Heroes Never Rust #102 by Sean Ironman
1985: Keeping Revelations from the Reader
In issue four of Marvel 1985, Toby and his father escape from the Lizard and find their way to safety. Shortly afterward, Toby’s father runs off to rescue his ex-wife, leaving Toby with a few friends. Then, Toby turns to his buddies and says, “You’ve all been reading comics your entire lives. We’ve practically got a degree in these characters. Who else is going to beat them.” After a beat, he asks, “You coming or not?” His friends don’t join him and Toby runs off to save the day. The next few pages feature Toby running by carnage as Marvel villains go to war with the town. He runs to the old house from earlier in the series, the one where he first spotted the Red Skull, and he heads into the basement to a door labeled “PRIVATE” and jumps through, right into the Marvel Universe.
The problem I have with this development is that I have no idea what mission Toby is on. I understand he is on a task to save the day and stop the Marvel villains, but what I don’t understand is how he goes from escaping from the Lizard and deciding that there is a portal to another world in this other house. And, if he really didn’t know that there was a portal, what his plan was to do at the house, and why he went straight to the basement? This kind of development is common, I find, in popular fiction. The protagonist, or sometimes another character, decides that he or she has a plan, and then the character implements the plan. The problem I have with this style is when, in order to keep the reader interested, the writer withholds the plan from the reader. The protagonist then moves toward a goal that is hidden from the reader. Laying out the plan for the reader may be boring, but I feel that if a reader is following the protagonist closely, then the reader should understand the what and why of the protagonist’s actions.
For me, this style creates a number of problems. For one, it makes me feel dumb, as if I should be understanding why Toby is running off and where he’s going, but I wasn’t a strong enough reader to “get it.” There was a jump made in the story, and I missed it.
The second problem is that the reader can sense the writer in the story. There’s no real reason Toby doesn’t tell his friends where he’s going. After all, he asks for their help, and to successfully get their help, he should tell them his plan. The reader is then treated to false tension. Another problem, and probably a greater one, lies with point of view. If the reader is following Toby page after page, and the reader is seeing the world through the eyes of Toby, then the reader should understand Toby as a character. Even though in a comic book, point of view is loose. We don’t really see the world from the point of view of Toby because we as readers see characters and events that Toby does not see. Perhaps that’s how the story thinks it can get away with not revealing Toby’s plan. But, even if the story is not told from a first person point of view, or even a limited third person point of view, Toby is still our protagonist. The reader should, at a basic level, understand what the protagonist is doing, and at least be able to guess as to why.
Recently, I read the short story “Blackberries” by Leslie Norris. In that story, a boy goes to get a haircut, then a cap, then goes out with his father. The events don’t really add up until the end, but at every moment, the reader understands the task at hand. I think that’s the trick of storytelling. A character can go anywhere, the story can go off track in an direction, but if the reader understands what the protagonist is doing, and to a degree, why, then the reader will follow the character. When a story takes this jump with Toby, it can feel as if the writer is trying to control the story. The characters need to move into position in order to get to the climax that the writer has planned.
The story no longer is character-driven.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.