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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Dictionary – Idea Repertoire

Idea Repertoire describes the stock amount of ideas certain writers continually fall back upon, no matter what type of comic they’re writing.

I do not think having an idea repertoire is a NEGATIVE thing, really. It is just something that you notice when you read a writer a lot, that certain ideas keep showing up.

Brian Bendis has now killed off Scott Lang twice in his comics.

Chris Claremont uses slave traders a lot.

Karl Kesel is obsessed with old Kirby characters.

Greg Rucka has introduced two strong female characters, both of whom were totally fixated on the star, male character.

What other idea repertoires spring to your mind?


Warren Ellis making the same point that turning invisible should or does cause the Invisible Woman to go blind in Ruins, Planetary and Ultimate Fantastic 4.

Grant Morrison has a constant theme of “evolution/new replacing old/enemies being the same thing/everything is part of everything” through much of his work.

moose n squirrel

June 7, 2006 at 10:18 pm

Morrison’s very specific use of metafiction as a metaphor for control since Animal Man (i.e., the sudden appearance of the author/writer/reader/”real world” inhabitant represents little more than a power imbalance or loss of control on the part of the character “trapped” in the fiction).

moose n squirrel

June 7, 2006 at 10:22 pm

That is to say, Morrison uses metafiction, but isn’t interested in metafiction per se – he’s interested in using it to point to something else he’s more interested in (his idea that the real world is in some way false or a trap).

Ellis has the superhero as shaman note that he has used in Doc Strange, Authority and X-Man. And probably some works I haven’t read.

DeMatteis uses Hindu cyclical history in at least a couple of places (his runs on Doctor Fate and X-Factor, I know about, maybe others as well.)

Mike Loughlin

June 8, 2006 at 5:30 am

Peter David’s tendency to incorporate nerdy pop-culture (e.g. Star Trek, British comedies) into his scripts. I know, lots of writers do now, but he was putting little references into Hulk & X-Factor over 10 years ago.

Off the top of my head, Ellis has used the ‘war garden’ concept in STORMWATCH, STRANGE KILLINGS and now NEXTWAVE. Also, the power of love transmitted to kill faceless enemy in GLOBAL FREQUENCY and at the end of his ULTIMATE trilogy.

Ian Astheimer

June 8, 2006 at 8:22 am

Ellis has also pulled out the “I eat raw meat” card a couple times recently. In Desolation Jones, Jeronimus Corneliszoon chows down on fresh cow flesh, while General Dirk Anger boasts about beating down and tearing apart his dinner to new H.A.T.E. recruits in the first issue of Nextwave.

James Robinson likes to think that everybody is as obsessed with old movies as he is. Two particularly silly examples come to mind: Sand battles the Geomancer in an early issue of JSA, and the villain makes an obscure movie reference in battle, and the hero thinks “I know what he’s talking about since I’ve spent the last few years watching every movie ever made!”; Two villians standing guard in CAPTAIN AMERICA are arguing about (I believe) Woody Allen movies, allowing Cap to get the drop on them. Shockingly, there has been no mention yet of old movies in his new Batman arc, but there’s still one issue to go.

Garth Ennis created two characters who had their willies cut off and both remarked about either having or not having enough left to use to pee (the hitman in *Preacher* and the guy from the birthday issue of *Hellblazer*).

He also uses perversion/odd sex acts as a flag for “baddie” (Herr Starr, Jesus de Sade, the investigator guys, Odin, Cassidy during his bad days, etc.). Yeah, this is just the usual shock value stuff, but it starts feeling overused when a new villain is introduced and oh surprise! Yet another guy who does strange things with his manparts!

“Shockingly, there has been no mention yet of old movies in his new Batman arc, but there’s still one issue to go.”

That is a little odd – especially since one of his characters (Bullock) actually has a long, previously-established history of being obsessed with old movies!

