book’s story will help you see the style and better understand the writer’s creative decisions.
What do I mean by aping a comic book? I mean tell your own story, but with the beats of the comic you’ve chosen to ape. Plug your characters and concepts into the other Writer’s story beats. He uses five panels, you use five panels. He uses a caption, you use a caption. He does thought balloons, you use thought balloons.
You will be more comfortable writing in your own style once you’re comfortable with another writer’s style.
Take an inventory of yourself to identify your voice so you can accentuate it. Ask yourself some pointed questions:
Ask other people what they think is unique about your voice. You can find out a lot about your voice in reviews.
Look at Your Writing
Free-write something. Just write something you enjoy without doing any editing. Then, look over what you wrote and ask yourself if this is the kind of writing you’re publishing. Is this the kind of stuff you would read? If it isn’t something you would read, then change your voice to make it something you would enjoy reading. Do you like what you’re writing while you’re writing it? Does it feel like work to write? If it does feel like work, then there’s a good chance you need to change the way you’re writing.
Do you feel afraid or nervous before you publish? If you aren’t feeling vulnerable when you’re putting your work out into the world, it might be time to work on making your voice more personal. Try to write dangerous stuff. You want to be scared of what people will think when they read your work.
Finding Your Voice is Important
A unique voice can help you in many ways. Most writers who don’t write with a unique voice burn out eventually. Your unique voice is what makes people fans of your work. Finding your voice is important for writing comic books. However, it’s even more important to continue developing your voice once you’ve found it. Try these exercises and see what you find out about your voice.
Dec 07 2014
Comics are a visual medium, and that can be an advantage over prose when it comes to storytelling. The motion and force in Wonder Woman’s punch, the adorkable grin on Ms. Marvel’s face, that gorgeous two-page spread of Gotham City: these are images that can be harder to get across in writing. But don’t get discouraged, novel writers. Prose has its own advantages, and one of those is that it can be much more immersive than comics through the use of sensory details.
Touch, smell, hearing, taste: use them right, and it can deepen your reader’s experience, making them feel like they’re right there with your characters. This isn’t central to your story. A solid plot and well-rounded characters always come first, but when you’re revising your second or third (or tenth) draft, look for places where you can enrich your description with sensory details like the examples below:
Small details like these can make the world of your novel feel more real to the reader—which is important when that world is populated by mutants, aliens, and men and women in colorful tights. Sensory details alone won’t make a good story, but they can add another layer to already good writing.
Aug 07 2014
I’m going to be out of the country. If you’re waiting on a review or have a question, I’ll probably need to hold off until I get back. Japan pictures here.
Aug 01 2014
My expectations were modest — e.g. “What if they made a watchable version of Green Lantern?” The movie is better than I think anyone could have reasonably anticipated. It’s more like an exceptionally funny version of Star Wars. 5 stars.
PS: I’d suggest against bringing most kids younger than 13. The violence level is more like a Vin Diesel movie than a talking raccoon movie. (You did notice that the talking raccoon has a machine gun, right?)
May 26 2014
May 22 2014
Often with works of fiction that involve superpowers, writers look for ways to effectively limit or check those powers. This is done to keep characters vulnerable to challenges while maintaining dramatic effect within the story. After all, if a character can consistently deal with situations by using their unrestricted abilities, how invested will a reader (or publisher) be in the work? Probably not very.
Writers of comic books, superhero novels and other forms of speculative fiction utilize a variety of approaches in addressing this issue. Examples include requiring a specific power source or item to use an ability (e.g. Green Lantern’s ring or Mr. Freeze’s diamond-powered freeze gun). Another example is requiring the character to be within a specific proximity (e.g. in the film Push, Kira has to be able to see people to tamper with their minds). Sometimes a character is susceptible to a specific substance or external force (e.g. Superman and kryptonite or his vulnerability to red sunlight).
These limitations are mostly environmental or physical contingencies that the character must yield to. One alternative is using a character’s progressive learning curve to limit their capabilities.
