Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Witless Dictionary #14--Origin Occlusion

It's a double-shot of Witless Dictionary goodness tonight. Think of it as a way to make up for not posting these for awhile and that it hasn't one jot to do with the fact I might be suspicious regarding the number "13." That is totally not it at all.

Origin Occlusion--Term describing an awful tendency among 99.9% of all comics authors wherein they cannot stop themselves from taking a hero's perfectly serviceable origin and adding in a whole bunch of nonsense in the name of "making it more consistent with things that happened afterward," (rubbish, as its inevitably rolled back or further complicated in a way that makes even more things make less sense) "Updated to the present day," (If you hear this, there's every chance the lead character will be sporting an earring and a soul patch.) or "I wanted to expand the character's origin and put a new spin on it in the style of Alan Moore's "Anatomy Lesson" story." (This is the most dangerous of the three, as the person saying it is all too often not Alan Moore.)

Examples of this include--Wolverine fights Satan every time he dies, Wolverine is actually an evolved wolf-person, Wolverine met every single damn Marvel character in his Dark and Murky past and yet no one remembers him immediately , Wolverine has a son named after an 80's hair metal band, pretty much everything that occurs in Wolverine's past is an ideal example of Origin Occlusion.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

The problem with the "Anatomy Lesson" paradigm is that most writers sort of miss the point of that story: it changed Swamp Thing. Totally and completely. It took the character in an entirely different direction. And you could do that with a fringe character like Swamp Thing - not so much with Spider-Man, because then you just end up with this huge dissonance where he should be irrevocably altered and somehow goes back to the same-old same-old again.

Kazekage said...

Well, that's the trade-off most people don't realise--it's easier to make drastic changes to a third or furth string character because there's nothing to lose.

The more prominent and established your character is, the less possible that becomes because there's more accumulated history and more of a tendency for things to run back to the established norm.

I mean, how long did Electric Superman last, after all?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Too long. Way too long. Although he was part of a whole array of attempts to make real change to Superman - and if the whole Death of Superman/Reign of the Superman deserves to be remembered at all, it should be for at least making an effort to bring something new to Metropolis.

Kazekage said...

It did drag on quite a bit, but I never once thought it was a lasting change, really--I mean, there's one superman on all the peanut butter and lunchboxes and he's not blue and sparky, so really there's only one way this could go.

It's fashionable to slag off the Death and Reign stuff, but I thought it was quite good at the time, and one of those things--just like Electric Superman--that kinda popped interest for awhile and then things more or less settled back to the status quo.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

It was certainly a bold experiment, especially with DC's most iconic character (and commercially there's no question that it was an incredible success) but it probably should've lasted a bit longer for maximum effect. As it is, the fact that he came back within a year or so only served to undermine Death in Comics further.

Kazekage said...

Possibly so--frankly, the Funeral for a Friend bit, which I thought was the best part of the whole business could have stood to go on a bit longer, actually--but again, you run into the problem of "at the end of the day, there's going to be a new Superman comic on the stands every month" and the time will eventually come when you have to pull the trigger and bring him back.

As to whether it undermined Death in Comics, wellll . . .after Jean Grey? I think it was pretty well moot, honestly. If you can reverse the few definitive stories that close a door FOR GOOD, really you've given people a blank cheque to undo everything and there's no getting the toothpaste back in the tube.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I wonder if they were concerned that a DCU functioning without Superman for too long might not need Superman to come back at all - sort of like how Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were supposed to be MIA during that "missing year" post-Infinite Crisis, and they started turning up almost immediately.

See, I tend to give Jean Grey a pass - with a codename like Phoenix and a connection to a cosmic power, she's perhaps the only character whose perpetual resurrections are justified in-story. More like Norman Osborn, IMO.

Kazekage said...

I doubt it--I have a feeling that it just went on for as long as they thought they could hot-shot it without the bottom dropping out--they dragged out Electric Superman even longer and the bottom did fall out, remember?--and then it was back to business as usual. With a mullet.

I think, when toy and toothpaste and peanut butter are there to be pushed, the best intentions of those writing the stories is always going to be in the backseat somewhat.

