Scribbler’s Saga #59 – Spandex Deficient

Posted: February 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

One possible end to a relationship that makes less sense the more you play with it…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“Man’s got to know his limitations.”

Every so often I go back and forth venturing into the Spandex (superhero) sub-genre of science fiction. Prose. Comic book scripts. Screenplays. Ignominious failure every time. And then I go do something else, admitting to the time suck of these distraction projects.

I don’t know if it’s that I hang out with comic book creators on a weekly basis and feel an oversized need to provide more examples of the signature genre of the comic book/graphic novel medium. Or that I’m distracted by colorful costumes when they finally come off an artist’s drawing board. I’ve tried several times to create spandex stories and then moved onto other types of stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres. SPLAT! I might not have enough handle on the specifics of spandex to keep doing these stories.

Mostly, I’ve failed to correctly utilize spandex in my storytelling hitting a wall of – “Why?” – with each story. Sometimes it’s my spandex villain that bellyflops into the pool off the 30-meter platform (Owwww!). Other times, I end up deciding that nothing about what the protagonist does needs a spandex persona, so why is it there? So far, this process of Wiley Coyote pancaking into the desert floor lands far worse when using legacy Big Two (DC/Marvel) characters, but it may eventually apply to my homegrown spandex people as well.

My story begins with Batman and a common whine in the comic book store – “you know, I’m not really sure I have any good ideas that take the cape.” Even though I read and see just enough Batman to understand the villains, supporting players and Gotham herself, every time I go ass in seat trying to write one I get an interesting cognitive impairment: Spandex Anemia. I end up questioning why the hell I’m using Joker (possibly the most overused Bat-villain ever) instead of Two-Face or Scarecrow.

It’s not like I somehow don’t understand the villain archetypes in that pseudo-Jungian way that most writers use and don’t admit to. It’s not like I won’t eventually write essays about Joker as a force of unbridled chaos. Or the more subtle machinations of Penguin enjoying the good life in a niche between crime boss and spandex-villain. That I don’t grok the finer points of tossing Batsie in with Selina Kyle (Catwoman) versus Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) and how each fictional woman changes the story. I recognize it at the level of busting out essays that can function as literary deconstruction. But, actually using them to tell a story…eludes me every time.

Initially, I thought it was the pressure of Batman. Enjoy the Adam West show. Enjoy the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton movies. Groove to really good examples from classic runs including Denny O’Neill or whoever and all of this can add up to the immediate need to pull a Wayne’s World – “we’re not worthy!” It’s a lot to chase Batman into good storytelling. So I sometimes went off axis trying out less fraught characters.

Superman only ever ended up being a cameo character that showed up to handle things in the background. You’d think with my three minutes of journalism training in my past I could bust out a Clark Kent Hears Something on the Scanner and Comes Back With a Pulitzer and a Victory Over Lex Luthor Story. Nope. Nada. So far, Supes has generally only appeared to do his Replace the Blown Up Jet Engine shtick from the first Christopher Reeve movie, or other similar moments where he lands making the suit looks good and it’s all over but the shouting. Besides Lois Lane deserves the Pulitzer.

And then I chased Wonder Woman as a protagonist. This one even has (had?) a title: The Widow Wayne. The plot so far…a fresh off the boat Wonder Woman marries Batman and takes over Gotham when he suddenly dies, only to realize her mistake after doing the usual comic book gymnastics to deal with the death reversal of an A-list Wait Six Months He’ll Be Back character. Okay, having Wonder Woman make a romantic mistake to be rectified with a divorce decree, kiss and agreement to be a friend with benefits has some potential but…

Not when every letter of the story in both the fan fiction and screenplay leads towards Diana resolving Bruce Wayne’s problems in the Wayne Industries boardroom. Joker showed up in a heist cameo as did Harley Quinn. I hadn’t worked out the how the Joker interacts with the unnamed somebody finding the capital to buy up Wayne Industries. Or if the Joker would be a red herring cameo (yes, the Oscar-bait murder clown is overused… but cameo? Even just thinking this heresy the Super Genius coyote just hit terminal velocity over the desert floor…) for the equally cliché trope of Lex Luthor as the purveyor of lethal boardroom jujitsu?

All of this back and forth knowing I hadn’t figured out the spandex part of the story seemed like a brick wall. Two different female opinions including – “not that it won’t be good, but, you see what you did, a Mrs. Batman story that doesn’t necessarily play to what Wonder Woman does?” – tried to warn me. I did listen after the fact because of the larger block of what to do with how spandex operates in general. That grinding teeth figuring out how Joker, Harley Quinn, Catwoman exist in this version of Gotham shared with Wonder Woman and the unspoken feminist unease that the Amazon married into the company are, in strict point of fact, manifestations of the same problem. It just isn’t a spandex story and after copying the text, I butchered it off Wattpad.

And no, mentioning the late addition about Wonder Woman filing for divorce and agreeing to an arrangement to be FWB wouldn’t have changed anything. Yes, a story that lets Wonder Woman make a mistake with Batman and stylishly fix the problem might play, but regular people make marital mistakes all the time and if I can’t figure out the why of Diana’s Lasso of Truth and patriotic one piece in the story… then why?

Moving the discussion to my homegrown characters loosely given a collective label Tales of the Angel Association (they mostly live in LA and are good guys, so double meaning on angel there…comes from having at least one ear open in English class), I do have a lot of one type of story, the origin/introduction. I have been really great at this one type of story and I’ve blundered into a decent amount of cool superhero names with either cool new powers or at least cool variations on already public domain abilities.

The Origin Story…Krypton blows up, the El family puts the boy into the Moses basket and entrusts him to good people in Kansas. Raised by the Kents, Kal-El becomes Superman. The introduction story is similar in the sense of skip over the actual mechanics of how he/she got her powers and just cut to the part where the new hero interacts with a key ally, but otherwise hangs up the same neon new hero sign that the average origin story does. But, have you noticed the weakness of these properties?

Despite at least four separate variations in all kinds of media, I have twenty or more origins for a variety of characters and precisely two regular stories that would help drive the franchise after the dust settles on the initial book. Here they are.

Dark Warrior (Batman as a younger trust fund baby exiled to Los Angeles owning a plucky record label gifted from Daddy with the instruction to find content for an in-house streaming service) endures the special line at the DMV intended to preserve spandex secret identities. Crap! When the backstory inside the parenthesis is longer than the pitch something just went SPLAT!

Or I like this one. Night Fury (the middle sister Greek Fury, Alecto, basically Wonder Woman with Hulk’s rage issues underneath being the normally sweetest woman on the planet) is currently employed at a Hollywood production company and when faced with MeToo behavior must call in her new friend, Speed Angel (Lady Flash), to help enact a response that appropriately splits the difference between full Greek Fury and roll over and give the asshole what he wants with a fake smile. The ladies choose to put Ex-Lax in the man’s coffee earning Night Fury a promotion in Hollywood when someone important sees her make the work day without the boss. Again do you see the pattern that nothing about this story needs to have any four-color spandex costuming at all?

Another thing about this body of characters and origin stories is that I’m massively light on villains. So far I have Funnyman (a wholesale looting of all things Joker) and Devius Maximus (Marvin T. Martian without the fraught blackface of the cartoon). In an early novel attempt, I did have about four other members of the Legion of Chaos, but promptly shoved them into the background. And then I added Metal Goddess (Lady Iron Man meets Firestorm) as the narrator of the operation with first person stories about all of her spandex friends and her origin journey while trying to salvage the earlier third person stories of the earlier characters using the story within a story technique of The Arabian Nights.

Where are the regular episodes of, say, Adam West Batman that pitch like this – tune in next week same Bat-channel, same Bat-time as the evil Egghead comes to Gotham seeking the Diamond Egg of Thromuria? Eventually I do have to answer this question about what happens to my heroes between the origin stories and however I end these characters. And I don’t know how to solve this conundrum, making me wonder if I should just put the characters out there in some quick and dirty origin story fashion and basically walk away to let these spandex people thrive in everyone else’s comic books.

Do I actually know my limitations?

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