Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Simple Question Concerning Characterization

Doug: Who are those characters that you think should be easy to write "in character"?

And, as a follow-up, where are those examples of gross mischaracterization you can recall?


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug – love the Cap pic. Funny how much Big John looks like Adams when you put Palmer over him.

I think Iron Man CAN be easy (fast quipping playboy) but is better when he’s written more complex (as by Dave Michelinie).

Cap is a strange one. He’s worst written when presented merely as an icon (Stan) or just another random superhero (Jack) and best when Steve Rogers is given some panel time (Stern), but, of course, he was at his absolute best, and ironically his most iconic, when written by Englehart.

Doc Strange: some writers have literally no feel for the character, although he does lend himself to almost infinite variety.

While Hercules personality is reasonably consistent, Thor seems to have whatever personality the writer requires, from buffoon to knowing everything, from ultra-nobility to petulant child.

I guess Reed and Johnny type characters are the easiest – mad scientists and teenagers, because they can be written relatively one-dimensionally without it reading too badly.

Most butchered characters: anyone part mechanical seems to be fair game: Jocasta seemed to die over & over again, or end up a sliver of AI consciousness, or be magically restored without explanation, I believe the Vision was appallingly written after my time, likewise Machine Man, and don’t get me started on Deathlok.

Beast – sometimes a super-scientist, sometimes a regular Joe, sometimes speaks in 14 syllable words, sometimes does monosyllabic wisecracks like a Noo Yoiker. Sometimes ultra strong, sometimes not. Sometimes can swim, sometimes can’t.

Bucky should NEVER have come back! Decades of Captain America character arc were flushed by the Winter Soldier.

I’ve never read Heroes Reborn, but I hear really bad things.

Pretty much anyone gratuitously brought back from the dead…special mentions for anyone who turned out to be a robot or a clone (Gwen & Jean/Madolyn are leading the charge on this one). Didn’t Spidey go ludicrously clone-tastic later?

Resurrection and immediate death of the original Torch just to stop Karl Burgas was basically murder.

Also, I read somewhere (maybe Sean Howe?) that there were ‘swimsuit’ editions in the 1990’s? Because, presumably, super-heroines were overdressed at this point? Or did I make that up?

We’re going to take Avengers 200 as a given, right?


Doug said...

Thanks, Richard. I liked your inspection of the way Cap has been written. I think the MCU writers largely get Cap "right".

Speaking of movies, two incidents that I actually thought of when setting today's post were from the Daredevil film, when DD knocks a guy onto the subway tracks just as a train approaches, and then similarly in Batman Returns (II) when Batman revs the Batmobile, shooting flames on a couple of hoods. Neither of those acts fits with my impression of those characters.


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

Yes, you’re right – I think there’s a big difference between violence and cruelty. I barely remember the DD film. I just remember a beautiful shot where they go onto the roof in a rainstorm so he can ’see’ Electra as her face is delineated by the falling rain.

I loved the part [JESSICA JONES SPOILER WARNING] where JJ goes to save Luke the bartender from certain death and when she gets there he’s battering a whole roomful of goons, and you realise for the first time that he’s Luke Cage (though it’s never said). He would, of course, have been keeping a low profile because of his history. Nicely done. I also loved David Tennant as Kilgrave.


Anonymous said...

By the way, off topic, but as we seem to be strangely alone.....did you get 'Lucky Man' over there?


Doug said...

Hi, Richard -

And this would be an example of a post that, when I set it up, felt like it would easily be a 30-comments day. I should know by now that one cannot predict.

Anyway, I do not know to what you're referring with this "Lucky Man".


Redartz said...

Hi guys, thought I'd add a comment or two; can't let you have all the fun..

Richard- some good observations there, particularly regarding the Beast. Englehart and Shooter nailed him, imho. Capable of brilliance, and wearing the mask of a comedian.

Peter Parker should be easy to portray, but hasn't always been in practice. Guilt and idealism, a dash of self-pity and a lot of heart...

On screen: Daredevil's Vincent Donofrio truly is the Kingpin. Wilson Fisk lives. Would be a kick to see him face our new Spidey on the big screen- a focus on the street level crime rather than anothercostumed villain...

Edo Bosnar said...

