Monday, July 11, 2016

Bad Guys: Creating the Perfect Nemesis

The hardest character to create is the nemesis. Some comics do it right, while others don't even bother. Making it weirder is that some comics have created entire teams of great nemeses for their heroes, and each one works, sometimes against other heroes, while some of them work even against other nemeses. There are some basics to consider when you create a nemesis for your characters.

The Anti-Theme: Some comics have a very definite theme, and the hero tends to be the paragon of that theme. The Anti-Theme is a character that represents the other side; if the theme of the comic is "family is important", this is the guy that works alone and sees family as a weakness. If the theme is "war is bad", this is a gung-ho Marine. Although he may start off as weak, he should get stronger as the heroes do. It needs to be noted that this nemesis isn't necessarily a bad guy; he just has a different perspective than the heroes. This means that he also team-ups the most of any villain with the heroes; sometimes the heroes just need that perspective. If the theme of Spider-man is that of family, as well as that science is good for humanity, then this is why The Lizard and Doctor Octopus are great nemeses: The Lizard is also a family man, but with a dysfunctional one, while Doc Ock is from the "science is good for ME" side of the coin.

Alpha Villain: The hero is usually seen as the Top Dog of his universe, however that universe is defined. For some heroes this instills a certain noblesse oblige, such as with Superman: He is the most powerful person, so he has to do the most good. Others see themselves as the Supreme Policeman, responsible for protecting their area: Batman protects Gotham CIty from the worst of the worst. When you look at their nemeses, the best are after their spot, albeit from a different perspective: Luthor also seeks to be the hero, even though he is after it for personal reasons. The Council of Owls wants to protect Gotham City, but that's because they want to monopolize all of the power. A good nemesis has the same goals as his respective hero, but they are twisted a bit.

The Opposite Number: In some cases, the nemesis is virtually identical to the hero, except for their goals. Doctor Doom is the best example of this, as he and Reed Richards are so close. Batman seems to have acquired a number of these: A decent subset of his villains, such as Hush, Anarchy, even Catman, are humans that have pushed themselves beyond normal human limits, but for personal reasons, such as revenge, serving chaos, even to simply test themselves. These nemeses work because they show how the hero could have turned out had circumstances been different. It's not only a great way to explore the character, but if the villain starts taking on the beliefs of the hero you have a great new character, even one that could replace the hero.

The Mistake: Every hero has that one villain created because he screwed up. With Batman you have The Joker, who was the result of being pushed into a vat of chemicals by Batman. Professor X has The Juggernaut, who he made the mistake of showing his power by revealing he knew Cain Marko's secret shame. This character is great because he shows that the character is capable of mistakes at the same level of his powers, and how he deals with that mistake shows a lot about who he is.

The Competitor: Of course, occasionally you have that nemesis who is all about the competition, and that's it. He's not really a villain, and he may have nothing in common with the hero past he sees the hero as one of the greatest challenges of his career. Kraven the Hunter is the best example here: He sees Spider-man as a worthy foe, and therefore someone he needs to defeat. This is villain is different from the rest in that good and evil doesn't really apply to him; he can ally with the villains or hero, and it doesn't come off as forced. The character may even be a hero is his own right, he just likes messing with the hero as a sort of progress check on his own abilities.

Above all, remember to have some fun creating the Big Bad. It's a cliche, but your heroes are only as good as their villains, so make your villains as nasty as you possibly can. This is definitely an area you can have some fun with, so take full advantage of that. Do it wrong, and the villain fades into mists of memory; do it right, however, and you could have one of the most memorable characters ever!

Friday, July 08, 2016

Spandex Versus Armor

There are two schools of thought when it comes to super-hero outfits: form and function. This is also known as the dreaded Spandex versus Armor debate. This may not be a major debate for most comics; if it becomes an issue for your romance comic it's an obvious cue that divorce is not going to be an option. However, for comics with a little bit of action this can be a serious issue.

[For the purposes of this discussion, "Spandex" means "any outfit made of a material tight enough to reveal anatomical details, usually made of (but not limited to) Spandex". This also includes futuristic materials that are render the wearer invulnerable if the material happens to be skin-tight. "Armor" means "any bulky outfit designed to protect the wearer from harm"; this can include any suit of medieval armor, powered armor, or even modern military armor.)