If you want to restrict a character who can channel cosmic energy as concussive force blasts, a good place to start might be by asking: What does the actual development of that proficiency look like? (Keep in mind this question can be asked of anyone in any endeavor, not just fictional superheroes. Choosing to spend time with it as a literary theme could be a good way to develop relatability within the work.)
So what does it look like for a character to actually learn about their extraordinary powers over the course of a novel? Is it believable that they would start out fully knowledgeable in their understanding, or would there be gradations of trial and error, of setbacks and success, of growth? A character learning to use concussive force blasts will provide their own limitations in the form of their inexperience. Be encouraged to explore that. It could be a much more resonant and effective restriction than a target that has to be within X amount of feet. Even as the character grows in the use of their powers, surpassing old limitations, the learning process by nature should continue to supply new thresholds for them to meet and be challenged by.
In the sci-fi novel Psion by Hugo Award-winning author Joan D. Vinge, the main character Cat is recruited into a psychic research program. The technicians are able to determine the vast amount of telepathic power Cat possesses; they can ascertain what he should be able to do… But Cat can’t do those things because doesn’t know how to be psychic. Even as he gains greater understanding and command of his telepathy throughout the course of the novel, his learning curve continues to provide natural limitations and challenges for him in the use of his powers.
Of course, not every story’s main character is a fish out of water. While most superhero stories handle the initial emergence of the primary hero, some characters come to the plate further developed than others. And that’s fine. Even in those instances, I’d encourage writers of superhero fiction (especially novels) to consider the learning curve (specialized here, perhaps) as well as the more concrete and specific limits meant to rein in the chosen superpowers.
Wolverine can be used as an example of an already expertly-skilled character forced to negotiate the learning experience. When he first joined the X-Men, he was leagues beyond his teammates in training, combat experience and the use of his mutant powers. Despite this he still had a significant learning curve dealing with the way the team functioned and occasionally his approach to obstacles was more detrimental than helpful. Additionally, it was because of his experiences with the X-Men that he learned to take more control of his berserker rages, which were a danger to everyone.
Well-rounded characters resonate more with readers. Going through the journey of learning to use superpowers along with those characters – most notably experiencing how that process provides limitations, checks and challenges in organic and relatable ways – can contribute greatly to the development of that relationship, potentially endearing readers even more than originally considered.
To finalize, focusing on the superpower learning curve can be an enormous boon as there are potentially countless ways writers can incorporate it regarding their character’s superpowers, specifically as a means to limit those powers. These elements can be made to manifest as significant and effective by simple virtue of being so unknown, or it can be more a matter of learning to use familiar capabilities in entirely uncharted situations. In either instance, this also demonstrates the flexibility and personalization of the learning curve, in that it can be uniquely shaped to fit each character. This kind of development and attention to theme can greatly increase the depth and resonance of a novel while providing necessary restrictions and challenges for the characters within them.
May 01 2014
One of my coworkers (who asked to remain anonymous) received this business proposal from Ghana.
My name is Barrister Agams Enoch Mifetu, the personal attorney of late Mrs.Eunice Maccabee based here in Accra republic of Ghana I did a lot of web search before choosing your contact from the skype. It is with trust and sincerity that I approach you for assistance in this business.
Please do accept my apology if my mail infringes on your personal ethics and honestly it will be my humble pleasure if we can work together.
I would like you to act as an executor of late Mrs.Eunice Maccabee my deceased client who made a deposit of (US$14,000,000.00) with a Bank here in Ghana a few years back. She died in Plane crash with her husband and their only child leaving behind no next of kin. And a citizen of my country cannot stand as next of kin to late Mrs.Eunice Maccabee that is why I contacted you.
Dear friend I am ready to share 70/30 with you, if you are interested mail me immediately for further details in this great future relationship.
If you are interested write me with your email and telephone number,reply me immediately.
Barrister Agams Enoch Mifetu
Dear Honorable Mifetu,
Thank you exceedingly much for contacting me! It has been many years since I have heard the name Eunice. What a shock it was to hear that name again and from such a surprising, but altogether trustworthy, source.