Mark Millar always has superheroes partying with celebrities. I know he did it in The Authority, The Ultimates and in Civil War, and I’m sure there have been other times that I haven’t read.

And Garth Ennis is forever writing about WWII fighter pilots. He did it in Hellblazer, Preacher, Enemy Ace and Thor: Vikings.

I’ve gotta admit, when I read the term “idea repertoire,” I thought Brian had something grander in mind, more along the idea of themes that writers repeatedly touch on, or conceptual hobbyhorses they like to ride. Most (not all) of the examples – including Brian’s own – strike me more as stylistic tics than ideas. (Killing Scott Lang is an “idea”?) That’s fine as far as it goes, but I’m personally more interested in the theme/hobbyhorse notion, since it feels more revealing of a writer’s psyche. Having said that, I haven’t got any great examples of my own, with the possible example of Claremont’s old fixation (I don’t know if he still has it, since I don’t read his new stuff) on making female characters stronger by putting them through torturous experiences. I do feel there’s something, probably many things, to be said in this regard about Grant Morrison (in addition to moose n squirrel’s contribution and nicholas’s somewhat vague suggestion) – but I’m damned if I can put it into words.

Isn’t this just a fancier name for a “tic?”

Warren Ellis tends to integrate memes or memetic programming into a lot of his work. Off the top of my head, I remember them popping up in Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency, the Ultimate Extinction trilogy, and Angel Stomp Future. I’m pretty sure there are more examples, too.

This one’s pretty obvious, but Neil Gaiman always has a meta-contextual framework to his stories. There’s always a “story within a story” or even an explanation of some explanation that involves “well, that’s just the way wizards wash their clothes.” It gives the feeling that someone is, in fact, telling this story to us.

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned John Byrne’s repetitive use of young (usually teenaged), spunky female characters: Kitty Pryde in X-Men, Talisman in Alpha Flight, Jazz in the Next-Men, Cassie Sandsmark in Wonder Woman (yes, he created her), all the way up to that young girl (I forget her name) who recently appeared in his Doom Patrol series.

Gaiman, and his Chestertonian resolution, most previously seen in Mirrormask.

Garth Ennis, when working on any book appearing in a shared universe, will team up his hero with a popular character in that universe and portray the popular character as an ineffectual and/or buffoonish foil to the character he’s writing. (Hitman and Lobo/Green Lantern/Batman, Punisher and Daredevil/Spider-Man/Wolverine–his Superman appearance in Hitman is the exception, being a rare case where Tommy treats a costumed hero with respect.)

John Byrne tends to run some version or other of Dark Phoenix in all of his comics, in which a female character becomes a rampaging super-powered nutter. The Invisible Woman did it in his FF run as Malice, Scarlet WItch notoriously did it in his WCA, and he actually created such a character in his Superman relaunch named Rampage.

JMS’ heroes all get stories that reveal that they received their origins through some kind of consciously-directed intervention, and there are no random, empowering accidents: see Spider-Man, the Strange miniseries, his first FF arc, and Rising Stars.

Frank Miller seems to use a lot of prostitute characters — Sin City uses Old Town, and Miller’s Catwoman from Year One and DKR, like MIkho in Sin City, is a martial arts expert who turns tricks. That’s probably more a genre element, but it does seem like a lot of his prostitute characters are martial artists, which isn’t a genre element.

Jack Kirby worked the idea of lab-grown superhumans into Thor, the Captain America story in Tales of Suspense #78, and his Fourth World work. Since he’s the first creator I can remember using the concept, it’s all cool.

To add more evidence to Ken’s point, James Robinson also used the “old movies” thing in his Legends of the Dark Knight arcs — in “Blades,” the Cavalier runs through a litany of old-school swashbucklers; in “Siege,” the two cowboy mercs have a lengthy conversation about Peckinpah western films vs. John Ford westerns. And Starman, of course, was replete with such stuff, the most noticeable ones being Frankie Soul’s bizarre diatribe on Phillip Marlowe film adaptations in “Sins of the Child” and the extended Shade text story that existed solely to write director Tod Browining into the backstory.