There are a number of issues to consider here, and they are all going to come down to some interesting political debates. Putting those aside for a moment, some characters prefer Spandex, others armor; it depends on a small number of factors. Generally, if the character has some degree of invulnerability (that is, he's tougher than most armors), odds are good that he's going to prefer Spandex. Characters that prefer stealth or mobility will generally also prefer Spandex. This is also the choice for those who like to flaunt their bodies; being a hero leading an active lifestyle does have its advantages.

On the other hand, characters espousing knightly ideals or those that are all-too-aware of their mortality are going to prefer armor. Armor is also the choice of the tech-based character as it allows them to show off more of their technology as well protect it. Characters with military or police origins also prefer armor, recognizing that it not only provides armor but also because it engenders respect. Armor is also used by those with handicaps in order to provide mobility. For those with a secret identity to protect, a good suit of armor obscures physical features as well as facial ones, making it harder to identify the character.

You also need to decide on which side of the objectification war you are on. Putting a woman in Spandex is treated as demeaning to the character; the character does not exist past her physical attributes. Putting a female in a Spandex outfit is tantamount in some circles to reducing her to just her physical appearances, and is a way to diminish any other value she may have. Even if you don't see it that way, be aware that some people do.

There is, of course, a third option which seems to be forgotten: clothing. Usually used by Asia or Arabian characters, the character wears actual clothing. This can be as simple as a pair of jeans and a hoodie all the way to something out of the Arabian Knights. This can also include characters that go around in military dress, specifically camouflage or dress uniforms. Although usually used to accentuate the character's origins, it also allows an outfit that isn't Spandex or armor.

Regardless of which mode you choose, make sure that it represents the character well, and fits within the theme of your comic. Definitely have fun, but make sure that the outfit fits.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Comic Book Fashion Design

When it comes down to comic book fashion design, there are two basic camps, depending on how you perceive the world. Ignoring super-heroes and cyborgs for a moment, the issue is more than just aesthetic, even though your illustrator may disagree; there are issues of how gritty you want your comic to look, and dear you want human life to be. Those looking for a gritty story where human life is cheap usually ignore body armor in favor of decent fashion. Not only does it underscore that human life is cheap, but that it's more important to go out looking good than actually being good. 

It also makes for an important point regarding relationships: People are going to have relationships that tend to the superficial, and that are more important for the political relationships they represent than the actual relationship. Some are going to be based solely on how pretty or handsome the characters are, and will likely last only as long either is in fashion. It also means that ugly characters are going to be easily aggravated, as the only relationships they have are those that they pay for or force. The world may be pretty, but the people are ugly. 

On the other hand, if you want to show that human life is important and worth clinging on to, then put everyone in armor. The armor doesn't just act as a protection against bullets and blades; it also shows the necessary armor that people put on in order to protect them life. People are likely to not expose themselves very often, and when they do they are likely to go full bore. Relationships are going to seem forced and usually long term; once someone finds he feels comfortable with he is likely to do whatever it takes to keep that relationship. Even those that appear open are likely to keep some part of themselves hidden. This world will be filled with a lot of icebergs, where everything is chilly and there is a lot more going on then what appears.

Of course, you can mix the two approaches as desired, either on a person-by-person basis or creating a split world between those the pretty and the armored. That could make for some very interesting characters, especially as their personalities would have a very visual aspect to them. Ultimately, when you decide where you are on the armor debate, talk it over with your illustrator and see what the two of you decide. Regardless of that decision, it is one worth debating.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Costume Design 101

Costume design will always be one of those perennial debates. Which colors to use, should there be a team logo, should the costumes even look the same makes for some interesting choices. All of these decisions and more need to be decided before pen hits paper or you will waste a lot of time, paper, and effort on costumes you know you won't use. So let's work through the design process a bit.

The biggie is whether or not uniforms will be in play. If you're working on a super-hero team, a military group, or even a religious organization then the use of uniforms is assumed, and you just need to decide on what the uniform will look like. If you are doing a school comic, uniforms not only allow you to play with authority issues but can also make drawing a lot easier. If you are dealing with a group where some uniformity is required, then uniforms are usually the best way to go.

