Thursday, May 01, 2008

Heavy Boots of Lead

Okay, no one asked for my opinion on the movie version of Iron Man,* and this isn't so much about that movie as a complaint about so many comic books and their ancillary products, including the ones I myself have worked on.

The movie itself is entertaining enough. It's got a great cast and enough unexpected humor that it should be a box office hit (except maybe in Afghanistan, ho-hum, what a novel idea to place the scenes of lawlessness there, and hey, let's make it in caves! Everyone knows bad guys live in caves in Afghanistan). I was kind of bored for much of it, because while the character interaction and funny bits were novel, the overall arc was tried-and-true, freshened up by brilliant interpreting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark. The cast looks like they're having fun for much of the movie.

Did I like this movie? Well, yeah, it was fun. Was I bored? Yeah, that too. Am I amazed whenever anyone finishes anything creative and don't they deserve kudos for things existing and being more-or-less entertaining? Hell yeah.

So what's my beef here?

I am so sick of comic book stories starting with the origin.

And I've had enough of the hero saving the day by fighting off something that only exists because of missteps made by our hero. The Silver Surfer wouldn't have to fight off Galactus if he hadn't brought Big G to Earth in the first place. Iron Man made a big mess and then he had to clean it up. I get that to have a credible threat, writers and editors always have to up the ante, which often means coming up with a threat as powerful as the hero, but can't there be external threats once in a while, where the hero actually has to save the world from something that he didn't create himself?

I know, I know. Finger-pointing. As an editor, I am guilty as charged. But there's so much pressure to tell certain types of stories. Everyone starts at the beginning, with the origin. It's simply DONE that way. To fight it, a team would need the support of creative and corporate interests. (An editor has the unrewarding job of forging compromises between corporate and creative interests, which means it's amazing that anything at all gets published.)

I'm sorry for ranting. I'm just tired of seeing the same structure over and over. Let's try starting the story in the middle, or heck, even at the end. It worked for David Lean.

*Want a great review? Read Heidi's.


Marie Javins said...

I think I'll only leave this up for a's kind of off-topic for this blog, no?

Ed Ward said...

Not really. It's somewhere you went (the movies), and relates to your job. And I, at least, was entertained.

detroit dog said...

Leave the post up! This particular movie review is pertinent to both your job and your travels.

My favorite movie cartoon character was Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Genius!

I like Robert Downey, Jr., and will pretty much watch anything with him in it, and, besides, I remember the song "Iron Man" from my youth -- therefore I must go. (The damn song has been going through my head since I saw the movie preview a couple weeks back. When Godzilla came out, Blue Oyster Cult soundtracks were on my mind for the better part of a year.)

Marc Siry said...

Marie- I can't believe we haven't talked about this- but you totally nailed what is probably my #1 complaint about most comic book or fantasy movies- the self-generated threat.

Superman Returns was a prime example of this. Superman leaves Earth and leaves the door to his hi-tech mega fortress unlocked, knowing full well that his greatest enemy knows where it is and what he can do with it. This enemy is then let out of jail because Supes isn't around to testify at his parole hearing. He then goes straight to Superman's fortress, gets some crystals that are only on Earth because they hitched a ride with Superman, and proceeds to generate a world-destroying island. The big climax is Superman doing some earthmoving while his foe is laid low by an empty gas tank in his helicopter.

Worst. Plot. EVAR.

Don't even get me started on Harry Potter, where 80% of the trouble is caused by out of control magic that wouldn't be an issue if there weren't a bunch of jerkoff magicians (sorry, wizards) insisting on practicing magic in a secret subculture. One movie (Prisoner of Azkhaban) featured a villain who, in the end, not only turns out to be not a threat, but happens to be Harry's uncle and he's actually trying to help him! How astoundingly convenient and utterly dumb at the same time.

