With this week's release of the much-anticipated Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and its subsequent evisceration by the film critics of America, I thought it only fitting to write about some of the key differences between DC Comics and Marvel (and how those differences have affected my own writing).
1. People Over Powers: Powers are cool. They put the "super" in superhero, but at the end of the day, powers alone do not make a compelling character. The best characters are human, and that means they are filled with flaws. This is a concept that Marvel has always understood. For example, compare and contrast the DC character of Bruce Wayne/Batman with his Marvel counterpart Tony Stark/Iron Man. On the surface, these two characters are very similar -- they are both billionaires who use their fortunes and technology to fight crime. Now look deeper. What can the casual fan tell me about Bruce Wayne? He's an orphan. Check. Got it. That explains his motivation to fight crime. But what can you tell me about the adult Bruce Wayne? Can you tell me anything other than he's rich? Now contrast that with Tony Stark -- What do we know about Tony? He's arrogant. He's a womanizer. He's prone to addiction. He's a genius trying to meet the expectations of his late father. The man has so many inner-demons that you start to lose track (and that's a good thing). When you strip these two characters of their alter egos, it becomes clear that Tony Stark is much more interesting than Bruce Wayne.
2. Weaker Is Better: It's hard to fault DC when they've created the most iconic superhero in history, but in my opinion it's harder to come up with a more BORING superhero than Superman (even the name is pretty boring when you think about it). The problem with Superman is he's too powerful. The audience is never really worried about his failure, and without that specter of defeat on the horizon, it's hard to create a compelling story. Even when writers try to create a plausible threat for Superman, the end result is often so contrived (like magic glowing rocks from your exploded home planet) that the weight of the story is lost. Compare this to a character like Marvel's Spider-Man. In the pantheon of heroic powers, Spider-Man is far from top dog. He's strong, but not THAT strong. Fast, but not SUPER fast. Even his web-shooters can run out of webbing. In fact, Spidey's history is filled with defining failures (Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey to name two), but those losses give a sense of urgency and importance to every Spider-Man fight. He's routinely cast as the underdog, and we love rooting for the underdog.
3. Respect: This may not be fair, but I'm going to draw this final conclusion specifically from the DC and Marvel movies. The Marvel cinematic universe (including television) has thrived while the DC universe has sputtered (with a few exceptions like Arrow and the Flash, both on the CW). Why? I firmly believe the answer lies with respect, both for their characters and their audience. Marvel has gone out of their way to respect their characters and their audience -- if you want proof, remember that before the Marvel universe exploded onto the scene with Iron Man, popular thinking was to dress all superheros in black leather (I'm looking at you Bryan Singer and the X-Men) instead of their iconic costumes. Contrast this approach to what you get from Warner Bros. and DC. Case in point, a failure to cast Grant Gustin as the Flash in Batman v. Superman. For those of you who don't know, Gustin plays the title character in the CW's The Flash, and his portrayal has earned praise from fans and critics alike. This was DC's golden opportunity to create continuity and show some respect to their fans who invested themselves in Gustin's turn as Barry Allen. Instead, Zack Snyder tagged Ezra Miller for the role of the Flash. Dumb.
So what does this mean for ANOM: Awakening?
I hope it means I have characters who prove to be much more than just the sum of their powers. I hope it means I have a story that's filled with dramatic action sequences that leave the readers on the edges of their seats. And I hope it means that I have enough respect for the genre and my audience to create the kind of superhero novel they deserve.
If I can accomplish all of that, it means I have a story that people will want to read.
Hey everybody! Welcome back. It's been a crazy week in terms of the book, and I can't wait to give you all an update about where we stand.
If you saw my post from last week in the News/Events section of the website, I received my revised manuscript from my editor at Invisible Ink Editing last weekend. I immediately dove back into my novel to start re-writes and revisions.
The process has been, in a word, overwhelming. There were lots of notes, suggestions, and questions. A LOT! I shared the editor's commentary with Vanessa and a couple of friends, and they all came back with the same question. They asked if I was discouraged. I'm pleased to report that I am not. If anything, I feel reinvigorated to make my novel the best reading experience possible for my audience.
The hardest part has been listening to my own inner voice. Some of the editor's suggestions I agreed with, and I made those changes right away. Other times, I flat-out disagreed and those suggestions were easy to ignore. But then there's a fuzzy gray area when the editor has raised an issue or question I've never fully considered. What do I do with those? Do I go back in and make changes, or do I trust my original instincts?
I remind myself that all the suggestions are merely that -- suggestions. I tell myself that the foundation of the book is solid -- more than solid. It's good, but I don't want to mess it up now. So I've spent every night of the past week poring over the editor's notes and my manuscript. It's getting to the point where I'm starting to see hobgoblins -- phantom missteps in style that I change only to "undo" seconds later.
Last night Vanessa called me a suffering artist -- probably because I've made her watch reruns of Downton Abbey by herself (My wife and I have very different definitions of "suffering"). But I know I'm close. If I can hold out for one more week -- if I can resist the urge to rush through the process so I can finally say I'm done -- I think the end result will be something special.
Just one more week, and then big things are coming!
This week, I'm writing the first in a new category of blog posts. I want to examine some of the creative influences in my life that have effected my novel ANOM: Awakening. For this initial offering, I'm going to talk about the impact of George R. R. Martin's fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.
At this point, it would be prudent to mention that, for better or worse, my novel is not really like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire at all. For one thing, Martin's novels fall squarely within the fantasy genre. ANOM: Awakening, does not. The closest I can get is by labeling my book as Science Fiction, but even this is a stretch. ANOM: Awakening is more like a really long comic book without the pictures. Secondly, Martin's writing is mega-successful and has spawned a multi-media phenomenon with the runaway success of HBO's Game of Thrones. Last I checked, I'm still waiting to self-publish my first novel on Amazon. The bottom-line is, I am NOT trying to equate my book with the novels of George R. R. Martin.
That being said, I did learn an important lesson from Martin, and that's the issue I would like to explore today.
If you are unfamiliar with Martin and his novels, the HBO series Game of Thrones is a good place to start. This served as my own introduction, but after the first season of the television show, I turned to the novels themselves. Just like you would expect, the books contained A LOT more detail and backstory than could ever be shown through the television.
One of the aspects of Martin's novels I most enjoyed (and something that, until recently, has been lacking from the HBO series) is a sense of history. You understand through the novels that Martin's world of Westeros existed for a very long time before we ever read the first word on the first page. Throughout the series, characters constantly reference a well-known history that readers never get to experience first-hand. Even so, that history is always there-- and it influences characters and events in a way that the reader can't understand at first. Martin reveals that history slowly -- half a memory told in one chapter, a reference to some important battle somewhere else -- and the reader is left hungry for more. I distinctly remember wishing for a series of prequels about Robert's Rebellion (although that might be asking a bit much, as Martin has yet to finish the actual Song of Fire and Ice series).
Ultimately, the lesson I learned is that a story doesn't have to begin on the FIRST day. I can start writing in the middle of an adventure, and trust in the patience of my readers to give me enough time to fill in the blanks. Rationing out this history in carefully proportioned revelations may even prove more satisfying in the end. Writing any story with a rich history (even if that history remains hidden for a time from the reader) lends a gravity to all the characters and their choices. The reader will understand the characters BECAUSE of that history, and in my own experience with A Song of Fire and Ice, that's a very satisfying experience, indeed.
Now I only need to sell that to HBO.