A TV/Movie Entry – Batman!

As I have mentioned, my comic book universe of choice is Marvel.  I have read far more Marvel comics than DC ones.  So my first introduction to DC’s favorite superhero was through the movies/TV series.   I have seen all the “Batman” movies and all the series (I think; I may have missed a cartoon series from the 60s.).  Batman has two distinct styles – Darker and Edgier, and Lighter and Softer (please see www.tvtropes.com for a full explanation of these tropes).  It seems contradictory one character can be portrayed in two opposing tropes.  In my experience, fans tend to be vehemently one or the other (usually with younger fans absolutely aghast to think of Batman as anything but Darker and Edgier).  I actually don’t mind either version, although mixing the two tropes is just a recipe for disaster.

Obviously, Lighter and Softer was prevelant mostly during the 50s and 60s.  However, the comics themselves had taken a turn for the Lighter and Softer side so the TV shows (and movie) only reflected this, and I am to understand quite faithfully.  There was a cartoon during that time with Robin being voiced by Casey Kasem (which must have made the Top 10 countdown especially surreal) and featured silly plots and a firm commitment to non-violent violence (i.e., Batman couldn’t even really hit a villain).  The pinnacle of this style of Batman is of course the pun-tastic “Batman” show of the late 60s.  There is a lot to snark about this show.  Commissioner Gordon may  be the most useless cop in the history of cops and Chief O’Hara is no better.  I assume they just practice playing office golf all day in the Commissioner’s office and let Batman handle all the crimes.  But for the most part it was pretty cleverly written, and, as I said, pun-tastic.  Yes, the plots were silly but the characters were good.  Frank Gorshin’s Riddler is, if you try to ignore the ridiculousness of the scheme, a bi-polar raging egomanic and really darn creepy (he is best viewed in his own episodes and not the movie).  The various Catwomen have been ruthless and sexy.  I distinctly remember one episode involving Julie Newmar’s Catwoman where Batman and Robin stumbled onto her plot very early in the show.  Instead of some elaborate deathtrap, she just had them chucked out a window!  Unfortunately there was a deus ex machina below the window.

Lighter and Softer got a very bad name in the 90s when some moron in the movie industry handed the Batman franchise over to a clueless director.  Batman Forever was just not a good movie, but I did admire Jim Carrey’s attempt to channel Frank Gorshin’s Riddler (from the Adam West series).  Then it got worse with Batman and Robin.  It was campy but not camp-tastic.  There was pretty much not one good thing about that movie and it had bat-gadgets stupider than Bat-Shark-Repellant.  Lighter and Softer isn’t necessarily bad, but Lighter and Softer done badly is, well, bad.  The best way to sum up this movie (if you haven’t seen it) is a quote from Adam West’s Batman movie – “Some days you just can’t rid of a bomb!”

But Lighter and Softer reached a new high point with the animated series “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”  It featured a lot of obscure, Silver Age characters, clever dialogue, more than a few puns, and some meta-humor (which I love).  Batman was fun, but still completely bad-ass.  My favorite episode was “Mayhem of the Music Meister” and I liked all the episodes with Bat-mite.  As Ambush Bug told Bat-mite in the last episode (yes, they even had Ambush Bug), a character like Bat-mite can only be featured in a campy show, not in the dark and edgy upcoming Batman series.  It had serious episodes too, such as when Batman went after Joe Chill for the murder of his parents and the sacrifice of B’wana Beast to save the world.  Campy doesn’t mean there aren’t serious elements.  Lighter and Softer done well is still done well.

And onto Darkier and Edgier.  In the 1970s, Batman underwent an extreme makeover at the hands of legendary writer Frank Miller to become the brooding, almost anti-hero that is most commonly known.  I have also seen the argument that Miller just brought Batman back to his pulp roots (the same ones that featured such a high body count Kane and Co. stopped the deaths so they could have recurring villains instead of having to constantly think of new ones).  I’m not going into that debate.  But it did spawn Tim Burton’s Batman, which was definitely Darker and Edgier, and also a little strange, but that’s Tim Burton.  Say what you will about Michael Keaton as Batman, at least you could understand what the hell he was saying.  Like Batman, the Joker has bounced between Lighter and Softer and Darkier and Edgier.  In this case, Burton I think got a nice mix.  He was a ruthless mobster, and dangerous, but not “Killing Joke” Joker.  My favorite scene – “Bob, give me your gun.”  Bob does so.  Joker proceeds to kill Bob just because he’s annoyed his plans are being thwarted.  Burton’s next movie was, to me, too Burton-esque and not Batman enough; however, it showed that just because Batman is Darker and Edgier, Darker and Edgier still has to be done well to be effective.

Burton’s Batman was the inspiration for the most excellent “Batman: the Animated Series.”  I was introduced to Batman by Burton, but I was hooked on Batman by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.  Animated or not, I don’t believe this show was really intended for children.  The violence was pretty much bloodless, but there was plenty of it.  B:TAS single-handedly revamped Mr. Freeze from a gimmicky flat mad scientist to a tortured soul trying to save his wife at great cost to himself.  B:TAS also introduced Harley Quinn, Joker’s Girl Friday who proved to be so popular she jumped into the comic book universe.  The series covered many major Batman characters and story arcs and managed to be dark without being too dark but also avoided watering down the source material (my familiarity with this series allowed me to see the twist ending in the latest movie).  The characterization of the Joker pretty much came straight from Burton, but it worked in the series and the voice acting was spot-on (thank you Luke Skywalker).  Actually, all the voice acting was really good, and frankly it is because Kevin Conroy was so good as Bruce Wayne/Batman that I find Christian Bale’s “gargling with marbles” Batman voice hard to take.  Overall, my favorite non-comic book version of Batman.

In between B:TAS and B:TBATB were two series – “Batman Beyond” and “The Batman.”  I watched both.  “The Batman” was the worst, but even it was not bad.  It simply didn’t have the mature take on the material that B:TAS did.  I know many people hated “Batman Beyond” but I saw it as a logical “what-if” in the Bat-verse.  I will say “Batman Beyond” could perhaps be seen as a mix between “Batman” and “Spider-man” in that the hero is a high school student learning to be Batman under the tutelage of an aged Bruce Wayne.  But I still liked it.

Finally, the pinnacle of Darker and Edgier in cinema – Chris Nolan’s “Dark Knight Saga.”  Nolan’s vision excels when he deals with psychology, themes, and metaphors.  I thought the psychology was heavy-handed in the first movie, but just spot on in the second and third one as well.  The story/character arc was well executed.  Batman begins by overcoming his fear and hatred and suitably fighting the Scarecrow (a symbol of fear) and Ra’s al Ghul (a symbol of hatred).  He becomes the dark knight by tempering his anger to fight against terrorism via chaos, with the Joker as the main villain.  The dark knight rises by first falling prey to his own despair (he really just wants to die but doesn’t know how) and rising above his own issues to save his city from terrorism via facism, with Bane (an appropriate name) symbolizing his own self-loathing.  I also like how Nolan tries to make the characters less cartoony (Burton kind of just went with that, but it worked with his cast).  Scarecrow only wore the mask on certain occasions, Joker was insane and weird among criminals (and close to “Killing Joke” Joker), Bane was a fully human mercenary (no mention of the drug Venom that makes him super-strong in the comics), and Catwoman was a cat burglar stealing because she couldn’t find a way out of her life of crime (and in no way actually obsessed with cats or intentionally dressing as a cat).  Throughout all of this, Nolan has been careful to show that Jim Gordon, at least, is equally a hero to Batman.  He’s taken the hits, he lost his family, he’s nearly died in each movie, and he stayed to continue the work.

