One of the things I remember most clearly about the ‘webcomics community’ in the mid-2000s was how passionate everyone was, about… well, everything. Drama was a constant. There was no detail so small that it wasn’t worth an argument. There was no achievement so petty that it didn’t deserve celebration. The most precious coin of the realm was sincerity — you could be an jerk. People were fine with that. Just don’t be a milquetoast or hypocrite.
Well, Joey Manley was no hypocrite. And Joey Manley was no milquetoast. He went toe to toe on the subject of comics with anyone. And sometimes, people called him a jerk. Sometimes loudly. And generally they used language that was less ‘PG’ than ‘jerk.’
But that was okay with Joey, because comics mattered to Joey. Art mattered to Joey. And if that meant he was going to be the one man standing up in the middle of remarkable peer pressure and move in a different direction, well, that’s what it would mean.
Which is where we got Modern Tales from. And Girlamatic, Serializer, Graphic Smash and all the rest of the ‘Manley’ sites (which he always referred to as the ‘Modern Tales family.’)
But I’m getting ahead of my tale. More after the break.
Every so often, you have to dust the old blog off. In one sense, the most significant new comics-media development in years happened this past week: the launch of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC.
Yeah, most significant. As in, more significant than The Avengers, Iron Man II and III, and The Dark Knight Rises (my arbitrary cutoff would be after Iron Man and The Dark Knight for these purposes, but in one sense this could compete with those luminaries as well).
Why do I say this? Because we have a weekly television series set in the Marvel (Cinematic) Universe on one of the Big Four networks, and its premiere had absolutely absurdly good numbers. Shockingly good numbers. Numbers that roughly tripled Smallville’s best viewerships and exceeded Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’s best season average. And don’t kid yourself — it was a lot easier to get sixteen million viewers in 1993 than it is today. The demographics for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were insane — skewing heavily to adults with six figure incomes and adults in the prime advertising demos. (They’re trumpeting the male viewership, because I don’t know — penises or something, but the ratio was roughly 55%-45% male/female, which is to say “don’t claim this is a guy’s show — everybody watched this.”)
This wasn’t a show about superheroes. Arguably, this wasn’t even a show about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ since only three members of the primary cast have “Agent” in their job title. This was a show about non paranormals in the Marvel Universe, and it absolutely killed.
That’s a game changer, popular culture wise. There’s a reason the Fox network essentially announced the pre-Batman Jim Gordon Gotham series on the heels of this show. And if they sustain even decent numbers, we’re going to see a ton of superhero/superspy shows next year on the big four. The post-Heroes superhero fad will look ridiculously tame in comparison. No one in television loves anything so much as a successful show they can copy.
(What do I want to see? I want to see a show about and starring Lex Luthor. Preferably one with some Breaking Bad in its DNA. No, I don’t mean Bryan Cranston, though I wouldn’t be sad if he were in it. But I digress.)
So, let’s talk about it — after a break, so spoilers aren’t a thing — because there will be spoilers for the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe here and there, as well as the show. (And maybe a few other movies while we’re at it.) Warning done.
In today’s Interviewing Trey installment, I introduced a significant character — one who’s a straight shooter, and answers a number of Chapman’s questions without overt hostility or obvious agenda. She was, in my head and in the text, described as mature, with an eye to making her older and thereby giving her a bit of gravitas, so that her words would be received by the reader a certain way. It’s, you know, what we do when we write. We try to create something that will convey the impression we’re striving for.
It just occurred to me that if I sat down and crunched the numbers… this character would be within two or three years of my own age.
That’s a thing that makes a guy think.
Got several request to make this rebloggable - here you go.How would you feel if they made a Trinity film that focused mainly on Wonder Woman, instead of a solo Wonder Woman (in the way they called the animated film Superman/Batman: Apocalypse even though it was really about Supergirl, just to cater to a demographic)?
You mean adopt the "Hide the Girl" strategy?
You mean ignore that 51% of the movies goers in this country are women?
You mean ignore that 44% of the audience for Superman were women?
You mean ignore that films with female leads can do well (Hello Hunger Games!) but Hollywood continues to cater to the precious male demographic because apprently the money women spend at the box office is someone how less attractive.
Fuck that noise. Hollywood needs to stop catering to the kind of small minded wrong head bullshit that brings two movies that have the White House being invaded to the screens within months of each of other and express SHOCK when a female lead film opening the same weekend beats the pants off it.
They need to stop pouring money into pieces of shit like the Lone Ranger and after they had a bomb like John Carter but then limit the films that have female leads.
They are in self perpetuating cycle of expressing shock each and anytime their male led movies fail and a film with a women or POC succeeds.
They need stop being paralyzed about how Wonder Woman must be done right when they freely reboot Superman when he fails. Or the Hulk. Or any other male led superhero movie. I wouldn’t be a bit suprised if there’s a new GL movie before Wonder Women.
I’m pragmatic but I’m also tired and frustrated with this constant catering to the idea that male movie goers are fricking special snowflakes who will break out in a sweat or die if they see a female led movie.
Did they go see Aliens? Yeah, they did.
Did they go see Tomb Raider? Yeah they did
Did they go see Hunger Games? Yeah they did (39% of the opening was male).
Did those movies make money? Yeah, they did.
I’m sorry Hollywood is just filled with dudes who believe the world revolves around them.
When writing fiction with any sense of awareness of self or culture, one has to deal with cultural imperatives as well as dramatic ones.
Okay, ‘has’ is strong. Plenty of people don’t. Plenty of people don’t even think about it. I know. I was one of them. But….
Well, that has to change, and that means it has to change for me as well. Which brings me to today’s Interviewing Trey chapter.
