Friday, November 16, 2018

Riters! Don't be igdolent.

Please be careful when you are writing characters who are smarter than you are.  And by that I mean, characters who are smarter than you are, not just characters who are smarter than you think you are.

This warning applies not only to obviously not-smart writers (like the recent Aquaman writer who made fun of my criticism of his work on Aquaman, only to get canned quickly after when other readers had the same view I did).  It applies also to writers like, say, James Robinson, whose outstanding work on re-creating Starman for the '90s and whose imaginative use of Opal City as its setting can be credited with reaffirming the utility of DC's fictionopolises, and whose work on that series I read faithfully (even as it degenerated into an incomprehensible plot-bog of evil midgets, because, I suppose, none of us were really safe from the effect of "Twin Peaks" on pop culture).

Miguelito Loveless woulda kicked this guy's ass.

That's the same James Robinson who is currently writing what already feels like a 17-part exposition-fest in Detective about "Two-Face versus Kobra" for no discernible reason, when 'Two-Face versus Kobra" seems like a story that should be told in one page and resolved with Delicious Hostess Fruit Pies.  Props to artist Carmine DiGiandomenico; it LOOKS absolutely gorgeous, so much so that I've actually gone back and 'read' it more than once (without looking at any of the words, of course, because only two issues in I've already reached the point where I expect an evil midget to pop up).

Who knows? That's a big place, there may be an evil midget hiding in there somewhere.

This story is the latest exercise in misunderstanding Two-Face and treating him shallowly under a stupid 'face-pun' title (credit where credit is due: "Deface the Face" is outstandingly stupid). But I'm not here to pick on James Robinson for not understanding Two-Face or even for not understanding how to plot.

I'm here to pick on him for not understanding the words he's using.

Batman has to use an ersatz code-name for Alfred as he chats with him from the field, because Two-Face can hear him (credit where credit is due: it has always been REALLY stupid that Batman just calls Alfred "Alfred" all the time on comms, and the occasional stabs at creating a more usable code-name for him-- like "PennyOne"--have been worse than laughable).  Alfred, who should probably just be glad he's not named Alexa, bridles at his latest stupid codename: "Voice".

By the way, Mr. Dent is not 'in attendance"; it's not a dinner party or a theater show.  
Mr. Dent is "present".  

Alfred refers to it as a 'nom-de-plume'... which it most certainly is NOT.  A 'nom-de-plume' is the name an author writes under (as distinguished from their actual name), such as "George Sand" being the male nom-de-plume of female French writer Amantine Dupin. It literally means "name for the pen"; it's not a synonym for pseudonym, and is used only for pen-names. And Alfred is NOT a writer.

At least now we know who is to blame for the character of Magog and why he's so stupid.

Okay, fine: in CURRENTLY CONTINUITY Alfred is not a writer.  

In this case, it's almost as if Alfred doesn't know the term "nom-de-guerre"... which ALFRED certainly does, even if James Robinson doesn't.

Even wacked-out Elizabeth Kane knows it.

Later on, Robinson has Alfred describe 'Orphan' (speaking of stupid code-names...!) as "an ample opponent":

Resisting the urge to make an obvious Rowland Atkinson joke.

Opponents are not "ample"; superheroes are not "ample".

Okay, fine; MOST superheroes aren't ample.

"Ample" refers to nimiety; it's about the quantity or supply of something.  One can meet 'ample resistance' but not have an 'ample opponent'.  Seems to me as if Robinson is just playing horseshoes with the dictionary and when you are a writer for a living that's unacceptable (especially in English, where you have a LOT of words to work with).  

Robinson's--well, I think I have little choice but to call it "ignorance", despite the large number of English words at my disposal--Robinson's ignorance infects Two-Face's dialogue as well:

It doesn't take a day for a tailor to make a 'Two-Face' suit; would it have killed them to give him a Two-Face suit?! You just know he has an ample supply of them.

Not everyone nowadays knows who or what Pollyanna refers to, but it couldn't be easier to look up.  Robinson here mistakenly has Two-Face use the term to mean 'a goody two-shoes', which is NOT what it means. Pollyanna means someone who is relentlessly positive, cheery, and optimistic regardless of the circumstances.  Honk if you think that's an appropriate description for Batman.

Also, in what world would Two-Face NOT choose to use the phrase 'goody TWO shoes" when it's an option?!

I have little choice to conclude that Robinson is a darned lazy writer if he can't be bothered to make sure he knows the meanings of the words he's shoving down the mouths of characters (and which would explain a LOT about how he plots... or fails to). 


Bryan L said...

