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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Batman, Wolverine, Deadpool and Mary Sue

I’ve been working on a new E’steem story for the last few weeks. Fiction is a LOT harder to write than nonfiction, and writing this story has been a challenge. So I haven’t had much time to blog. So until I can finish this story, things are gonna be kinda spotty on the blog in terms of posting. 

What do Batman, Wolverine, and Deadpool have in common? Besides being popular with millions of comic fans, they’re often a Mary Sue for comic book writers.

What is a Mary Sue? A Mary Sue is a character that a writer identifies with too closely. They’re the character that knows everything, has all the answers, and can beat all the bad guys with ease.

In literature examples of Mary Sues include Bella from Twilight and Annastasia from 50 shades of Grey. On television Wesley Crusher and Brian Griffin from Family Guy are also examples of a Mary Sues.

Mary Sues suck the life out of a story. Because they know everything and have all the answers stories don’t flow organically. Instead of characters utilizing plot points to work towards the solution that leads to the conclusion of the story, the Mary Sue character comes up with a solution out of nowhere. They beat all the bad guys and solve all the problems. And instead of a story being enjoyable it becomes a frustrating read.

The uses of Mary Sues are a sign that a writer is too emotionally attached to a character. In writing fiction a writer has to make every effort to remain objective. Whenever a character starts becoming a cipher for a writer, that character loses their effectiveness at moving the plot forward and telling a story.  Instead of a character having his or her own motivations, desires, motivations, and goals, A Mary Sue is just there to do whatever the writer wants. In most cases they’re just there to subject the reader to the author’s own personal views on subjects.

In order to move a story forward, a writer has to maintain professional distance from them. When they’re planning the action transpiring in a story, a writer has to see every character as their own person, not an extension of themselves. While a writer wants to the reader to feel what’s going on in a story, they cannot let their emotions get in the way of the story they’re telling. The use of Mary Sue characters is a sign that the writer is letting their personal opinions color the content of their characters.

An objective writer understands characters have to be themselves. They speak in their own “voices” and act on their own. When left alone, they take the story in directions that the writer sometimes didn’t think it would go. And when a story goes in its own direction, it often works out for the best experience for the reader.

An objective writer also understands every character in a story has their own motivations, feelings and desires. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. And those utilizing characters’ weaknesses are part of developing a strong story. Part of characters developing in a story is them confronting their weaknesses as they overcome the obstacles that drive the conflict in the story.

It’s part of a natural progression for a character to go from point A to point B in a story. And in that journey, they fall down, make mistakes and screw up. But when a character is a Mary Sue, they cannot complete the process of transformation in a story paradigm. Because the writer is too personally attached to the character, they prevent them from going through the natural development that eventually leads to character’s growth to maturity at the end of the story.

In the past I’ve based of characters on myself like John Haynes. But I made every effort to NOT make them Mary Sues. When I wrote them I made every effort to make sure I remained objective, keep my professional distance and let them go through their transformational process and let them fall, fail, screw up and make mistakes. As they told their story they found their own “voice” and a unique way to overcome the obstacles placed in front of them. And by the end of the story they took themselves in the directions they wanted to go in.   

But in many comics today I’m not seeing that kind of objectivity and professionalism. In many cases I’m seeing popular characters such as Batman, Wolverine, and most recently Deadpool turned into Mary Sues. Infallible, indestructible, characters who know everything and can solve every problem all by themselves.

Over the last 25 years Batman has become a Mary Sue for comic writers. From the 1970s to the mid 1990s readers experienced a balanced and humanized Dark Knight. Someone who had limitations. Someone who had time for an active social life and time for family and friends at Wayne Manor or downtime at the Justice League Satellite. When objective writers told their legends of the Dark Knight Batman was a man with flaws in both his identities. Someone who could accept the fact that he made mistakes like making Jason Todd Robin and giving Jean Paul Valley the mantel of Batman in his stead. In these stories both Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne grew as characters and became far more complex and multi dimensional as he mentored the next generation of The Batman family such as Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown.

Unfortunately from the late 1990’s onward Batman has evolved into a virtual cipher for most comic book writers. His alter ego Bruce Wayne in most stories today is literally nonexistent. Every moment of his life is about being Batman. He has little time for family and friends. He can’t differentiate between his life as Bruce and Batman. There’s next to no downtime, almost every issue is about him prepping and training to take on bad guys or developing new gimmicks or gadgets to take down bad guys. I dare to say thanks to these writers he’s become literally as obsessed as his rogues gallery about being the Dark Knight.

