Kill Me Softly
This is how I remember first meeting Boba Fett. He was mysterious, dangerous and didn’t back down from one of the meanest villains in any genre. It was love at first sight. Then came the prequels. The utter horror and dismay on my part as one of my all time favorite characters was reduced to a mere clone has stuck with me for years now. I used to collect anything and everything Fett. No longer. His image and his very essence had been tainted. By the man who created him. And why? To satisfy fans.
I’m a fan and I did not ask for this travesty. Yet over and over I see characters get slaughtered by their own writers. The comic book industry is rife with examples. (Deadpool being one of the foremost, more on that in a few.) Literature doesn’t escape it either. I recently finished the Hunger Games series. I was severely disappointed by how Katniss changed over the three books. She went from being a total badass to basically reinstating the very regime she’d fought to take down. How is that character progression? Is it meant to be an ironic statement by the author?
Then there is the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I loved the first book. Anita was a total kick ass woman who knew who she was and who she didn’t want to be. I was appalled and disgusted by the end of the series. Anita was no longer kick ass and amazing, she was a whore. She had gone from untouchable to just another bimbo sleeping with vampires. Is it no wonder I rarely read books with a female protagonist?
So what happened? Fans. Fans happened. Fans are awesome. I wish I had fans. But just like the electric kind they can be refreshing or they can blow shit all over the place. Letting your character get caught by fans reduces them to a bloody splatter on the wall, unrecognizable as the person you brought into existence. I’m a fan myself. I’m a huge fan of certain series and characters as you’ve probably noticed. I’m also a writer. (Another fact that I hope hasn’t escaped your notice.) As a writer watching another writer as they let fans dictate how a character evolves puzzles me.
I’m all for fan input, commentary, discussion and whathaveyou, but when it starts to affect how I view my own character it’s time to step back. I know my characters more intimately than I probably know myself. Does that mean I need to let you, my dear, dear reader know all those facts? No. Does that mean I don’t listen when people remark on certain attributes of my characters? No. Does that mean I write to please my readers? No. I write to please myself. If you like it awesome, great, fantastic we’ve got something in common. If not, no big.
So why do some writers get caught up in trying to please fans? Maybe they are afraid of what people will say if they don’t. Maybe they think that appealing to the lowest common denominator will gain them more sales. Which, while sometimes true, I think betrays the core reason for writing. Writers write to entertain, to educate and illuminate. Few single works do all three. Some can barely manage one.
It is my firm belief that writers have a duty to their story and their characters first, readers second. If the story and characters are sound, well crafted and compelling the readers will come. Being consistent when writing a character is paramount. And that point brings me to Deadpool.
Sure there are other comic book characters who have been rewritten by various writers. Each writer for a run has their own take on the character and the universe. A lot like fanfiction really. Look at Batman or Spider-Man. Though they essentially stay the same type of character, their core personalities don’t change. Deadpool aka Wade Wilson has no such luck. In his first appearance nothing is known about him, his actions and his verbage speak for themselves. We didn’t need to know his background at that point. We got it. He was a killer who enjoyed his job very much and also loved to talk. He was quite menacing and very obviously a bad guy.
After his first appearance he cropped up a few months later in X-Force #1 but only as a character profile. Slowly but surely he built a fandom and starting getting more appearances. Finally in 1993 he got to be a headliner in his own one-shot series Deadpool: The Circle Chase. That series ended and he was back to making short appearances until 1997 when he got his own title. This started off the Joe Kelly era of Deadpool which is considered by most fans to be the definitive version of the character. Then we come down to 2008 and a new writer by the name of Daniel Way. He’d worked on Wolverine: Origins and Ghost Rider, he’s legit. So why has his take on Deadpool has seen the most virulent derision from the loyal fans who have followed Deadpool from the early 90’s?
Deadpool began as a wise cracking mercenary who shot first and never thought to ask questions and acted as if the fourth wall was merely a suggestion. By the end of the Secret Invasion arc things are very clearly leaning in a different direction. Then came Dark Reign and Monkey Business. The wise cracking is still there but the wise is slipping. Instead of real humor there are inane refrences to (then) current entertainment news/gossip. And Deadpool has lost a whole bucket full of IQ points. He seems to have traded in his quirky talent for being painfully obvious yet obscure for being painfully dimwitted and trite. He’s still mouthy, but instead of being funny it comes across more as though a fourteen year old sat in his room dreaming up one liners and who then creates situations in which to use them.
The progression of Wade as a character has stalled. There is no internal conflict that was present in the earlier series and all the external conflict feels contrived. There is a fixation on being a ‘hero,’ but no real motive for this fixation other than wanting to be liked and this isn’t even explored or exploited as well as it could be. He tries to join the X-Men, of course that fails miserably, he’s not a ‘true’ mutant. So he tries to follow Spider-Man around to learn how to be a hero. He’s been a hero, multiple times in earlier incarnations, albeit never acknowledged by the Mavel Universe as one. Current issues are episodic and have more of a sitcom feel to them with little or no character development.
Sure some issues are funny, most are juvenile and not suited to the more mature audience that Deadpool has garnered over the years. While I am not a Way-nah-sayer, I do find his run to have been more puerile and much less fun than anticipated.
My main issue with him as the writer of Deadpool is that while he did introduce some interesting elements they were not used to their full advantage. He chose flash over bang. It looks like something happened but when the smoke clears, its just that. Smoke. Nothing really happened.
So what can we take from this example? When writing a character, any character you have to fully understand where they come from and their motivations. Once the action really gets going it can be easy to lose those motivations. That’s why it helps to step back every now and then and look objectively at what you’ve written. Is it really working? Is your character staying true to themselves or are you dictating things to make the story work? Author intrusion is going to be noticed by the reader and even those fans who have been begging for something to happen will know that you faked it. Don’t be afraid to write your character as they truly are and definitely don’t listen to fans who blow shit.
Yes, my boy. You are good.