I do, however, have two issues with Nolan’s vision, which may be the result of trying to deal with such an overarching theme.  First, and this isn’t his fault, is, as mentioned, Christian Bale’s Batman voice.  It’s just like nails on chalkboard awful and worse makes it hard to take him seriously when you’re just waiting for someone to offer him a cough-drop.  Unfortunately, that’s hard to help.  The big con is a suspension of disbelief.  Nolan is good at grounding his characters with some realism, but the narrative drama relies on what TvTropes, appropriately enough, dubs the “Batman Gambit.”  Go to the website for a full explanation, but in short, “if there is any reasonable action the pawns could take that would ruin the entire scheme, then it’s a Batman Gambit.”  The key to a Batman Gambit is not letting the pawns know there is any other reasonable action but the one the mastermind wants them to take.  This is where Nolan fails.  He does not always provide that key and for me as a movie-goer it’s a bit jarring to watch everything go down and then think to myself, “Hey!  That wouldn’t happen for X, Y, and Z reasons!”  This, of course, totally wrecks my suspension of disbelief.  And in the last one, the finale is the result of what must have been a years-long Batman Gambit involving at least dozens and possibly hundreds of pawns, which makes it really unlikely either that not a single pawn would have taken any other reasonable action or that the villains could have controlled all the pawns so effectively they never took any other reasonable action.  The scheme is simply too big.

That said, I liked the series and thought it was well done.  I know there is another “Batman” animated series in the works, which I will at least try out (I’m not keen on a “gun-toting Alfred”).  And I am 90% certain that DC and Warner Brothers are going into pre-production for the “Batman” series reboot coming to a theater near you in 2017.  Not that I’m bitter about that.  Money-grubbing executives aside, I am a Batman fan.  B:TAS is still my favorite non-comic portrayal, but B:TBATB ranks a close second.

From B:TBATB –
Bat-Mite: [Reading from a piece of paper] “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways.  To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but is certainly no less valid ad true to the character’s roots than the tortured avenger, crying out for mommy and daddy.”

From B:TAS –
Batman – I am vengeance!  I am the night!  I – am – BATMAN!

A Comic Book Entry – Cheap Knock-offs

This is hardly confined to one media, but for now I’ll limit my ranting to comic books. Comic books generally exhibit the following kinds of knock-offs:

1) Cross-comic book universe

2) Intra-comic book universe

3) Real world

I think knock-offs are, in general, for lazy writers and/or fan-boy/girl writers, and cause stagnation in comic books. My recommended remedy is a set of hundred-side dice and a copy of the ultimate Marvel Superheroes RPG. The reason knock-offs tend to occur, regardless of the source, is because writers (or perhaps editors) want to capitalize on the success of a trend or comic book character without either paying royalties or getting into a nasty lawsuit over copyright issues. Or it could be, I suppose, a writer likes a character a lot but really really wants to put their own spin on him/her.

1) Marvel and DC have a long history of stealing each others’ characters and introducing them with a different name and slightly different costume. One would almost think it’s part of a character re-location program. Superman has been ripped off a lot by Marvel, with two famous versions being Gladiator of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard and Sentry. Lobo is an even more psychotic rip-off of Wolverine, minus the claws (I invite you to take a moment to process what “more psychotic than Wolverine” actually means). The beloved merc with a mouth, Deadpool, is so blatantly ripped off from Deathstroke the Terminator I’m surprised Marvel didn’t get sued. Deathstroke’s real name is Wilson Slade, and Deadpool is Wade Wilson. Heck, their costumes are even nearly identical! There is a panel of a cross-over comic (which I wish I knew the title and issue number of) featuring Deadpool meeting Deathstroke. Pete Wisdom is John Constantine down to the bloody accent. The Squadron Supreme is pretty much nothing but the JLA with different names and costumes. Actually, the list goes on and on of hero teams that strongly resemble the JLA or the Avengers. It’s sort of depressing writers can’t try to be a little more creative. But at least they’re looking outside for inspiration. When they don’t…

2) Here’s where the knock-offs start to get to me. It starts when every new character seems to have the same powers. Captain Marvel is pretty much Superman without the annoying weakness to kryponite. The Elongated Man is a less powerful but more sane version of Plastic Man. Martian Manhunter is Superman with extra powers and a different weakness. Or the alternatives are alternatives. That is, relatives who have the same powers as a well-known figure (Krypton sure has a lot of survivors that landed on Earth) or an alternate/parallel universe version of a character who somehow ends up in the mainstream universe (or heck, why not both? Powergirl is an alternate universe version of Supergirl, who is Superman’s cousin). While Kryptonian cousins may be the most egregious example (seriously, how many survivors are there that somehow made it to Earth), Marvel is not immune to this and their favorite mutant of all is the poster boy. Wolverine’s rival, Sabretooth, has the healing factor but I let that pass since Wolverine needs a rival. And if you want a rival with claws, there’s Lady Deathstrike. But that’s just not enough Wolverine. What if Wolverine had a son? Well, it’s likely he did although oddly the comics really don’t go into that considering he’s been bedding totally hot women for over a hundred years. So now we have Daken, son of Wolverine with a dark back story. But wait, what if Wolverine was a girl? So now we have X-23, a genetically engineered clone of Wolverine with pretty much the same messed up backstory as Wolverine. I happen to know right now in the X-titles there are exactly three solo books up for subscription. In a stunning non-coincidence, the stars are Wolverine, Daken, and X-23. If I was TyrantinChief at Marvel and some writer said to me, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a Wolverine-type character,” I’d fire that writer before they finished the sentence.

3) Then we get knock-offs from real life. In my experience, this doesn’t tend to happen with actual people (Samuel L. Jackson, so I am informed, gave his blessing for Ultimate Nick Fury to look just like him) but it does happen with trends, and it’s not new. If you saw the origins of Power Man, Iron Fist, Dazzler, and Ghost Rider, you would know exactly which pop-culture trend spawned them. Dazzler is a special example because writers tried to update her from a 70s disco-dancing queen, not by any real character growth, but by trying to fit her into the newest trend of the 80s MTV pop star. I may have mentioned the fate of one Elisabeth Braddock. She started out a mutant telepathic model turned spy turned X-man. But in the 1980s, ninjas were the hottest trend (my evidence – how many “Karate Kid” movies came out in the 80s? There you go). The writers, so it seemed to me, wanted a ninja on the team. And by the deus ex machina, they got a ninja on the team. And look – instant ninja plot hook that started to involve the Hand and a lot of people in Japan Wolverine got to beat up. In the 80s, Storm went all-out Mr. T. Why? Because that was cool! Lately the hottest trend is angsty teenage vampires (don’t ask me why; I’ve made my feelings about that pretty clear [See also “Defanged”]) so the X-writers took Jubilee (although goodness knows the X-teams have both angst and teenagers in spades) and made her a vampire. They also made her a vampire in a very stupid way which makes no sense even in the context of the world (she was splashed with vampire blood; she didn’t drink it; it didn’t get into a cut or something; she was just splashed with it…). And look – instant vampire plot hook! Sometimes characters move beyond the trends that created them (or re-booted them) and sometimes not so much.