However, even if you want everyone to be independent thinkers, you may want to debate the concept of uniforms: When everyone wears the same thing it not only shows that they are alike in thought, but it is also easier to differentiate between groups. Even if the uniform is a general sense of dress rather than identical clothes it will help to unify a given group of characters. If you have a large group of characters and you have them divided into a group of factions, giving them an identical or similar appearance gives you access to a visual shorthand that helps readers identify who belongs to which group easily and can even help identify which group a character is in just by their dress.

The group styles can be defined as loosely or as exactly as you need. If one group does T-shirts and jeans, another can do hoodies and slacks. You can even point out that certain groups wear a specific kind of T-shirt or jeans, be they their own groups or a sub-division of another group. Keep in mind that groups have defined the difference between itself and another by as little as what animal they wore on their shirts, so you have a lot of room to play with. Just remember that when you define a group's clothing you need to stick with it; a change in clothing should be allowed only for a significant change in the group.

[Quick Aside: This can also be a great way to strengthen your story and create debate among readers. If a character switches factions then obviously his mode of dress will switch as well. Characters belong to multiple factions will combine styles, just as characters belonging to one faction while being sympathetic to another will include some of that style in their dress. This can also create some discussion if a character known to be one in faction wears the clothing of another; a lot of questions will be raised regarding that character's true loyalties. Clothing can be a scary tool in the right hands.]

Even if you do go with uniforms, keep in mind that there are a lot of areas for personal options. Even if you decide to use military uniforms, you have a lot of play beyond branch and rank insignia. The condition of clothes, jewelry worn, even something as simple as sleeve length (even a matter of inches, such as a sleeve worn just above the wrist versus one worn just below) can make a huge difference between two characters. Even if there is a base uniform, a character can modify it to their liking and those modifications can tell a lot about the character. When they first started out in the New Mutants, Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie wore the default uniform even if it was a bit loose and wrinkly on him while Danielle "Mirage" Moonstar added all sorts of Cherokee flourishes to her tight uniform. Doug "Cypher" Ramsey wore his uniform tight (when he wore it; for a shy character he seemed to lose parts of his uniform frequently) and it seemed brighter than average while Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclaire wore hers tight but the colors were more muted than other uniforms. That variety within just four outfits can be expanded as needed. It's just a matter of realizing that a uniform can be an expression of the character and his faction and then running with it.

In short, if you want to show unity among your team, uniforms are the way to go. And they do not all need to be identical, allowing you to have some fun with the concept.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Frank Cho is a Jerk

Frank Cho is a jerk. He recently drew a Spider-Gwen on a blank cover variant in the style of Milo Manara. Yes: He drew her with her butt in the air. He then published this to his tumblr account. When the predictable fury hit, he responded not by taking it down, but by drawing Harley Quinn in the same position. Apparently he busted the internet as the response as not been as vociferous as it was for the Spider-Gwen picture.

Suffice to say that the comments have been predictable. A number of ardent feminists have complained about the picture; apparently women just aren't supposed to be in that position as it appears that she is proferring herself to...someone. Men's right activists have snagged on to the whole thing as a welcome attack on feminism, and one that needed to happen. Both of these groups have sort of missed the joke.

The joke is way that too many people treat objectification of women far too seriously. With people that have a healthy sexually there is some objectification of the other sex; this happens just as often in women as it does men. When a woman goes to a Chippendales performance, she isn't all that interested in the backstory of the guy gyrating before her quite as much as the guy's muscles and control thereof. It just seems that somewhere along the way some people started treating sex far too seriously; it just seems as if somewhere along the line sex became a bad thing, and any expression of that is bad. By taking the sex out of comics you effectively neuter them.

The irony is that we need more sex in our comics for them to be taken seriously, and yet people scream in outrage when the subject is even considered.

It was sort of nice to see him to fire back with Harley once there was a problem with Batgirl. So Frank Cho is a jerk. But he's one I can respect.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of Mediocrity

[WARNING: Thar Be Spoilers Ahead. It's sort of necessary for me to make some basic points.]

This is one of those movies no one wants to review.

