I’m on a comics kick right now, and apparently a masochist because I’m still reading the “A vs X” thing even if I’m no longer subscribed (ah, the library). But I seriously need to stop. It’s painful. But it got me thinking about a few more rules I would put in place if I were Tyrant-in-Chief at a comic book company.
Rule 13) Story quality should not suffer due to “author’s pet syndrome,” or personal vendettas against characters and/or story developments. For an example, just because a writer working on a team comic thinks Wolverine is the greatest hero ever doesn’t mean I as the editor should allow Wolverine to dominate every storyline, and especially not to the detriment of any other characters in the team. This is clearly blasphemy as far as Marvel is concerned, but it’s a good rule nonetheless. Even a good writer like Peter David put in a Wolverine cameo for no reason story-wise but it did allow him to note in the next issue how he didn’t make a big deal about the Wolverine cameo (I should mention that Wolverine was only relaying information to X-Factor and didn’t even need to be in the comic at all). My favorite character is probably not your favorite character and nothing annoys fans more than a character they don’t like always getting the limelight for almost no discernible story reason (i.e., Wesley Crusher). As far as personal vendettas, no matter how much I personally dislike a character, or think that said character has been poorly developed, poorly utilized, poorly integrated into a team setting, and the presence of said character has caused severe character derailment of everyone else they’re around *cough*EmmaFrost*cough* doesn’t mean I just get to kill them off or worse. Likewise, just because I don’t like a particular story development such as a character’s long-standing marriage doesn’t mean I get to order the writers to undo it *cough*OneMoreDay*cough*.
Exception 13) There’s really no exception to this, unless the storyline is really awesome and makes sense. Believe me, I would love to kill off Emma Frost for various reasons, but even though I’m tyrant-in-chief doesn’t mean I’m going to order my writers to do so. Likewise, I can’t just let a writer kill her off unless it makes some sense. This does happen (legend has it Gwen Stacey was dropped off a bridge because Spider-man’s new writer wanted him to get together with MJ; however it’s become a seminal turning point in the Spider-man mythos), but the less it happens, the better (not every story can becoming a turning point in the mythos). As tyrant-in-chief, I would prefer a writer get rid of Emma Frost in a more long-term fashion that leads to character development, not character derailment, which is too often what personal vendettas result in. And yes, fans do notice these things. Although I might allow a retcon to get Spider-man’s marriage back, but again, the storyline better be totally awesome.
R14) Try to be consistent with timelines. It is painfully obvious comic book time does not correlate with real time. This is why the 13 year old Shadowcat in 1975 is just now old enough to drink in the states. To be fair, other media have this problem too. Most characters aren’t even given ages, leaving readers to try to figure it out based on other clues. It’s pretty difficult too because pop culture moves faster than comic book time. I frankly have no idea how old Peter Parker is supposed to be. I think he’s approximately 30, give or take about three years. Same for the original X-men. The reason comic book time doesn’t correlate is because it can take one year of issues to tell three days worth of story. And of course no one likes to see their favorite characters get old and die. But that’s what’s going to happen, albeit it very slowly. My estimate is for every five years of real time, approximately one year passes in comic time. Characters should show this. Specific ages don’t have to be given (because let’s be honest, it would be very jarring for Peter Parker to celebrate his 31st birthday this year when he debuted at 16 years old in 1964 ([if I recall correctly]). However, when major holidays are celebrated, assume that is a marker for some aging. Holidays should happen approximately the same time across all the comics. This will keep aging consistent across characters. For example, why in the world is Julie Power now older than Alex Power? Alex looks to be 13 or 14, which matches with Franklin Richards’ age of 10 or 11, but Julie looks to be 16 and is in high school. Otherwise that makes Alex 17 which means Franklin ought to be 13 or 14 and he’s clearly not (I use this example because Franklin ran around with the Power Pack so I actually know what their ages are supposed to be relative to each other).
E14) Naturally, the only exceptions to this are characters who don’t age (the Eternals or possibly Mr. Fantastic [plastic body] or possibly Wonder Man [energy body]), age very slowly (Captain America, Nick Fury, Wolverine), or characters that can somehow reduce their physical age (clones are very popular, but that’s covered in another rule). Also, de-aging someone is probably going to sound stupid (I.e. Magneto and Eric the Red back in the 1970s), so whatever the process is, it had better be plausible and well-written and most importantly have a story reason for it, rather than, “Wow, Magneto is a really old man and we should fix that if we want him to be in the comics much longer.”
R15) Do not keep introducing characters that are simply derivatives of current, well-known characters. Basically I mean just because everyone loves Wolverine doesn’t mean every new character who is introduced has a healing factor and claws. There are a lot of variations of powers; not everyone has to be just another version of the current mutant of the day. In fact, the only reason Wolverine lived in the new X-men and Warpath died is because, at the time, claws and a healing factor was a much more unusual power than super-strength and size. Powers unfortunately seem to follow trends. For awhile ninjas were popular, so suddenly there were a lot of new ninjas being introduced. Wolverine got popular, so suddenly everyone is a melee fighter with a healing factor and claws and/or something sharp and/or a relative and/or clone of Wolverine. Vampires are popular and suddenly Jubilee’s a vampire. There is a wider world of character possibilities than the ones that already exist, and that’s what’s going to help keep the comics fresh and interesting. There’s usually room for the old ones, but there’s no reason to just keep churning out younger versions of the same characters with different backstories that don’t really disguise the fact they are just younger versions of the same characters.
E15) There are always going to be exceptions. Body armor has only so many permutations (rock skin, hard skin, diamond skin, metal skin, etc.). But there are a lot more possibilities out there than current writers seem to be embracing. If they get stuck and turn out another Wolverine clone, I’ll hand them a pair of d100s and an old Marvel Ultimate Powers book and tell them to roll up a few characters randomly. Interesting characters can come from the random roll of dice. Not all rolls will work out, but some of the way the powers fit together spawn interesting backstories to make it all work. But the writers should at least try to be a bit more creative than, “What if Wolverine was a kid?” “That’s his son, Daken.” “Oh, what if Wolverine was a girl?” “Brilliant!” Hence, X-23. There are characters with more unusual powers out there (some kind of suck, but at least they exist) so I know the writers can be more creative. Maybe it’s executive pressures that keep them from really working with a character with a unique power (because why work with a new character when everyone loves Wolverine). Or maybe they had a great idea and then lost further inspiration. Still, can’t the writers do better than an endless parade of suspiciously similar substitutes?