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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

The DC-ification of Iron Man

I confess, I didn't read a lot of comic books before my college days (where my dorm had a comic book library), but on the great divide between fans of DC and fans of Marvel, I'm clearly a Marvel guy. One of the main reasons for this is the difference between the powers of the mainstays for the two franchises (Spiderman, for Marvel, with limited powers vs. Superman, for DC, with virtually unlimited powers). Sure, this is a broad generalization re the two worlds, with plenty of exceptions and counter-examples, including mistakes by Marvel (Captain America as "cosmically aware"), so all you fanboys and girl geeks out there, try not to get too riled up. But giving a superhero character too much power definitely lessens my interest. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is the more you increase power, the more you sacrifice credibility. Throw a little pseudo-science at me about Superman being from a planet with more gravity, and I can suspend my dis-belief enough to accept that he can fly (or at least leap tall buildings) and can see through anything but superdense objects, but have him fly backwards to reverse the rotation of the earth (and reverse time!) and I begin to roll my eyes, check my watch, and focus on my buttery-flavored popcorn. Spidey having to reload him web-juice from time to time lends credibility to his web-slinging, even if the scientific properties of his webbing are pretty impressive and occasionally inconsistent. The second is that you increase tension. If the hero is more or less impervious, you don't really worry about what is happening to him, but if he can be hurt or killed you do. Sure, I know you can meta-game the comics and movies by simply realizing that the good guy is bound to win at the end, but tension is not only a movie-long arc, it is something that affects each moment of the story and a character who is practically invincible not only will survive the tale, he will win every battle. In fact, in order to avoid this issue with an invincible character, the writers are forced to come up with increasingly strained reasons as to why such a character may have setbacks along the way (e.g., Kryptonite, or the tried and true threat against loved ones, particularly having to make a choice over who to save). And, no matter how many times Michael Bay may do it, I'm just not that interested in two (or two groups) of CGI effects battling each other. Iron Man 3 (SPOILERS ahead, so stop reading if you haven't seen the movie and plan to) demonstrates these issues. Tony Stark is clearly a flawed individual and his human weaknesses impact his character and add tension to the story. You not only worry whether he may be hurt or injured or whether his tech will fail on him, you worry about whether he will save his house or his business or Pepper or his relationship with Pepper--same with War Machine. But as the sequels have gone on, Tony's Iron Man suit gets increasingly powerful, oddly, even though it is increasingly shredded to smithereens. Great to see it smashed, cut in half, run out of fuel, and get scuffed up and need repair. But, a big disappointment that the individual components of his suit can fly (fast) to him wherever he is in the world and suit him up automatically. Yeah, it was never that credible that the suit could fly long distances (no fuel container for those rockets, so we have to assume the artificial heart's repulser beams do the job), but to have each separate piece of the suit, with no room for fuel or power or guidance systems, do so just stretches my willingness to suspend disbelief too far. And to have Tony be able to eject from and enter new suits quickly made the big fight sequence at the end a yawn. Yes, I still enjoyed the movie (liked the banter, thought it was cool that the suit that meant the world to Tony was number 42, and there were some nice effects and action sequences (the ending fight not among them)), but Marvel came close to DC-ifying Iron Man. The ending redeemed it somewhat, though Pepper (and possibly now Tony, if he gave himself the perfected serum) are now impervious for other reasons. Note, the credits said "Tony Stark will return." NOT "Iron Man will return." So, what's this all got to do with writing, the alleged point of these Writer on Demand TM blogs? Well, non-superhero stories and games have these same issues, too. In fact, collectible card games, in particular, have a recurring issue with developing new cards that are powerful enough to be sought after rares, then coming up with defensive cards or combinations which offset such power, lest the game ultimately be unbalanced. That's just a basic concern of game design--if something is too powerful, it unbalances the game. You see this in roleplaying games, too. It's one of the major reasons that spellcasting and magic items of power and such may have component or power costs or limits as to the number of uses, or number of uses within a specified period. (As an aside, I note that in the not-so-hot Iron Man 2, Iron Man uses a laser and a spin to cut down a large number of foes--then explains he can only do that once, immediately dealing with the unbalancing nature of the weapon.) These same issues affect your genre writing. Weapons, magic, tech, and characters have to have limited power to remain credible, build tension, and remain interesting enough to draw the reader along to the next page and the next. In particular, serial stories, like TV shows and books with lots of sequels have particular problems keeping power limited, because once the writers come up with a clever solution to an issue or stretch the power envelope, the reader/viewer remembers and knows that it is within the protagonist's repetoire. Effectively, tension isn't created for the reader/viewer when a similar problem/scenario arises which has previously arisen, because he or she is mentally or physically screaming "Why don't you just do what you did last time?!?" (BTW, a major problem with the original Star Trek: The Movie (Star Trek 1) ripping off the plot of one of the episodes from the original series.) Heck, on Criminal Minds, they've reached the point that Penelope fingers almost every bad guy, because they've gotten to the point that not only does she have mad skillz on the computer, but everything in the world is available on an easily searched database, and it is undercutting the show seriously at this point. Anyhow, that's my most recent rant on movies, comics, power, and writing. Check out my writing and see if I practice what I preach. Aloha, Don Don

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