A couple of (cool) people have pointed out that TVTropes has the “Five Man Band” page, and how it predated Chris Sims’s breakdown of the core five elements to a Superhero team. Different folks pointed it out for different reasons, but a recurring theme was, essentially, “hey, Chris Sims didn’t come up with this.”
Well… obviously he didn’t come up with the concept of the 5-team. However… I honestly think Sims’s interpretation is superior to the TVTropes page.
Let’s look at the five:
Look, I’m not knocking the TVTropes entry. It’s an accurate entry, describing a recurring trope in several media. But it’s not a blueprint for what a successful superhero team comic needs. Superteams need a balance that gives each character a reason to be in the comic, without making them too cardboard or, worse, indistinguishable. There needs to be something that makes the team work while also building intra-team conflict. The Five-Man Band doesn’t try to do any of that.
In other words, it’s the difference between a formula, and a well thought out cast.
Five Man Bands still exist and still work. Heck, I just saw a well composed one launch on Power Rangers: Megaforce. (The Yu-Gi-Oh rangers! Collect all the power cards!) But part of the reason they work is because they’re traveling well worn paths. There are no surprises to be had, there. And all too often, the stories they tell are simplistic.
Not always, by any means. But all too often.
Chris Sims may have been inspired by the Five Man Band, but what he laid out in his article was more subtle, less stereotype. That makes the conversation very different, and for my money a lot more interesting.
One more post, before I sink back into torpor, because this crossed my radar and it’s fascinating, and I quoted it last post:
“Assuming that we’re not just going to go with a bunch of characters that I like — which would really just be Batwoman, Batgirl, Huntress, Oracle and… oh, you know, what’s her name, that blonde kid who was Robin for a hot minute — I think there’s a pretty easy formula you can use to slap together a team of super-heroes. You really just need to fill five roles: the Leader, the Brain, the Muscle, the Heart and the Wild Card.”
— Chris Sims breaks down superteams, Super Sentai and everything in between in one short paragraph. (via websnark)
Having reblogged that (it’s from his “who would I pick for an all female Justice League or Avengers” article), I find myself pondering JL lineups, if we ignore market or brand management concerns.
And yes, the Justice League is generally more than five members. I’m going to ignore that for the moment — we can always assume there are other folks floating around in the background. What we’re looking for are the essential elements of the team. Anyone else will lose screen time. Anyone who isn’t one of these five is officially “and the Rest.” Which, as anyone who watched the black and white season of Gilligan’s Island can tell you, are those members you figure aren’t significant enough to get credited in the opening credits.
Another reason I want to skip the ‘and the rest’ part of the Justice League for now? All too often, ‘the rest’ includes ‘the chick we need to put in because we have to,’ or ‘the black guy.’ As far as I’m concerned, if I fail the diversity test in these main five, then I’ve failed the diversity test, period.
(Oh, to forestall something in the comments — as I’ve said before… yes, there’s a diversity test. There’s always a diversity test. Any time you don’t have as close to 50% women and appropriate breakdowns of people of color on your superhero team, you’ve failed the diversity test. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t matter to you. It matters. And as I’ve said before — the compositions of these teams are editorial decisions, period. No one loses a job because they’re not put on a fictional superhero team. End of minirant.)
Here’s a few, in order of team role, after the read-more:
I am, by nature, a roleplayer.
This perhaps isn’t a shock given the existence of this blog in the first place. I play roleplayings. Occasionally, I write for roleplaying games. I’ve got two roleplaying games fleshed out and ready for a creation that may never happen. When given Doctors’ diagnoses, I mentally argue why I deserve a saving throw.
This, naturally, extends to the online arena. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time playing MMOs. While I’d tried Everquest back in the day, it wasn’t until City of Heroes — now so painfully gone — that the form sunk its hooks into me. Since then, CoH, along with Champions Online, Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic have all grabbed my cerebral cortex and refused to let go. Among others, of course, but that’s not important right now.
However, there has often been a question… are these really roleplaying games? Do they truly constitute the assumption of a role, the playing within the context of that role, and the resolution of that role’s activity. Given the lack of a proper gamemaster responding to your actions, is there really a role being played, or is there just a well constructed avatar? And doesn’t everyone more or less just admit this isn’t any kind of RPG? They used to be called MMORPGs — Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Now… they’re MMOs. It’s still ‘massively multiplayer,’ with thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of players, but the ‘role playing game’ is left off.