Once upon a time, James Robinson was "must read" for me, but that's no longer true. I haven't been impressed with anything he's done in some time, maybe since Starman. I feel, rightly or wrongly, that as an "up and coming" writer he was trying harder, but it seems like that was mostly because he planned to use comics to launch his screenwriting career. When that fizzled, I feel like he slunk back to comics, and is largely phoning it in. (Did I read somewhere that he had lots of personal issues during his screenwriting days? Can't find it with the Google.)

I also think that some of the specific errors you point out would have gotten fixed by an editor 20 years ago, but I'm not certain anyone edits comics now, in the sense of correcting mistakes. Editors seem to be administrative positions, and I often wonder if they even read the titles they "edit." For all I know, they may not even have the authority to change the "superstar" writer's work. And the work is poorer for it.

Scipio said...

I couldn't agree more with your observations about modern-day editors.

Gary said...

Bryan L pretty much summed up my thoughts on Robinson; loved Starman and The Golden Age (which was probably my first introduction to his stuff) and even some of his Justice League of America wasn't terrible from memory, but over the years, less and less of his output interests me.

John said...

To be (well, nearly) fair, if Robinson was a more talented and subtle writer, these errors might well be intentional, given how much of his early work seemed to be about "exposing" superheroes as barely-functional morons. I mean, my problem with _The Golden Age_ had much less to do with growing up reading _All-Star Squadron_ than the fact that every single character had the same back-story and characterization, with only gradations of blood-thirstiness to distinguish them.

I'd say I don't understand why DC keeps bringing him back, but there are so many people I'd say that about (or ask how they maintained power for so long despite bad behavior) that I think it's unfortunately rather clear. Or, perhaps more in the spirit of the post, less "clear" than "transubstantiated"...

Speaking of which, while I can't say I recommend it, I've been watching some of the DC Super-Hero Girls movies (I guess) on Netflix, and while some of it is mildly entertaining, Starfire's entire deal appears to specifically be that she has a poor vocabulary. I'm not convinced it's more acceptable here than when a writer is trying to be smart and misses the mark.

But hey, at least it's all faster to read than John "I bet I can fill the entire panel with unnecessary words" Byrne trying to write smart characters, right...?

Jonathan Hendry said...

Maybe he used "Pollyanna" but was thinking "Cassandra" - as in, Batman voicing concern over Two-Face's wounds and Two-Face dismissing him as a Cassandra. Which is also not quite right, but perhaps it would have been meant sarcastically.

Scipio said...

Two-Face's "flesh wounds" quote refers not to his own wounds (he gets none) but to Batman's insistence that Two-Face not shoot to kill.

cybrid said...

"it has always been REALLY stupid that Batman just calls Alfred "Alfred" all the time on comms"


Because the name "Alfred" is immediately recognizable as the name of Bruce Wayne's butler? How many people in Gotham City even know the name of Bruce Wayne's butler?

cybrid said...

(I could, of course, ask this sort of question about many, many other super-villains)

As you perceive it, what is Two-Face's mission statement?

Is it to kill as many people as possible? Nice mission statement, dude.

Is it to kill, specifically, the Batman?

Is it to get rich? In-universe, he's been an active criminal since Dick Grayson was age twelve or so, shouldn't he ALREADY be rich by now? How much richer does he need to be?

Is it...well, that's just it, that's all there is, there isn't any more. Not that I can think of right off, anyway.

cybrid said...

"how much of [Robinson's] early work seemed to be about "exposing" superheroes as barely-functional morons"

(checks Wikipedia)

Well, OF COURSE he's British, what else WOULD he be...?

cybrid said...

(did I somehow kill the thread? sorry about that)

Just one other thing: It seems to be taken for granted that we (the readership) will recognize the "ample" super-heroine and her associates. Alas, I do not. Any effort to enlighten my clueless self would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Bryan L said...

She goes by two names, Cybrid. Faith is the character's actual name, and Zephyr is her superhero name. She is a character from Valiant Comics, and is actually rather interesting.

Villain mission statements are something that has bothered me for a while. Now that we are all grim and gritty, mostly they seem to be colorful serial killers, like the Joker. He's popular, so every grotesque villain must therefore be a crazed serial killer.

I preferred it when they were simply criminals who stole, with the occasional murder thrown in. The problem with the whole serial killer mission statement is that each writer tends to try to "top" the previous ones. And once you've had Joker nuke a city, where do you go from there?

Again, it goes back to a lack of editorial oversight and control. There's no vision for the DC Universe, so pretty much anything goes. They keep hitting "reset" but then slide right back into the same "model" within a few months.

cybrid said...

Okay, thanks for the answer. :-)

Something I find mildly interesting is that, per the real world's standards, The Joker, Two-Face, and most if not all of the rest of the Batman foes in Arkham Asylum aren't legally insane.

