Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cronin Theory of Comics - Good Characters Should Be Written in Comics

Really, it sounds like a no brainer, doesn't it?

When one wants to make good comics, one should use good characters.

So if a good character is available, a writer should use it.

However, it appears as though there are those who feel that there is a better idea out there...

To quote Judd Winick, from a nice interview by Hilary Goldstein at IGN,
We all threw around names of characters who would be the one to carry the story, knowing it's going to end with their demise. That's important that there's someone who discovers everything and dies for it. And in the very short list we kept coming back to Blue Beetle. And everyone in the room said, "I could do a great Blue Beetle series." And that's why he has to go, because he's actually the one who means something. And now he's gone and eleven years from now someone will bring him back and we'll be angry men about that. It's generational.
See that?

I could do a great Blue Beetle series....and that's why he has to go.

The two statements, they really should be mutually exclusive.

In addition, I do not know if Winick is intentionally ignoring history when he makes his "And now he's gone and eleven years from now someone will bring him back and we'll be angry men about that. It's generational." point.

For Jim Starlin did not kill off Captain Marvel (the example Winick cites in his interview as an inspiration for their handling of Blue Beetle) because he thought there was a lot of great Captain Marvel stories to write in the future.

Jason Todd was not put in a position to be killed off because Starlin had lots of ideas for Jason Todd stories.

It was exactly the opposite.

If you think you can write a good series featuring a character, that is always better than killing off said character.

Always.

Good comics come from writing good characters well.

Holographic foil covered 100th issue anniversary comics are not worth the discarding of them.

Death scenes added to make a story seem more "historic" are not worth the discarding of them.

Launchs of company-wide crossovers are not worth the discarding of them.

And what is so particularly amusing about this instance is that, even if a reader were to disagree over whether a particular character is "good," here we see that the writers themselves thought that the character was "good," and that gave them more reason to kill off the character.

Pretty damn silly.

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17 Comments:

Blogger The Comics Shrew said...

I get Winick's point -- there's affection for Blue Beetle on a level that there isn't for, say, Fire and that affection means that there'd be a more impactful death. But he explained it spectacularly badly and probably did more harm than good.

... and I can't believe I'm defending Winick here.

8/21/2005 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

And I can't believe The Shrew used Fire as her example. FIRE RULES! They can gang rape Blue Beetle for all I care. Winnick and the butchers at DC better keep their killing mitts off Beatriz!

8/21/2005 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

It's a fair point, Shaenon.

I can certainly allow that Winick just did a really poor job of explaining his point.

By the by, it is funny that you mention Fire, because I recall Mark Waid doing a similar thing to the Beetle write-off with Ice, and then later saying it was his biggest regret in comics to that point (I think this was, like, 1997, when he said it).

Good characters are always better off being used than killed.

8/21/2005 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger The Comics Shrew said...

Okay, so Bea was a poor choice. I was having trouble coming up with someone who was currently alive and people would care about (but not too much) if they got killed. Bea has a lot of fans, but I was blocking on a better example. Nobody would mourn if G'nort or John Stewart took a double-tap.

And, the more I think about it, the more I think Winick sounds like he's paraphrasing Greg Rucka. Especially in his novels, Rucka is notorious for killing off the most interesting of his secondary characters.

Nonetheless, your original point stands. Good characters are always better left alive. (And bad characters, who became good after death, should stay that way, too.)

8/21/2005 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Ah, I'm just joking about Fire. I like her, but she is, after all, fictional. I agree with you, Brian - for the writers to say they could write Beetle well and then kill him seems the epitome of stupidity.

Killing characters is a tough thing to do, especially in comics, where they always come back. The idea that there are "good" and "bad" characters is ridiculous - it's all about who is writing them. But again, Winnick made a poor argument for killing Beetle.

8/21/2005 11:48:00 PM  
Anonymous A. H. said...

If he meant something prior to his death, how come they had to take "60 pages to make people fall in love with him" before they killed him? It seems like a good writer should be able to make you love anybody in 60 pages, whether they had a mini for them in their portfolios or not. Couldn't the same effect be gained by killing...Hell, I dunno, some other semi-forgotten loser? Killing somebody minor who comes with a lot of built-in affection seems like a cheat to me--you're trading on nostalgia or shock value, not something you necessarily earned by your own merits. This is not to say that only the creator of a character can off him or her, just that piggybacking on somebody else's creative work to pull off an impact you can't manage on your own is lazy writing. If you can't make Random Weirdo's death hurt in 60 pages, then you have a problem.