I do understand that just trying to make a character with a different set of powers for the sake of different powers doesn’t usually turn out very well. Exhibit A – The Legion of Superheroes. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t take people with duplicate powers, so the Legion ended up with kids like Bouncing Boy (with the power to shape himself like a ball and bounce) and Matter-Eater Lad (whose power is exactly what you think it is). Exhibit B – Some of the new mutants like Skin, Beak, or that kid who can make his skin transparent; they all have really lousy powers. There’s pretty much nothing useful or redeemable about saggy, stretchy skin or all of the draw-backs of having bird like powers with none of the bonuses (can Beak even fly?) or being able to directly sunburn your organs. While I applaud the writers’ efforts in trying to think up new powers, the hard truth is that comics are action oriented and action requires characters with combat-useful powers. There is room for less combat-useful powers, but those are harder to write and still must be useful (look how much trouble writers had with Doug Ramsey, whose power of understanding languages is enormously useful but doesn’t stop him from getting stomped on by a Sentinel [which of course was remedied in a stupid way by making him overpowered first as Douglock and then with “omnilingulism” which allows him to re-write reality]). The best that usually happens with a bunch of people without combat-useful powers is a cult fanbase and mediocre success (I’m looking at you, Great Lakes Avengers) and the worst is the character(s) constantly being victimized and rescued by people with actual useful powers (I.e. the Morlocks). It does leave the writer in kind of a Catch-22, but I think there is a middle ground between a knock-off of the same old character and someone with a unique power that is in no way suited to being a superhero.

As I said, my solution is the old Marvel RPG character creation. There’s a table o’ random powers that’s fairly comprehensive. Yes, when rolling randomly it is likely to get a mutant with two powers that don’t really go together, like telepathy and body armor…correction, really shouldn’t go together, or powers that aren’t really useful in a combat situation, like digestive adaptation…correction, really shouldn’t be useful in a combat situation. Anyway, my point is this – stagnation is bad and resorting to knock-offs doesn’t move the universe forward. Also, trends get stale and the characters may not be salvagable. I don’t care how much the writers love Superman or Wolverine. There’s room in the universes for a lot of powers that have nothing to do with refugees from a doomed world or a healing factor and claws.

A TV Entry – I Heart Teen Titans

The animated series, not the comic books.  I’ve never actually read the comic books, but I really loved the series.  I did learn a bit about the comic books though as I watched the series.  The five Titans were not the original team, as I understand it, but the second group that in the comics was brought together by Raven to prevent the demon lord Trigon from entering the world.  The team was Robin, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy.  The style of animation was minimalist with some anime influences such as occasionally exaggerated facial expressions.

There were a lot of things I loved about this series.  It had a good mix of serious and funny episodes.  The theme music was the clue – except for one episode, if the theme was sung in Japanese, the episode would be funny; if it was sung in English, it would be serious.  I liked the anime influences in the drawing.  Each Titan got a season with a story arc devoted to them, except for Starfire, who didn’t get a single season arc, and Beast Boy, who got two.  The series covered, as I understand it, the major storylines in the Titans’ comic mythology, including having Wilson Slade (also known as Deathstroke the Terminator) as the main villain, the arc with Terra, and the arc with Trigon.  The series even brought in Beast Boy’s history on the Doom Patrol.

I liked the fact that the Titans were never out of costume.  Even when they were shown sleeping, they were still in costume (and Starfire slept the wrong way on her bed).  Robin was just Robin for over two seasons (Robin was eventually revealed to be Dick Grayson, although this is never explicitly stated and only confirmed in one scene in the episode “Fractured”).  Besides that brief glimpse into Robin’s real name, the only one ever addressed by his real name was Beast Boy and not until Season 5 (although Starfire tells them her name translates to “Starfire” in English [okay, actually Raven was called by her real name, but that isn’t revealed until Season 4]).  I liked the characterizations.  Robin was, well, Robin, which meant he was paranoid and clever and paranoid and well-prepared and did I mention paranoid?  He was the leader but often went off and did things on his own without informing the team, which usually did not have good consequences.  Beast Boy was the youngest (or at least he came across as the youngest to me) and very hyper-active.  His attempts to convert the others to vegetarianism (or probably more closely veganism) were amusing (his reasoning, which made sense, was that he had been all those animals), especially since Cyborg pretty much ate anything (“So I thought, ‘hey free pie!’”).  Cyborg came across to me as the oldest, and I loved his older brother-type relationship with Beast Boy.  Cyborg also was the resident mechanic and inventor.  Raven was dark and brooding and frankly terrifying (as fully shown in Season 4) although Beast Boy made attempts to cheer her up, and there were instances in the show that revealed Raven would have liked to be more cheerful, except for who she was (by the by, Raven’s status in the DC Universe is not “hero” or “villain;” it’s “heroic victim of evil;” I think that pretty much sums up poor Raven in the comics).  Starfire was a cute, shy girl trying to fit in with the Titans and on Earth.  Her characterization was funnier when it was shown that she’s nearly as strong as Cyborg despite looking so petite.  There were a number of one-off gags featuring her misunderstanding of Earthly culture (“I am very much enjoying this tangy yellow beverage!” “Starfire, that’s mustard.”) and featuring her alien sensibilities (like adopting a giant moth larvae as a pet because she thinks its cute [that moth larvae turns into a recurring sight gag]).  I have to say, though, poor Beast Boy has the worst luck of all the Titans in the series.  First Terra, then, well, Terra.  That’s enough said.

Of course, no show or comic or novel works without a good villain, and Slade was a very good one.  Also, Ron Perlman did a good job with the voice acting.  Slade always was dangerous and just a little bit creepy for stalking a group of teenagers.  There was also Brother Blood, who was apparently much more dangerous in the comics, the demon lord Trigon, and a host of other minor villains (Mad Mod, Blackfire, Killer Moth, etc. [Control Freak was one of my favorites]).  The guest heroes were also fun and included Titans West (I love Bumblebee) and Aqualad and by the end of the series pretty much every teenaged superhero/heroine you could name minus the Legion of Superheroes.

I myself preferred the funny shows over the series ones, and “Fractured” may be my favorite of the bunch (also, it has a special theme song).  The overall story arcs were well done as well as the one-off episodes.  All episodes also featured snappy and funny dialogue.  Even serious episodes usually had a number of good one-liners, and there were numerous references to pop culture (see the episode where Mad Mod tries to take over on Independence Day; “The revolution will not be televised;” also one of the chase scenes looks like the backdrop was taken right from the cover of the White Album).  Some things were simply absurd, but still funny (“It’s meatastic!”).  And because I’m the way I am, I also appreciate some of the meta-references (there’s one episode with Control Freak that is particularly self-referential, even down to the episode’s title).

