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kidnap Persephone), Jason (who betrayed Medea, who killed their children in revenge, and had the favor Hera showed him rescinded, leaving him to be crushed to death by the rotting prow of the Argo alone and unloved), and Bellerophon (whose hubris grew so great he attempted to fly Pegasus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:
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?)