Archive for November 21st, 2007

Nov 21 2007

Quote of the Day: Wednesday

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Bartender: New Hegemon movie’s coming out.

Catastrophe: I heard.

Bartender: …

Bartender: How much do they pay you to wear that?

Catastrophe: Not enough.

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Nov 21 2007

Where are the happy superheroes?

I recently wrote a scene where Agents Orange and Black discussed how the government might profile the alternate identities of superheroes. Black focused on relationship troubles and Orange goes for characteristics like being close to people that have been kidnapped more than once.

I think I missed two important characteristics: cheerfulness (specifically the lack of it) and extraordinary and seemingly inexplicable job performance.

Job Performance

No matter how “ordinary” superheroes pretend to be, they always end up having spectacularly successful alternate identities. They won’t just be a mild-mannered journalist, they’ll be a Pulitzer-quality mild-mannered journalist. Even freelance photographers, the homeless bums of the media world, will be so eminent that they publically tell their boss they want twice the money. Industrialists will invariably build world-shaping conglomerates. Let’s not even talk about super-scientists. (Well, actually, I will talk about them, in the chapters with Jacob Mallow and Dr. Berkeley).

If I were in charge of the OSI, I’d *definitely* have a watchlist of the 500-1000 most productive and influential members of American society, with a focus on top performers in the scientific, media, academic and business communities. We can rule out the political/governmental/judicial sphere, but definitely not pro bono civil rights attorneys looking to make the world a better place. That’s obviously too many people to run surveillance on, but it should seem highly suspicious if any of these individuals is involved in anything supercrime-related. Who misses one board meeting too many? Who has cranked out one Nobel-worthy advancement after another? Of course, that works for government-friendly scientists as well.. .

The OSI’s WWII-era predecessor did a comically bad job attempting to cover up the species of Dr. Joe “Slizard,” who showed that an atomic bomb was theoretically possible. Of course, in WWII keeping the identities (and species) of your scientists was critical because roughly a third of the nation’s lab assistants were fanatically hardened Nazi assassins. The real Slizard was saved on several occasions because a Nazi threw himself at a paid actor that played Slizard at public functions.

Cheerfulness, a lack of

Ever since the end of the Silver Age of comic books, most superheroes seem to have been pathologically unhappy. This unhappiness often stems from personal tragedy, government/social persecution, or the realization that you’re a tool who only get published to make shots at Vietnam veterans.

On the whole, superheroes often demonstrate a marked inability to cope with loss and trauma without becoming 1) totally withdrawn/asocial 2) pathologically violent 3) internally conflicted. It’s probably a good thing that American servicemen have proven much more resilient than Captain America; beating the Nazis and subsequent foes would have been quite tricky if everyone went to pieces as soon a friend died. NOOOOOO, BUCKY!

Speaking of post-traumatic stress disorder, Andrew Sullivan and Blackfive, the Paratrooper of Love, go at it over how best to help the traumatized deal with PSTD.

In terms of OSI target identification, I think that I’d place a special emphasis on people that are…

  1. Cynical– though many heroes try to hide it with quips, pretty much every superhero is cynical and/or grim
  2. Unable to find happiness in everyday affairs; perpetually depressed
  3. Noticeably asocial– have you seen the latest Batman movie?
  4. Short on intimate, deep relationships.

Spiderman is the crucial exception to most of these, but even he can get emo when Venom is involved. This rubs against Rule 27 of Comic Books: He who is the most well-adjusted is the most ass-kickarific, with the corollary “with great power comes great instability.”

But, generally, I think that a psychiatrist would have some success identifying potential targets of concern. Just another reason that the hero-in-hiding should stay away from the counseling services of the Bedlam Clinic.

Superhero Nation specifically

I don’t think that many of my characters are deeply unhappy except perhaps Jacob Mallow. I’m inclined to think that angst and superheroicness are mutually exclusive. And angsty supervillains are damn unsatisfying and lack the charisma to really move the audience and plotline. So even Paingod is pretty optimistic, in a villainously libertarian kind of way.

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