I say this as somebody who has a great deal of fondness for the BB, based on what I read about him when I was little. I'm miffed about what happened to him in Countdown, not because I felt bad for the BB as presented in that book, but because DC killed off somebody I loved when I was small. If my first exposure to the BB was in Countdown, it probably wouldn't have bothered me; in that book, he was whiny, stupid and worst of all not terribly funny. That BB was a loser and deserved to die--I mean, Christ, when somebody says "Join or die," the answer is "Join and betray." Do they not teach that in superhero school anymore?

8/22/2005 02:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Killing characters is a tough thing to do, especially in comics, where they always come back. "

Killing the character seems like a needlessly plot-limiting copout, given all the options in a comic universe for removing a character from the scene for a while.

8/22/2005 04:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this uproar about Blue Beetle mildly amusing considering the fact that they're going to kill off the Bruce Wayne version of Batman in Infinite Crisis and replace him with Dick Grayson.
That, to me, seems like a bigger waste of a good character.
It's a shame that DC seems unwilling to hire better writers and seems mired in an attitude of dull grimness that that is totally inappropriate and unappealing.

8/22/2005 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger joncormier said...

I don't have the history that most people do with BB, but I did feel a bit let-down by his death. Not because I have some big attachment to the character, but he offered an alternative the arsehole Batman. It was something of a return to the detective-style Batman that I like over the current interpretations.

I didn't hate the story. I like the second guessing nature of the BB and his "noble end."

8/22/2005 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger gschienke said...

Anonymous wrote:

"I find this uproar about Blue Beetle mildly amusing considering the fact that they're going to kill off the Bruce Wayne version of Batman in Infinite Crisis and replace him with Dick Grayson."

Oh, please, Bruce Wayne is not going to be killed off and people who believe such rumors show a lack understanding of mainstream comics. Mainstream comic books aren't about the stories, they are about marketing and there is no money to be made by having Batman not be Bruce Wayne (save for some hack story line). As long as there are Batman movies that feature Bruce Wayne as Batman, Bruce Wayne will be Batman in the comics.

As for Winick's comment, I really think that underscores my point. Killing Blue Beetle wasn't done for a good reason to move a story, it was done as a marketing hook. People love mocking pre-1987 mainstream comics, but at least they respected the characters. No matter how stupid the red kryptonite transformation or how goofy the Flash deathtrap, the characters were always treated respectfully by story's end and the silliness at least justified the story. If there was a debate concerning over who should be killed, then, IMO, the killing doesn't justify the story.

But that's just me.

8/22/2005 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

To the point of the Batman rumours. Not that this style of stupidity is impossible. But people who believe it actually think no one at DC remembers the whole Azrael/Batman fiasco years back?
They had Batman on video's, cartoons, lunchboxes, and toys... But they learned then that you are shooting yourself in the foot by rendering the current version of the character in the comics as something unrecognizable for new readers used to the status quo you build this media empire on.
If its true, they are dumber then I give them credit for, and deserve the fallout more then I will deserve any "I told you so"'s

8/22/2005 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait and see.

8/22/2005 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Well, with Batman, the merchandising machine recognises the image, not the character. It doesn't matter who's under the cowl, because unless he's black or something, you won't tell the difference just by looking at him, and that's all you need for lunchboxes and schoolbags.

Yes, us comics fans will complain that the guy in the suit doesn't act like Batman, but the average Justice League viewer won't.


As for killing off characters, I agree that killing Blue Beetle is a cheat; they targetted him because there's affection, but he's also disposable. Ditto Hawkeye. So what you end up with is a sacrifice which looks significant, but actually isn't.
But I don't think a good, interesting character should be kept alive just because he or she is good and interesting, but if you're going to kill off an interesting character, be less half-hearted and ummm and ahh about it.

But but, I do agree that if you're resorting to killing off characters as the main point of the story rather than just something that happens to give the main point some gravitas, then you're running out of ideas. Deaths should add importance to what's going on, rather than being the reason for the story in themselves.

Sorry, blathering.

8/22/2005 10:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your paragraph spacing is too large, it's hard to follow the flow of the text.

8/23/2005 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hardly think that matters...

8/23/2005 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Spencer said...

They had Batman on video's, cartoons, lunchboxes, and toys... But they learned then that you are shooting yourself in the foot by rendering the current version of the character in the comics as something unrecognizable for new readers used to the status quo you build this media empire on.

That's way there's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. And they're not killing him, they're putting him in Arkham.

8/23/2005 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Chuck T. said...

Gah. I keep complaining that I miss when Batman was a driven, determined individual; not a dick. Or someone who lays plans for every contingency, then has them stolen and used against him, his friends, and society in general. C'mon, Wile E. Coyote keeps better tabs on his stuff.
I'm poor, so it doesn't hold a lot of weight, but I had to bail on the big crossovers this year. Besides, all the characters I really like either end up lost and wandering around the outskirts, or shot.

8/25/2005 05:09:00 PM  

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