Comics Creators

A thread on storytelling...


The most important idioms to learn first in any language are those most often accompanied by a punch to the face.


Back to comics: I really wish that the company editors would decide on definite power levels for powerful characters and stick to them.

Some of the things Superman did varied from run to run. Imho, Supes at his best was in the Miller’s original DKR when he was struggling to divert that Russian warhead and almost died from the blast. There were hints of power like disappearing from his clothes in a second and moving so fast no could see him. It was a “less is more” approach to the character.

Magneto is all over the place in several runs, but I liked that page years ago of him studying physics and books on magnetism to better know about his powers and what he can do. That was smart writing.

Telepaths like Xavier and Jean need to have their power ranges better defined, but it was interesting having Xavier release some brain transmitters changing someone’s mood or Emma Frost giving those protesters dreams.

Just saying…


The thing is, school grammar is to a large extent a lie anyway. What you realise once you actually study linguistics is that deep grammar is very different and you it takes a LOT of effort to understand.

The fact that all of this is so incredibly complicated and yet we are able to easily learn and use a language at such an early age is what led to Chomsky’s theory that we are born with a kind of universal grammar, a basic set of rules that all specific grammars build on.

That is certainly my advise to the kids and their parents from about the third year of second-ed English or so. The reason why we can speak our native languages perfectly is that we do it all day, every day. Three hours a week or so won’t get you far.

It’s also what I did. I learned English pretty late - it was my third foreign language, starting in form 9 - but I had some basic knowledge from C64 games and after about a year or so of learning in school, I was reading novels like “Neuromancer”. Things went pretty quickly from there.

(If even that - these days, we use only the target laguage in class, you won’t hear me speaking a German word, at least after the first two years or so. But there are still classes around where the native language is mostly used and the target language only in exercises and reading stuff out loud.)

And interaction. You won’t learn a second language from just reading/listening to books and watching TV if you start without knowing a single word and don’t have any help. Your friend at the camp may not have had any training at school at all, but he had people who wanted him to understand what they were saying and who’d keep explaining stuff as simply as possible until he got it, and you build from there.

(I mention this because once people figured out that are brains are built to learn language anyway and that the school way of doing it thirty years ago maybe wasn’t the best, some of the theories in language learning went the other way completely and thought that immersion was all you needed, not realising that acquiring a language is a very active process and needs interaction.)


With comics, it is hard to shoehorn real world events into it ie. the Cold War in Watchmen and DKR. It was used in the background and as the plot went, Russia and the US were going at it. I already mentioned the old black man who confronted Hal Jordan. If the real world problems would exist in the comics, then you could ask why doesn’t a Reed Richards cure cancer or whatever…


It’s an incredibly difficult challenge. In THE AUTHORITY, the stories were basically the same as The Avengers or JLA with an edge - in that the heroes absolutely made it clear from the outset that they recognized no Earthly authority higher than their own. However, the villains they faced were not significantly different in form than the same that a straight superhero team would face. Only they had certain “real world” elements that were made into comic book tropes. In the first arc, the villain was essentially Fu Manchu, but he was described more like a hi-tech Ayatollah or Gaddafi (before 9/11, too).

THE ULTIMATES today seems a little dated as if feels really tied to the post-9/11 reaction. To be honest, the LORD OF THE RINGS movies feels a bit dated for the same reason and it’s entirely fantasy.

In Man of Steel, that worked for a lot of people because they kept the real world generic as well. We didn’t really see a lot about the world - like news or politics - but we got the idea that it would be difficult for a super powered man to really operate openly in it. The sequel didn’t do that so well. It just amplified the problems the first film had.

I would like to see more of a considered approach to the powers. When Superman came out, the appeal of the powers was that it gave the hero the ability to overcome the same forces that made people feel powerless. In other words, it was power fantasy.

I mean, I was struck by how the Superman mantra seemed to cast a spell against the fears of the age (the Great Depression sandwiched between two World Wars)

Faster than a Speeding Bullet
More Powerful than a Locomotive
Able to Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

It’s a Bird
It’s a Plane
It’s Superman

Superman is not threatened by crime or war (speeding bullet), by the industrial processes that are quickly changing and devaluing human life, health and labor (the locomotive) and the new urban development that was completely changing US society at the time (tall buildings) in the form of corporate power, financial barons and political and economic disenfranchisement. When you look at the history of the world Seigel and Shuster grew up in, the Superman myth was an indirect way they expressed and dealt with that world and it became a way that their readers dealt with it as well.

Not consciously and knowingly. Children, for example, will always feel powerless and a little behind everyone else, so powerful characters are almost always attractive - even bad guys like Darth Vader.

