Saturday, May 12, 2012

Where Falls Your "Suspension of Disbelief"?

Doug:  Today we're asking you to attempt to explain those jumping off points where you are in the middle of a good comic book and are suddenly smitten by the "What the...?" stick.  Yep -- we all like the longjohn crowd around these parts -- super powers, interstellar travel, time jumping, etc.  But we've all commented to ourselves (and even here on this blog) that some things just don't jibe with our expectations of a particular character or story.  For example, on the comments for Monday's Amazing Spider-Man post, William said:

I also thought it went a little too far for Miles Warren (a college professor) to not only be capable of cloning a human being, but even more unbelievable, he was able to somehow imprint the memories of Peter Parker onto the clone and then "sync up" their brains so that both of them believed they were the "real" Spider-Man. WHA??? I mean, at least cloning is something that is scientifically possible, but I don't think anyone has ever been able to implant one persons memories into the brain of another, outside of a comic book.

Doug:   A couple of weeks ago I chided scribe Bob Haney for having Batman walking down a busy Gotham street, admiring the "beautiful scenery".  Commenter BSmith took me to task, saying:

First off, though....Batman walks through the city in broad daylight...I don't get the problem with this. If he only came out at night, it'd be easy to be a criminal in Gotham - just operate during daylight hours! If it looks silly, well, the idea of a guy going around in a bat-themed long-underwear outfit is silly enough in reality; I'd have thought you either accept the idea whole, or don't bother with it in the first place.

Doug: And just to show that my love affair with today's topic goes back a ways, let me remind you of a post Karen and I ran over a year ago, on our beloved Assemblers' tussle with the Zodiac cartel.  Here is what we said:

Doug: If you recall from our last review, the Avengers had attacked a rogue faction of Zodiac in a warehouse belonging to Cornelius van Lunt. Little did the mutineers know that the man from whom they sought an alliance and financing was in reality Taurus -- the leader against whom they would rebel. And the warehouse was in reality a spaceship (suspension of disbelief #1). So we join our heroes and villains caught in some major g-force as the "ship" approaches escape velocity. Trouble is, this is after all a warehouse, no one is strapped in, and who can really say if the whole deal is pressurized (suspension of disbelief #2)? Part of the wall recesses so that all inside can see that they've reached orbit. Iron Man discerns that it's not a window, but a force field. Thor, figuring his enchanted mallet can conquer it, launches that bad boy right at it, never considering that if Mjolnir dissipates the field, the vacuum of space will make short work of all on board (suspension of disbelief #3). The hammer does pierce the field, but by the time it returns, the ship isn't in the same place -- so does the hammer return to Thor, or where Thor is? Because I know I've seen it return to Thor no matter where he is (suspension of disbelief #4). So now there's no Thor -- only Don Blake! All right, this was in the opening scene -- it's gotta get better than this!

Karen: No kidding - I could probably let one, maybe even two of those slip by, but four? I know Thor sometimes acted like a bonehead, but this is too much. As you say Doug, why would he want to penetrate the force field and expose his fellows to the vacuum of space? And this whole thing with how Mjolnir functioned was a constant continuity issue: in some books, it always returned to Thor, in others, it returned to the point from where it was thrown. In any case, the rocket-warehouse idea is just goofy.

Doug: So I'm not alone here? I wondered how you'd perceive all of this. I was afraid I was just being grumpy, but apparently my middle-aged eyes are distancing themselves from my Bronze Age brain. Or something like that...

Doug:  So, what sayest thou, Faithful Reader?  What is tolerable/intolerable to you?  Is this a case-by-case issue for you, or are there some writing tendencies and vehicles that are more egregious than others?  Is this an issue of plotholes, laziness, characterization, or something entirely different?  Thanks in advance for you prompt responses!


humanbelly said...

Boy, you're up early, Doug!
I daresay, this could be a veritable avalanche of a thread if folks really start to let loose. . .

Marvel's one-shot No-Prize Book dealt with this very topic as one of its categories, and cited the very one that always particularly rankled me: MTU #28. The island of Manhattan is literally hijacked, and towed out to sea, more or less. Spidey and Herc save the day, but it's up to Hercules' incomparable strength to "tow" the island back into place via a couple of ginormous chains wrapped around him. Unfortunately, Spidey & Herc didn't check w/ the planning commission first, and inadvertently reversed Manhattan's placement (north to south). Oops! Those crazy goofballs! What hijinks will they be up to next?

Someone on the letters page took them mightily to task a few issues later (Hello? Bridges? Tunnels? Catastrophic loss of life??), and that assist.editor had the good sense to not even try to defend any of it. More or less made a lame response with a figurative sheepish grin, and we all just moved on.