However, I can’t leave this rant without some small mention of the colossal marketing screw-up made by DC with their rebooted universe.  “Teen Titans” was watched by millions of viewers the majority of which probably never heard of these characters before (I had heard of them, kind of).  So when the universe is rebooted, DC had a great opportunity to reboot the characters to make them similar to the familiar characterizations of the cartoon show.  But no.  They completely squandered that because the Powers that Be decided to alienate anyone who liked the “Teen Titans” version of Starfire and continue to market to adolescent boys who can’t afford real porn.  Argh.

Anyway, see the series.  The animation style takes some getting used to, but the writing makes it well worth it.  Also: Robin-mite (“Larry Larry Larry!”).  Enough said.

A Comic Book Entry: Super-selfish Super-geniuses

First, a word from your sponsor – I have come to realize that as an entirely unknown author, it is best to get my work out to as many people as possible.  I also realize people won’t pay for what they can get for free.  So, to that end, I have dropped the price of my Smashwords novel to entirely totally and absolutely free.  It will also be listed as free by all of Smashwords distributors, so there’s no need to bother with coupons that may or may not work.  It’s free and it’s that simple.  Also, please go Like me on Facebook!

On to the snark!

There’s a trope in comics I ran across called “Cut Lex Luthor a Check.”  The idea is that if someone paid a genius like Lex Luthor, or his counterpart Dr. Doom, enough money for their world-destroying devices (which with a little tinkering could be world-saving devices), they would have no need to be supervillains anymore.  Of course, they are supervillains, and so money holds no power over them although they hold a LOT of power over money (however, this may work on lesser supervillains such as the Tinkerer).  As Princess from “Powerpuff Girls” said, “I have the greatest superpower of all!  Cold hard cash!”  When the incarnation of evil agrees, you know you’re on to something.

But here’s where a problem comes into the internal logic of a comic book universe.  Marvel and DC are populated with hero geniuses.  Batman, Mr. Fantastic, and Iron Man are probably the most famous.  Now, Batman and Iron Man are pretty much on the same level of genius and use their genius in pretty much the same way.  Mr. Fantastic is a special case.  So, yes, Batman and Iron Man own technology companies and horde the best stuff for themselves to fight crime and alien invasions and pretty much whatever the writers think would be awesome at the time (apparently rule 1 of DC is – everything is awesome with Batman; the Marvel parallel [although not quite relevant in this discussion] is – everything is awesome with Wolverine).  Both heroes have enough wealth to make King Solomon blush.  The problems?

1) Iron Man – He’s been very careful NOT to let his weapon designs get into the hands of people he doesn’t personally trust.  Many of his comics are centered around someone stealing the plans for his armor or the actual armor and him going and beating the snot out of them to get it back. He’s invaded foreign sovereign nations and stolen his armor back from the US government on more than one occasion (and yet not tried for treason; go figure).  I get it; he doesn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands (his recovering alcoholic hands are fine, however).  I’ll give Tony credit for creating the Mandroid armor, although like some countries, he sold the third-rate stuff instead of the top of the line stuff.  And of course he made a huge profit from the deal, so it’s not as though it was completely altruistic.  But the man is a weapons’ dealer. Still, I’m surprised at how few commercial/civilian applications the Iron Man technology has been used for.  His armors run on compact, nearly limitless energy sources.  How in the world could that not be marketable and imminently useful?  Okay, yes that’s what Tony is up to in the movies, but the comic book version has going on 50 years to develop clean energy sources, and that Tony was written right through the oil crisis of the 1970s.  He’s devoted to national security, right?  His technology could make the county energy independent within a few decades (I allow him some time to scale up and work on getting costs down).  Or maybe some applications of those force fields would be useful.  How great would it be if instead of a car popping an airbag it popped a force field that absorbed all kinetic energy?  Or maybe he could have worked for more advances in the medical field, since that’s what the armor was originally designed for?  Imagine if Stark Industries went into the field of prosthetics.  But no.  I’ll give Tony a slight pass for being a selfish bastard with his technology since he pretty much is a selfish bastard, but I’m surprised all his high-minded friends and fellow superheroes don’t push him to be a little more generous.

2) Batman – he also has access to advanced technology he keeps to himself.  Now, his stuff isn’t going to revolutionize the army (actually, it might), but imagine what it could do for the Gotham City PD. Gotham City is a terrible place to live, even by fictional standards.  I’d rather live in Sunnydale than Gotham City.  It’s like a circle of Hell Dante didn’t get around to describing because it was so awful. Ostensibly based on New York City, Gotham is pretty much an amalgam of the bad part of every city ever.  There is no part of Gotham City that is not a ghetto as far as I can tell.  Your choices of neighborhood are like choosing between Hell’s Kitchen in NYC, or the South Side of Chicago.  One Bat cannot patrol the whole city, leaving Gotham’s finest to do their best.  And they just have the same lousy gear of any police department, probably worse considering Gotham seems to be in a budget crunch.  So the Gotham City PD is underpaid, under-equipped, and under-staffed.  But Batman, who has a bunch of variations of Bat-armor which keeps him from getting a Bat-sucking-chest-wound when shot, isn’t sharing.  Why not?  Couldn’t Wayne Tech make some money from manufacturing advanced armored vests?  The military would certainly buy them and that would help the troops.  Any police force that could afford awesome armor would probably buy it too.  So Gotham City is broke.  Bruce Wayne is supposed to be a philanthropist; he could just donate a whole bunch of gear to the Gotham CPD because he’s just that kind of guy.  It doesn’t have to be gear he developed; just the good stuff that’s already available would make a huge difference for the poor cops of the GCPD who are forced to fight slightly super-powered psychopaths without so much as a SWAT team.  Or he could buy out and re-build Arkham to the kind of place the inmates aren’t escaping from every other week.  Or better yet, use his money to run for city government and then be able to actually make changes to the budget and staffing which would benefit the PD for years.

I give Batman less of a pass than Iron Man.  He’s not supposed to be a selfish bastard.  He’s supposed to be self-sacrificing for the good of the masses (such good as may be found in such a wretched hive of scum and villainy).  He’s selfless!  And yet his answer to the woes of the Gotham City PD is to dress up like a nocturnal mammal, beat up some muggers, and catch the Joker.  Sure, catching the Joker is important, but how many other people could be helped if the GCPD was properly outfitted and staffed?  If he wanted Batman to always be the city savior, he could outsource the Batman image and make a corps of Batmen (which I think is where the comic was going pre-reboot).  Heck, when Darkwing Duck ran into some money, the first thing he did was create a Darkwing Corps!