Now, your position as barrister affords you the close knowledge of many things personal to the Maccabee family that one in your position would have and know of from the very nature of the position that you hold in close proximity to those in the family whom hold the secrets close to their hearts of which I speak.
However, there are some things that you may not know. Firstly and foremostly, is that Eunice was not all that she seemed to be. Please know, now, that at the time of her fiery death, she had quite effectively become the black dingo of the family. You see… Eunice was actually born under the name Eugene.
It was with great consternation of the family that the family’s general practitioner admitted to the accidental circumcision of the boy during a routine visit for treatment of dengue fever. While the name of Eugene was hidden from public purvey, the incident itself is well documented in the Ghana Premier Aboriginal Court of Law of which I am quite sure you are well accustomed. The case played out over years and, toward the end, even appeared in an episode of Current Affairs.
But I digress… let me speak more of Eugene… that he lived his early years as a woman was only the beginning of the shame that would befall the Maccabee namesake in the coming decades. Eunice, as she wished to be called after the accident, would go on to make her own name before the court, in activity ranging from strong arm tactics to online thievery, of course, it should be noted that most of the rape charges were effectively dropped as the court believed that she (he) had no way of carrying through with her threats of same.
Now, speaking of ethics… it is with the humblest of sincere intentions that I must inform you of the other piece of information that I am certain you are not aware of: You said the plane crashed killed Eunice, Bentley and the boy… but this is just the story we wanted the press to hear. I survived. I SURVIVED, Agams! I AM EUNICE’S SON!
I don’t blame you for not knowing. No one knew. I was found in the jungle, still in the loving arms of my mother-father, and they say I was quite sun burned but crying. That’s how they found the plane; a woeful child’s cry in the dense jungle.
Which brings me to the following: A very much appreciated the offer you made… but as I am a man of business, I am prepared to counter offer: Because of your sincere due-dilligence, and to keep you from revealing the secret of my identity, I offer you a substantial piece of both the inheritance, which as it has been accruing interest in the National State City Bank of Ghana since the seventies, is quite substantial. I cannot reveal numbers here, but let me just say that should you see this figure written down on a piece of paper, your eye balls would quite literally fall from their respective sockets.
Along with this, you are also welcome to keep a portion of the monies of fourteen million of which you earlier spoke. This is chump change to me as, I am sure you have done your research, know now that I am a tin foil magnate and make fourteen million in my sleep every month.
Your only requirement is that you breath not a WORD of any of this to any party, and should I learn that you went to the press with any of this information ALL POSSIBLE OUTCOMES WILL BE REMOVED. I hope I have made myself abundantly clear.
So, Mr. Enoch, it is up to you now to contact me.
-Uncle Maccabee The Third Esq.
Apr 05 2014
My expectations were far too high — with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of ~90% at the time I saw it, I was expecting a really excellent movie. There were a lot of competent moments but personally I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to theaters to see it.
In Scott Pilgrim, there’s a scene where Chris Evans (Captain America’s actor) parodies a really bad action star. Captain America 2 gave him so little to work with that I feel he came off like the bad action star.
Some notable issues with the movie:
Dec 16 2013
Email: “One of my protagonists is a detective looking for superheroes/vigilantes. What sort of traits might tip him off?
Here are some trends that come to mind for American superheroes.
“Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:
Almost every adult superhero will meet at least at least 5 of the following:
Nov 06 2013
Modern superheroines are easily the most abused type of character in any story. And while you’re likely aware that most of them are simply there to be cardboard love interests (all ravishingly beautiful, of course . . .), today I’m not going down that path.
Instead, today we’ll discuss superheroine clothing (or the lack thereof).
From Wonder Woman to Supergirl, costume designers seem to think the more bare skin the better.
As we all know, it’s pretty unpractical. Still, for superheroes, they might not engage in a lot of hand-to-hand combat, therefore, there’s no reason for her to have plate armor from head to foot. But that doesn’t give any reason to be wearing bikinis.
