Introducing …

Reading some of DC’s New 52 this week has me thinking about how we introduce our characters—and in the case of protagonists, make them impressive.
DEATHSTROKE: Legacy by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett starts out with Deathstroke’s agent, Christoph, informing readers Deathstroke, AKA Slade Wilson is “the scariest badass on the planet” and goes on for four more pages explaining how incredibly awesome Deathstroke is. This is actually pertinent to the story (Christoph is buttering Wilson up to convince him to take on some assistants) but as Mighty God King observed some while back (link is not to that post specifically) it comes off as if Higgins wants to convince newbies how utterly awesome Deathstroke is and can’t think of a better way. We get to see Deathstroke in action during Christoph’s speech and by comic-book standards, it ain’t that impressive.
Impressing us by how people react to or talk about a character is one way to capture what (s)he is like. The reaction of the crooks in The Lost Oasis, for instance, says a lot about how dangerous Doc Savage is. But Doc, of course, was written to be every bit as formidable as he’s painted. Talk by itself won’t do much if the character turns out to be underwhelming (I wouldn’t go that far with Deathstroke, but other than being a thorough scumbag, he doesn’t live up to Christoph’s babble). As I mentioned reviewing <strong>Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire spends half the book preparing us for the onslaught of the unstoppable Covenant, then gives us hoods who could have stepped out of a TV crime thriller.
Being tough is at least something it’s easy to demonstrate. It’s really a problem, as Orson Scott Card once observed, with beauty: no amount of telling us how hot the character looks will have the impact of seeing a hot man or woman in the flesh (or a movie). The same with charm: Judith Tarr wrote a novel some years back in which the hero is apparently overflowing with charisma, as people are constantly falling over themselves to make a special exception or do him a favor. For the life of me, I couldn’t see why (a problem I touch on here).
AQUAMAN: The Trench, by Geoff Johsn and Ivan Reis, does a much better job. When Aquaman shows up to stop a robbery, people aren’t impressed by him: He’s that goofy guy who talks to fish, what can he do on dry land? To their surprise, he takes the robbers down easily.
Starting out with unimpressed characters and winning them over works much better than the bombast of Deathstroke. It doesn’t set up expectations, and it makes Aquaman look that much cooler by contrast. That being said, I don’t entirely buy it: it feels more like it’s written for new fans who know Aquaman as the punch line on Entourage jokes than an established super-hero. Even allowing that it’s a “new” DC Universe, I think he’d have more cred than this.
I’ll go into more detail on both TPBs in my next book-review post.

2 Comments

Filed under Comics, Reading, Writing

2 responses to “Introducing …

  1. Pingback: Graphic novels | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Books that aren’t graphic novels | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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