One novelist once described super-powers as a labor-saving device. That their function was to provide a narrative reason essentially for the hero to be able to do something. I wish I could remember who said that, but I doubt they were comic book fans. The literary function powers play does enable the heroes to do the things that the story demands, but I find the powers actually are about the scariest threats we face in real life. They are ways that the story finds an outlet for things we can’t rationally express or process. It’s in the nature of a lot of fiction.

I find many of the Marvel characters really hooked the teenage experience. Stan Lee may have simply gotten tired of figuring out ways that people got superpowers, so he came up with Mutants*. However, the idea of the X-men ties into the experience of adolescence as well as or even better than Spider-Man or The Hulk.

It’s not impossible to really consciously mold a story knowingly using powers as a metaphor for something else. Naomi Alderman’s recent novel The Power does just that, and it is pretty good and pretty successful. George Lucas knew what he was doing with Luke Skywalker - it wasn’t an accident.

However, it’s probably more likely it happens unconsciously. At the same time, when powers in a book don’t work for us, it isn’t necessarily that they are not defined, but probably that they don’t connect to that unconscious sense of the world that would make them work.

*Honestly, Stan Lee probably came up with the X-Men by reading all the mutant science fiction that was all the rage in the 50’s and 60’s science fiction magazines. PK Dick’s best “mutant stories” THE GOLDEN MAN, PSI MAN HEAL MY CHILD and WORLD OF TALENT came out in 1954 and 1955 and mutants are generally all over his novels because they had been a big part of science fiction for years. Theodore Sturgeon’s MORE THAN HUMAN came out in '53, and AE Van Vogt’s SLAN - very similar to the X-Men- came out years before in 1946.

It would be interesting to compare the Marvel Comics directly to the science fiction stories and films that were being published before or around the same time. I think it’s very likely The Amazing Colossal Man and The Fly were inspirations for The Hulk and Spider-Man, for example. Captain Mar-Vell is virtually the same character as Klaatu and his original series had a giant robot like Gort, too. In a lot of ways, the Marvel Superheroes are heroic versions of science fiction monsters.

So, it’s interesting to see how the heroes like Spawn, Venom and The New Mutants are being turned into something like horror movies.


I can see why that is done in comics because if they get any more specific, it would make the story dated, like Watchmen and Batman DKR with the Cold War in the backdrop.

We can get into stories that remain classic vs. dated but let me say this…

Personally, the storytelling of a comic is everything to me. The artwork counts, but it seldom makes up for major plot holes in a bad story.

As for movies, sometimes the special effects, set design, acting, etc, can make up for a weak screenplay like the original Jurassic Park, the original Blade Runner, etc. but again the overall plot and story has to be sound for me.

Just saying…


What? :open_mouth:



I understand that real writing has to provide background and introductory material as a setup. Some readers however want to cut to the chase so you have all this amateur fan fiction online. It can be tough in reading a multi part story to go through the “boring” beginning. I blame it on short attention span and wanting the payoff asap.


Blade Runner is an interesting film compared to the novel. There isn’t a lot of direct connection between the style and tone of the book and the film.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is primarily a satire. Not only a satire on the hard-boiled detective story but also on the consumerism of the 50’s and 60’s and how people could be blind to the pure inhumanity of their lives. Dick’s writing actually has more in common with Vonnegut or Pynchon (who I imagine actually read his work pretty deeply as they were contemporaries) than any of the other science fiction writers at the time. This is pretty much why you never saw Dick or his stories appear very much in the science fiction shows of the 60’s even though plenty of SF writers were working in television too.

The novel begins with a domestic spat between Deckard and his wife over the settings on their respective mood stimulators. His wife Iran has it set on depression which Rick is astonished to find out actually is a setting. He sets it on bickersome to give him more impetus to argue and she just sets it on more bickersome. They finally decide to just turn the damn thing off and he goes to work.

That sets the tone for the entire novel as it really was a series of scenes about Deckard’s daily life that were just a step or two off from reality. There’s a scene where Deckard goes to a stockyard to check out a sheep that he’s saving to buy. In the future - set after a couple nuclear and biological wars - animals are mostly extinct so owning and caring for a live one is a status symbol. Deckard has an electric sheep which mimics real life, but it is a deep source of shame, like owning a knockoff brand.

However, the scene is really a sharp parody of the “buying a new car” trope that shows up so often in movies and television. The car was the status symbol of the time, and you can imagine the stockyard dressed up to look like a cadillac dealership with the salesman wearing designer overalls guiding Deckard pass impossibly clean and stylized stalls of animals.

