Comics Creators

A thread on storytelling...


I guess I’m okay with merely watching people who survive a horrible experience. In some ways it’s also an effect of the Holocaust. There’s no way 99% of those survivors have some kind of meaningful ending to that before the Allies liberate them. It’s the endurance that’s fascinating, against all odds. It’s why we’re so fascinated by exploration sagas, and not so much whether or not they actually achieve their goals.

I guess I also don’t particularly need every story I experience to have an overt heroic arc, because after a while despite its inspirational intent it begins to seem false, especially if the way the story is told feels fake. It’s actually a better ending for a poorly told story to end with a deus ex machina, which then becomes a useful distraction, and itself absolves preceding events from their relative creative merit. Which in modern times has come to mean something other than it did in ancient times. We seem to prefer irony above all else, so that most of our heroic stories do seem false.


It is interesting that our notion of tragedy in drama has been so influenced by the fact that for most Greek tragedies only the first acts survived. The ultimate tragic ending is a happy one with the destructive urges appeased and the world brought back into harmony.

My personal theory is that drama emerged with Western civilization out of storytelling in a way to fight the lone hero image. Civilization is essentially a long process where chimpanzees learned to use their neocortex to cooperate in increasingly complex ways. Whether through ingesting psychedelic manure mushrooms on the savannah or some other method, somehow Homo sapiens sapiens separated from the other apes to the extent that a hundred of us can fly on a plane from Los Angeles to Bangkok with no significant event occurring but if you put a hundred chimps or gorillas in that same cramped space, even first class, there would only be two or three left alive after only one hour.

So you can see in Greek theater a shift in storytelling. The original Greek myths, like African, Asian, Irish and German folktales, focused on the triumphs of the heroes. Perseus, for example, is one of the earliest and he has almost no flaws or failures.

However, Greek drama focuses on the downfall of the heroes. Oedipus isn’t about his overcoming the Sphinx after all, is it? In tragedy, the terrific hero is sacrificed for the good of the city, the polis, the people. To be a hero is a terrible thing. The hero pays the price.

I think this is social engineering at the primal level. An Ur-Story form that evolved from the deeper wish-fulfillment scenarios of folk heroes. Civilization is domestication of the animal nature of individual domination.


I know of stories where they vaguely introduce the answer in the beginning and it plays a part in the end.

In T2 when they went to that bunker for ammo, there were cut scenes of the bullet and sure enough in the end, the Arnold Terminator did a desperate shot and it saved the day.

In Hulk Future Imperfect, they were discussing the Maestro who was so strong at the time that he only be killed by a nuke blast at ground zero. Then they bought up Doom’s abandoned time machine and you know the rest.

I have mixed feelings about it but it is better than bringing up an undiscovered resolution very late in the story.

That is where I see the Game of Thrones being resolved with something we saw and overlooked seasons ago …


I think it’s just good storytelling. Setting up and paying off.
It only becomes problematic if it’s telegraphed really heavily and it’s super obvious (seems to be a problem in all of those old compressed silver age comics) but you can still be surprised.
Surely if the solution isn’t properly set-up then someone will decry it as a deus ex machina?


The original Back to the Future did a good job of introducing the clock in the town center that had been struck by lightning back in 1955, then arranging it so that Marty and Doc Brown would know that exact moment when the lightning would provide the energy needed to get back to the present. It was a pretty clever example of what Al-x is talking about.


A bad example would be Burton’s Planet of the Apes. Which introduces an element that plays into the final scene, but does so so vaguely that the ending doesn’t make sense unless it’s caught very finely.


The best sort of ending is one where you smack your head and go “Of course!”, not shrug and go “duh, of course”. I think there’s no magic formula to getting this right, though, it must be a very hit-and-miss thing. And even if it works for some of the audience, there will be others it fails for.


Yeah, I actually like the Burton POTA ending and movie in general. But I can really see why it just came off as nonsense.


In some of the episodes in the original Star Trek, Kirk and Spock would brainstorm, find a weakness and figure out a plan or a trick to resolve the plot. That was good.