Obviously, any superhero or superheroine you’ll likely want to look good, some girls (or guys) might want to look hot, which would reflect in their suit. But, this also means no clashing colors, elf shoes etc. etc. etc. all of which you can identify and learn more about on this article. Nevertheless, with every variation of character you’ll need to modify your take.
Generally, lighter and brighter colors should be used for more youthful characters, and darker gloomier colors for older, more serious characters. But aside from the specifics of each character you will have to decide for yourself, there are a few stereotypes in the looks of superheroine costumes you will want to avoid.
First and foremost, practicality, but we’ll have more on that later.
Second is that not every female in a story that’s supposed to be beautiful has to have skimpy clothing.
Sep 28 2013
Prisoners was highly entertaining and I think the writers did a good particularly good job portraying the families going through the kidnapping of their daughters. However, basically everything the police did in the movie was exceptionally Hollywood, so much so that it nearly turned the movie into an idiot plot. If you’re the sort of person that would be distracted by characters habitually acting stupidly to put themselves in suspenseful situations, this movie may not be for you.Pro tip: ace detectives should not hunt alone for serial killers. There must have been SOMEONE in his unit that was good enough to keep up with him… and have Thanksgiving dinner with him.
I think the best decisions in the writing/direction were in what they DIDN’T show (e.g. the kidnapping, the 911 call, the relative lack of emotional outbursts from family members, the way the movie ended, etc).
Anyway, the movie was extremely entertaining. If you like Homeland or Dexter even though they play really, really loose with realism, you’d probably find this movie very entertaining.
Sep 17 2013
The rivalries between superheroes and supervillains represents the battle between good and evil as a whole. It could be said that, without villains, there would be no heroes. Supervillains provide the opportunity for comic book characters with superpowers to become superheroes, as opposed to just regular everyday super people.
But would supervillains even exist without heroes to fight against? The answer is probably not. Heroes tend to either be born with their powers or gain them accidentally. Crime suddenly becomes a difficult way to make a living in whichever city they are based in. The simple solution would be to start a new, crime free, life. But with criminals being criminals, this never happens, leading to them taking often unethical steps to acquire comparable superpowers.
If superheroes create supervillains, then supervillains definitely keep superheroes relevant. Take Batman for example, without the Joker, a villain only he could handle, his uses would be limited. He could be replaced by a stronger police force or something to that effect.
Villains give their counterparts the chance to shine, heroes are pushed to greater accomplishments. Nobody wants to watch or read about an allpowerful hero who destroys all of their opponents quickly and easily. Having this happen can make the hero come across as a bully. Having a strong villain to test their wits against creates suspense and keeps the reader coming back for more.
Facing adversity allows our heroes to grow as characters and truly become superheroes. It is no coincidence that all of the most popular superheroes have become synonymous with their villains. Batman would be nothing without the Joker and Spiderman would be nothing without the Green Goblin. At the same time, the opposite is true.
Superheroes really do need their supervillains, and vice-versa.
Mark Enright is a comic book enthusiast and writer for GB Posters, a retailer of high quality posters.
Jun 27 2013
If you can spare a few dollars/pounds/euros, I would really appreciate it.
Jun 27 2013
Tony Stark has a drinking problem. And a broken heart. Peter Parker is a nerd. Superman has daddy issues. And Bruce Wayne? Where do you start?
These are our heroes. And we learn about their addictions and predilections, their agendas and vendettas over the course of hundreds of issues, creating a tableau of identity that evolves over the span of years, or even decades. But in any one issue we are given only a snapshot of their character, another piece of the puzzle that we have to thread together ourselves, week by week.
Not so in a novel. The novel is a tapestry in itself. All the threads already stitched together so the reader can unravel it, page by page.
It doesn’t take a genius (or even a writer) to figure out how such a dramatic difference in form can impact a superhero narrative. What’s interesting, however, is exploring how authors of superhero novels can use the boon of all those extra pages to revise, and sometimes even pervert the norms of comics as a genre.