3) And the case of Mr. Fantastic is a special one.  This falls in with a trope I saw called, “Reed Richards is Useless.”  This is a man who can build six impossible things before breakfast.  His experiment on cosmic radiation was an utter failure but had the significant side-effect of creating the most powerful superhero team in the Marvel universe.  For the comics Mr. Fantastic has invented: time-travel, travel to other dimensions, travel to parallel universes, travel to the Microverse, travel to the Macroverse, travel to alien worlds, giant robots, laser weapons, and the list goes on and on.  Even when he’s not inventing things to start and/or end adventures, the inventions he makes in his spare time for personal reasons are outrageously advanced technology.  He gave his wife a ring with a universe in it for their anniversary.  Every year on their anniversary he takes her back in time to a restaurant so they can watch their first meeting. This is a man who could run rings around Iron Man and Batman in the invention department.  He could have invented limitless, clean energy in an afternoon.  He could have cured cancer before lunchtime.  He could have solved global warming and cleaned up all pollution before putting his kids to bed.  In theory, he’s got people who know his abilities and should be asking him to create free energy and cure cancer and clean up the planet.  Instead, he builds awesome hovercars and jets and portals and weapons and never shares with anyone ever.  What a selfish bastard indeed.  Some hero.

These geniuses could revolutionize their relative universes in significant ways, but by and large do not.  Why?  Well, unfortunately, that’s narrative convention.  If there actually was a Bat-corps, or if Iron Man’s compact energy sources were commercialized, a lot of conflict that Batman and Iron Man were involved in would disappear.  What would Batman do if the criminals of Gotham actually stayed in Arkham?  What would Iron Man do if his armor didn’t end up in the hands of his enemies?  What if Mr. Fantastic actually cured cancer and created free energy and gave everyone hovercars (yes, some of this overlaps with what Iron Man can do but Mr. Fantastic is a lot faster)?  There would be nothing for anyone to do.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but a lot of conflict would be resolved, especially for Batman, since he spends a lot of time trolling for muggers.  Many problems of the world would be resolved and in regards to Mr. Fantastic, solved on a global scale within a week or two.  As heroes, they ought to share their technology.  But as characters who need conflict, they can’t.  This results in holes in their characters which writers have to write around, which is difficult, and results in Mr. Fantastic inventing something that is totally awesome and then promptly forgetting he made the thing after adventure is over with.  By that logic, Mr. Fantastic has a closet full of world-saving devices that are just gathering dust.  And by that logic, Iron Man and Batman are jerks for not sharing their technology.

Alas, I have no solution to this problem.  But it is kind of a constant glaring plothole that a man who can build a high-tech energy source in a cave with scrap won’t commercialize it, that a man who devotes his entire existence to protecting a festering cesspool of a city won’t help outfit the local police department, or that that a man who can invent time travel and dimensional travel and anything else just utterly fails to turn his attention to pressing global matters of energy supply, cancer, and pollution.  Unfortunately, it’s a glaring plothole that will probably never go away.

A Comic Book Entry: Why Comic Book Writers Should Think Like GMs

This is a response to three issues I’ve noticed in comics relating to power level:
1) Power creep – We’ve all seen it.  Consider Wolverine (as discussed in “My Love/Hate Relationship with Wolverine”).  In the beginning, he could heal from injuries in days to weeks that would put a normal human in traction for months.  For anyone who’s ever broken their arm and had to learn to use their other hand or broken a leg or ankle and learn to walk on crutches, such a healing factor is a darn nice superpower and probably one you wish you had at the time.  Now, he can be thrown out of a skyscraper and be completely recovered in an hour.  He’s hardly the only one.  Popular heroes and villains seem to experience power creep more than lesser known characters.

2) “Strong as s/he needs to be” – this is when a character has such a vaguely defined power that they are suddenly a lot stronger/tougher than they ever have been before.  Iron Fist is an example of this.  He is a skilled martial artist who, through his abilities learned in K’un Lun, can focus his powers to enable him to punch something very hard on desperate occasions (hence the title “Iron Fist”).  Sometimes this is just once a day to take out the big boss and sometimes it is enough to enable him to take out a practical army of armored battle suits.  This situation usually occurs when writers have painted themselves into corners and can’t figure a better way out.

3) Deus ex machina powers – This is when a character suddenly develops a brand new, high level power via a poorly explained plot device, a la Emma Frost’s diamond armor.  This usually occurs when writers have painted themselves into corners and can’t figure a better way out (As I recall, Emma Frost had just been presumably squished to death).  This can also occur when writers think it’s cool.  Superman is a great example of this.  He has acquired flight, ice breath, laser beam eyes, and I don’t know what else over the years.

My solution – it would benefit writers to occasionally think of their stories and characters like characters in a role-playing game with the writer as the gamemaster (or Storyteller, or Dungeon Master, or Judge, depending on the specifics of the system).  Not to get bogged down in the details, a role-playing game basically works like this: each player has a character with defined vital statistics, skills, and/or powers.  The GM is a neutral party that creates a world for the players and makes up challenges for them.  Sometimes this is monsters to fight or puzzles to solve.  When players are successful, they earn points that eventually allow them to improve their vital statistics, skills, and/or powers.  The role-playing part comes in people being allowed to pretend they’re superheroes (Marvel Superheroes is actually a old RPG) or mages or cyborgs or whatnot.

So, you are thinking, what does this have to do with writing a comic book, in which the writer has complete control of all the characters (as opposed to a GM who only has control of the situation; the other players control their characters)?  It is the job of a GM to create a balanced game and challenges that are appropriate not just to the vital statistics/skills/powers of one team member, but the whole team.  It is easy for a writer to fall into one of the three power issues listed above, but very hard for a GM for the following reasons.

1) Power creep:
It is difficult for power creep to become a problem in a role-playing game as long as the GM is paying attention.  Part of this is of course that a game has rules which does allow for power growth along specific and defined paths.  All power comes with a price, and not in an ominous sense, but a pragmatic one.  Players must succeed in a certain number of challenges to improve their vital statistics/skills/powers.  This only makes sense.  In the real world, just because someone wants a BS in Biology doesn’t mean that printing out a diploma means they have the knowledge.  In the real world, if someone wants to bench press 200 pounds, they don’t just wake up one morning able to do that.  Improvement takes time and effort and intermediate steps.  When GMs (and writers) forget that, the whole balance of the team (see 3) and the balance of the world is thrown off.  Actually, it’s worse with writers.

2) “Strong as s/he needs to be”:
A game works by how well the rules are written.  Some games allow more flexibility than others, but in general a character can’t be stronger than their vital statistics/skills/powers.  Now, a player may use those vital statistics/skills/powers in a novel way that solves a problem that might otherwise be beyond their power level, but that’s not the same as a 98-lb weakling suddenly being able to bench-press a taxi.  There are some examples of a weak character defeating a strong enemy without this power issue in the comics.  Rick Jones can’t take a hit from the Hulk (frankly, few can).  However, due to other skills (empathy, knowing the Hulk, etc.), he can calm the Hulk down and ultimately defeat him while others who are much stronger, like Thor, could not defeat the Hulk.  However, Thor does not have the same skill set.