I think writers do this to simplify stories and reduce the amount of belief suspension- for instance, in the Superman plot, if Luthor had found alien technology from *another* planet, now you'd have to fit that concept in your mind when you're just getting around Krypton and all that ballyhoo. However, it could tie back to the story nicely if it turned out this other alien technology was what destroyed Krypton, and now Superman has to do what his father and the rest of the Kryptonian's couldn't do and save his adopted planet. See, that one line is better than all of Superman Returns.

This has been a very cathartic comment. You, me, and some of the other Old Marvel refugees should get together and write a group blog called 'Rehabilitating Comics.' Our first post could be to recommend that people stop calling them 'comics.'

That would be fun.

Marie Javins said...

Marc, I am SO THERE.

In fact, here's how there I am. I want to try making two book proposals for my next book. One: prose. Two: graphic novel.

Steven R. Stahl said...

Marie, your complaint is also relevant to Marvel’s SECRET INVASION, which is utterly dependent on a story with an idiot plot: ILLUMINATI #1. If the Illuminati don’t go to the Skrulls’ home world to tell them to stay the ($*& from Earth (because we’re telling you to), aren’t captured and have their DNA analyzed, etc., then the Skrulls can’t impersonate paranormals perfectly and the framework for the storyline collapses. One might also wonder how Dr. Strange’s DNA has any relevance to his abilities, but--

I’ve noticed that many (Marvel) comics readers don’t pay much, if any, attention to a storyline’s premise. The premise might be so flawed as to be unworkable, but readers will read the issue, see characters go through their paces, then wait for the next issue and, in most cases, treat the next issue as if it’s a completely separate story. There’s no evident appreciation for esthetics, the fine points of writing, or a craftsman’s approach to structure. In simply reading and reacting, they’re the equivalents of six-year-olds reading picture books.

Movies might rely on the heroes origins’ routinely because the creative people involved believe that the stories will be more dramatic and be more understandable than trying to combine a description of the character’s background with a novel threat. In the case of Iron Man, relating the character to the real world through his origin and exploring his character might make him more interesting to the non-comics fan than introducing the hero and villain simultaneously would.


Marie Javins said...

In my next book, I'm going to retell my origin in graphic novel format.

Okay, that's an exaggeration, but the next book starts the same place as the last book (hippo chase), so I'll re-tell it, add a few important details that I left out before, and have it be visual storytelling to make it fresh.

And Steve Buccellato will draw it. But don't tell him. He's so busy right now that he might freak out.

Sara Kocher said...

Speaking of Steve, Battle of the Bands DOESN'T begin with the origin story of either the band or the "battle" concept. He doesn't waste much time on anyone's back story, either, just lets us learn what's needed as the plot unfolds.

Isn't the whole "hero fights himself and/or his mistakes" thing part of Stan Lee's legacy? I don't mind it when it's not done to death. Now that it has been, that concept has to be handled in a genuinely fresh new way to be at all palatable.

The cliché is that there are only seven plots in all of literature. Does this mean that in mainstream comics at the moment, there's just one?

Stuart Moore said...

I agree with this complaint in general -- about the menaces only existing because of the hero -- but I think it works in IRON MAN, because the whole arc of the character, as he's developed over the years, is one of redemption. The movie pulls this together brilliantly: The fact that the villains use Stark technology isn't a contrivance, it's the whole point. When Tony asks "Who are these guys?" Yinsen replies, "They're your best customers." Stane is less directly tied to that theme, but he too is a product of the Stark family business: arms manufacturing. It's what he is, what he knows.

I cringed a little at the Arab bad guys, too...I suspect there was some deliberate pandering to right-wing interests there, to counterbalance the pretty devastating metaphorical indictment of U.S. foreign policy that runs through the whole movie. On the whole, I can live with that.

As for origin stories: As comics people, WE'VE seen a lot of them, but probably not everyone has. I got a little fidgety in the first hour too, but mostly because the major plot threads -- and at least one big visual punch line -- were thoroughly revealed in the trailer. Overall, I really liked it.