What was good was that you could always understand the weakness and the resolution.

In later version of Star Trek, the resolution was always “technobobble the technobabble Mr Data” Data waves magic wand “It worked Captain!” I don’t think that’s very good storytelling. (Which isn’t to say TNG couldn’t do good stories – but their best stories were the ones with a moral conundrum which the viewer could understand and ponder, not a load of technobabble which the viewer couldn’t.)


And we didn’t even get into Dr. Who… I always did like the Tom Baker version where he would figure things out as he went along.

Then there is the big reveal stories, ie. in Xmen (about 40 years ago), Jason Wyngarde revealing himself to Cyclops, the Hush storyline in Batman, Kevin Smith’s DD, and in Star Wars, Vader to Luke. I was a kid back then but it took everyone’s breath away in the theatre at the time…

I give credit to the writers who the buildup well and making use of a character you never expected ie Mastermind, Riddler, Mysterio. I say if it stays with you for a while it was done right.


As for reimagining I really liked it when Miller used Bullseye and Kingpin in his DD run making them very dangerous. Before, Kingpin was a joke of a villain in the Spider-Man books and Bullseye wasn’t taken seriously in Daredevil. Miller had some really great ideas in his run reimagining the title.

Not to be overlooked is Millar with SHIELD and the Ultimates at the time making Nick Fury a black Samuel Jackson character and the Hulk coming from way too much super soldier serum.


I have to comment on the effort Denny O’niel/ Neal Adams made in the early 70’s with the Green Arrow/Green Lantern title…

They took chances and tried to shoe horn real issues like this:

Now, it is way too easy to say today that it missed, but at the time it was spot on.

It is hard to blend fantasy with real world issues, but I give them an A for effort…


If anything they did it better than anyone does now.

Right now there’s just airs of glibness to it all.


That old guy must have missed all the times GL saved every single “black skin” on Earth.

I think that scene was an important and powerful message for the audience at the time, but as storytelling it was frankly stupid, because what that guy said made no sense in the internal context of the story.

And when you consider that GL could then have literally have made it rain gold… er, no, ok then, diamonds… on every black man in America in the next panel, and didn’t, he just looked a bit sad and embarrassed, then it all becomes a bit pointless.


it was the 70s; internal logic took a back seat to the effort to be cool and hip. Each issue of GreenLantern/Green Arrow at that time focused on a different cause – population control, drug addiction, pollution, and so on.


It’s been an eternal problem with any superhero books if you think too long. They kind of half addressed it with weak logic in things like Heroes For Hope but the truth is Storm could stop famine, Magneto (he was a good guy that week) could create infrastructure like a much needed bridge in 10 seconds. Reed Richards and Tony Stark could stop faffing around with pet projects and provide clean water to remote villages and save thousands of lives every year.


Thing is, the ring is not meant for social problems. What could he have done? Maybe protect blacks in the race riots, but the ring can’t rally people for social justice. Still, the point was made that he never DIRECTLY helped black people in his home planet.

In the rest of that run, the Oan people recruited a black Green Lantern and that was good at the time.

All in all, it was good storytelling at the time, even though it is hard to fit fantasy characters into real world social injustice.

Now, I also mentioned other storytelling ideas before that one…


It was a great message, but I don’t think that means it was automatically good storytelling. The message isn’t the story, they are two different aspects of the comic (though the story is needed to carry the message) and either aspect can be good or bad independently of the other.

Don’t get me wrong, I still admire the issue for what it was trying to do, in the context of the time.


MM mentioned this a while back that the Raiders plot didn’t really work because in the end the Nazis where killed by the “spirits” regardless. So that made the race to find the ark moot.

Also, in Star Wars, looking back, how could we have ignored the flagrant design flaw of the first Death Star?

Now in comics, the Martian Manhunter is pretty much Superman and Prof X and the invisible girl but he can be taken out with a lit torch…

I am just saying that some things don’t stand to reason and “they” keep trying to put one over on the audience.