3) Deus ex machina power:
This assumes, of course, said power is awesome.  Something like vampirism certainly brings a whole host of new powers, but in general a whole host of new problems as well.  A GM who just gave out a totally awesome high-level power to a player would be turned on by the rest of the players (“You don’t have to kill him; just make his knees bend the wrong way”).  There would have to be a very compelling story reason for it, and the GM would be forced to re-balance the party challenges, which is pretty difficult.  Take the original Avengers for example.  Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp, Captain America were fairly bad-ass (ok, not really Ant Man and the Wasp, but anyway).  But Thor is a god.  Many of the early stories involve Thor proving he’s not just a god in name, but actually a god with all the power one would expect.  Add to that the Hulk, who can hold his own with Thor.  It is difficult to have a villain who is a credible threat to all members of such a team.  Any villain who can fight Iron Man/Ant Man/Wasp/Cap is going to get his rear end handed to him by Thor and/or the Hulk.  Likewise, a villain who is a credible threat to the Hulk or Thor is going to leave the other four as nothing more than bloody smears on the landscape.  I realize this is not actually what happened in the early comics, but Stan Lee/Jack Kirby had to work around that inherent power differential.  It’s not easy to do.  If my Google-fu is to be believed, Chris Claremont ended up with this problem with the Phoenix.  The idea was to create a female equal to Thor.  The problem with this was pretty obvious and that was what partially lead to Jean’s demise.

Ultimately the goal of a GM is to have a balanced world and if they want to upset that balance, they need a really compelling story reason.  And here is where writers really get themselves trouble when they fall into the three power issues.  Comic book writers work in a collaborative universe.  They share the same characters.  For example, Writer 1 decides that since Mockingbird is the only normal human on the New Avengers that she needs superpowers, and writes that into the story.  Now Mockingbird is nearly as physically strong and tough as Ariel (Jessica Jones).  Well, Writer 2 wanted to feature a mini-series with Mockingbird and Hawkeye fighting HYDRA agents.  Now Writer 2 must contend with Mockingbird’s new powers which, let’s face it, will allow her to wipe the floor with HYDRA agents before Hawkeye gets off two shots.  However, if Writer 2 increases the power level of the enemy to fight the new Mockingbird, Hawkeye stands a good chance of getting killed.  And what’s done is hard to undo since a character’s power creep is often tied to their popularity.  I.e., would anyone really like it Wolverine’s power levels went back to those in the original comics?  Probably not.  This becomes more problematic with villains, since good villains are harder to find than good heroes.  My prime example of this is Norman Osborn, who was first seen tangling with Spider-man in the 60s and last seen (by me anyway) catching a punch from Luke Cage (who himself has had power creep so badly he can actually fight the Thing), throwing Luke Cage into the air like a toy, and flying under his own power.  At this point, I can’t see how he could be just a Spider-man villain again; he’s just too over-powered for Spidey.

I do understand why Mockingbird got superpowers.  It’s really difficult to balance the power threat when one member of the group is so much more vulnerable than the others.  Trying to shore up that inherent physical weakness sometimes creates its own problems.  Frankly, many JLAs fall apart for me because the team is so outrageously super-powered – Superman, Martian Manhunter, the Flash, Green Lantern (pick one; even that jerk Gardener is dangerously powerful), Wonder Woman, Aquaman (in his latest incarnation), and…Batman.  I get it; he’s Batman.  I love Batman as much as the next person, but it seems just unbelievable he should always be the one to save the day when compared to the virtual gods  he’s surrounded by (Wonder Woman may actually be a goddess).  Sure, he’s a detective and tactical genius.  Not to blaspheme the Bat, but it’s sort of like any issue in which Superman is saved by Jimmy Olsen.  It works once in awhile, but if it happened every issue, people would wonder how super Superman really is.  It’s just really, really hard to keep writing situations in which the skills and talents of a “normal” human  trump god-like power.

The upshot is this – if writers thought more like GMs, they wouldn’t increase a character’s power or give a character a new power “just because it’s cool” or because they really like that character.  They also couldn’t have the weakest character consistently saving the team.  Such actions throw off the world balance if not for the writer who bestowed the powers, but for the other writers who have to deal with the consequences.  And frankly, we readers do notice that.  Collaborative writing is hard enough, but it would help if writers thought a little more like GMs about the long-term effects of their story arcs.

A Comic Book Entry – Tyrant-in-Chief Part 3

Further musings on being the editor in chief of a comic book company.

But first, I did forget to mention the movie my last blog titled referenced.  Funnily enough, if you type the words “That dweam within a dweam” into Google, the first hit is a YouTube clip from the very movie – The Princess Bride.  “She gets kidnapped.  He gets killed.  But it all ends up okay.”  Classic.

Anyway, on to just a few more rules with looooong explanations.  Enjoy!

Rule 10) Limit power creep.  Many characters, especially the very first Marvel characters, started out as street fighter level characters and have evolved into city-leveling powerhouses.  DC did this too.  Originally Superman couldn’t actually fly, he could just “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” he couldn’t match Flash in a race but was “faster than a speeding bullet,” he couldn’t throw a mountain but was “more powerful than a locomotive.”  This is the nature of comic books and shared universes – powers drift, sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing.  Generally popular characters have the most increases in powers.  In some instances, there are logical, continuity-consistent reasons.  All of the X-men went to a school, and early comics showed some of their training sequences.  Some have just been around so long they’ve just gotten really good at using their powers (I.e. the Invisible Woman).  Some started out with really lame powers and the writers quickly gave them a few new powers or tricks to make them less lame (I.e. the Invisible Woman).  But sometimes the characters get new powers, or ridiculously adept at the ones they have, and somehow become practical Supermen even though they started out Jimmy Olsen and the justification for this is flimsy at best.  One example of a new power with flimsy justification is Emma Frost.  It’s transparently obvious the only reason she ended up with diamond armor (and she started in as a telepath!) as tough as Colossus is because Colossus had recently died and the writers didn’t want to lose the X-men’s indestructible tank.  Can you imagine the fan backlash if all the telepaths were dead on the team and suddenly Colossus ended up with telepathy?  Of course that wouldn’t happen; that’s stupid.  And another example of not only new powers but also original power creep is Psylocke.  Besides the whole telepathic supermodel/spy turned telepathic ninja assassin, at one point she spontaneously developed telekinesis (which makes more sense than a new physical power but the high level it started at doesn’t make sense).

Exception 10) There’s really no exception to this.  Powers should develop, but at a rate that makes some sense (you do not have a character go from strong enough to bench press a 1000 pounds to bench-pressing 5000 pounds in a week).  New powers can be introduced, but in a way that makes sense instead of just a deus ex machina by the writers (almost every instance of someone getting a new power is in fact that).  A character whose power is strictly physical needs a damn good reason to sudden develop telepathy or energy emission, and vice versa.  Also, the power introduced better not be because of “wouldn’t it be cool if” syndrome, as already discussed.  For a non-Psylocke example, my current theory as to why Jubilee is a vampire is because her character fell victim to that thinking (“Vampires are cool! And really popular!”).  And if it isn’t obvious, that storyline did not wow me (it un-wowed me, in fact) and I would not have allowed it as tyrant-in-chief.  I am only grateful she’s not actually sparkly in the sunlight.

Rule 11) If one team is engaged in a world-changing event, provide an explanation as to why other teams are not involved.

Exception 11) There is no exception to this rule.  If the Avengers are fighting off an alien invasion, the X-men and Fantastic Four (or Future Foundation or whatever the heck the team is called these days) may not necessarily get involved, but if it’s the type of invasion that has aliens marching in the streets of NYC, there had better be a damn good reason the X-men and FF aren’t there.  Many of the teams’ internal logic already has a reason (I.e. X-men do illegal stuff, the Avengers do sanctioned stuff).  However, in a recent issue of the FF, the world is being invaded by a hundred thousand aliens but there’s nothing in the New Avengers.  Likewise, the New Avengers are dealing with another alien invasion force but there’s not a peep of that in the FF.  That is simply not acceptable.  Anything world-threatening that doesn’t involve all hands on deck better have a good reason and had better get at least a mention in the other books.