Well, she could work in that sense, but there's a reason her death was the high-water mark for this--it was built up to be something important and it was, and when it was negated, it definitely felt like something was gone back on, like a breach of faith. You can do it now, and that concept could work, but there's no repairing the damage undoing it did.

Norman Osborn just sucks, really. :) I've never seen anything to justify bringing him back.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

On the other hand, it's not like Superman is the company's leading character, sales-wise: I have a hard time believing he's outselling Batman given the Nolan films. So why be concerned about the bottom falling out?

Sad, but true...

Oh, the comeback was messed up, no question - especially because the plot device basically rewound Jean back to where she'd been since Uncanny #100, in a franchise that has arguably undergone the most change from its original incarnation.

I've only seen reasons to get him the hell away from me, "Sins Past" being the most obvious one.

Kazekage said...

Well, Superman will always have a certain amount of primacy because he's "first" (whatever that means) but in terms of sales, yeah, without a doubt, Batman is the leader there.

Well, if it's a fact of life, then all you can do really is either walk away from that kind of thing, or work within the rules as best you can.

The question us . . .was there any way to handle the comeback that would have justified undoing the Phoenix story?

The thing is, even before then, he sucked. This is a man who thought sacrificing someone to Magic Goblin People was a good idea, after all.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Is that a reflection of popular culture as well, though? Because the Routh Superman movie seems to have completely vanished off the radar while people are still talking about "Dark Knight".

Personally, I love when a writer is aware of the limitations imposed upon him, and subverts them one way or another. Slipping things past the censor, as it were.

I'll take that question and turn it around a bit: was it necessary to undo the Phoenix story in the first place? We were, after all, roughly in the same period of time where Magneto was redeemed despite having blood on his hands, why not afford the same possibility to Jean?

Oh my GOD, I'd forgotten all about the Magic Goblin People. Ugh.

Kazekage said...

It's not, but then, DC thinks Barry Allen is an ideal Flash, right? There's reality in the bubble, and reality outside the bubble and rarely do the two reflect each other.

Yeah! There's a long tradition of subverting strictures in comics which, in many cases, I think makes one more creative than letting it all hang out.

True, and it might have been a more interesting story for it, actually, because unlike Magneto, who was in full control before and after his redemption, Jean is one bad day (potentially) from going wrong all over again.

Yeah. Remember that when we think about what a master mind Osborn is.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Curiously, while they've repeatedly stated that Barry Allen is an ideal Flash, I haven't seen anything even remotely resembling an extradiegetic reason we should think so.

Of course, the flip-side of that is when editors interfere too much, the story can either go completely off the rails or end prematurely.

There's so much complexity in that comparison: Magneto's crimes were committed for ideological reasons which - in theory, if not in practice - encourage sympathy. Jean roasted a planet because she was hungry and couldn't stand the taste of Hostess Fruit Pies anymore. But doesn't that make her more eligible for redemption given that Magneto never stopped believing in mutant supremacy?

I don't think we'll ever buy that particular Company Line. :)

Kazekage said...

That's an Informed Attribute for you, Diana. I mean, we both know the real reason is "Because that's what Geoff Johns things, and he's not gonna shut up until you do too." :)

That's the chance you take, unfortunately. Except at DC Comics, wherein editorial interference happens pretty much all the time.

That's an interesting question. When you present it that way, Jean's struggle for redemption is the mutant story in microcosm--do you punish people for what they are and can't really help? It's an interesting question.

Being that we're not batshit insane, I'd say no. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Hah! That'll be the day. :)

Exhibit A: Countdown. The poster child for editorial mismanagement.

Hell, you could argue Jean represents both sides of the traditional mutant argument: if she'd been trained more, she might not have gone haywire. On the other hand, the whole point of the Dark Phoenix Saga (as originally written) isn't that Jean loses control of her powers, but that she doesn't care anymore. What do you do when an Omega-level mutant just stops giving a damn and flips out?

Agreed. :)

Kazekage said...

Tell me about it. :)

Yes indeed. 52 issues of muddled incomprehension that turned out to be a huge waste of time that didn't really matter all that much.

You put your head between you legs and . . .well, yeah. That's actually a rather clever way of phrasing it, I think--although a potentially omniscient uber-mutant who just up and decided she didn't care about the rest of the universe raises some serious questions about whether one person's flip-out is another's transcendence. Lots of potential in that.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Worse, it actively undermined what other writers were doing at the same time.

That's part of the reason I always had so much trouble with the traditional ideological divide in the X-books: you'd think a world-class telepath and a guy hooked into planetary magnetic fields would come up with better ideas than Enslave/Befriend Humanity.

Kazekage said...

And clogged up the shelves with volume after volume of inane trade paperback.

Very true--never mind the fact that the mutant power structure never seemed to have any other ideas beyond that simple Manichean choice, either? I mean, Apocalypse and Sinister and the like have these massive power bases but for not really any forward thinking or particularly interesting ends.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I still can't believe they went ahead and reprinted Countdown as a TPB. It was coming out on a weekly basis - no grounds for the old "It'll read better when collected" argument there.

To say nothing of the fact that Apocalypse has failed his own litmus test at least fifty thousand times since being introduced and yet he's still going on about Survival of the Fittest. Ideological Fail?

Kazekage said...

Yes indeed. Bearing in mind of course that you could make Countdown into a Chick tract and it would still be a howling void of suck.

I know, right? Of all the characters who need to be put on the shelf forever, Apocalypse is at the very top of the list. I don't think there's any rejiggering to be done either--you can't really move him on to anything else, since he's so locked in to this shtick.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

You know, for all that we bust on Marvel, DC's in an even worse state. Going as far back as "Identity Crisis", every major event they've orchestrated has been, for the most part, a dismal embarrassment...

And if it didn't work before, it certainly doesn't work now that there's an enforced limit on the number of mutants. Apocalypse is the guy you use to kick off mass purges, to gather up a major body count on short notice. Can you do that when the entire premise of the franchise is now so limited?

Kazekage said...

Sinestro Corps, to give the devil its due, wasn't terrible, actually. Of course, the fact that it was relatively brief and fairly focused on a limited corner of the universe probably helped with that, and naturally has been stomped out immediately.

Absolutely. Apocalypse, like Siena Blaze (remember her?) is the fictional equivalent of a glass cannon. He's supposed to knock over the world every time he shows up. BUT, since we KNOW that's not going to happen . . .well, it's kind of lost it's punch, hasn't it?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Another Dan DiDio success story. :)

Oh my God I remember Siena Blaze. Every time she used her powers she might blow up the Earth, and she doesn't care. Surprise! Neither do we. I mean, this being the Era of Hologram Tinfoil, I imagine half the readers were going "Yeah, go on, do it, wreck the whole freakin' place already!"

It's worse with Apocalypse, because he's been around so long that his stories are repeating themselves - "Messiah War" was basically "X-Cutioner's Song" redux, right down to Warren doing the whole "You have no power here, begone before someone drops a house on you" bit with Apocalypse.

Kazekage said...

It's funny--Before Dan Didio was hated by comics fans the world over, he was the mind behind Beast Machines a show so awful, I think they actually got death threats for it. The lesson: Obsessive Transformers fans are dangerous

Well, that was the gag. She could blow up the world, but (because if she did the book would be over) she never did. So no one really knew what the hell to do with her, because she's kind of stuck and not able to do much of anything really. She was truly the most powerful Instant Jobber ever created.

Well, again, with Apocalypse, you have someone whose whole deal is "I'm going to remake the world in line with my philosophy, and it will be hell on earth." And they did it once. And it got reversed. And yet . . .he kept coming back, to ever more diminishing returns, got killed by Cable in an act that was Supposed To Kill Him Forever, then they did The Twelve thing like, a month later and . . .every time it got a little less credible, and he got a little less credible.