The stuff I’m going to discuss is spoiler ridden, so it goes behind a break. You know, if you care about being spoiled for the story. If not, or if you read it (and thank you if you did), feel free to continue.
@kelli217 and I have been having a conversation in regards to Man of Steel, which I’m electing not to see based on the reviews by Mark Waid and others. I’ll try to be spoiler-free.
The aforementioned kelli217 asked a good questions as part of this — what about the rookie argument? (IE — what if Superman’s being so new to this means he makes choices we don’t care for.) My response, informed by Waid’s on similar responses, was they could have made a Superboy movie but didn’t. If you make a Superman movie, you don’t get graded on a curve.
The response to that was “What if Superman is not YET worthy of the name, doesn’t realize his potential to realize ideals?”
It’s a good question. The answer requires Myth Criticism.
In Mythological Literary Critical Theory, fiction in all media follows certain archetypical paths, which can be decoded in many ways. One of the hallmarks of these archetypes are failed attempts to reach the archetype. In Greek Myth, where this is most famous, the archetypical Greek hero is Perseus: Perseus strives with Gods but never places himself above them. He succeeds with his strength and heart but never succumbs to foolishness or hubris. And, he is rewarded without punishment, and he and his fellows eventually enter the stars themselves.
Failed attempts to get to the archetypes are ectypes. Ectypes have elements of the archetypical, but fail to achieve that zenith. Examples include Theseus (who abandoned Ariadne, forgot to change the sail of his ship, and ultimately was imprisoned in Hades, his memory stripped, for daring to try and kidnap Persephone), Jason (who betrayed Medea, who killed their children in revenge, and had the favor Hera showed him rescinded, leaving him to be crushed to death by the rotting prow of the Argo alone and unloved), and Bellerophon (whose hubris grew so great he attempted to fly Pegasus to Olympus itself, causing Zeus to either strike him with a thunderbolt or to have a gad-fly sting Pegasus, throwing Bellerophon to death far below).
Likewise, Superman is an archetype. He is, in the end, the hero who gets it right. He makes hard choices, and finds another way. He inspires us not because of his great power, but because his great power is not what makes him a hero.
If he fails at this? He fails at the archetype. He is an ectype instead. If he acts as Superman but is unable to be Superman, he cannot become Superman. He can still be a hero, of course, but he cannot achieve the archetype.
I wasn’t being flippant in my first answer. Superboy can fail at this ideal. He is, as stated, a rookie. He’s new, learning his way and learning his power. The entire 10 season run of Smallville was about Clark Kent learning all he needed to know and becoming all he needed to be before he could actually be Superman. Had they elected to make (in Waid’s words) Boy of Steel, the crux issues wouldn’t be issues. They might be controversial, but they wouldn’t reflect a core failure of the character.
Once the mantle of Superman is assumed, the character is not becoming, he has become, and at that point the burden is on the writers — he is the figure who finds the other way, who makes the right choice. Barring intentional deconstructions or subversions of the character (Elseworlds, Injustice: Gods Among Us, the Justice Lords on Justice League, and so forth) in the end he will succeed.
In making their character Superman, they make the question of whether he’s ready to be Superman academic. In the end, their figure is a failed ectype and not the archetype. And at that point, there is no going back.
Their ‘Superman,’ in the end, isn’t. And as a result, he can’t be.
A ton of people disagree with me on this, for the record, and that’s fine. God knows I’m not the final word on anything. But, that’s (the major reason) why I’m not going to the movie, and that’s why the character fails for me.
You can understand why people consider female superheroes a losing proposition in mass media — I mean, after the failure of key female superhero properties like The Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible we’ve demonstrated that—
Wait, what was that? Those were both immensely successful television shows? But… how could that be? That would imply that female action oriented figures who were allowed to act like (in the former case) actual little girls and (in the latter case) actual young women would appeal to the female segment of their audience and pull in strong viewership numbers. Now, how can that be?
No, that’s ridiculous. We know from mass market movies that women won’t go to see such things. Just look at the Hunger Games — as soon as you put a woman at the center of such an action oriented….
What was that? Hrm. Okay, bad example.
All right. Look at Tomb Raider. Here’s a prime example of a traditional, male oriented unrealistic heroine in an action environment. No more of these silly ‘female appealing qualities,’ just Angelina Jolie in a tank top hurling herself in slow motion over—
DOUBLED IT’S FREAKING PRODUCTION BUDGET? NOW COME ON! No. No… that’s okay. Look at its sequel. Its sequel clearly… grossed $156 million off a production budget of $95 million before things like DVD sales.
All right! All right! Elektra! Here’s a movie that was devoid of any strong characterization that itself was a sequel of a movie that underperformed at the box office. It was based on a relatively obscure comics property that was, admittedly, beloved of comic book fans. With all of that stacked against it, obviously it was a monumental flop, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that female led superhero movies are simply not a viable proposition.
Wait, what was that? Elektra made money? Not a lot — not enough to justify a sequel — but the studio came away with more cash then they paid, on a movie pretty universally known to have been total crap?
Catwoman! A truly terrible movie with a horrible script, terrible CGI, bad acting, a terrible premise, which literally moved away from the comics character of the previous sixty years and created a new one purely so they could get Halle Berry (because Heaven knows putting a black woman in a white woman’s role couldn’t happen) with an execrable plot and absolutely the worst word of mouth any movie has ever received both before and during release failed at the box office and lost money. The Superhero equivalent of Heaven’s Gate failed so utterly that it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that having a superhero movie with a female lead, regardless of any other factors or any other movie experiences, is entirely nonviable in today’s market.
Meant to put this over here as well. So sorry!
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: