Injecting drama

23 Dec
By Darryl Ayo

The superhero comic book writer faces an impossible task. This person is asked on a continual basis to be at once engaging and to cause no significant change in his or her domain. It’s what people often refer to as “zen-like.” Paradoxical. The job is less “writer” and more “steward.” As condescending and dismissive as that sounds, I mean it with a great deal of kindness to the precarious nature of the occupation.

When one reads heroic fiction, we are accustomed to a certain range of story possibilities and a certain range of behaviors of the primary heroes. Often it is said of Superman and Wonder Woman that these characters are boring or that they have no personalities. The characters are presented with a sort of even-temperament that is perhaps ever-so-slightly conservative by the day’s standards and coupled with an abnormally high depiction of tenacity and personal bravery. Which is a pretty big cop-out as far as I’m concerned because it’s the easiest thing in the world to have a fictional character present “integrity” and “bravery,” since there is literally no consequence to a make-believe person’s bravery. I digress.

When people say that Wonder Woman, for example, is boring and has no good ideas behind it, there’s two things going on: the continual lack of memorable Wonder Woman stories is combining with the even-tempered stoic nature of the heroic lead character to work against the entire enterprise. Wonder Woman is no worse a character than its more popular counterparts and those counterparts are no more vibrant of personalities. What makes the Wonder Woman character seem more boring than Batman, for example, is that people emotionally connect to pleasant past experiences with that character. Side-by-side, Bruce Wayne/Batman is no more fun than Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. They both read like extremely boring people. I would not want to hang out with either character in either of their dual personalities. My ability to enjoy Batman stories more than Wonder Woman stories stems entirely from having a wider scope from which to choose.

Batman has no discernible personality. Neither does Wonder Woman. Nor Superman. They are all just about alike with the pitch frequency adjusted in small ways. Batman is cold. Superman is kind. Wonder Woman is kinder. Wonder Woman is also stoic. Batman is also stoic. More stoic.

There is something else that makes Batman and Superman interesting, which Wonder Woman now has. These characters all represent paragons of virtue, but don’t feel like “people” to the reader. They’re meant as ideas to be looked up to, not characters to be related to. In order to get any human feeling into these stories, heroic fiction comics learned fairly early that they’ve got to have some kind of avatar for the reader. Some kind of actual real character in a role close enough to the “hero” (non-literary sense) that the story is overall granted emotion by proxy. Batman adopted Robin. Superman had his pal Jimmy Olsen and his girlfriend Lois Lane. Now, Wonder Woman has a co-star to feel emotions and experience story development in her stead as well: Zola.

Zola exists because even the most passionate Wonder Woman fans cannot agree about “who Wonder Woman is.” Zola exists because Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, J. Michael Straczynski, Bill Messner-Loebs all followed William Marston and couldn’t seem to get their versions to stick in the collective consciousness for long. Zola exists because Wonder Woman is still too valuable of a product to start pinning down an individualistic personality for so late in the game.

(C) DC Comics. Wonder Woman #2. “Home.” Art: Cliff Chiang, Writer: Brian Azzarello.

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One Response to “Injecting drama”

  1. ross December 23, 2011 at 3:35 am #

    awesome post.

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