Monday, March 16, 2009

Witless Dictionary #16--Origin Artifact

Continuing in our, uh, continuing efforts to both get back the hell on schedule already and provide a specialised lexicon that will allow us to better critique the state of comics and, incidentally create a lexicon so exclusionary and "inside baseball" that "ordinary" people will never in their lifetime understand.

Comics: Running from acceptance like Frankenstein's Monster runs from torch-wielding mobs.

Origin Artifact--Term given to any element of a character's original origin story which has long since outlived its usefulness to the storytelling engine but, because of the influence of creator-fans and fans who insist that EVERYTHING MUST FIT TOGETHER AND NEVER BE FORGOTTEN that is clumsily inserted into a character's current status with no adequate justification save "This was the way it always was."

For instance--it's not essential that Spider-Man be unmarried and a loser in order to tell good Spider-Man stories, nor does Iron Man need to have a damaged heart to artifically induce storyline drama, or the the X-Men be locked forever into Permanent Early Claremont to tell Good Stories, what is required is simply the will to tell Good Stories without wastng everyone's time running the clock back with some half-ass and half-baked excuse.

Chances this simple lesson will be lost on the creator-fan's making comics: 100%


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I wonder whether Origin Artifacts are an unfortunate side-effect of projects such as the Ultimate line and various film adaptations: if origin stories for those versions of characters are highly visible, the writers of the "primary" version may feel the need to conform on some level to those basic conceits (ie: Peter Parker's love life is only slightly less pathetic than Michael Jackson's).

Kazekage said...

You know, plugging the King of Pop into One More Day actually makes it a way more tolerable story. :)

I think some of that may be the case, but the real problem--again--is that Creator Fans (and fan's who aren't creators) aren't willing to let things that might be outmoded or no longer relevant and let them the hell go already.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Not by much. Because then you have to wonder what the going rate for Michael Jackson's soul is, and really, giving him the power to reshape reality with a wish is just asking for trouble. :)

You know, if there was enough mileage in an outmoded concept to still work with a bit of tweaking, I'd be more tolerant to the constant nostalgia-fests; but more often than not, these Artifacts are just there by default.

Kazekage said...

It would be indeed. I've played the "Moonwalker" video game--Micheal is clearly operating on a level of perception we can't see, and apparently it involved Joe Pesci and robots.

Well, they're just there because the people working on them remember that they were there and just put them back in without giving thought to whether there's any relevance to them currently. I mean, there's a reason the whole "Iron Man has a heart problem" thing got undone over the years.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

You actually played it? I thought all the copies were buried along with E.T...

Hmm... yes, if there's one blanket generalization we can make about the Big Two at this point, it's that they're just not thinking ahead in terms of their stories and what's being done there. On the other hand, their primary source of revenue these days is anything but comics, so I doubt they care either way.

Kazekage said...

I did. It was . . .well, some people remember it fondly. I think these people are of course Very Wrong and tell them so at every opportunity. :)

Well, my assertion would be if bringing Barry Allen back seems like a good idea to you, you're not looking forward at all--full stop.

And true, the movies and TV shows and whatever are bringing in money, but you;re better off with a potentially infinite level of IPs to exploit rather than a small sample that will quickly get burned out.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Have you seen the upcoming slate for Marvel movies? I'm thinking they've already burnt through the A-list - now they're talking about a Thor movie. A Thor movie. I can't even imagine how that'd work.

Kazekage said...

Thor? That's gonna be a hard sell, really--Thor's not really all that interesting on his own. Unlss Walt Simonson's writing him.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And even then, you have to be very charitable towards the whole Middle-English-speaking blonde-with-big-hammer thing to take it seriously. (Also: Volstagg.)

Kazekage said...

Volstagg is totally going to be the name of my Scandinavian death metal band. Look for our single "Maaldor the Darklord" soon!