Another old, historic one in my book is the absurd coincidence that Alicia Masters was such a dead-ringer twin-double for Sue Storm that, when in Sue's costume, she was able to fool Reed!!! That's way, way back, of course. And the first time I read that story about 13 or 14 years ago, I couldn't believe my eyes! Especially since this uncanny resemblance is never, ever referred to again, as far as I know.

Really, Stan himself was the king of this kind of stuff back in the Silver Age when he was FAR too swamped with writing to keep track of plausibility as well. . . !


Roygbiv666 said...

I think your topic is less to due with "willing suspension of disbelief" and more to do with violations of internal consistency. Let's face it, fans of superhero comics don't really have much trouble with suspending disbelief.

I think that Graham Chapman (of Monty Python) once said of writing comedy sketches that internal consistency was the most important. If every character in a sketch has a carrot for a nose, no explanation is required, you just accept it. But, if a character comes in withOUT a carrot for a nose, you are taken out of the sketch, unless an explanation is provided.

I think it's the same thing here - I'd accept that Superman keeps a marble collection on Mars I guess, but not that Batgirl does - wouldn't be internal consistent.

J.A. Morris said...

I don't know, I said here recently that once you've accepted the premise that a radioactive spider bit Peter Parker and gave him powers, it's easy to suspend disbelief. Same goes for the Hulk's origin (and why did that slight incline prevent Rick Jones from getting any gamma ray damage? I digress).

Same goes for all the "energy based" heroes and villains. Electro should be dead.

I don't have a problem with the Jackal, cloning, imprinting, etc. He's a criminally insane biology professor, in comics it makes sense (to me) that he'd be capable of creating clones and everything else.

But I'd agree about the "Warehouse-spaceship" and with humanbelly's comment about the City Stealers. But I think there's a difference between suspension of disbelief and refusal to buy into bad storytelling.

I get more annoyed at recent(ish) attempts to explain everything through retcons.

"Hulk wasn't created by gamma rays, he's really part of Bruce Banner's suppressed memories of a troubled childhood!"

"Parker didn't become Spider-Man because he got bitten. No, it was because he had mystic link with spiders."

"Wolverine is over 100 years old."

This last one just bugs me because I think Wolverine is less cool if he's older than my grandparents!

Rip Jagger said...

I generally parted company in stories where there was widespread devastation (Thor and Doc Strange come to mind) and scores if not hundreds if people perish and then with a wave of a magic hand all of it is made whole again. Odin repaired the planet a time or two I think.

That kind of rebooting always undermined a story and made me wince at the haphazard nature of it most of the time.

Rip Off

humanbelly said...

@ Rip:

"Kang Dynasty" at the end of Busiek's Avengers run is the example of this that I harp on constantly-- folks are probably sick of hearing about it at this point. But that becomes almost a different category-- "Events Too Grim and Catastrophic to Recover From", or something similar. A much less fun topic, though, I'd say. . .


Lemnoc said...

IMO the more unbelievable thing about Warren was that a middle-aged college professor be in any way able to go toe to toe w/ Spider-Man in his little Jackal suit. Also IIRC Pete's spider sense was off when Prof Warren was around because Pete considered him a friend... wha-a?

You've been covering Bob Haney lately, and he is the master of the non-sequitur. How is it Batman can even be around in the post-apocalyptic world of Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth? Or is it really even Batman at all, but maybe Batman Super Son? Oh, right—astral projection. Right.

What was great about Haney is he'd generally never bother to explain any of this at all. Just GO with it!

Fred W. Hill said...

Rip's example is something that that bugged with several Bronze Age stories -- massive destruction and implicit mass deaths, and then, after the bad guy's defeated, with a spell or wave of a hand all the damage is undone and everyone forgets about it. Particularly I didn't like it at the end of the otherwise thrilling Avengers/Defenders clash -- it really overextended Dr. Strange's powers. That's a trend with many superfolks, of course, from Superman even to Green Arrow & Hawkeye coming up with the perfect arrow for any situation (one reason that, to my knowledge, no one ever came up with a list of every specific type of gadget arrow they have in their quivers). Far worse than that, however, is when a character who's been around for ages is shown acting in way completely out of character and is not under a spell, doped out on some sort of drug or a doppelganger, etc., until at least a later writer retroactively corrects the previous writer's galling error (Ms. Marvel's pregnancy being a prime example).
With space travel stories, I go along with it as long as it isn't too abysmally stupid, like the reprint of an original Human Torch story where he flies to a distant planet & back in a matter of hours -- I couldn't even buy his flying into space and retaining his flame powers, never mind to Saturn or wherever it was & back within an eight hour work day. As Harvey Kurtzman put it (more or less) in his Wonder Woman parody, "stop this story -- it's gotten just too damned silly!" That Hercules story was the prime Bronze Age example. In a later story, it was retconned as one of Hercules' outlandish tall tales.