Nowadays Batman is virtually unbeatable. He is shown as being so smart that he can literally beat the entire Justice League. He can work with alien technology from Krypton, Thanagar, and New Genesis without reading a single manual or translating a single word. And in recent comics and TV shows he’s shown beating or taking on far more powerful characters such as Darkseid with ease even though he has no powers. In the eyes of many writers Batman is always right and always has an answer for just about everything or a gadget or gimmick to solve any problem.

Batman in the last 25 years has gone from a Dark Knight to a Dark Cipher. He’s the character every writer tries to live through. And because most writers are too emotionally attached to him they can’t tell great stories with him. When gods can’t beat Batman there’s clearly something wrong with the way the character is written.

Thirty years ago Wolverine was literally a joke character. He bragged about being the “best there is at what he did” and oftentimes in mid 1970’s X-men stories he usually got his ass handed to him early by well, just about everyone.

But as the character grew in popularity he evolved from a guy who would get taken down early in a fight into this formidable fighter and skilled tactician on the level of the X-men’s leader Cyclops. And towards the mid-1990’s he was seen as a virtually unbeatable.

Today, Wolverine can do virtually anything. He’s a teacher and a superhero. He can be on BOTH the X-men and the Avengers at the same time and he can lead an X-team while teaching at the Jean Grey School for gifted mutants. In some stories he can have flesh burned from his skin down to the bone and heal up to be back in fighting condition in literal seconds.

That’s a far cry from the hero who couldn’t beat an entire team of cyborg enhanced Reavers on his own in 1989 or the guy who was fried to a skeleton in Days of Future Past with a single repulsor blast from a Sentinel a few years earlier.

In other stories Wolverine is so smart he knows advanced technology so well he can pilot Shi’ar spaceships and in others such as Civil War he knows how to operate a suit of Iron Man’s armor. Jim Rhodes Iron Man’s best friend had to go through a steep learning curve in his stints as Iron Man and War Machine, but Logan…He can slip on that Iron man armor and make it work on the first try.

If that’s not a Mary Sue I don’t know who is.

Wolverine has literally become the character every comic book writer wants to be in real life. And because everyone wants to be him he has lost his direction as a character. Over the last decade, he has become there is at what he does…Being a Cipher for comic stories that border on fanfiction in levels of ridiculousness.  

DeadPool has become the latest Mary Sue in modern comics. Wise cracking Wade Wilson, was just a villain in early issues of New Mutants and X-Force. But since the mid-1990s he has turned into another cipher for comic book writers. Like Wolverine, DeadPool can be on two teams at once. X-Force, and the Thunderbolts, in addition to having his own wacky adventures. He can do things teams of Avengers couldn’t do like beating formidable characters like the TaskMaster. He can even fight guys like the Hulk and make them bleed. He’s on his way to becoming a 21st Century Cipher who wisecracks and mocks the Marvel Universe for comic fans instead of evolving into a character who speaks for himself.

The big problem with Batman, Wolverine, DeadPool or any other Mary Sue type character is that they suck the life out of a story. Conflict drives stories and in stories with a Mary Sue, there’s no real conflict. If a character like Wesley Crusher can do everything experienced Starfleet officers can do, then what’s the reader’s incentive to read the story about the experienced Starfleet Officers? Seriously, why should the reader care?

After all, if a Mary Sue character like Wolverine can solve all the problems and beat all of the bad guys with ease, then what’s the purpose of him being on an X-Men team with other characters like Cyclops and Storm? If Batman has a suit at Wayne Enterprises that allows him to beat all of the Justice League on his own, then do we really need Superman, Wonder Woman The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman to help him overcome team villains like Despero and the Secret Society of Super Villians?

Every character is supposed to be an asset to the team. And each characters strengths balance out the others’ weaknesses. But when there’s a Mary Sue involved we never get to see any of this character development because this one character can do EVERYTHING and knows EVERYTHING.

Mary Sue Superheroes makes for a dull, predictable reading experience. The kind of book a reader can breeze through in 15-20 minutes and roll their eyes after reading it. Yeah, you know what’s going to happen. But again, why should the reader care enough to pick up the next issue?

What makes a story great is when writers takes themselves out of the action transpiring and keeps their distance. From that perspective they can remain objective and acknowledge all of a character’s strengths and weaknesses. And the more they focus on a character’s external weaknesses, they can find their internal strengths that will allow them to overcome the obstacles in the story and bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

Personally, I’d like to see a lot more objectivity in comic book writing. Yeah, I’m a fan of comic books and superheroes. But as a writer I’m a professional. And when I’m doing my job I do my best to remain objective when I’m putting a story together. When a writer is objective, there are no personal favorites; their mission is moving the story forward to a satisfying conclusion. A good comic book writer is dedicated towards giving the reader an enjoyable experience in those 32 pages that leads to them picking up the next issue.