Rule 12) Dramatic convenience does not trump internal story logic.  One example of this was in the early 90s when the writers decided to cause dramatic tension by having the newly ninja-ed Psylocke hit on the nearly married Cyclops.  This was stupid enough, but when the teams split up, there was no logic to putting Cyclops and Psylocke on one team and Jean and Wolverine on the other.  The only possible reason was the dramatic convenience of overlapping love triangles (I.e. Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine and Cyclops/Jean/Psylocke).  Also, in more recent stories, the way in which Cyclops and Emma got together was also pretty contrived.  Another example of this was a more recent comic in which vampires were overrunning San Francisco and Cyclops’ brilliant plan to stop this was put in a phone call to Dr. Strange, wait five minutes, get all impatient, and then decide to let the X-men handle it by resurrecting Dracula to kick the other vampires’ asses.  This makes no sense on so many levels.  The X-men have little experience with magic and have been known to work with more experienced people if the need calls for it.  Plus, as a tactician and strategist, why in the world would Cyclops decide the way to stop one madman is bring in another?  But the writers couldn’t figure out another way to get their story going, so they trumped internal story logic to make Cyclops a tactical idiot.  Nice.

Exception 12) There is no exception to this rule.  Comics are inherently a cross between fantasy, sci-fi, folklore, and soap operas.  If a writer can’t create drama within the internal story logic, they have no business being a writer.  Readers know better.

A Comic Book Entry – That Dweam Within a Dweam

If you don’t know what movie I’m referencing, shame on you.  Go see it.  It’s classic.  But in case you have no idea what this refers to, it refers to mwarriage, er, marriage.  Specifically, the awful ways comic books handle marriage.

It pretty much goes without saying that every superhero/heroine is such an emotional wreck of a human being that they should never attempt anything resembling a normal romantic relationship with anyone ever.  This rant is not about how terrible the people in comic books marriages are (which they tend to be, for the above mentioned reason).  This rant is to show that the people involved in the creation of comic books just don’t seem to know how to handle it.  Here’s a sad fact – any given character is more likely to die than get married.  More than that, any given character is more likely to die twice than get married.  It’s like writers understand marriage is this special event they only want characters to go through once, recent terrible retcons notwithstanding.  Oddly, divorce is not very common in comic books.  As I recollect, a marriage is equally likely to end in a retcon or a divorce.  Consider that – writers feel it’s easier to re-write a universe to get rid of marriage than just have the characters divorce.  Pardon me if I say that seems like pretty lazy writing.  Let’s see, you could write arcs worth of character development, or one lousy arc that just hits the reset button.  Time is money, so go with resetNo one will notice…

Despite all this, characters do get married.  It seems to be narrative convention that if a couple has been together long enough, writers start to feel pressure that maybe it’s time the characters took the next step in their relationship.  In this case, art imitates life.  When characters do end up married, those who write/edit the comics seem to feel this is some sort of terminal disease that they need to cure the character of and they tend to do it in the worst way possible.  It’s as though they feel that marriage stagnates their characters (not to mention the idea of having children).  After all, writers come and go but marriage is forever.  Maybe writers do feel legitimately shackled by this relationship they would never have written into the comic to begin with and are annoyed they aren’t allowed to explore the drama of getting their favorite couple together.  Maybe from a drama perspective it’s harder to stick a wife in a refrigerator than “just” a girlfriend.  Now, I’m not saying every character needs to get hitched.  For example, it wouldn’t work to pair off Tony Stark.  But it is ridiculous how badly marriages are written, even in the context of everyone involved in them being horribly broken people.

Henry Pym and Janet van Dyne – This power couple is not the worst example of how marriage is treated in comics.  If you know anything about them, you should find the previous sentence frightening.  Frankly, in re-reading the Avenger tradebacks it’s clear that Henry and Janet were not well matched.  He was suffering from anxiety over his first wife’s death, and she was flighty, self-centered and as far as I can tell only interested in a scientist like Pym due to some sort of Electra complex.  She pursued Henry, he rejected her.  They only got married because Henry ended up with dissociative identity disorder after an experiment went wrong and she took advantage of it.  I.e., when Henry married Janet, basically he didn’t know who he was at the time.  So there we go – marriage based on deception and manipulation.  The situation only deteriorated from there to culminate in Henry’s complete mental breakdown, wife-beating, divorce, and getting thrown out of the Avengers.  So why did the writers feel compelled to write the marriage like this?  Sure, superheroes aren’t really allowed any happiness, but given everything the Avengers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis (Kang the Conquerer, alien invasions, Dr. Doom, Kang again but a Kang from before they first met Kang…), why add so much dark drama to something to their marriage?  Did the writers feel their only choices once the characters got hitched was to either ignore it or ruin it?

Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson – The appeal of Peter Parker is that even though he’s a decently awesome superhero, he’s still an everyman we can relate to.  We know that even though he does his best, the universe is still going to kick him in the nuts because the universe thinks it’s funny (and we do too).  This results in whining and self-pity that is as much a trademark of Spider-man as witty banter.  But in the one break he ever got in his life (excepting the superpowers), and after a string of relationships that ran the gamut from “hilarious rom-com hijinks” to “unspeakably tragic,” he manages to marry the girl of his dreams.  Bonus that the girl of his dreams just happens to be a lingerie model.  Good for you, tiger, you hit the jackpot.  He didn’t deserve her and he was a terrible husband, but she had an even greater superpower than spider-powers – she could pull him out of a bout of whining and self-pity.  For that, I think we were all grateful to MJ.  But apparently someone who controls Spider-man’s universe thought that Peter Parker would be much more interesting as a swingin’ single than as a happily married man, despite the fact fans had bought this whole marriage thing for nigh on twenty years or so.  Let’s be honest, given the target demographic of comics, having a main character who happens to be a totally hot lingerie model is not a bad thing.  While it is true that all the women in Peter Parker’s life except Aunt May are unrealistically hot (so much so an incarnation of the Chameleon even remarked on this when he took over Peter’s life), was there ever a time that Peter Parker was a swingin’ single?  I mean besides when he is literally a swingin’ single.  As noted before, his relationships tended to be disasters.  But marriage is boring, so the Powers that Be decreed It Shall Be Undone, and thus it was erased from existence through a deal with the devil (well, Mephisto; same thing).  When fans were upset, Marvel’s response was not to reinstate the marriage, but just re-write why it was erased from existence.  Yes, because ruining a beloved superhero’s life again in the same way but with a different reason makes it all better.

