Heroes Never Rust #80 by Sean Ironman
Ridiculousness in Fiction
As the story speeds along in the second issue of Nemesis, the situations get more and more over the top. That’s not necessarily bad, unless you wanted a different type of story. In the last few decades in comics, there’s been a push toward realism in superhero stories. In the eighties, comics like Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Born Again and Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen began a study of superheroes in the real world. There was outrageousness still to be found, but comics had definitely taken another step closer to our world. For decades prior, there were steps, such as the Marvel Universe in the 1960s with characters like the Fantastic Four and Spider-man, but in recent years realism has taken a firmer hand in comics storytelling. You can even take a look at the films based on superhero comics. Up until a couple of years ago, the idea filmmakers went to was how do we take these comic book characters and put them in the real world.
This has begun to change, however. First, in the comics themselves, and then this past year, we’ve had more outrageous ideas in many of the films, such as Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past. I like a bit of ridiculousness in my comics, in most stories come to think of it. The more I write creative nonfiction, the more my fiction gets a bit ridiculous. But, and here’s where I have the issue, when does the outrageousness become too much? How does a writer fit in ridiculous events and characters and yet still have the reader buy the world? Because at the end of the day, no matter what type of story the writer is telling, the reader has to believe that the events can take place in the story’s world.
The more I read, the more I think it has to do with pacing. Pacing isn’t focused on as much as it should, I think. Or perhaps in the creative writing classes I took in undergrad and grad school it wasn’t. But, to me, pacing is one of the most important craft elements a beginning writer should focus on. The reason a lot of realistic superhero stories fail is that they spend so much time on trying to explain why the superhero does what he or she does and how they were created. Take the Amazing Spider-man series with Andrew Garfield (a terrific actor stuck in crappy movies). He can’t just be bitten by a radioactive spider and the story move forward. The movies try to explain that Peter Parker’s father did something to him so that he could have survived the bite. By spending more time on this idea, the audience begins to question the outrageous idea. And at no point is the audience going to be given a good enough explanation on why Peter Parker gained powers instead of dying. Pacing is really just the speed at which the audience is given information. The faster it moves, the less time the reader has to question what is going on. If the writer spends too much time on an idea, the reader gets to run that over and over in the head and find holes and start disbelieving what is going on.
In Nemesis, the supervillain does some outrageous acts in the second issue. He has an underground bunker that I think Bill Gates would have difficulty financing. He blows up a football stadium, steals the Hope Diamond, breaks into the Pentagon and fills the building with nerve gas killing nearly everybody in the building, has his car split in two and rides a hidden motorcycle out of it to escape the police, grabs a rocket launcher in mid-air and fires it to destroy a helicopter, and swims through a sewer grate in the Potomac like he knew exactly where it would be. Keep in mind that this is in twenty-five pages (and he has the President of the United States still held captive from last issue). That’s a lot for the reader to buy. But, the comic moves along at such a quick pace that the reader doesn’t have the time to question what is happening.
Perhaps the fast pace helps the reader feel safe, as if the writer knows exactly what he is doing. The more I read the more I believe that to be true. Anything can happen in the story, but the reader needs to feel like there is a solid authorial plan. Nemesis could do whatever he wants—Hell, even after all the crazy things he does, he ends up getting caught and tells the cops that this is all just part of the plan. How can someone really plan something so complex? Well, they can’t, but it’s just part of the suspension of disbelief of the story. The comic sets it up pretty early on that the story is going to play loose with reality. The characters are going to do outrageous things and the reader can’t think too hard about it. It’s up to the reader at that point if they are going to read the book. If they’re on board, great. If not, oh well. After all, haters gonna hate.
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.