Monday, January 26, 2009

Most Overused Plot Devices

I'll be speaking within the context of superhero comics, of course. And since Marvel is what I know best, that's obviously where the bulk of my examples come from. I'll state right here and now I am fine with all of these things. Hell, I enjoy them most of the time. But the fact is they're way overused which substantially hurts their quality and waters down their impact. These kinds of devices will continue to be used in the comic world and I'm not against that. It's just that I wish they could come up with some different ideas now and then so that these sorts of events become at least somewhat more spaced out. With such things occurring so damn often, they hardly ever feel special like they're supposed to and thus they go from interesting and entertaining to predictable and repetitive.

5. Giant, Multi-Title-Spanning Events
I love these. I spend tons of money on these. But they're happening every few months now and not only can my wallet not take that, my brain can't either. Not that it's ever too complex or confusing - not for me, I live for such stuff. It's just that I can remember what it felt like to see The Avengers, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four plus other heroes all interact and appear on the same page back before it was happening every other Thursday and it was cool and exciting. But now that it is happening every other Thursday, it's no fun anymore. I no longer get any thrill from seeing Mister Fantastic collaborate with Iron Man or Hank Pym. Now it's like they're always tripping over each other. I can remember when there was actual tension between the Avengers and the X teams - now they might as well attend group picnics together. It's just no fun if every major (and minor) character in the universe have all met each other multiple times. It's cool that some characters have a history together but it blows when they all do. "Cool! It's Gambit talking with the Silver Surfer! What a collision of worlds! What? They've met four times before? Aw..." We need some serious separation here so that when everyone does come together, it will actually feel meaningful and special again.

4. Villains Turning Good/Heroes Turning Bad
One's a story of redemption, the other's of a fall from grace. Both can be powerful and arresting. But not if fifty percent of the characters go through it. And many of them switch and then switch BACK. Some even then switch AGAIN. Argh, that's stupid. I realize comics share many things in common with soap operas but the whole "good character goes bad" and "bad guy goes good" really pushes them into that realm. This is a very bad thing. And sometimes a character that's really cool one way is utterly ruined once they're changed. There are varying levels of "good" and varying levels of "bad" and this is good - it keeps things from being black and white and ridiculously simple. But for the characters who really are one extreme or the other, it's completely retarded to have them change their ways. No one wants to see Sabretooth turn good. Luckily, despite his attempt at "rehabilitation", he didn't. That was nice to see. But we've seen Juggernaut go good for real and it's LAME. I'll admit that most of the time, it's bad guys turning good and others just waffling back and forth (*cough*Scarlett Witch*hack, cough*) and a good guy turning bad is a little more rare and interesting. But I'm just waiting for Jubilee to go on a killing spree or Dr. Doom to become the Young Avengers mentor or something.

3. Loss/Return/ Radical Change of Powers
Although my first example doesn't actually apply to "powers" I'd just like to point out that Marvel just looooves randomly giving Professor Xavier the ability to walk again only to later take it away. It seems every time his affliction doesn't conveniently fit into a situation, the writers just lazily invent some reason for why his legs can work again. And then they cripple him all over again. But it happens all the time with powers too. Almost every major character has gone through at least a short spell of not having any powers so it's barely ever intriguing when it happens to someone nowadays. And if they don't lose their powers, then their powers simply change in some stupid way. Did anyone actually enjoy seeing Ms. Marvel go all cosmic as Binary? Didn't think so. And isn't it totally neat-o the way so many mutants just keep mutating so that their powers change again and again? Uh...NO. Ripping out Wolvie's adamantium and having him go all feral was painful but at least they changed him back eventually. It was a big risk and it's ok that they took it, I guess, but maybe it would have meant more if other characters weren't also constantly experiencing fluctuating abilities. M-Day (look it up) took away the powers of ninety percent of the mutants on earth - how long's that gonna last?

2. Alternate Timelines/Realities
I LOVE these. It's fun to see the world we're used to distorted and changed around. Good guys and bad guys reversing their roles. Or certain obscure characters suddenly being important and certain powerful characters now rendered insignificant. Also in these storylines, writers have the freedom to actually kill lots of characters since the effect won't be permanent and doesn't touch the normal continuity. When you've got dozens of super-powered individuals engaging in fierce battles, it's only to be expected there would be some casualties. So this also raises the stakes and makes everything seem more meaningful. By now, I realize I'm just repeating myself though. I LIKE alternate universes. I just don't like it when there's a new one every week, for all the same reasons I've included on my other entries. It just isn't very novel to see some character twisted and changed around a certain way only because he was basically due after not being changed that much the last couple of times.

1. Death/Return of a Character
Not much to say on this one. In the world of comics, no one who dies can ever be assumed to be really dead. Not with the dozens upon dozens of characters who have been killed and resurrected over the decades. Jean Grey has croaked so many times it's become a joke. And some of the coolest and most meaningful deaths were totally trashed by having the character return at some point. Elektra comes to mind. I'll give certain characters like Moon Knight a free pass because his very origin is based on coming back from the dead. But even then death should be used sparingly. And I'm cool with some characters' return being explained by abilites that maybe make killing them not straightforward. It's cool for mystical characters like Ghost Rider (again, they still shouldn't push it). But how many times have we seen a character die in an extremely convincing manner like having their frigging head blown off, then a big display of their corpse, followed by a bunch of issues showing other characters being impacted by this death, discussing it over and over and coming to terms with the FACT that this person is truly gone forever, that there is no magic loophole this time, only to see said character later return anyway? I'll tell you: WAY TOO MANY FUCKING TIMES. They say in the Marvel U, only Uncle Ben is absolutely guranteed to never come back. I wonder how long before they break that.


Shane said...

I hope they make a story where Uncle Ben does come back from the dead. But only if he returns as a bad guy with god-like strength, and starts killing characters left and right. It should be set in a parallel universe and be told over the course of 12 comics spanning 8 titles. If possible, each issue should cost a bit more than the last.

Deep down you know you want that. Admit it!

Cole D'Arc said...


Sam said...

Also, he would be called "Unkill Ben."

RyHo said...

Ben did come back in an alternate Universe, didn't he? Like M-Day or something?

Unfortunately, there was no mass slaughter at the hands of Unkill Ben, who is really just the body of Ben Parker re-animated by Jean Grey.

You think someone at Marvel searches for this kind of stuff on the internet and then publishes it?