Yeah, unless you wholly embrace the fantasy aspect of it, and given how many post LoTR fantasy movies have failed . . .how do you make it work?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I say thee yea. :)

Much as I'm loathe to admit it, Millar might've had the right idea: create a technological explanation for Thor's abilities and then mess with the audience's head as to whether Donald Blake is Thor or a drugged-out schizophrenic. (Of course, for this to be effective, you have to care about Donald Blake, and Millar's never been one for sympathetic protagonists.)

Kazekage said...

I wish I had an emoticon for "metal horns," now. :)

Ehh, I don't know about that. It worked all right in Ultimates, but Ultimates is Millar's jerk-off fantasy of what the MU should be and should be viewed as such.

You can probably make the fantasy angle work, but you're also admitting that unless he's one of the core Avengers, he's kind of an island unto himself.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Will this do? :)

True enough, but... it's more like Millar's execution was horrifically sub-par but some of the ideas did make sense, ie: the thing with Jan and Hank just being plain old spousal abuse, no frills or retcons. And the idea that Wanda's ability to warp reality requires her to calculate odds and such was a great way to limit her power without seeming contrived.

I can't see him easily fitting into the Avengers franchise as it's being set up in recent Marvel films...

Kazekage said...

Will it ever! Thanks!

Eh. The Hank/Jan stuff is beyond played out, and every time they go to the well, no matter the good intentions, it just freezes the characters in that same dynamic forever and limits any forward progress they might be allowed to make.

That said, the whole "calculating odds" thing is a rather inspired I idea, come to think.

Oh he works great in that dynamic--he's the team Tank after all. :) But on his own? Tricky stuff.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Glad to help. :)

In the mainstream, certainly, which is why I appreciated Millar just doing a straight run-through, "no backsies" as it were.

It's certainly the most sensible approach to Wanda's powers that I've ever seen.

Wouldn't that role be served by the Hulk, though?

Kazekage said...

You always do, Diana. :)

Hopefully so. It's a paradox that some of the most defining character work that happens over the course of a character's publication history is, through the magic of regurgitation, rendered fairly redundant after enough go-rounds, with the end result (for example) that Tony Stark is always drunk or Hank Pym beats his wife.

. . .possibly the most poorly-defined power set ever, wouldn't you say?

Theoretically, sure, but for some reason they've never really made a concerted effort to give the Hulk a sustained run in the Avengers, which is a shame, as it'd be a great way to change the mix.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

It probably has to do with the time period again: the wife-slapping, Martini-slugging moments happened when the people currently running the show were reading comics. To them, what came later is irrelevant: they want to go back to that, so boom, Tony's dancing in the fountain again.

Oh, I think Claremont's come up with something worse: that surfer girl from X-Treme X-Men whose power was, as I recall, "to do whatever's needed" or something like that. And she was half-bird, I think.

Realized something interesting the other day: if you take the post-credit scenes of "Iron Man" and "Hulk" at face value, Marvel's strategy seems to be a slow move towards combination - they'll do a Thor movie, and a Captain America movie, and then all these characters will join up in an "Avengers" film with the ground work already in place.

The X-Men franchise, on the other hand, seems to be constantly sub-dividing itself. Wolverine spins out of the core movies, and now Deadpool spins out of Wolverine... unlike the "Avengers" components, which seem to be building towards something, X-Men seems to be in a state of implosion.

Kazekage said...

Thing of it is, since the more egregious examples of his drunken behavior were some of the most grindingly depressing and appalling kinds of behaviour, the greater tragedy is that they're remembering it wrong.

LIFEGUARD! I remember her. She finally gave Huntsman a run for the "character that encapsulates how much Claremont has given up on life" title.

Well, that's the way the actual X-Books have been going rather frequently in their history, haven't they? Constantly undergoing mitosis into either distaff teams or singular offshoots of characters from the original group?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Well, they've only got five or six functioning brain cells, and at least four of them are devoted to Newsarama press conferences. Can't expect them to remember things accurately too! :)

Wasn't Huntsman a Morrison character? Weapon XII?