Clark Kent and Lois LaneThey seemed to work pretty well as a couple, once Superman, who can lift mountains, found enough bravery to ask Lois out (although there are some pretty terrible examples of what-ifs in the 60s).  They dated for what, fifty, sixty years before the writers finally let them get together?  Why wait so long?  Sure, there were other women competing for Superman’s heart, but if Wonder Woman couldn’t win him over, then you knew his love for Lois was pretty darn solid.  I suppose maybe the writers were just waiting to time it to sell the maximum amount of comic books.  After all, your flagship character only gets married once (generally).  As noted above, characters die more often than get married.  Superman from Earth-Two managed to get hitched to Lois from Earth-Two before Kal-El.  But finally, at long last, Clark and Lois get hitched.  Mazel tov.  Until DC reboots their whole damn universe in an effort to attract new readership.  Amongst the many (to me) poorly thought out changes – Clark Kent is no longer married to Lois Lane.  What is the point of this?  They’ve already been married.  The outcome of the outrage can only end in two ways (and this ties in with Peter Parker/MJ above):
1) Narrative convention and screaming fandom dictates the couple get back together anyway, so an effort to create drama becomes just another rehash of a story we’ve already seen.
2) Writers defy narrative convention and the couple does not get back together.  This leads to a series of presumably dramatic and doomed relationships which results in whining.  Because I totally want to read more whining about Clark Kent trying to get a date and how no one can understand what it’s like to be him.

Scott Summers and Jean Grey – Oi, where to start.  It actually took a long time for these two to get together, despite being in the comics from the very beginning. Their relationship has been plagued with what seems to me often pointless drama.  Jean got understandably a little paranoid about marrying Scott after the mess with his first wife (see the following; as bad as this marriage turned out, the first was was worse) and meeting two of their adult children from most likely alternate timelines not to mention knowing that bastard Sinister was interfering in Scott’s life from the very beginning.  Also, the whole thing with Scott not telling her about the first marriage.  See below.  Anyway, in a pleasant twist, Jean proposes to Scott.  My hope was finally the relentless Good Girl-Bad Boy drama with Wolverine would go away.  I was wrong.  So wrong.  I would think knowing that Sinister was stalking the Summers’ line would be enough to guarantee they would never be happy and that plenty of drama would ensue.  Nope.  Instead the writers continue the relentless Good Girl-Bad Boy drama with Wolverine.  Worse still, they decide to take it up a notch, because one stupid love triangle despite having married characters isn’t enough.  Enter the newly ninja-ed up Psylocke and suddenly Scott’s making googly eyes at the other telepath.  Then to cement the ridiculousness, the writers split the teams up in the worst way possible – Scott and Psylocke on one team, and Jean and Wolverine on the other.  Why?  I can only assume this was the only way they could figure out how to get some drama out of that marriage; they thought they had to wreck it.  And eventually that marriage was completely wrecked.  I think part of the problem was that they finally resolved that damned Good Girl-Bad Boy conflict with Jean and Wolverine deciding to *gasp* be adults and not act on their feelings considering she was married and all.  Somewhere in there, Emma Frost manages to change her alignment to “good.”  In a completely implausible storyline which involves several people doing the exact opposite of sensible, rational action, Scott ends up in a psychic affair with another telepath.  It goes badly for all parties.  In the end, Jean is dead, and a mere three days after she’s buried, Emma Frost flings her heaving and improbably barely clad breasts at Scott and they make out on Jean’s grave.  Yep, no respect for marriage or the dead.  Frankly the most stable Scott and Jean’s marriage ever was (as far as the writers/editors not screwing around with them) was when they spent twelve years in an Apocalyptic future raising Scott and Madelyne’s son Cable.

Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor – Yes, Scott Summers is on my list twice.  So after the Phoenix Saga Jean died and Scott was understandably disraught.  Then he happens to meet a green-eyed redhead just about Jean’s age named Madelyne Pryor.  In a very short time, even by comic book standards, he’s married to Madelyne and has a baby boy to boot.  At this point I guess the writers/editors figured the only thing to do was either have Scott hang up his visor and get a real job to support his family or they could wreck that marriage.  From I’ve read, the lead writer of the Scott-Madelyne marriage actually expected to go with option 1 – Scott would settle down and leave the X-men.  In this case I suppose the marriage fell prey to a stronger narrative convention – nothing can ever really change ever.  So instead the writers went with option two and they managed to make Scott Summers, the Boy Scout, into the world’s biggest douche-bag.  Upon hearing a rumor that Jean might possibly not be totally dead, he abandons his wife and baby without so much as a note to find Jean.  Ok, so maybe we can forgive him since it was obvious he wasn’t over Jean when he married Madelyne.  Jean is alive, and he completely neglects to tell her he’s already married!  Jean finds out and she’s the one to tell him to go back to them.  When he checks in with his wife he finds the house burned to the ground, his wife and child missing, no bodies in the wreckage, and a calling card from the Marauders.  His response, “Well, that sucks.”  And then he goes back to Jean.  Not long after, Madelyne and the baby are found safe and sound by another team of X-men although this is not relayed to Scott and Jean until much later.  The situation, as you may imagine, turns out badly for all parties.

Reed Richards and Sue Storm – You may protest that they have been married and stayed married for a very long time (comics time).  Well, this was a marriage that like of Henry Pym and Janet van Dyne, and started off in a kind of bad way.  Reed was older than Sue by a few years, and using her money to go into space.  Early FF comics have him dismissing her opinions, ordering her around, and basically behaving like a misogynist bastard.  Despite this, they get married.  And even had children, which brought about a lot of drama.  Of course, Franklin is a god, but hey, these things happen.  Sue nearly divorced Reed when he shut down Franklin’s powers but they reconciled.  Sue nearly divorced him again after that whole Civil War mess.  The second child would have ended the universe and was never born.  And finally the third child is only three and easily as smart as Reed Richards.  But they’re still married.  And that’s part of the reason I get annoyed at how marriages are treated by many writers/editors – the exception shows that marriages don’t have to be terribly written.

The best writing of any married characters, or hell any characters in a relationship, is when it’s written honestly.  The writing is at its worse when there is such contrived drama like love triangles or crazy cloning sagas or totally out-of-character moves.  And at least in the case of Reed Richards, numerous what-ifs and lots of hints and allegations and at least one storyline in Universe 616, marriage is the only thing that keeps him from being Dr. Doom.  Seriously.  There is a whole cabal of alternate universe Reed Richards’ who all got together to improve the universe, whether the universe liked it or not (I.e., they had turned into Dr. Doom).  The common thread amongst these parallel Reeds?  No Sue.  For whatever reason, either Sue died or left, none of the Reeds were married.  Reed needs someone (I know this may not need to be his wife, but in this case it is) to listen to his plans and say to him, “Reed, you realize that depriving all of humanity of their free will is wrong, don’t you?”  And this has to be someone he’ll listen to and reply, “You’re right.  I’d better scrap that plan.”  Hell, in alternative universes where Reed dies and Doom marries Sue, Doom’s if not a good guy at least not a bad guy.  Writers can do better.  Right now I’m enjoying the writing of the marriage of Luke Cage to Jessica Jones and how they’re dealing with being Avengers and parents of an adorable little girl, even though the situation is deteriorating rapidly.  But it’s being written like two adults (albeit under extreme circumstances) acting like adults in a bad situation.  Wow, is that so much to ask?  Or is it just a matter of time before Jessica starts flirting with Wolverine?  I sincerely hope not.