Saturday, December 13, 2008

Of Character Development and Chocolate Billy-clubs

Howdy, people.
This entry is intended as a reply to the debate started by Jon in his Me Geek, you Geek comic book blog and followed up by Christine in a dedicated post at The Other Murdock Papers. I thought that the idea of replying with a post in one's own blog was cool, so I copied it (in a way, it reminds me of the story mode of the game Starcraft, in which the story progressed with the changing of the point of view of the protagonists).

The object of the contention was the latest issue, DD #113, part three of the Lady Bullseye arc, in which, among other things, Matt meets and has a short fight with the new villainess for the first time. Jon's criticism, if I have gotten it right, is that there hasn't been enough DD in costume, in the preceeding issues and in this one, and that Daredevil gets portrayed as a "pansy", "getting his ass handed to him" by Lady Bullseye and getting saved only by the intervention of master Izo. I don't entirely agree with this, but I'll return to it later.
In a follow-up to this post, Jon continues by enumerating the rate of costume/action pages in the most recent issues, from #106 to #113 (all written by Brubaker, with the issues from #107 to #110 in cooperation with Rucka). Eight issues. We're talking about more than half a year worth of Daredevil stories, here.

Here's a passage from Christine's reply:

As I suspected, this DOES come down to a matter of taste. Good action that drives the story forward? By all means. Action scenes that take up page after page and eats up actual story progression and forces character development to take a back seat? No, thank you.

And here's another from a comment by Darediva to the first post:

Give me some good character introspection over asskicking in tights any day of the week. Well, maybe not on Saturday nights...

I'm aware that those I reported are just parts extrapolated from more integral replies (so bear with me), but what I wonder is, at the end of the day, does it come down to "action & costume time" versus "character development & introspection time"?
Also, are the two mutually exclusive?

The answer I gave myself to both of these questions after some reflection is no.
I don't really care about how much time the main character spends in or out of costume, or even how much time he spends fighting.
I do love a good fight scene, I think I do more than Darediva does, and probably more than Christine does. But what matters to me is what kind of fight scene.
What Matt does in it. If his abilities and his style are portrayed with consistency. If he's really shown for the amazing fighter he is. How the fight is coreographed.
Another important thing is how the reason behind his battle fits in the storyline.
In the light of all this, I do love when Matt fights to protect innocents. When he's shown as a great fighter, with a versatile style, mixing force, cunning and agility. As a fearsome opponent to face, hard to take down.
And, because of this, I don't like when he's shown to be fearsome only to flunkies or to the occasional street thug, or when he gets jobbed just because the plot requires so, with maybe a dumb excuse behind it ("oh, no! I can't focus when there's dog poo on the curb!"). I could do without these instances and the "action time" involved into it.

About the times when there's no action, the problem remains basically the same, only translated to the different situation.
What really matters remains what the main character does. Is he shown as the hero I recognize, admire, and even - I dare say - identify with?
I won't go into it, because it's pretty complex for me to explain (and I suspect, boring for you to listen) what kind of psychological representation I like of Matt/Daredevil. So I'll just provide two examples.

I liked a lot the "out of costume" moment when, in #110, Matt refused the reprimand Dakota's dad was unleashing on him and instead declared him how much he despised the corruption they were trying to keep covered and how he wouldn't have backed off from that fight for no reason. This moment, I enjoyed it better than any of the fight scenes in that storyline.

I dislike, instead, the general trend of having Matt insecure, troubled, and spending time to whine instead of acting.
I said it. That's what I don't like by now in Brubaker's run. Matt whines a lot. Whines instead of acting. And when he does act, often it's just "reacting" and thus playing right into the machiavellian games of his opponents, who are almost always shown to be one step ahead of him.
The sad thing is that this has affected pages of the recent storylines in a way that I don't enjoy them the way I hoped to.
Now, with the "Cruel and Unusual" storyarc, I don't know if it's because of some advice by Rucka, but I think that Brubaker has managed to regain some balance, in this sense.
As I said in Jon's first post, anyway, I'm still a little uncertain, as this may just be wishful thinking on my side. I used to believe a lot in Brubaker, back during "The Devil in Cell Block D". Eventually though, this honeymoon has rather abruptly ended, and now I'm sincerely afraid that Brubaker may pull off something that might again disappoint me.

We'll see. Some signs point toward Brubaker having regained the right grip again. For example, I don't agree on the fact that he "got his ass handed to him" by Lady Bullseye. I was afraid (see what I mean?) that the new villainess, being a debutting character, would have mopped the floor with DD, as a cheap way by the author to build her some credibility. Instead, Brubaker manages to make her a credible threat while at the same time showing that our hero is entirely capable of taking her on (a part of Matt believed he could take both her and four ninjas, before master Izo came and deprived him of all the fun).

So, this is what I think. Feel free to say yours - for this big comic book blog crossover ;) - in the comments below.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Well spoken, Francesco, and I agree with a lot of it. I don't think action and character progression are mutually exclusive, but too often less competent writers actually use extend fight scenes to pad their stories because the plot isn't strong enough.

Good fight scenes are the ones that make sense and help drive both character development and plot. A classic example of a bad fight scene would be the last three issues of Secret Invasion. Did anything interesting actually happen? Bad fight scenes give fight scenes in general a bad name.

Oh, and to all the people who don't know I'm making a chocolate billy club video segment, I think the title of this post might seem a little confusing. LOL