Cap does seem to be an easier character to get right, but on top of that I'd say Stern really did the absolute best version with, as Richard noted, the expansion of Steve Rogers' private life. This was then picked up quite well by de Matteis afterward.
Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman should be easy to write "properly," but it's quite a few writers seem to have had problems with them, esp. with Wonder Woman. And I'm not even going to get into the movie versions...

As for the follow up question, I think a horribly mischaracterization was Tigra when she joined the Avengers. Shooter really, horrendously missed the ball on that one, but presenting her as flighty and then crazy was picked up by other writers as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug - yes, you'd think this one would range all over the place. Mind you, it's still early where you are.

Lucky Man is a series which Stan Lee created for the Sky network, set & filmed in London. It concerns a dodgy police officer who gains the power of...luck. It's not a super hero tale, it's more a gritty crime drama with elements of the fantastical. If Gambit was Jack Bauer, I guess. It's beautifully shot, if a bit 'touristy' (you know how every Paris window has a view of the Eiffel Tower? In Lucky Man, everyone's office seems to overlook Tower Bridge, Parliament, Buckingham Palace etc - it was definitely shot with an eye to selling it to you guys).


Anonymous said...

Hi Redartz - I haven't caught up to DD yet, but I do like Vincent D'Onofrio very much. I often don't recognise him as he changes so completely for his roles (Full Metal Jacket, The Cell). Physically, it would be hard to beat Michael Duncan Clarke as the Kingpin. Boy, he was the right size & shape.

Hi Edo - I would have thought Wonder Woman pretty tough to get right. Did William Marston ever actually write the strip? Wonder Woman must be unique in being based on 2 actual people. Their social arrangements are a whole other thread.


Anonymous said...

Theoretically, lots of superheroes should be "easy" to write, since they usually have fairly simplistic motivations (Spidey, Cap, Superman, Batman, et al.); good writers look for nuances and contradictions and conflicts to make the characters more complex, while lazy writers concentrate on the core motivation to the exclusion of everything else, and the character ends up being one-note.

Take the Hulk, for example; for years he was written as basically just "Hulk smash!", then Peter David gave him a more interesting backstory and started playing around with Bruce Banner's anger issues to make him a multi-layered character.

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

That's interesting, Mike, that actually writing the Hulk out of character improved said character.

Of course, they went back to the berserker for the films. But this MCU Hulk is still more interesting than the TV version.


J.A. Morris said...

This is a tough one, Doug can correct me if my response isn't applicable.

I'll start with Spider-Man, the comic character I'm most familiar with. I've written on my blog that the two writers who are best at writing Spidey "in character" are Stan Lee and Roger Stern. Both writers know that he's a character that will do anything it takes, even if the odds are 1 million to 1 and he's nursing a broken arm, he'll do the right thing. Perseverance is the key word to describe their Spider-Man.

The obvious Stan Lee example is ASM#33, where he's trapped under tons of machinery, on the verge of drowning. He summons up the strength when he thinks about Aunt May.

I view Stern's 2-part Juggernaut story in a similar light. Juggernaut tries to capture Madame Web, nearly kills her. Spider-Man has already been slapped around by Marko and knows he's ridiculously outmatched. The FF, X-men, Avengers and Doctor Strange are not available to help him. He describes his chances of stopping Juggernaut impossible, but he goes after him anyway.

Doug said...

J.A., that's about as in-character as you get. And there would be a ton of Ben Grimm moments in the same vein.

I thought Gerry Conway wrote a nice Peter Parker as well. However, looking at the entire body of work (1962-whenever I stopped caring about new stuff), Mary Jane may be more difficult to write effectively.


Humanbelly said...

Busy day at the shop. . . figuring out a pickle of a project. . . getting ready to make a fast Costco run on the way home. . . and then you guys have to go and mention the Hulk.

Naked ploy. Absolutely naked. SHAME.

But *sigh* here I am, so right-quick (or, heh, "write"-quick) I would submit that once Stan really nailed down that deceptively simple, child-like sounding, third person voice (around issue #109) the Hulk became a character who indeed tended to "write himself" regardless of who the scribe was. And he went through a LOT of writers over the next 15 to 20 years, especially when you work the Defenders into the mix. He was handled with a surprising level of consistency and empathy through both titles-- and possibly because (gonna rebut you here, Mike) most of the writers "got" him, and didn't go with the assumption of a "Hulk Smash"-period personality model. Ultimately Len Wein may have had the best handle on sounding and thinking like the Hulk-- to the point of writing an entire issue (#189?) with a Hulk-based narrative voice-- showing that even with the way that brain worked, there was depth and insight and even an odd maturity. And this held on past Wein and into Stern's run, although Stern did seem to be at a loss for sustainable story direction-- and then we got into an endless chain of character re-boots (with Bill Mantlo and others) and "back to the roots" attempts-- so that when Peter David came aboard the Hulk's inherent nature had kind of become lost, and his massive changes were an improvement from that status quo.