In order to qualify for an insanity defense, the defendant must, at the time of his or crime(s), have been unable to recognize or understand that what he or she was doing was illegal/wrong (whether or not they comprehend that after the fact is irrelevant). It doesn't matter how insane the reasons for their actions might have been, all that matters is if they knew that they were BREAKING THE LAW.

Not only are Batman's enemies fully aware that they are breaking the law, I'm not right off recalling any who even have non-reality-based motives for doing so.

Real-world serial killer Herbert Mullin (b. 1947) murdered his victims because he, supposedly, believed that voices in his head were telling him that their deaths were the only way to prevent earthquakes. He supposedly thought he was acting for the greater good.

Another such killer, Richard Chase (1950-1980), murdered his victims because he, supposedly, believed that their deaths would prevent "Nazi UFOs" from killing him. He supposedly thought he was acting in self-defense.

NEITHER of those guys qualified for an insanity defense because no matter why they supposedly murdered their victims, they knew that it was illegal/wrong to do so. Richard Chase was sentenced to death (although he committed suicide before he could be executed). Herbert Mullin received a life sentence and remains in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California, to this day.

Unless I'm much mistaken, The Joker is well aware that he is breaking the law. So is Two-Face. So is the Ventriloquist, Black Mask, the Riddler (who has a genuine mental disorder that drives him to leave clues to his own crimes (unless that's changed)), Harley Quinn, the Mad Hatter, even Maxie Zeus has enough of a grasp on reality to understand that his actions break "mortal laws." All of them legally sane. Yet there they are in Arkham. What does that even mean?

By real-world standards, there is NOTHING to keep The Joker (and any number of other Batman foes) from receiving a death sentence.

To veer off and get even more extreme, Albert Fish (1870-1936) was a child rapist, serial killer, and cannibal whose jury concluded that he was indeed insane...but they declared him to be "sane" and thus guilty anyway, because they thought he deserved to die, and as a result, the judge condemned him to death. So even if this that or the other Batman foe IS insane...the system can legally execute him, anyway, because, seriously, is there a jury in the world who, if given the chance, would not take the opportunity to facilitate The Joker's execution?

So, you know, there's that, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I want to use a fancy word, I just say "cul-de-sac". Works every single time.

About code names, Batman could be a real jerk and call everyone "Jimmy", "Lois", etc.

It could be there are two writers named James Robinson and the bad one is riding the coattails of the good one. But I have a simpler explanation: Robinson thinks he's above comics (in exactly the way Stan Lee didn't), and sees it as his calling to illustrate how he's above them. Fine Robinson, I get that superheroes aren't exactly realistic, and in fact could not even work in the real world. And I'm mighty proud of you for figuring that out, but if that's how you intend to write comics, I'm not interested. I'll leave you to your own cul-de-sac.

Glad to see you're back at the blog. Have you been watching any TV? Any thoughts?

Bryan L said...

I don't find the criminal justice system in Gotham as unbelievable as the lack of vengeful loved ones, Cybrid. It's inconceivable to me that a family member of one of Joker's thousands (Millions? Is the nuke thing still in continuity?) of victims hasn't killed him. Powerful weaponry is easily available to anyone in the US, and if you're not already trained, a few classes will take care of that. You don't need to be Rambo -- really all you need is willingness and no concern for consequences, including your own death.

I feel like there'd be so many enraged vigilantes chasing every villain in Gotham that they'd probably have traffic jams on the way to crime scenes. These guys aren't invulnerable. Somebody would have capped them long ago. They really only "work" on a lot of levels if they don't constantly murder indiscriminately.

I think the real problem is laziness. Most comic writers don't want to put in the time to figure out clever crimes and have Batman follow clues and be a detective. It's much easier to write "Joker murders 60 people in restaurant. Batman shows up. Big fight. Joker dropped off at Arkham. The End."

That also ties into Anonymous' comment about Robinson thinking he's "too good" for comics. I think a lot of comic writers consider themselves "temporarily embarrassed" screenwriters or novelists. They're not going to put a lot of thought into something that makes a quick buck, if they can save it to use elsewhere.

cybrid said...

"It's inconceivable to me that a family member of one of Joker's thousands (Millions? Is the nuke thing still in continuity?) of victims hasn't killed him."

To me it's at least as inconceivable that an employee of Arkham Asylum hasn't killed The Joker during one of his confinement periods, where he's basically at their mercy 24/7. It's been established that Arkham Asylum is, to understate things, not at all a good place to seek quality medical attention. Poison his food, inject him with an air bubble, heck, riddle him with bullets from the safety of the corridor outside his cell. Because the truth is, if someone killed The Joker, NO ONE WOULD CARE. No jury in the world would convict the guy who killed The Joker. That guy would be swimming in book deals and ticker-tape parades. People would be lining up to nominate that guy for President.