Do you mean the books themselves, or the characters? Because within the context of the Marvel Universe, the X-Men have a habit of splintering only for each fragment to expand rapidly - Excalibur started out as Kitty, Nightcrawler and Phoenix, and turned into a whole ensemble piece. The New Mutants turned into X-Force, Jubilee spun off into Generation X, etc. Eventually they're absorbed back into the parent book, but that can take years.

Kazekage said...

Hence Dan Slott's wallowing in Why Henry Pym Sucks over in Mighty Avengers. This was supposed to be the great Return to Form?

Nope! Hunstman was Claremont's Image character, pre-Sovereign Seven. His whole deal was he was a figment of a girl's imagination and good at everything and no I'm not making that up.

Both, really. It used to be a big deal when say, one of the New Mutants graduated to the X-Men (never mind they usually screwed it up) But now? The spot you had 20 years ago is your spot, unless you get hijacked for some desperation move and then you just go even further down the ladder and before you know it, you're in the Exiles. The Ultraverse exiles.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

All the more disappoining because you'd think Dan Slott of all people would know better, given what he'd been doing on She-Hulk.

Figures there'd be a little girl in there somewhere. Ah, Claremont...

Hell, there was a whole subplot during the first Madelyne Pryor arc where Kitty freaks out after Xavier demotes her to the New Mutants; she has to take on a whole nest of alien spiders to prove that she belongs on the "main team". I think the main reason that hierarchical structure doesn't work anymore is because the rosters are never stable enough to work that way - just look at the various New Mutants/New X-Men/Young X-Men teams. They get shuffled around so often there's no longer any difference between the teams.

Ye Gods, the Ultraverse Exiles... where you end up when an entire universe rejects you. Dark days indeed.

Kazekage said...

Speaking of creators for whom an assessment of their imperial clothing is long overdue . . .

Oh it was so Claremont it would make your teeth hurt. :) There was something so very hilarious about Claremont's brutal overwriting in the midst of Image at its pinnacle that was so very . . .right, somehow. I should review those books sometime, I think.

That's exactly it, and really, unless they're gonna pull a 2000 and make REAL differences in the teams and tone of the books it's only going to get worse.

I have an issue of that book, actually. If ever there was a concrete snapshot of a company melting down . . .it is SO that book.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Slott's an odd case, though, in that even critics whose opinions I respect and trust like Paul O'Brien, Graeme McMillan and Jeff Lester think he's tops. And... well, I never found his work to be more than passable.

You think that contributed at all to Image's eventual drop to second-tier status?

The bitch of it is, if they do make those kinds of changes, they'll be artificial at best given that Quesada's now integrating the X-Men into the MU from "Dark Reign" onward. Which... I'd become accustomed to X-Men as a pleasant oasis away from the Three Stooges, so it wasn't great news for me. I don't see how the X-Men are at all strengthened by co-existing with Norman Osborn.

I wonder what their canonical status is. Could they, like Gwen Stacy's goblin-loving nether regions, be lying in wait ready to ambush us with their stupidity when we least expect them?

Kazekage said...

I don't even really find it that, really. I just find it . . .average? Maybe? And frankly, using your book to Try To Redeem Hank Pym (Again). . .well, check, please.

The main thing that contributed to Image slipping down to triple-A status was that all the hot artists quit drawing books, their fanbase grew up and out of the hobby and tastes changed, as they often do. But yeah, crap like Huntsman didn't help much either. :)

Welll . . .if you completely integrate the X-Men into the MU and have X-Men on the Avengers and other teams, the book's pretty much come to the end of its concept, hasn't it? If you take away that feeling of "OK, the X-Men are nominally good guys but we aren't entirely sure about them," then what's left to individualise them? That's always the risk with integrating the X-Men too tightly with the MU.

I don't see that anyone is helped by that. Steven Grant hit the nail on the head when he said Dark Reign was so misguided that it bordered on Clone Saga idiocy. And we have MANY MONTHS OF IT LEFT.

Thankfully the creator-friendly agreements for the Ultraverse stuff keeps a snug lid on that, I think. Juggernaut was actually dragged back to the MU to get punched and that as a huge step up for him.