Steve Does Comics said...

I seem to remember that, in the Avengers story Doug mentioned above, Zodiac built a giant gun that'd kill everyone in New York who was born under a certain star sign. Exactly how would the gun know who was born under which star signs?

Inkstained Wretch said...

Let met second Roygbiv666, the key thing is consistency. I will accept a lot of weirdness - these are superhero comics after all - but the writers need to stick by the rules they set.

Characters with powers that vary wildly from story to story, or are invulnerable in one issue and vulnerable in the next really annoy. I remember an Avengers story where Mantis took out Thor with a single karate blow to the neck - sorry, not buying that you can do that to a literal god. The Hulk or the Thing, ok, but not her. Similarly, I did not care for the way that in West Coast Avengers John Byrne disregarded earlier Roy Thomas stories laying out the Vision's unique "biology".

I also don't buy it when big events are reversed seemingly at the writer's whim. My fading interest in the X-titles really sank when it seemed like Jean Grey/Phoenix was being revived every 3-4 months. If they are going to do something big and dramatic to try to invest us in the story they have to learn to leave well enough alone afterwards,

Teresa said...

I read more DC than Marvel when I was a kid. Living in a rural area, Marvel comics didnt always make it out our way on a regular basis.

When in DCCP #3 Superman pushes the Earth. My kid brain for some reason chose that moment to say "This is stupid."
It shouldnt have mattered. He has probably done it many times before. I kept on reading comics, but that was an embarassing moment.

The "Super Sons" riding around on a motorcycle, complaining about their Dads and hitting on "chicks."
There is so much material there, I wouldn't know where to start.

Superman's hypo-glasses, that make the world see Clark Kent different. An attempt to make sense of the glasses disguise.

Never pull the loose thread in comic book logic!

It may not seem like it, but I am a Superman fan.

david_b said...

That Avengers-Zodiac story was actually one of my favorites, part for the outlandish story and also for the great Swordsman subplot. Sure the suspension of belief was fun depending on your level of accepted plausibility, it was Marvel's style and approach to make those weird and lacking plots part of the fun, and certainly made for great letters page comments months later.

I really like Lemnoc's argument against Warren as Jackel. I thought the Jackel was SUCH a cool, creepy character, worthy to replace Norm Osborne as the villain who knew just a bit too much about Spiderman, UNTIL I found out that it was Professor Warren. Just a bridge too far, that he as Peter's professor could somehow gain impeccable strength and skill and yes, drum up the cloning scheme as a college professor.

Again, the Clone Saga was never about the 'weird science' involved, although it was partially to blame for disbelief. It was more about the entire re-emergence of Gwen, memories intact, etc.. You not only give Spidey's universe a loud 'WHAT THE...????', you also felt lousy for havihg felt pain and loss for a character, just to see her come back so quickly, as 'just another storyline'.

That was the worst part of all. As I said above, a comic company can wink, through in enough 'nuff saids' and you can swallow suspending ALL the reality if you'd like, just don't cop out and make chumps of devoted readers by saying she won't come back in the letters pages, then bring her back within a couple of years.

Inkstained, I actually liked the Mantis chop on Thor.. It really made her seem like an extremely dangerous and mysterious adversary, never to turn your back on her. It certainly ratched up the suspense over her origin a year or so later, thanks to Mr. Englehart.

Doug said...

Playing devil's advocate, in regard to Professor Warren --

I don't believe I've ever read that Empire State University is a noted research school, but if it was then the fact that Warren could pull off the cloning would not be a stretch at all for me. "College professor" doesn't have the same meaning at some schools.

I like many of the examples given today -- the MTU #28 on was featured on this blog (not a review, just a picture) on Labor Day a few years ago!


Redartz said...

I must echo Fred W. on his comments about Hawkeye and his innumerable arrows. A bit askew from the topic, but I reached the same conclusion recently watching an old Space Ghost episode. Having power bands with only three buttons on each wrist, he managed quite a variety of beams. Granted, in cartoons (especially of that era) the attention to such detail was often lacking. My thought was, though, that to limit the capability of such weapons (such as Hawkeye's) forces the writer to devise more imaginitive solutions for the hero; applicable to comics as well as to animated features...

Roygbiv666 said...

Re. Space Ghost, technically a 3-button control has 7 different combinations (assuming 1-, 2-, and 3- button commands). NERD!! Almost like a trumpet ... band geeks? Anyone? Bueller?