It’s actually a more complicated question to answer than you might think.
My first really long essay in a while, on my Grognard Pedant blog. It’s mostly about RPG theory fu, to warn.
The start of the school year — or “f’ing September,” as we tend to call it — is a brutal thing. Nothing not school related happens, and it has gotten worse over the years. This year, we had an exceptionally tough summer with some heavy infrastructural upgrades and network expansions/changes/reformulations, and none of it is known to work until you have a full student body using it.
As a side note — so far it’s going very well indeed. But I digress.
Needless to say, my already pitifully small number of posts became “no posts at all,” and that’s the way it was. Honestly, I’m in no position to pick back up (in part because I have a rather ambitious plan for online doings — no, it does not involve a Kickstarter — that will shape what my online life for 2013 and beyond will look like, and so this is not the time to redevote my scrivenorial efforts to essay-writing) anytime soon.
But I just had a discussion with a coworker that I absolutely needed to pass along to you, the folks who I like passing stuff along to.
The discussion was on a technique he used for commenting code, and through it composing and documenting code. And it’s brilliant.
And it would work for almost any form of writing, cartooning, or creative endeavor just as well.
More after the break. I’m Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Aire.
Sometimes, even at this late date, people ask me why I’m so fast to disregard Authorial Intent in a work.
It’s a fair question. After all — all creative people feel inexorably bound to their creations, for good or ill. It feels like a tiny chunk of you has been wrapped up in descriptive text, imagery, lyrics, melody or what have you. And for many (not all) people, there is generally something you’re going for. Something you want to say, whether directly or indirectly. Something you want to imply. Some meaning behind your words. That meaning may be prosaic — sometimes a running gun battle is just a running gun battle — or obscure. (Sometimes a running gun battle is a metaphor for the individual finding himself opposed by his own dark reflection while the world of conformity around him is shattered in collateral damage which rains down upon the innocent and guilty alike. Also there are doves. Just accept that part, okay?)
The latest run of Young Justice is called “Invasion,” and while it is not in any way the same, it draws certain elements off a late 80’s comics crossover called “Invasion,” in particular focusing on the discovery and exploitation of the Metagene and ways to eliminate powers, control metahumanity and the like, as well as the use of shapeshiftes (Durlans in the original).
“Invasion,” the comics crossover was plotted largely by Keith Giffen, working with scripter Bill Mantlo. Mantlo, known more for his Marvel work, where he created and developed long runs on the Micronauts and Rom, as well as creating properties like Cloak and Dagger, was involved in an automobile hit and run in 1992, which gave him irreparable brain damage. He had some progress getting better, after institutionalization, but his insurance ran out and he ended up in the only care facility his family could afford (and that just barely). The story is heart-rending for anyone to read. For someone who grew up with his comics, it is agony to think about.
DC? Warner? You don’t owe Bill Mantlo anything, legally. He did a job for you, did it well, was paid and you both move on. I don’t mean or want to claim otherwise. (I might have choice words for Marvel in this regard, but not DC). But here you are, drawing elements off work Mantlo did for you for a storyline in a popular cartoon. This is an opportunity. An opportunity for great press. An opportunity to have a public statement — to say “we recognize that we have no financial obligation to Bill Mantlo, but we and all the modern comics industry owes a lot to this man, and as the “Invasion” storyline develops, we want to demonstrate the kind of heroism we have always stood for.”
Please. Subsidize Mantlo’s care. It might be too late to give him the kind of recovery he once could have had, but at the least you can greatly improve his quality of life. At the least what progress could be made could be made.
I don’t have much I can offer as inducement, but here’s what I can offer. I’ve been critical of the New 52. I don’t apologize for that. But if you do this… I’ll buy every issue of every comic in the New 52 produced in its first year. It will take some time — I’m not particularly flush — but as long as they remain available via Comixology I’ll do it. I’ll buy all the good ones I couldn’t get to. I’ll buy all the ones I don’t care for. Hell, I’ll buy all the ones I actively dislike. Red Hood and the Outlaws? I’ll buy every. Stinking. Issue.
Like I said, it’s not much, but it’s what I can offer. It absolutely pales in comparison to what you can offer Bill Mantlo, his family and his legacy.