The story does get dark and psychologically disturbing by the end, but much more like Gilliam’s Brazil than like Blade Runner. It remains comedic throughout.

Dick started as a straight novelist basically chronicling the absurdity he saw in his daily life. When he started exploring the same themes against science fiction, futuristic concepts was when he found his muse, but he was always writing about life as he perceived it in the present rather than speculating on what life would be like in the future.


I feel like this is something that often gets missed in adaptations of Dick’s work. His writing was often very funny, and frequently absurd. I can definitely see the Vonnegut comparison.

I feel like the best Dick adaptation in terms of capturing that tone was probably this:



The things with characters are they are rather finite. I mean Batman is basically about childhood trauma, Superman is an orphan, Spiderman is about guilt and being misunderstood and so on.

There is a lot you can do with character given their origin like with Batman but in the end he has a bat costume and gimmicks like giving him super powers only cheapen the characterization. Making Superman stripped of his powers for a while can be interesting like having Xavier walk but can only last for so long. Now, there is a gimmick with Marvel of some Hulk with adamantium like Wolverine and even Wolverine has some new power.

I am just saying that writers should work within the given premises and not go beyond them with cheap gimmicks. Give some more dimension to the characters.

I would also go so far as to limit the comics out there and go for quality stories not quantity that a smart audience would never go for anyway.


Another thing is not advancing the storyline of a comic title but a writer doing things on a given run and reversing all the changes back to the beginning. Nothing really changes no one dies or stays dead for long, no one gets married, etc.


Claremont and Wolfman were doing that on X-MEN and TEEN TITANS in the 80’s. Also, honestly, Image has kept doing that. Spawn is still the continuation of the story from the first issue. Savage Dragon may be the longest continuing American superhero comic still ongoing. Obviously, it’s the expectation for Manga and European comics (which usually conclude as well). Prior to the 80’s, the American comics were written to be mostly unchanging so you could later read any issue mostly in any order except for unusual cases like the death of Gwen Stacy which introduced an important change for Spider-Man.

However, following Crisis on Infinite Earths, that introduced the idea of rebooting the entire line which had had something like a reboot with the introduction of Earth 2 and other parallel Earths to explain inconsistencies between decades of comics. Crisis actually did away with all the parallel Earths to unify the line yet here we are back with a Multiverse approach even in the television shows.

Personally, I don’t see why continuity is considered so important these days. Back in the old days, there would be editorial notes mentioning stories in other issues to encourage readers to get them, but today there is almost too many crossover events to keep track to the point that you almost can’t read some books because they are part of some story overlapping a dozen titles.


They did and gradually on the X-Men from X-Factor #1 (Jean returned and Scott back from what was intended to be permanent retirement to live happily ever after only a couple of months earlier) until Claremont quit after Harras preferred moves back to the status quo and plot it mostly with Jim Lee and leave him as scripter. Rather than an ever ongoing changing tale he had planned with Xavier to be killed off etc.

That was also easier to manage on team books, on the X-Men in particular the team changed a lot so in theory you could go for 60 years or whatever always moving the characters forward (although that then causes issues if they are in the same universe as Spider-Man who needs to remain forever young - or at least youngish). DC tried the legacy path for solo books but eventually it all reverted too.


I think that for long-running characters like Superman and Batman, you shouldn’t be trying to change them. Character growth is for finite stories, for novels, with a beginning, middle, and end. If your character has a growth arc, his story must have an end, and I mean a proper end, close the book, write no more about the character. Superman has had eleventy-billion pages of story and the end is not yet even in sight. He’s never going through a proper character arc the way a character in a novel can. Growth and change is for Jean Valjean, not Clark Kent.

If you want to write Superman, don’t change Superman. If you have “an exciting new take” on Superman, don’t write Superman. Because Superman stories aren’t about Superman changing, they are about an established character reacting in predictable ways to external things. Superman doesn’t need a character arc any more than Magnum P.I. needed a character arc. He is what he is, work with it.


Everybody always forgets Levitz on LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES :frowning:


It’s because nobody ever read that book, David.


To be fair and to ease David from the teasing that actually was the rare point in the history of comics where the Legion was one of their top selling books. :smile:

It and Teen Titans were picked for the direct sales experiment because they were the top 2 selling DC books pre Crisis.


And (arguably) was a top selling book because it was written as an ever-changing soap opera, exactly in the style of the X-Men and the Titans. People apparently liked that style of storytelling.


Definitely, it can’t be denied that was what was popular in the 1980s and with a wide audience as wide distribution meant Uncanny X-Men often topped 600,000 sales a month. You could add in Byrne’s FF too which did much the same.