Sunday, October 9, 2011

Witless Dictionary #26--Mystery Collapse Disorder

Continuing my extremely irregular feature here at the prattle, it's time once again to crack the books on the Witless Dictionary: an ongoing attempt to come up with words we don't have, but should.

And yes, I know that's exactly the same thing as "sniglets." Only mine are far dorkier and, as such, of far less interest.

Mystery Collapse Disorder--Term given to define the precise moment when a character for whom an aura of mystery has been carefully cultivated ultimately collapses into irrelevance under the weight of accumulated mysteries layered one on top of the other until any intrinsic qualities the character has are utterly buried under layers of "secrets," "clues," "shocking revelations," and other kinds of bafflegab.

Or, to be blunt, the point at which the viewer/reader can no longer keep track of what the hell the deal is with the character, and doesn't really care that much.

Noted sufferers include Wolverine, Cable, Gambit, and Professor River Song.


Lebeau2501 said...

Another name for this condition is WTF Syndrome. It's a serious problem that can lead to the death of a story arc. If you experience these symptoms, contact your nearest comic scribe and shake them vigorously for several minutes until he or she agrees to never do it again.

Kazekage said...

Very true!

It's kind of despairing, as I actually sat through Cable's origin the first time that Doctor Who pretty much nicked it for River Song. How do you look at that overly tortured, complex ball of wax and say "Like this, fellas!" I ask you?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Well put! :)

I think there are several creative impulses which tend to lead to this sort of collapse:

1. You set up mystery without knowing the resolution. It's unlikely Chris Claremont had any idea what Wolverine's backstory actually was when he introduced the whole amnesiac bit - if you don't have a plan, and you don't have a specific blueprint for your character, don't be surprised when he gets passed around the writing pool and becomes more and more convoluted. No one knows what they're supposed to be moving towards.

2. Retcons, the bane of any attempt to have history in the first place. If I recall correctly, the problem with Gambit is that after having the whole thing with his wife and the Thieves' Guild finally brought into the open, someone (was it Joe Kelly or Scott Lobdell?) decided it would be a good idea to retcon him into the Marauders by way of the Morlock Massacre. And that just opened up a whole other can of worms that was never resolved in any satisfactory manner.

3. My Idea's Better: Sometimes it's just plain egotism. Jean Grey became the Phoenix, went mad with power, sacrificed herself to save the world. Except Jim Shooter couldn't have that, so now Jean Grey was copied by the Phoenix which actually thought it was Jean Grey but wasn't really, so it didn't actually kill itself. Then Grant Morrison says "To hell with all this" and Jean is the Phoenix, always was the Phoenix, etc. At which point everyone just throws their hands up and says "Oh, whatever."

Kazekage said...

The River Song nonsense forced my hand, and I could no longer stay silent. :)

1. This is a real danger, and what happens, I guess, is a game of telephone--by the time this vague germ of an idea has run around the circle a couple times, it's drifted pretty far from your initial intent. For example, I'm sure no one was more surprised than Rob Liefeld that Cable was Cyclops' kid.

2. Well, what happened with Gambit was that they'd seeded the idea that Sabretooth knew him and then Sabretooth kept needling him to try and stir up shit with Rogue and they finally decided to pay it off with an "answer" that didn't actually answer anything, and really have Rogue or Gambit ever entirely recovered from that (really awful) story?

3. Oh Shooter, you should have really stuck to your guns. The Dark Phoenix story works really well because Jean Grey has a moment of clarity and realises she can't be a god--she can't handle it, and takes the only option she has, but wins in a sense because she makes the ultimate decision as a human being and not a demigod.

Making her into a copy of Jean guts the initial story.

Grant Morrison's take on it wasn't bad . . .I do kind of like the underlying sadness when Jean finally goes full-Phoenix in "Planet X" But turning the Phoenix Force into "the thing that burns away what doesn't work" is that last straw, never mind we had at leats three more phoenix stories after that, which meant that horse was good and dead and so very very beaten.