Many comic writers these days say that they’re fans of superhero characters they work with. And that’s one of the problems within the industry today. Thanks to fans writing the comics readers are getting books that read like glorified fanfiction pieces, not well-written stories from a professional publisher.
In many cases a comic fan who becomes a comic book writer at a place like Marvel or DC often approaches a character from a very emotional perspective, not an objective one like a professional writer does. Yes a comic fan is passionate about the character they’re writing but they’re often so biased towards one or two characters that they don’t see how their love of their favorite character shows how little professionalism they have in their craft. Because they’re so emotionally attached to a character fan writers often make emotional decisions that do more harm to a character and their history long term than good.
When a comic fan writes stories from their emotions they often focus on singular aspects of a character and don’t approach character in a way where they get a balanced picture of them. Yes, they’ve read a series of issues or even a creator’s entire run. And from those issues they have some semblance of a character’s story and a mission, but oftentimes their vision of a character is often flat and one-dimensional.
Because some fans approach their favorite characters with their emotions and they don’t have a balanced picture of them, it often leads to them writing stories that are usually unbalanced and uneven. Readers get action presented from a slanted and biased perspective that always makes the hero out to be either virtually infallible and unbeatable like Batman has been in recent years or some poor put upon victim who life just beats up on for absolutely no reason like Spider-Man or Daredevil have been in some runs over the years. In some cases like Wonder Woman the character literally gets lost because a writer is so busy projecting their idea of who they are onto them instead of letting them be who they are.
In many cases when fans become writers, comic book heroes go from characters with their own personality and “voice” to Mary Sues and Gary Stus, manifestations of the fan in comic form and a soapbox to present their own views and opinions. And instead of having their own adventures, the hero starts living the life of the writer, not having a life of their own.
Thanks to this biased perspective characters that get developed in that distort them. And as the picture of who they are gets distorted, their message and their mission get lost. For example instead of Batman taking his oath to protect to Gotham City objectively, we get Batman prepping to take on bad guys 24/7.
That’s not what the character was meant to be. Yes, Batman is driven to fight crime and will push himself beyond human limits to escape perilous situations and stop the bad guys or protect people. But he has time for a life outside of the Dark Knight to be Bruce Wayne and run Wayne Enterprises or spend time with Dick Grayson or mentoring Tim Drake.
But in comics today, the Batman character has become as obsessed as his rogues gallery. And this obsession with crime is turning him into a caricature of himself. These days Batman practically eats and sleeps in the Batcave, and has no time to be Bruce Wayne or even do work at Wayne Enterprises or spend time with Dick Grayson, Tim Drake or anyone else outside of the costume. Everything is about him being Batman all the time. While that model may work in a fanfiction piece, but it sure doesn’t make for great comic storytelling in a well-crafted comic where stories need to be balanced.
Thanks to this kind of singular focus on a favorite character, supporting characters who were essential to a character’s history and their story paradigm oftentimes get lost in the shuffle.
Worse, they often get discarded and replaced with other characters who the writer feels more comfortable working with like Damian Wayne. Because previous supporting characters like Tim Drake have things like “personalities” and “voices” the writer hasn’t figure out what to do with, they often discard them like trash for their new so-called “better” ones they prefer working with.
And in most cases when these new supporting characters are put into a character’s story they aren’t a good fit. Because they aren’t grown organically from the roots of a characters’ history, and because the writer has no idea on how to write an effective backstory for them, they just feel forced. Usually they’re just shoehorned in through some convoluted retroactive continuity or some dysfunctional plot. Yes, the writer likes them, but readers are split on them because they haven’t been introduced to readers in an organic manner. And because they haven’t been introduced organically readers have a hard time connecting with them and relating to them.
Because many comic fans who become writers see the character from the lens of a fan and not a creator’s objective viewpoint they don’t see how everything in a characters’ world works together comprehensively. In the bigger picture of the characters’ world are the mechanics behind the story and all those elements work together to help a writer tell a well-crafted story. A hero not only needs his rogues, but a strong supporting cast for the main character to make his or her story paradigm work effectively.
To truly understand a character one has to do more than read some of the comics from a creative team’s run or a few creative team’s runs. They have to read the interviews with the creators, and study the history of the time the character was created. In some cases if possible a creator has to sit down with the creator and find out what motivated them to create that character. From these points and counterpoints can a creator get a balanced picture of the character their mission, their supporting cast, and their “voice” before they start putting down ideas for their run of stories on said character.
When a writer like myself does the research on the creators and their motivations they start to see that the original creators just don’t make characters into unbeatable infallible characters or perpetual victims. They understand story models established initially by the creators and use them to make them and the mission established in the first issue of their comic relatable to readers today just like it was relatable to readers of previous generations yesterday.
A professional writer has to approach any character they write with passion and heart. But they also have to remain professional and objective when they tell stories with them. An objective writer will work with a characther’s strengths and weaknesses to give readers the best possible reading experience. And they’ll give the reader a lesson in that story that not only makes the character grow, but gives the reader something to grow from.