I feel a Witless Dictionary coming on in regards to this . . . :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Never taunt fans of a show where cars turn into guns. They're far more likely to get... inventive. ;)

At least with Dark Phoenix they had the sense to put a leash on her planet-busting abilities, both because she was emotionally conflicted about doing it to Earth and because, since she'd already exterminated an entire species, she didn't have much to prove when she came back for the final showdown.

That might be another reason why "Age of Apocalypse" works so well - unlike Magneto, who did have a sort of mini-society in his image during the Asteroid M/Avalon days, Apocalypse wasn't the sort of character who could get his own little fiefdom so we could see what'd happen if he ever actually won. AoA was a look at the worst-case scenario. The problem being that you could really only explore that as an alternate reality, and once it's over, it's over.

Interestingly enough, they changed his modus operandi in the "Evolution" series by basically giving him movie-Magneto's plan to turn the entire human population into mutants - which, I have to admit, makes more sense coming from Apocalypse than Magneto, if only because Apocalypse's whole "survival of the fittest" never seemed to take humanity into account despite the fact that their ability to create Sentinels and such made them equals, of a sort, to mutantkind.

Kazekage said...

And surely liable to have no sense of humour at all, really. :)

There's a great moment in X-Men 137 when dark Phoenix returns and Lilandra orders her fleet to make the sun go nova in order to stop her before Phoenix can reassert her full power. That 1 little panel really sells the threat and reinforces what a desperate struggle that whole issue is, on every level. It's hard to imagine that kind of attention to detail in a comic today.

If only the people in charge understood that. I think yanking the AoA's ending out from under it and making it Just Another Parallel Earth really misses the point and blunts its impact.

I. . .guess? The problem with Apocalypse is, beyond his "survival of the fittest" rhetoric, they've never really articulated his central conceit very well.

The best articulation of it, to my mind, came from the Shadows in Babylon 5. Their goal was to instigate conflict between other races and thus, help them evolve, as a culture's greatest advancements tend to come out of conlicts. I don't remember Apocalypse ever having a moment to lay out his plan in that kind of detail.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And really, that's DiDio down to a D. :) He's one of those types who thinks he has a sense of humor, but he isn't funny. At all.

Wow, I remember that. You're right, it was an incredibly effective moment.

On the bright side, AoA's ending is completely self-contained - there's no inherent need to continue reading past Omega. I certainly didn't. :)

Probably because, like Onslaught, Apocalypse hadn't been constructed properly prior to his introduction: if I recall correctly, he had a name and a vague role as X-Factor's nemesis, but nothing beyond that. Small wonder he became so problematic down the line.

Kazekage said...

Y'know, I used to chalk that up to my prejudice that all of DC's honchos should be humourless squares, but . . .yeah. He tries and fails mightily, doesn't he?

And the thing is. . .it's two panels and adds a lot to the story. How come we never have the simple expediency of bystanders crapping their pants at what could happen is things get out of control?

Me either! I'm much happier for it, too! :)

When he first showed up in X-Factor . . .yyyeah, he wasn;t much. The Simonsons started adding in a little more during Fall of the Mutants but it all felt like background rather than an articulation of what he wants. That and yoking him to Cable having to kill him sometime really ties your hands, doesn't it? If Cable kills him and it doesn't stick, it damages Cable's character. If someone else kills him, we know it's irrelevant.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Oh lord, those DC Nation pages sometimes make me embarrassed. Oddly enough, go about ten years back and he was senior story editor during the third season of "Reboot", also known as The One That Got Really Really Good. Go figure...

We did. They tackled Captain America and forced him to watch Youtube. :)

And, you know, I'm pretty sure AoA was when I started to lean more towards reading comics modularly: it was the first time I could remember perceiving a storyline within a larger serial narrative as something I could read, start to finish, and then stop.

It does seem like there's a simple solution to that particular problem, though: if Apocalypse is immortal, and he keeps resurrecting throughout time at random intervals, then Cable's job is simply to remain vigilant and take down Apocalypse whenever he turns up. You could actually do some pretty interesting stories about that, the soldier cursed to remain on perpetual guard duty until the end of time. What if he slips up? What if he lets his guard down after twenty years of peace and that's when Apocalypse reawakens?

Kazekage said...