But as I've said so often-- I miss my friend terribly. He was a unique character in the superhero universe-- quite special and valid in his own right.


Pat Henry said...

Basically, any time his eyes glow red and he says, "Burn'" is a gross mischaracterization of Superman. Wong, on so many levels.

The dickish words and deeds that were inserted into in Peter Parker's mouth and hands during the Clone War Saga was cringeworthy, but I suppose all of that was setup to "prove" him illegitimate and an unworthy fraud poseur for Ben Reilly. What a terrible decision that ordeal was for Marvel. Staggeringly bad.

Movie characterizations? Gotta be Doctor Doom in the FF film, and all of the characters' responses to him: Failed businessman shagging Sue Storm? EEEesh. Regrettable.

Humanbelly said...


Thanks for buzzing in, Pat. I was afraid that, yet once again, I had killed a thread.

I don't think I've ever read through the final Clone Saga, although I have it. It got so awful so quickly (and was so widespread) that I just let months of issues accumulate without ever reading them, and they ultimately went into the boxes with everything else. Bendis' version of Spidey in New Avengers would probably be my biggest complaint. One-dimensional, snarky/snotty wise-a$$ who came off as an often brainless slacker who thought he was funny. No Peter Parker behind that mask whatsoever.

The much earlier comment about Thor was also dead-on. The character does not seem to have a historically recognizable base-line personality. IIRC, the whole reason that Odin gave him the Don Blake "curse" in the first place was to teach a bit of humility to this son that was, if anything, an awful lot like Hercules. But what this means is that it's REALLY hard to tell if a writer is mis-handling the character. No disrespect, but Thor the everyday guy is quite possibly duller than a non-Clark Superman. . . (ha! I disrespected TWO heroes with one comment!)

HB-- the DisRespectre

Brett said...

I thought The entire Bendis Avengers run was wildly off model. Very little rang true for me from disassembled onwards. No one sounded like themselves. Especially putrid was that bit where various Avengers were reminiscing the big moments the Avengers were involved in and in most cases he wrote members reminiscing about events they were not actually directly involved in!? I also found Kirby's Black Panther & Cap to be very detached from their normal established selves.

Anonymous said...

I think most DC characters are easier to keep in-character. They started as ciphers, then gained surface qualities. With such loosely-defined personalities, a writer could keep the character within wide previously-established boundaries. Superman is always pure good. He commits heroic acts to help, sees the potential for good in everyone, and questions himself when he feels he is not doing enough good. You can't write Superman as mean, lazy, or selfish and still have him be recognizable. Batman is dark but won't kill. Green Lantern is straight-laced, Green Arrow a hot-headed liberal, Black Canary a feminist ass-kicker, Captain Marvel is a kid in an adult's body, The Atom and the Flash are scientists but not obsessive like Reed Richards. Firestorm is a dumb teen and a stiff. Hawkman is to the right of Green Lantern. Elongated Man is comic relief. Red Tornado is whiny. Etc.

As mentioned above, Wonder Woman is more challenging. Aquaman, too; he seems to switch personalities every few years.

As for Marvel characters, the ones who started with really distinct voices seem the easiest to keep in character. The Thing, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, the Puniisher, Wolverine, Nick Fury, and Captain America have been more or less the same for most of their existence. I think most of the female characters took longer to get right. The Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Invisible Woman, Medusa,Jean Grey, and a few others took awhile to get right. Later Marvel heroines- Storm, Kitty Pryde, Carol Danvers, Hellcat, She-Hulk after Byrne revamped her, Monica Rambeau, and Black Cat have been written largely consistently. Maybe because they didn't have to endure Stan Lee's inability to write heroic women?

As for out-of-character moments, anytime Spider-Man goes "dark" it rubs me the wrong way. He goes through the occasional dark situation, but he should never act Grim n gritty.

- Mike Loughlin

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