Beauology 101: Character Driven

Written by Beau Smith. Complaints Are Forbidden.

Written by Beau Smith. Complaints Are Forbidden.

by Beau Smith

I want to be as close to knowing them as I did growing up from grade school through college…No…I’m not talking about a “getting old thing”, I’m talking about having fictional characters written so that I truly feel I know who they are and what they’re about. I want someone to do for the Marvel and DC Comics characters what the film writers of the related superhero movies have done for the same characters.

In the 1960s Stan Lee and his fellow creators at Marvel Comics originated superhero characterization for the modern world. They made it so you knew these characters, their flaws, their quirks, their good points and what they stood for. You even knew what they liked on their pizza and what bands they listened to. (Back then they were all Beatles fans.)

I’m Batman! And I’m Grouchy….didn’t anyone tell you?

I’m Batman! And I’m Grouchy….didn’t anyone tell you?

I think it’s time for Marvel and DC Comics to get back to doing this. The background and continuity of the characters is being, in my opinion, taken for granted by the editorial staffs, the writers and the marketing departments (Not all, but obviously a large portion). I believe they are assuming that every reader, old and new, knows the history and current personality of the characters. You cannot assume that. Huge mistake in both storytelling and marketing as well. They don’t know for two reasons; that history is not being retold, and there’s very little personality in the characters. You just get the same thing over and over, Batman is a grouch and Superman is good.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying EVERY character lacks personality, I’m saying a good percentage do.

There’s too much of what we call in writing “busy work” going on in a story to really let the readers get to know the main and supporting characters. There doesn’t have to be cement blocks of dialogue and text to do this. A good writer with a good artist can relay this with key words, dialogue, expression and action. Noted author Elmore Leonard was a master of this.

We’re Green Lanterns! And we don’t even know all of our names either.

We’re Green Lanterns! And we don’t even know all of our names either.

Look at a Green Lantern or Green Lantern related book. So many characters with so little time allotted to who they are and what they’re about. They end up as a string of cookie cutter characters that just fill up a panel dodging ray beams and swirling in space yapping about not much of anything. The editors of books want to almost make you feel at fault for not knowing 70 plus years of publishing history and keeping up with them in this rigged potato sack race.

I’m not asking for a bunch of talking heads issues, I’m asking for action stories where some time is set up to really let the readers know who the characters are, and why they do what they do as well as say the things they say. Some importance needs to be put into their words. The dialogue needs to explain in character, who they are and where they stand on things, from how to defeat a misguided intergalactic tyrant to what they like best on their tacos. The writers are being spread too thin in so many books to do what they are really good at doing, making the characters interesting, likable and relatable to the readers.

I’m DOOM! So stop copying me….

I’m DOOM! So stop copying me….

When some writers are focusing on a couple of books, they are at their best at giving superheroes the traits I mentioned above. These cases of focus can be nothing short of writing greatness. They are able to have characters carry an edge, sound real, and make every word resonate with the reader. Gone are the days of a villain saying “I am your doom…The world is MINE!”, or should be unless it’s Doctor Doom just being Doom. Humor needs to be there. We have humor in every day we walk this Earth, or lay on the couch binge watching TV. Good writers, pardon me, GREAT writers can make your palms sweat and two panels later make you smile and chuckle.

Pay attention to when a writer is working on four to five books. You’ll then notice that they’re being spread too thin. The dialogue is the first thing to suffer, and when dialogue suffers the character suffers, and in the domino effect, then the readers suffers, pays the price ($4-$5.00 a pop) and then they decide they can spend their money on a lot of other pop culture related items and they are gone from comic books. In this world there are more than three channels on the TV and of course, there’s the internet. This ain’t 1966.

Heavy handed editorial micro-managing doesn’t make for interesting characters either. The marketing department will make the creative kitchen a crowded place to cook. That also makes for a bad batch of cookies to serve.

Events, massive crossovers and never ending story arcs need to be rethought, and I’m being kind there. Reboots need to be booted for the most part. The word reboot in comics means, “That didn’t work, let’s throw some more against the wall and see if that sticks.”

I’m B’Wana Beast! And Some People Think I’m Really Beau Smith.

I’m B’Wana Beast! And Some People Think I’m Really Beau Smith.

Let it be known that there are also writers that work on just one book and can still put you to sleep faster than Ambien on a coast to coast flight. My suggestion would be to not only take the time to add some deeper characterization in these event driven stories, but to dedicate an event or limited series, one shot, to each of the character(s) so we can get to know them. For some it’ll be the first time, for others it’ll be a rekindling to the fire they once had. Please note that I am not talking about yet another “Origin” story, I’m talking about a story arc where we get to really know and possibly find out why we really like Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man or B’Wana Beast. As a writer, marketing director and former Creative Director, I know this can be done and everyone connected would reap the rewards. Stan Lee laid out the blueprint decades ago. We need to dust off those plans and make them the foundation to a stronger, and more interesting, home for the superheroes we enjoy. The same lesson goes out to those that are starting out their own new lines of characters, new ones or old ones.

Another suggestion that goes a long way with establishing just who a character is would be to make what they say interesting. In life we all have distinct personalities and it shows. Why can’t superheroes have that same trait? I think it’s a must.

I want to get to know my old friends and make some new ones in the process, don’t you?

Your amigo,

Beau Smith

The Flying Fist Ranch

@BeauSmithRanch on both Instagram and Twitter



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  1. John Altizer Says:

    Well done Beau! As you say we have lots ofcdistractions and pulls on our time. If the character isnt’t domeonecwe dan relate to. Our interest wain andcwe use our limited time else where.