J.A. Morris said...

Doug wrote:
"I don't believe I've ever read that Empire State University is a noted research school, but if it was then the fact that Warren could pull off the cloning would not be a stretch at all for me."

Well, remember, ESU is where Reed Richards went too, so it's possible that it's considered a "noted research school". So I don't think the clone story is too far fetched within that context.

For those who say "how could a middle aged Professor hold his own against Spider-Man?"
I just checked out the 'Clone Saga' tpb, Jackal only goes one-on-one with Spidey over two pages(and that was after drugging him). He usually has a hired thug like Grizzly or Tarantula helping him out in the fisticuffs department.
So I don't have a problem with that either.

I agree that Marvel's done too many "End of the World" stories that are wiped away later. Doctor Strange comes off way too powerful when he's the one who fixes everything. And then in his own series, he's getting his head handed to him by Baron Mordo every few months. That's why I've never been able to take Doc Strange seriously, outside of the Defenders.

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, spend most of a Saturday away from the computer, and miss a great discussion.
Well, here's my 2 cents for what it's worth: I pretty much agree with what seems to be a general consensus above, i.e., reading (and enjoying) super-hero comics means your suspension-of-belief bar is set pretty high (or is it low?) Also, I totally agree with Roygbiv's internal consistency point - in fact, this topic may be worth a separate post (hint, hint).
Anway, thanks to the many reprints of Silver Age material available during the 1970s and early 1980s, I was exposed to enough of that era's silliness to make me kind of immune to much of the Bronze Age stuff. So I have no problems with a lot o the examples cited, like Prof. Warren being able to make perfect clones with memory imprints, or Batman walking down the street in broad daylight enjoying the springtime weather and the sight of pretty women (although that scene had a pretty Silver Agey feel to it). Therefore, I think the best example mentioned here is Hercules lugging Manhattan - it's just so Silver Age, like when Superman is shown holding two entire skyscrapers, one in each hand.

humanbelly said...

Ha! Edo, you've inadvertantly suggested a second possible topic: "The Structural Integrity Follies" (or something similar). Man, I'm sure there's a mighty collage of images waiting to be compiled out there. My first (somewhat infamous-- I allude to it often) submission would be from Hulk #120, where the Hulk picks up Maximus' entire Central American fortress by one corner near the foundation. Like it was a single unit, made of legos, or something. . .

Or how about every single time the Baxter Building would be stolen or hijacked into space?

Or every time a hero braces his/herself at the base of a wall or building to keep it from tipping over? (Hello? Mechanical advantage?) (Pretty much, almost all common structures would collapse and crumble above that hasty brace-point, right?)


david_b said...


Excellent idea for the 'Structural Integrity Follies' column.

(It makes my head hurt just thinking about it..)

Baxter Building being shot into space, the rocket-powered barn from Avengers 121, Manhattan being scooped out, so many examples to choose from. Simply preposterous..!!

Now Superman moving planets, Flash zipping around Earth, and BatMite, those were the days when comic-writing were taken much more seriously.

William said...

When it comes to suspension of disbelief in comics, I am mostly in the school of internal consistency. If in one issue Thor's hammer always returns to wherever he actually is, then it should be that way in every time. I hate when a hero or villain's powers and abilities change (such as they become weaker or stronger) merely to accommodate a certain story or because it's convenient for the writer at the time.

On a side note about Professor Warren and his amazing cloning abilities. That whole topic was actually addressed in Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man #8. It is revealed in that issue that the Gwen Stacy clone is not a clone at all, but a genetically altered human instead. In the story, the High Evolutionary, who had once been Miles Warren's teacher, captures Gwen's clone. In the process, he discovers that Warren had not in fact cloned her, but had instead created a genetic virus that transforms already living beings into copies of other people. The High Evolutionary identifies the Gwen Stacy "clone" to Spider-Man as in fact not a clone but a woman named Joyce Delaney whom Warren had altered. The High Evolutionary says to Spider-Man something like "How else did you think a mere college professor was able to clone a human being?" But I find it just as amazing that a mere college was able to create a "genetic virus" that could genetically alter a human being as well. I guess the H.E. taught him that one.

This, of course, was all undone and explained away in the second "Clone Saga".

david_b said...

Wow, and Wow, William. Thanks much for that explanation.

It certainly reduces the *BS* factor of how a college professor could harness whatever financial and technological support (AND imprint memories..) a create not just a clone, but a living/breathing duplicate of what Peter lost.

LONG before even the TOP 70s genetic researchers worldwide could even create.. a sheep.

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