plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Response to Ragnell's Question (Unabridged)

Ragnell posted last night asking whether something she'd written previously in regard to the Green Lantern refrigerator scene comes across as a justification of the trope of harming members of the supporting cast for the purpose of developing the hero. I said in comments that I didn't think that it did, because the trope really can't be justified, and I promised to elaborate further here because my reasons for saying it are so complex and multifaceted.

*edit* not as much as I thought they were, as it turns out*

The first thing is that I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense. More accurately, it does and it doesn't. Starting from the end goal and working backward through the events, as Ragnell does, it almost works. The goal is to develop Kyle as a character by in this case putting him through some of the risks involved in being a superhero, and to get him to make a break with his old life. Another goal is to show how nasty the villain, Major Force is. Working backward, a common way of doing this is to harm a loved one. So we create a loved one, and give her a fairly developed and likable personality. The villain drops some hints, shows up while the hero is out, there's a struggle, then the hero returns to find the girlfriend dead. It hits the beats and solves the puzzle. But...does it solve the puzzle well?

This is where I have to say no. Like I said, starting at the goal and working backwards, it kind of makes sense. There's a sense that things have to happen a certain way in order for the end goal to be realized. Working forward, though, it really doesn't make much sense at all.

The main problem is with the villain's motivation. Why does he want to hurt the hero at all? Does he see Kyle as an obstacle to his primary goal? Well, given that in this case his goal is to get the ring that's on Kyle's finger, I suppose he is an obstacle. So why not just go after the hero directly and try to kill him, rather than hurting the girlfriend? Somewhere along the line there has to be an indication that there is greater value in going after the girlfriend than in going after the hero himself, and that there is greater value in killing her than in, say kidnapping her (on this point I'm a bit confused. Is he supposed to just be a general homicidal maniac, or just a somewhat unstable government agent?). If the villain is thinking "I'll show him it's dangerous to mess with me," well, that kind of fails in that it wasn't particularly dangerous to the hero. When the deed is done, he still has all of his totally rad powers, and now in addition he has become an even bigger obstacle to the villain's goals because he is pissed off and has a personal stake in stopping him. If the goal is solely to get the ring, Major Force's actions don't make much sense. If the goal is to demonstrate his threat level, he kind of fails there, too. He's just another in a long line of super powered people who has murdered a non-powered person, which is pretty unspectacular. In the end he has demonstrated that he is mean and willing to kill people, but we already knew that. He's willing to kill Kyle, too; he just happens to fail at that.

Now, stepping outside of this one specific story to look at the cliché in general, the point of the villain's motivation is where it most often falls flat. Hurting the hero's loved ones is never going to stop the hero from ruining the villain's plans. So while from an extra-textual perspective it may satisfy the author's plot requirements, intra-textually it doesn't satisfy the villain's goals, and in fact often works against them (this is not such a big deal for explicitly revenge-motivated villains, like Venom). Now, some villains work against their own goals all the time and don't even realize it, but the text knows, if that makes sense. It's sold to the reader. When villains go after the heroes' loved ones, they may accomplish something for the writer, but what do they accomplish for themselves?

The other element that makes the convention a problem is the girlfriend. She is a character, and so presumably she has an arc of her own, which generally culminates with her death. Again, extra-textually, we know it's really about the hero. His name's on the cover. He won't be dying or getting permanently injured, and everything that happens in the book is his story. But inside the text, she is the victim. It's important to know that her death is necessary for her arc. There needs to be a purpose for her arc to intersect with that of the villain other than just "we need her dead so the hero can be driven to the edge." Otherwise it's just a plot point, and she, rather than being a character in her own right, is really just an extension of the hero. Killing her becomes the equivalent of cutting an arm off of the hero or something. She doesn't really have a purpose of her own; she doesn't need to be there. That's lazy writing. There's nothing particularly sexist about it until we contextualize it, until we realize that it exists in a world in which women really have been seen as appendages of the men in their lives for a very long time.

So kill away, writers, but keep in mind how and keep in mind why, is what I guess I'm saying.

Also, to answer the question that Ragnell actually asked: no, I wouldn't consider that paragraph a justification of the phenomenon. There's a difference between explaining the logic behind an instance of the convention and justifying it even in itself, let alone the entire phenomenon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wizard World 2006 impressions

Well, I had an awesome time at Wizard World this weekend. It's been about three years since the last time I was there and pretty much nothing has changed. Well actually it did seem to be a bit louder than I remember (thank you, Spike TV).

On Friday I met up with 100littledolls and Shions_Glasses and they are some fine folks. We wandered around mocking silly things for a while, which was not as difficult as you might think, and there was the flier-ing. I'm not saying any names, but someone was clearly handing out fliers and seemed to always be one step ahead of us. Someone may have been slipping them into Frank Miller, Frank Cho and Dave Sim books, and may have been putting some in such inconspicuous places as the men's room. Indeed, wherever there were boobs on robots for no reason, there was a flyer. Also, I've heard legends that someone handed a flier to ol' Pornface himself. The highlight of this alleged flier-ing-that-may-have-happened was that some young women walked past a stack of them, picked one up, read it, and then went up to whoever was putting them out (I swear I don't know who it was) and asked for a stack of them to aid in their placement.

Later, while touring artists' alley (*cough* ghetto *cough*) looking for some of my artist friends I finally found the answer to the Great Supergirl Underwear Question (yes) and that Barbara Gordon gets Brazilians. I have to admit that I never really noticed this kind of thing in my earlier years of attending the show, though it was undoubtedly there. But now that I know how to spot it, I can't shut it off. Every time I turned my head it was there. I kept walking around going "hello, boobs!" "hello, crotch!"

We found ourselves getting the giggles when in the proximity of Dirk Benedict at the snack area, and repeatedly had to stifle ourselves whenever he looked over at us, which of course just made us laugh more. Lousy giggle-loop.

The Peter David writing panel on Saturday was SRO by the time I got there, but I hung out anyway and found it informative and entertaining. He's a pretty funny guy and the hour was up before anyone noticed.

I also went to the Vertigo panel, the highlight of which for me was Bob Shreck's exasperated "Yes, we'll think about reprinting Kill Your Boyfriend..." when a fan asked. Apparently he gets asked that a lot. But I know I loved it when it first came out and I'd love for younger readers to have the opportunity to read it without having to go to great lengths to track it down.

$10. That's what I paid for a Knob Creek at the Hyatt Bar. I must have been out of my mind, but it was exactly what I needed at the time. After two days at the con from open to close a good drink helped.

Sorry I missed the When Fangirls Attack folks, though I can hardly be blamed as they were so inconspicuous as to be wearing matching blue shirts. I did see Johanna running around on Friday, but didn't stop to introduce myself.

And now for my scores:

The first three volumes of Runaways, which I of course loved

Essential Marvel Two-in-One, so I could read what Jim's been writing about

Another Little Lulu collection for my son (we read these at bedtime every night, and I was getting weary of the one volume over and over)

The first two volumes of Astro Boy

Most of the Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker run on The Shadow from the late 80's, which I had heard was some crazy shit (it is)

110 per¢

Babel #2 (I have to wait and read this one last, because David B. is so damn good that he tends to ruin me for all other comics for about a month after I read his stuff, and I don't want my reading of the rest of the material to be a chore)

So there it is, my con experience. I hope other attendees had fun, and didn't have a hangover every day like I did.

On an administrative note, I have darkened my background image in the hope of improving readability. Let me know how it worked.