Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30th: You are what you read

Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire. Brought to you by the "We want to see Wonder Woman in a more revealing costume" party.

I’ve been reading a lot lately. Not books, though I’m trying to return there. No, these days I have super heroes on my mind, which is why I’m inhabiting comic books. I admit that I’m in deep in research for my current novella Bad Thought Catalog, one of the early works in my super hero alternative Earth. The potency of this alternative Earth is quite tantalizing – to the point I’m tempted to not finish this project.

In the last week alone I think I may have devoured twenty to thirty issues, including DC’s spanning Blackest Night and Brightest Day events. I also followed Zatanna and several of the newest Batman series, including the delicious Batman Inc. and Batman: Arkham City. From Marvel I’ve finished the Utopia event and started Daken Dark Wolverine, X-23 and X-Men: Prelude to Schism. What binds these volumes together is that they tell the stories of those few with superhuman powers and their attempts on survival. That’s the obvious part, pitting these individuals against impossible odds and seeing violence.

However, there is a different similarity between all superhuman volumes. Something in their structure; in their blueprints, which installs familiarity. Their stories are centered around the characters, with their heroes and villains given the word to narrate. While the art captures the color and movement, serves the violence and fulfills the obligations of what the descriptive prose does in fiction, the written word is used sparingly [or not so sparingly, if you look how winding DC monologues and dialogue can stretch in Blackest Night/Brightest Day] either for the protagonist to narrate or for characters to converse.

The use of words in comic books is interesting to observe, if you’re a writer in a different format. First, all narration is philosophical in one way or another. Either dramatic, minimalist reflections of one’s self as seen in X-23 or haunting observations about the world, which bind the panels together into a coherent and moody experience as often done in the Batman series. It adds flavor to the otherwise multispectral action. Yet, enough exposure to those and you can smell the cheesy smell of melodrama, which makes the good boys’ talk of honor corny and the villains’ vitriol tiresome. Not that there is anything bad about it. Enough cups of tea for everyone as I like to say.

The dialog is another interesting thing. It serves a multitude of functions. When short, it offers the quick wit and repartee comic book heroes and villains are known for. When long, it calls for taunts, rants and threats – all over the top for pathos’ sake – during battles, which I find all very imaginative, yet not at all realistic [though I don’t really look for realism, when the guys I root for all have a fetish for flamboyant spandex]. Of course, when not stirring the old pot of emotions, dialogue can be found info dumping. What I hat in comics is how, sometimes, page after page blisters with speech bubbles, all crammed with back story, tactics and future plans. It just shows the limitations of the format, in the sense that when a story arc has to run in the course of five to six issues writers can’t afford to be subtle. The careful foreshadowing and gradual supplement of information are not suitable.

Yet, all these imperfections and unique traits are what make superhero stories memorable and what we associate with superheroes and the comic book format [though I do realize that every different story told as a comic book comes with its own specifics]. It’s also what I’ve taken to what I’m working on at the moment. I’m not sure that I want my story to echo all those great stories being printed as comics, as I’m writing prose and really that’s a different beast.

It has me thinking that you as a writer is what you read [if you didn’t know that already] and this begs the question. Do you read the type of story you want to tell or do you avoid doing it as a means to ensure that you are not copying? Both choices hold their dangers. You either get to see what can be done with a story trope by those before you and go down a well trodden path or trust the ignorance is bliss policy and either do wonders with the genre or murder the story. What do you prefer?