The "problem" is that, In Real Life, DC Comics will NEVER allow The Joker to die because he's just too popular a character. Which, ultimately, is why Batman CAN'T kill The Joker. Batman could run The Joker's brain through a cheese grater and chop his body into ten thousand pieces to be buried in ten thousand different places, and somehow, in some way, The Joker would STILL return. And then Batman would have to face the fact that he'd violated his most cherished moral principles for nothing.

The problem is less that Batman refuses to kill The Joker than that the GCPD and/or Arkham Asylum SO INCREDIBLY SUCKS at keeping him locked away.

When Batman foils The Joker's schemes and takes The Joker into custody, he is intervening in crimes-in-progress and detaining a wanted fugitive, both actions that AFAIK are perfectly legal. KILLING The Joker would NOT be legal and it isn't Batman's prerogative to do so; that prerogative belongs to the criminal justice system and for whatever reasons the criminal justice system has DECLINED. In Real Life, an elected official who repeatedly refused to order the execution of a man who has probably murdered more people than Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein put together would be at perpetual risk of being forced from office if not assassinated outright.

It's just that DC writers don't stop to think about these things, that's all.

It should always be remembered that Batman is under no obligation to do ANYTHING about The Joker (or about any other criminal for that matter; he only fights crime because he wants to and/or NEEDS to). He could make a conscious decision to NEVER interfere in The Joker's activities, to devote his efforts to every criminal in Gotham City EXCEPT for The Joker. What's Gotham City going to do about it? FIRE him?

Anonymous said...

"When Batman foils The Joker's schemes and takes The Joker into custody, he is intervening in crimes-in-progress and detaining a wanted fugitive, both actions that AFAIK are perfectly legal. KILLING The Joker would NOT be legal and it isn't Batman's prerogative to do so; that prerogative belongs to the criminal justice system and for whatever reasons the criminal justice system has DECLINED."

I am so on board with you on this. For all the tortured explanations of why Batman doesn't kill the Joker, people overlook the obvious: Batman doesn't believe in killing, and he doesn't believe he's got the right to make the call anyway.

Rule #1 of comic writing: don't write stories that tax the conceits of the genre to the limit. If you're writing stories where readers think Batman's respect for life makes him sort of an insane idiot, maybe you shouldn't take your stories in that direction.

If I were a Batman writer, I'd definitely do a story where there's a guy with hostages and a bomb, who ultimately surrenders to Batman because he knows Batman doesn't kill, no matter what. He's not willing to deal with Gotham Police because he knows they've got a SWAT team looking to take him out, but when Batman shows up and promises he'll have his day in court, dude believes him. Would have the guy explicitly make the point that Batman won't even kill the Joker.

cybrid said...

Well, IMHO calling attention to Batman not killing The Joker wouldn't be wise (calling attention to the government not killing The Joker would IMHO be something else entirely) because, ultimately, in-universe, where people don't know that DC would never allow Batman to kill The Joker, don't know that he'll inevitably return no matter what -- and after all, even Batman himself doesn't know that -- all that people can tell is that Batman places his own morals above the countless lives of The Joker's future victims.

Which, honestly, doesn't reflect well on Batman. I mean, again, seriously, NO ONE WOULD CARE if someone murdered The Joker, not even if the murderer were Batman himself.

Sure, Commissioner Gordon claims that if Batman killed The Joker, the GCPD would hunt him down like any other murderer, but...well, I think Gordon might very well find himself a lone voice in the wilderness on that score. The GCPD is near-hopelessly corrupt, remember? And not even corrupt cops would care if The Joker was killed.

And even Batman realizes that he's not PERFECT, and if he were to deliberately place his moral code on hold JUST THAT ONCE...but of course, from real-world perspective, that would be pointless because, again, The Joker will never die.

In-universe, though, there must be a REASON that the government refuses to admit that The Joker's insanity doesn't stop him from knowing that his actions are illegal and that thus it's perfectly legal to sentence him to death.

What that reason might be, and if it's compelling enough that the government would in fact prevent Batman from killing The Joker even in a perfectly justified situation (as with intervening in crimes and capturing fugitives, it's perfectly legal to kill in self-defense (or in defense of another's life), and while in real-world terms The Joker has even less chance of killing Batman than vice versa, well, again, Batman doesn't KNOW that (on a metafictional level, The Joker might in fact know that but then, The Joker's insane)), well, THAT'D be a STORY...

Scipio said...

"Have you been watching any TV? Any thoughts?"

Yes. I have changed my mind: I no longer think it's just a fad.