Teasing and hints

Last weekend I finished Astro City: The Dark Age, a 16-issue long arc in the Astro City universe which takes the characters from the seventies—when comics were starting to get darker and grimmer—into the eighties as the “grim and gritty” tone became far more dominant. Although in Astro City, the arrival of the super-hero Samaritan turned things around sooner than in the DC or Marvel universes.
The Dark Age also tells something author Kurt Busiek has been hinting about since the second issue of the series, about 15 years ago: The tragedy of the Silver Agent. The Agent, a Captain America-like hero who embodies the comic-book heroic ideal (I’ve always assumed the name is a variation on the Silver Age) appears in issue 2 and the narrator comments about how amazing he was and how nobody imagined what would happen to him later.
A lot of fans were curious. I wasn’t reading the book yet, but there’s another story later where we see a statue of the agent and an epitaph, “To Our Eternal Shame.” That did get me curious. And years later, we finally learn what happened (no, I’m not going to tell you here—go read it!).
I think there’s often a temptation in fiction to keep the balls in the air as much as possible. Keep the mystery mysterious. Keep the sexual tension tense. Don’t resolve it because what will you do for a story then?
This is also a huge mistake. I’ve come close to dropping Lost several times over the years because they took so damn long to explain anything (and because the characters often seem insanely uncurious about putting the puzzle pieces together). The Lois Lane/Superman/Clark Kent triangle grew more and more awkward because it makes Lois look so “galactically stupid” (in the words of Lois and Clark [of course, she’s anything but, being the only person in Metropolis to have figured out Clark is Superman]). And countless TV series have sweated and strained to keep the protagonists apart to keep the sexual tension up, and eventually it gets ridiculous (I was so pleased to see Chuck finally resolve Chuck and Sarah).
The same thing is true of premises in general: At some point it’s necessary to realize that what started the series has to go. As I blogged about The Invaders, the series had to twist and contort its logic to rationalize that David Vincent could never prove to the authorities that Earth was being invaded.
Compare that to Alias, which solves the problem of Sydney Bristow working as a double-agent inside SD-6 (can she keep sabotaging her missions without them suspecting anything?) by eventually taking the organization down.
Spider-Man suffers from being betwixt and between: The series’ Silver Age run was famous for being willing to change things: Peter ages, graduates high school and goes to college, and changes from the shy unloved geek to a guy with close friends and a beautiful girlfriend. The running problem for later writers, as detailed in Spider-Man Confidential, is how to keep things changeable and surprising while also keeping Peter from becoming successful, content and happy (the other key to the series’ success being that with all his powers, Peter still winds up with the short end of the lollipop). It’s a tough act to pull off.
The Silver Agent mystery worked because he was only a minor mystery, never part of the Astro City backbone and only used occasionally before the resolution. Most writers aren’t that lucky.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Teasing and hints

  1. Pingback: What was Lost is found « Fraser Sherman’s Blog

  2. Pingback: Two down « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: More on arcs: Rewatching Lost (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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