The quickie version: Lex Luthor wants to take Superman out and so acquires soe kryptonite. He has a problem getting the kryptonite into The States, and so manages to sneak it in while killing off the senator opposing it and making things even worse for Superman's reputation. Batman figures out what's going on, snags the kryptonite and weaponizes it. Lex sets up a confrontation between the two and they fight. They of course end up teaming up, and Wonder Woman decides to skip a flight to help out against Doomsday. Superman "dies" and Batman and Wonder Woman decide to start up a team of metahumans. And of course it's a lot more complicated than that, but that's the gist.

So....the question is whether or not it's worth the 2-1/2 hours or so. And that depends on how you feel about "Man of Steel". There's a lot of good news: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons knock it out of the ball park as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Alfred respectively; Wonder Woman even has her own heavy metal/Greek theme that's worth the price of admission alone. You get to see some of the future Justice Leaguers in action, and there are a lot of great little Easter eggs.

Jesse Eisenberg deserves some special praise. As Alexander Luthor, he plays one of the creepiest psychotics ever, and he is easily the mental match of the two titans. There's even some debate as to whether or not he allowed Batman to steal the kryptonite in order to facilitate the titular disagreement. There is the problem of his motivation, which seems to change from scene to scene ("Superman must die!", "I have daddy issues!", wait no, "I hate gods!"..."Nope: I did it to protect the planet from an incoming threat! Yeah, that's it!"), but overall he takes the role and makes it his, just as Heath Ledger did with The Joker. It's actually a great performance.

The rest of the cast, however., could have been dropped and no one would have noticed. Lois Lane is chasing a story to prove Superman is a good guy, but the news story ends up not being needed. Ma Kent gives Clark some unnecessary cheerleading, as does the deceased Pa Kent (don't ask), and she also provides the victim that forces Superman to fight Batman. And the Daily Planet scenes could have been omitted altogether and no one would have missed them.

And then there is the Man of Steel. Perry Grant says it best with his "this isn't 1938" speech: This is not the Superman you know from virtually every other source, and is a jerk. He's had almost 18 months in order to deal gain some maturity as a hero, and hasn't. He's flying around doing good deeds, usually centered on Lois Lane, and he hasn't really learned anything from his helping to take down Metropolis. I'd love to allow that this is the beginning of his career, but anyone with kind of real conscience would have at least taken a step back and tried to figure out what he's doing based on the sheer amount he did; he apparently didn't even bother helping with the clean-up, resulting in some serious split opinions on his presence. He is seen as angel or devil depending on how one sees the events in Metropolis.

In short he's helping people but lacks the maturity he needs to be a real hero, and the Daily Planet puff pieces do little but feed his ego. And it's not the immaturity of a rookie hero but the arrogance of someone who just doesn't really care about those he's helping.

Adding to the mess is that the movie is trying to crib as much as it can from "Dark Knight Returns" and "Death of Superman", with added bonus religious material. He's being made out to be a messiah, including basically two resurrections (one after a nuclear strike and another after Doomsday kills him). If the movie had just decided to stick with a single source the movie would have been an hour shorter, at least, but combining the two with an extended set up for the Luthor basically siccing Superman on Batman and Lois' fruitless quest to prove her man innocent makes for a more muddled film than anyone should be forced to sit through.

There's also a lot of scenes that just don't make any sense beyond moving the plot along. Luthor should have needed a lot more than cut off finger-tips to fool the ship's biometrics and he should not have been able to over-ride the computer's safety protocols wth a simple bluff; they must have had the worst programmers on Krypton. The dream sequences are neat, but not really needed; they are more director's conceit than really needed. Even the conclusion of the fight should have gone better: Superman needed to be made aware that he can be beaten rather than yet again being allowed to get off. Even the explosion that killed off the senator Lex was having gave him an out as he didn't have to really deal with the consequences of his powers. it worth it? The Batman and Wonder Woman scenes are definitely worth it, as are the fight scenes. The special effects work, and there is a lot of fun with different camera angles. However, the scenes that concentrate on Superman are pretty much a waste of time; they tend to come off as, depending on the scene, either bad pop psychology or messianic mythology as told by an atheist who is mad at his dad. The movie needed a serious script editor, and someone needed to slap Snyder down a lot. So it's not a bad movie, but it's not a great one. This makes a great rental, especially as it allows the Easter eggs to better shine, but should be seriously debated before you go see it at the theaters.