It’s been years in the making, but the stars have finally aligned for your friendly neighborhood blogger and Mike McNulty (Stillanerd) to team up for a discussion on comic books.  If you’ve enjoyed Mike’s reviews over the years — both at Spider-Man Crawlspace and now with Whatever a Spider Can — then you’ll want to check out this YouTube chat. It’s one hour of the two of us talking about craft or writing, The Amazing Spider-Man, and a few other topics of interest to those who tuned in during the live stream.

Mike, as always, was the consummate professional. I hope to have him back again for another YouTube hangout sooner rather than later.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

9 comments

  1. Thoughts:

    1. Serial adventure plots are terribly repetitive, compared to novels. That’s why I think characters matter more in the format. That’s why writing characters poorly really undermines adventure writing. It’s the characters that keep the same old 8-10 plots interesting. How Captain America would deal with the giant alien robot compared to how Wolverine or Ambush Bug would deal with it is the hook.

    2. The rate at which these stories need to be churned out contributes to their sloppiness. Movie studios have the time to run their stories through the refinement mill 100 times, sometimes even mid-production (and they can still get it wrong!).

    3. Interchangeable characters = blah stories. I’ve read that Slott wanted to use Black Widow in “Ends of the Earth”, but was told no. So he subbed in Silver Sable. But you can’t tell me it mattered. Black Widow is a Russian ex-KGB spy and assassin, and an Avenger. Sable is an Eastern European national-security director, and former mercenary. But Slott just subbed them, because most Slott characters are interchangeable.

    1. 1. Excellent point! It’s also character, like I said during the live stream is why people keep coming back to those adventure stories–because they care about the people, especially the protagonist, in them. Even when you look at non-comic book adventure-type characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Conan, James Bond, Indiana Jones and Doctor Who have stood the test of time is because, aside from their wish-fulfillment appeal, they all have distinctive personalities, drives, ambitions, goals, etc. that make us empathize with and be interested in them, so much so that we want to see what crazy adventure they’ll wind up getting involved with next.

      2. All the more reason why, when we do get a good superhero comic book we should appreciate it all the more. Because in spite the pressure they were under, they still went the extra mile to tell a great story first and foremost.

      3. Point of correction: Silver Sable didn’t replace Black Widow in End of the Earth, she replaced Black Cat. Which would also explain why, prior to “Ends of the Earth,” Silver Sable thanks Spider-Man if a full on kiss despite earlier Spider-Man showing how she had no romantic inclinations towards him whatsoever. Black Widow was also in “Ends of the Earth,” but was a substitute for Flash Thompson/Venom for the same reasons Slott couldn’t use Black Cat. Nevertheless, your point still stands.

    2. 1) Doctor Who is a perfect example. No matter how many times he faces the Daleks, what makes it interesting is that 4 would deal with it one way, 10 another, and 12 even another and so on. As long as the writer of the series has a good understanding of that regeneration’s personality, the story can still feel fresh.

      2) How did Peter David write Hulk for 12 years, with very little bad? Given statistics based on modern writing you would think at best only 60% of it should be good to great. Yet for 12 years Peter David wrote a single character amazingly. It can’t even be explained by his writing that character so long, otherwise Slott should be getting better, but appears to be getting worse. I think it is just a matter of knowing your character and caring to write a good appealing story. That doesn’t mean you avoid the controversial, just that when you do, don’t be so flippant about it.

      3) Understanding who you character is and how they would react to any given situation is key to writing a good story. Its why after what he said about OMD, I kind of gave up on Busiek.

  2. Enjoyed it so far, only got half way through. I’ll share some of my long-winded thoughts (sorry)

    Character vs. plot driven…I tend to prefer Plot driven stories…which is probably why I have a hard time reading and sticking to a comic book anymore. Manga for example tends to be plot driven…once the tale is told, the story is over, normally, we won’t read yet another adventure of our favorite hero just ’cause (he was usually dead LOL). In that framework you can have great characters. I think a lot of people see Walking Dead that way, though I have a hard time enjoying it myself, despite how the format should appeal to me. For most of my youth I was highly entertained by Chris Claremont’s X-Men, though, very character driven,

    A point you two talked about that I found interesting was about the editorial control in reference to X-men vs. Inhumans. Though it seems tight reigns are hurting the books, some of the best Marvel work (still being mined to this day) came during the Jim Shooter era, a time of tight editorial control and revolts by writers and artists that would later turn out pretty mediocre when ‘unleashed’…even Chris Claremont (it still annoys me to this day that the Image artists thought the quality of their work was so high, that we should be made to wait months and months for their work, along with some poor writing and plots, though I forgive Whilce Portacio, who is related to a close friend of mine).

    This maybe because of the editorial focus nowadays. To elaborate, nowadays it’s probably the focus on big events and ideas, “We need to push social relevancy (the SJW thing)” …”We have big media events to promote with the movies”…”We want the character to show the pitfalls of such and such behavior or career that we find ‘problematic'” …”We want to set up a fight between your character and another hero no matter how little sense it would make”

    In the past Editorial control was more: “This Panel looks off” “Spider-man wouldn’t say that” …”This event is offensive, and would make the reader recoil” …”This is a super-hero book, not a way for you to self-congratulate for ripping an idea off a novel” …”It would be hard for the reader to enjoy the story if we shoehorned this plot device”

    not that they didn’t make bad decisions…but it was clear even then, that free writers didn’t necessarily make good ones.

  3. I would be tempted to say that editing at Marvel has been taken over by marketing (disruptive multi-line events, trick numbering, cover gimmicks), where previous administrations focused on traditional editing (characters, dialog, tone-setting, clarity, pacing, continuity, as well as getting the thing out on time).

    Paradoxically, the fixation on marketing has resulted in comics selling more poorly because the caliber of the actual story-telling deteriorated.

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