The comic book, by its very nature, is plot driven (which is not to immediately suggest that many novels aren’t). This is simply a matter of real estate. Geniuses that they are, comic writers and artists are capable of cramming all the conventions of good story telling into cramped panels, but when it comes to the more nuanced issues of theme or character development they often must engage in a type of literary guerilla warfare—a hit and run of suggestions and asides, because as soon as you turn the page, somebody’s going to have to “do what they do best.” Action is paramount, and for every moment of pathos where our hero reveals his innermost fears, desires, etc. there are three more where he opens up a can of Snikt-brand whoop-arse. This is to be expected. It’s what gives the genre its returning weekly audience.
A superhero novel, on the other hand, has fewer limitations and a much wider repertoire of conventions to draw from; after all, the history of the novel and the sheer number of books vastly dwarfs its glossy-covered counterpart. This allows for a multiplicity of purpose that can be both daunting and exhilarating to a writer.
Jun 24 2013
Sidekicked is a superhero novel about a sidekick who’s got just enough superpowers to get everybody killed and the various forces trying to screw him (e.g. a possibly nefarious superhero/spymaster, a squad of supervillains hell-bent on revenge, and whoever named him “The Sensationalist”). Here’s what writers can learn from it and how it could improve your writing.
–The team dynamic was unusually believable and three-dimensional. In particular, the conflicts between the sidekicks and their sort-of-spymaster boss were more satisfying because both sides of the conflict were somewhat likable and sympathetic. Instead of just having the kids fight with Hardass Drill Instructors, for example, the spymaster instead grilled them during debriefings about various decisions and mistakes. It raised the stakes for their superheroics (e.g. not noticing that someone reeks of mind-control chemicals and/or explosives could make for a really bad day).
–I love the idea of a team leader bringing in an outside superhero because he thinks the team is lacking in some way. It’s a very promising way to create a dramatic conflict between the team and the new guy (and perhaps between the team and the leader). It also helps develop the character more quickly than just randomly adding someone because the team wanted an extra person.
–The characterization was not very groundbreaking… For example, the main character is generally a stereotypically ordinary teen who gets relatively few opportunities to make decisions that any other young superhero wouldn’t have made in the same place. Generally, I’d recommend giving your characters more opportunities to stand out from the crowd because it’ll help make them more memorable. For example, this main character gets a kickass scene with a cop car and is unusually gutsy when confronting a deadbeat hero. Both are a great start.
–The main character’s voice/dialogue is interesting enough that I think most readers can let his personality slide. E.g. “[If my identity got leaked] I’d have to tell my parents everything… even about mixing nitroglycerin in the bathroom sink.”
“At least ten weeks [until my arm heals up],” Mike said… “I asked [our boss] if we could just chop it off and get me one of those cybernetics jobs like Cryos has?”…
Cryos has this killer cybernetic arm… It was pretty awesome. If Mike got one of those, I’d catapult myself down the stairs until my own arm broke off.
–The story was usually most interesting when the superheroes were improvising. For example, mixing nitroglycerin in your parents’ sink is far more memorable than mixing it up in a secret lab that is actually suited for mixing nitroglycerin. Hot-wiring a police cruiser is more interesting than having a Batmobile, especially given that the “driver” can’t actually drive and the “hot-wirer” is an electrical superhero with explosively imprecise powers.
–I can’t speak for the target audience (grades 3-7), but I felt like the non-superheroics elements could have been incorporated in a more interesting and coherent way. For example, right after a terrifying supervillain breaks his gang out of prison, I would not recommend cutting to an uneventful flashback of a middle school romance. I’d recommend instead incorporating that sort of information into scenes which somehow develop the central plot moving forward, so that it feels more coherent with the hunt for the supervillain. For example, see how X-Men: First Class used a romance between Mystique and Beast to advance a critical plot arc about mutant self-acceptance or how the romance between Bob and Helen in The Incredibles influences their major decisions.
