Friday, November 21, 2008

Plot Devices that Need to Go Away #8

Yes, you lucky ducks you, you get a double dosage this week of "Plot Devices that Need to Go Away"!

Plot Devices that Need to Go Away #8


Also known as: Analogues, Knock-offs, Homages, etc.

What is it? When you can't use say, a big name hero, but want to use him/her as an easy means of identifying your character's situation, you file the numbers off and call him "Photonus" or "Apollo" if you need Superman, or "Mister Dark" or "Winged Dark" if you need Batman, etc.

Why do Comic Companies do it?
Two reasons: usually it helps as a means of contrasting "your guys" vs. the competition and how different characters operate. The other reason you might do it is because you want to do something with a big name character that because of their 'iconic status' that you couldn't get away with if you had the real deal (i.e., say you wanted to show Batman as a pedophile, or you wanted Spider-Man to go on a six-day drunken bender and hook up with Paris Hilton).
Recent Offenders include but are not limited to:

Half of Wildstorm (this was a huge stock in trade of theirs for a while), Squadron Supreme, The Ultimates (wait, I can explain this one), The Sentry (he keeps popping up on these lists. Funny, huh?), Every character in "The Boys", Half of Image (but only half, they are getting better at it).

Patient Zero
As much as I hate, hate, hate to admit it, the blame goes to Mark Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme Mini-series. This was the first (and perhaps, most successful) attempt at showcasing what you could do with these characters without worrying about the long term implications. However, this has been taken to extremes by all the comic companies.

Why does it have to go away?
OK, turn on your TV, watch an episode of Lost. OK, how would you describe it? Would you say "It's Gilligan's Island except with non-stupid people?" or "It's the Twilight Zone on an island?" No, of course you wouldn't. You aren't stupid. Now, try that with most other TV shows or movies or what have you. Notice the pattern there? See, that's what's called ORIGINALITY. If you have nothing new, you have nothing new to draw in new people, and you have nothing new to say.
Look, this entire device only works because it sends out an entirely false resonance. Yeah, we know that in "true continuity" Captain America wouldn't use a flamethrower to melt down some innocent Vietnamese civilians, but by having a stand-in do that, well, it sort of jogs the perception of "oh yeah, that's what their going for". The Ultimate Marvel Brand (and its incestuous cousin, the JMS-rebooted Squadron Supreme franchise) owes its entire existence to this feature. "Hey, here's Captain America! Except he's much more HARDCORE!!!!" (and again, I have to reiterate - how the hell is it people say Mark Millar's version is more "realistic" when the creator, Jack Kirby,who did several years of work with the character after the war, actually SERVED IN WORLD WAR II?) or "Here's Wolverine and Jean Grey sleeping together, just like you always wanted but we could never have done before!!!!" etc., etc. Now granted, there are facets of all mass medium that produce familiar "comfort food" entertainment, such as the Law & Order Franchise, the CSI franchise, and there's a new "underdog sports hero film" currently starting, let's say. The point remains; these mediums do produce that sort of material, but even then there is some semblance of variety, and it isn't just "OK, let's just make the lead character from this show exactly like the lead character from the other show, but make him just slightly different enough that we can get away with calling it something new", and it certainly doesn't depend on you getting the "larger significance" by contrasting the two leads in such a direct and blatant manner.
Angles for Redemption of the Device. NONE.


Jason said...

So I guess the fact that It's the Squadron Supreme mini and not the their intro suggests you think it's okay in small doses.

And the US isn't just about being more hardcore, I don' think. It's got other selling points like it never had a period where Jean Sue and Jan were the token girls on their teams.

PlanetNiles said...

However its something that works fine when populating an RPG setting. If you roll on "Icon Guy" who flies, is super strong, can bounce bullets and wears a distictive icon on his chest then everyone knows who you're talking about. Likewise with a dark-clad rooftop prowling vigilante, conflicted peace-loving female warrior, or whatever.

Its a useful shorthand that allows you to get on with the game rather than pussyfooting around explaining yourself.

Sometimes it also works well in comics. I mean I noticed you said nothing about Astro City which is full of these and works because of them. Isn't Green Arrow just a crime fighting analog of Robin Hood?

MrCynical said...

Jason, yes, the Squadron had appeared earlier, but if you look at comics "before" and "after" it suddenly got a lot more acceptable to clog the stories with analogues "after" the mini.

Niles, I sort of consider Astro City to be in the "Wildstorm" brand, even though they aren't part of the "Wildstorm U" they are part of their branch. If that makes any sense.

Again, it's not that I'm opposed to the idea, but it's been vastly overused.