Only sometimes, Diana? This dichotomy hasn't been lost on me, either, really--of course, Reboot seems to have been an aberration in his career, as the next thing I remember his hand in was Beast Machines and it was bad enough to get all involved death threats so . . .yeah. We shoulda known then.

That 2 girls 1 cup thing was what made him give up the shield and become Nomad, if I remember right. :)

Well, given that at the time the X-Books had moved away from an ongoing soap opera and seemed to be sputtering off in different directions, some worthwhile and possessed of an individual voice (X-Force) and some that existed just to give Howard Mackie more opportunities to mentally injure people (X-Factor) it probably offered an inviting alternative.

The problem is, it still locks the two of them into a chase and dodge conflict, not unlike Cable and Bishop currently. Unless you can find new ways to vary the basic conflict, you're doomed to making it a glorified Coyote/Road Runner dynamic. I thought Nicieza's idea of Cable playing a long game and trying to effect some kind societal change gave him a more open-ended remit and really gave it more room for varied conflicts.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Only sometimes: the other times I just don't read them. :)

After the Leave Britney Alone guy I wouldn't be surprised if he stepped into Sharon's gun on purpose...

To be honest, I'm surprised pre-Milligan X-Force made the list - I know the high concept had some survivalist/paramilitary overtones to keep it distinct from the other books, but I don't recall anything particularly noteworthy about that era.

But what's interesting about the Cable/Bishop situation, at least at the moment, is that it's very dynamic: the setting and the supporting cast are always changing. Granted, it'd get old in the long run, but I'm certainly appreciative of any series that doesn't just sit its protagonists down in San Francisco and let them fight the same Rogues' Gallery over and over.

Kazekage said...

Good policy!

Yeah. I like the Internet just fine, but . . .I wouldn't use it as an exemplar of What Is Good And Right In America. I mean . . .hell no.

Well, Nicieza's run had a distinct voice that got hobbled slightly by AoA and Jeph Loeb coming in and screwing everything up. Those Post-Liefeld, pre AoA issues were really working a certain chemistry and I was quite impressed with it. But then, I liked New Warriors, and X-Force was basically an X-book in that style.

The problem is, it lacks a certain jeopardy--the book isn't called Bishop, after all, so there's only a certain credibility in the continuing conflict. Then again, the status quo in the first Cable ongoing was pretty weaksauce too.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I figure who needs the ulcers, right? :)

I'd say the Internet's greatest strength - the absence of supervision - is also its greatest weakness: anything goes, but that means anything goes.

Of course, he also gave us "Heaven awaits those who PREY!", so there's that as well. :)

I imagine they'll wrap up the chase once they're ready to bring Hope into the main X-books - as the new Phoenix, most likely.

Kazekage said...

We don't. I have enough already. :)

Exactly. The internet is like nuclear power--it can be used for good or evil. Also--you really don't want to get any on you.

Not that he was alone in bone-headed 90's ism but. . .yes, that was awful. Not as awful as when he had Magneto declare himself "the overlord of the fatal attraction," however. ;)

If it ends this whole M-Day business, I'm all for it. Experience, however, has taught me that has damn near no chance of happening. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And being around it too long can cause tumors. Point well taken. :)

I think Glenn Close might dispute his claim to that particular title. :)

Well, the one potential bright side of the utter mire the X-books seem to be in at the moment is that no status is quo for very long... given that M-Day's only being held in place by the thinnest of threads, I expect it'll be quietly forgotten in a year or two.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And being around it too long can cause tumors. Point well taken. :)

I think Glenn Close might dispute his claim to that particular title. :)

Well, the one potential bright side of the utter mire the X-books seem to be in at the moment is that no status is quo for very long... given that M-Day's only being held in place by the thinnest of threads, I expect it'll be quietly forgotten in a year or two.

Kazekage said...

It's a rich metaphor, eh? ;)

That works in inverse proportion to how much she's being ignored, of course. :)

We should be so lucky. Since it's been impressed from the top down, that's probably the hardest one to shrug off. Spider-Man will remember he's married first, I'd wager.