–Refreshingly non-stupid for a work aimed at this target audience. I’d feel a lot more comfortable using Sidekicked than Captain Underpants in a (say) 4th grade classroom.
–I think the book skews considerably older than the target audience. If the author had removed all of the lines where the characters’ age or grade were mentioned, I would have guessed the main characters was 16-18. It doesn’t have any of the focuses I’d associate most with tween audiences (e.g. an emphasis on fitting in and/or being socially acceptable, academic angst like too much homework or a nasty teacher, and low-stakes conflicts with siblings or parents).
–The book has fun with superhero tropes without getting too ridiculous. For example, although a few of the side-villains were a bit wacky, it never felt at all like the work was either aimed at idiots or written by someone who sort of hated superhero stories. For example, in introducing a new side-villain, the main character helpfully notes that “I have no idea what his deal is, though anyone who dresses up like a bumblebee and carries around a rocket launcher is obviously several eggs short of a carton.” In comparison, if a superhero’s facing off against (say) Sticky Glue Man, the villain probably feels so pathetic that 1) there’s no danger, 2) it doesn’t matter whether the hero wins, and 3) both the heroes and the villain lose the reader’s attention.
–The dweeb vs. jock conflict could be fresher. Fortunately, it’s a pretty minor plot arc, and the target audience probably isn’t old enough to have seen hundreds of these stories yet.
–I like that the character’s superhero name only comes up a few times, especially given that the name is a bit hard to use in conversation (“The Sensationalist”). The name isn’t a huge deal, so I wouldn’t recommend spending hours on this when you’re writing your own manuscripts, but here I would have recommended something a bit shorter, perhaps Keen or Sharply.
–CHICAGOANS DO NOT USE THE PHRASE “WICKED COOL.” For your handy reference, here are some phrases you’ll hear in Chicago but not Boston:
On the plus side, Kid Colt sounded a lot more believable (to this Chicago-area layman with very little exposure to Western or Southern accents).
May 25 2013
New writers have a tendency to focus so much on their character development that they forget that the right setting can be just as important. Setting provides a picture for a reader, without which your characters are flying through nothingness. Action and drama mean very little without interaction between the characters and their environment so, in the right circumstances, a well-established setting can become a character in its own right. Think of Hogwarts, where the staircases are just as likely to move as the people walking on them, a flying car that saves the protagonist from his enemies and the hidden caverns and passages which not only help move plot along but which often interface with the characters too. It is this intelligent use of setting that sets your work apart from average writers and makes your work truly readable and re-readable.
“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”
–J K Rowling
Setting can be magical without the presence of magic though. If you’ve ever visited the ancient ruins of a castle, you will know that age brings with it a sense of history and stories unknown. So as your character stumbles across a castle in the night, a hundred feet tall all around, its harsh grey stone covered in green and gold lichen which reflects the moonlight and all but one window dark, you are able to bring about a sense of age and vastness, a sense of mystery and majesty. Similarly, if you’ve ever found yourself in an exotic plant store, there is something about the bizarre, unknown vegetation that demonstrates you don’t need a tree that takes a swing at you as you pass to give a fantastical element to the setting. In the shade of leaning palms, your character finds escape from the arid heat. Winding your way along an isolated trail in the Amazon rainforest, the flora and fauna hold a great deal of surprises, distractions, obstacles and dangers which can be relevant to the progress of your story. Familiarity is what causes something to become clichéd. As long as you stay fresh and thoughtful about your setting then you won’t fall into this trap.
Apr 28 2013
When mapping out any kind of superheroic narrative, a consideration has to be made that is not often an aspect of other types of stories, and by that I mean you have to determine power level, or maybe we should say Power Level, since so many superheroic concepts work better with capitals.
This is not just a concern of traditional “long underwear” types of superhero stories either. Really, any story in which characters are differentiated from the usual run of people in their setting by powers above and beyond the norm can be termed a superhero story. This can be a movie script, a story or novel, a comic, or even a roleplaying game. Before you ever start plotting, you should decide on what kinds of power level your characters will transact, and that starts with the setting itself.