What’s the matter with characters ?
Writeups.org is mostly about profiling characters. There’s other entries such as spaceships, organizations, teams, robots, etc. but mostly it’s characters.
Howbeit, “what is a character ?” is a really complicated question. Especially since we chiefly deal with serial media, which includes elements such as :
- Multiple authors writing the character (quite possibly dozens if not hundreds).
- Characters whose career spans decades.
- Retroactive continuity .
- Continuity mistakes.
- Characters seeming different between the team books and the solo books.
- Reality rewrites, sudden changes in power sets and other comic book stuff.
A box full of action figures
Without getting into full explanations (at least in this article), such fictional characters are more like a box. From a distance it might look like a single object, but if you examine it and open it you realize that it’s just a container with lots of things within.
For instance, Catwoman. There isn’t really “a Catwoman character”. If you look up close and within there’s :
- A 1940s lady thief Catwoman.
- A 1950s flight attendant Catwoman.
- The DCnU version.
- Brubaker’s 2000s hard-boiled noir Catwoman.
- The 1970s “somebody please tell DC that the Silver Age is over” Catwoman…
- … and of course the movie versions, animated versions, the stories set in alternate continuities, video game versions, TV versions, far future versions, etc..
So, from the point of view of the profiler, “exactly whom am I writing about ?” is an important question. The writer opens the box and looks at the versions within – but usually it’s a complete mess. A bit as if the box were holding action figures, but the limbs and heads and accessories are mostly detached and you’re not quite sure what goes together.
Another aspect is that comic book readers, video gamers, etc. often grow attached to a specific version of a character. Hence the DC Comics cliché joke – “everybody’s favourite version of the Legion of Super-Heroes is the one they read at age 12, all other versions are clearly wrong”.
So when somebody would like to feature, say, Daredevil in a story they often mean their favourite version.
- Stan Lee’s 1960s stock hero with a few intriguing hooks.
- Miller’s 1980s reinvention.
- Those years with the wonderful Gene Colan art.
- Mark Waid’s post-Shadowland reinvention.
- Dennis O’Neil’s more grounded (for the times) Daredevil.
- Bendis & Maalev’s superb crime/noir run…
- … or even something that actually draws more from Netflix’s version, whether they realize it or not.
There are multiple ways writeups.org approaches the issue. It really depends on the character. In this article, we are going to cover the two least nuanced ones.
The gisted approach (and benchmarks)
This is the “awww, bro… screw this, bro” approach. It ignores *all* nuance and only tries to capture the spirit, the essence, the gist of a character throughout their lengthy career. It is often based more on recollections and some discussion than on the usual detailed research.
“But, bro… why, bro ?” some may ask. Because this is a good first step, especially when it comes to the game stats. A gisted approach seeks to establish the right ballpark for the character’s Attributes, Powers, Skills, etc..
This serves three main objectives :
- People who don’t care about nuance can just use that and call it a day, bro.
- It holds the line while the much, much longer detailed research takes place.
- It provides shared game stats benchmarks for the character’s rough capabilities.
The latter is useful when researching other characters. Imagine that the Golden Platypus fights Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), and we haven’t researched the specific version of Hal that fights him. Well, we can still use gisted Green Lantern stats as a reasonable approximation to gauge the Golden Platypus.
If a gisted profile on writeups.org is almost entirely about establishing and sharing such rough game stats, it will often be called a “benchmark” or “stats benchmark” or “technical notes” or somesuch.
Note that gisted profiles/benchmarks tend to be the oldest entries on the site, due to their trailblazing role.
The emergent history approach
This is kinda the opposite.
Here the approach is to isolate a precise “slice” of continuity… and ignore everything else, or at least as much as feasible.
For instance, a Scarlet Witch profile that ignores everything that happens after Avengers Vol. 1 #44, or a Luke Cage profile that only covers the 16-issue original run of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. Every later flashback, every later retcon, etc.? Ignored by this specific profile.
As some profiles state, “just imagine that this profile was written in May of 1951” since anything after the cut-off date doesn’t exist.
This has three advantages :
- For characters with very long histories, it dramatically simplifies the research.
- For readers attached to certain versions of the character, it is the “pure” version, without later elements they don’t like.
- For fans of the character the successive profiles precisely documents how they evolve and acquire their specificities and hooks, how the costumes change, how they (usually) grow in power and competence, etc..
This article is continued here.