Len Wein recycled the resolution of Amzing Spider-Man v. #156 for Gunfire #6 — in both stories, the hero beats a villain who creates endless holograms of himself by dropping a large, cieling mounted object that hits all the “villains” at once.

Claremont’s idea repertoires are like a checklist of alternative sexuality:

– Bondage/Leather clothes, even when not age or situation appropriate.
– Possession and/or mind control, often used transformationally (Now Foobar is…..Dark Foobar, body and soul!)
– Characters that are part animal/furries.
– The aformentioned torture/stress as a change agent for female characters (never male ones).
– Teen girls mentored by adult women, ‘soul bond’.
– Telepathy as ‘mind rape’.
– Kidnapping/transportation to a fantasy setting, always geining a skimpy outfit along the way. In Asgard, the X-Men don’t wear armor. They go shirtless or wear bikini dresses.
– Britain. There’s always a reason to go to the U.K. or deal with British people.
– Musicians or rock stars.

Morrison tics:

– Nonsense words presented as ‘fait accompli’ concepts. Such as: ‘Keynesian Antimatter Drive Precepts’ presented as a crucial plot device.

– Seamless interaction with alternate worlds, or alternate versions of the characters.

– Scotland, particularly the stereotype of the Glasgow ‘hard man’ or gangster. Managed to work it into ANIMAL MAN, which takes place in San Diego. Nice.

– “Superheroes are stupid”, there is almost always a point where someone acts like a traditional Silver Age comic book /hero villain and is easily defeated because the dream logic of comics really does not make sense in other contexts.

Tenzil, good job.

Another Claremont tic – really awkward fanfic-style (sorry brian!) flirtation between two platonic friends that comes out of nowhere and sounds really corny and is never followed up on again.

Claremont’s tics could be their own post, really….he also seems to do an enormous amount of nonconsnsual body-mod stuff: Spiral’s origin, Psylocke being forced into an Asian body, Rachel-Phoenix’s “hound tattoos,” Callisto’s tentacles in Excalibur v.3.

I just about added Wolverine’s origin to that list, but I’m still not sure how much of that was Barry Windsor-Smith’s doing and how much of it was Claremont’s overall direction for the character.

Also, while we’re on the topic of Morrisonisms, I think we have to add in “large, mindless monsters that shout ‘AUUUUUUUU’ ” and “Experienced ‘mentor’ heroes and characters who say ‘Hhh’ or ‘Hrrrh.’ or some close variant thereof.”

Also, at least one character will deliver a somewhat lengthy monologue infodumping the details of some real-world alternative science theory or other in everything he writes, most recently the Masaru Emoto stuff in Frankenstein! #3 (which was, in fairness, relevant to the plot). Other examples: Crazy Jane going on about Gysin’s dreamachine to no plot purpose in one of his early issues of Doom Patrol and James Highwater talking about M-theory in Animal Man in the car trip out to the peyote mesa. There’s thematic justification for it most of the time, but it’s not woven into text or subtext quite as subtly or cleverly when we get characters basically giving us Grant Morrison’s own speeches.

Warren Ellis and Alan Moore do much the same, of course. It’s just that all three of them have moments in their work where you can literally hear the plot grinding to a halt so the hobbyhorse can be ridden.

Rape/sexual abuse as origin motivation for women rerun endlessly from Red Sonja onwards. ‘Cos, like, you couldn’t motivate a girl with something as abstract as justice.

Personally I find I can be motivated to do almost anything by the prospect of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.

Claremont: Exposition up the wazoo

Ennis: Irish and German characters, bars, smoking

Ellis: Smoking, characters threatening use of unsual phycial harm

Waid: Peter David-like one liners, characters. speaking. in. one. word. sentences

Moore: Alliteration, time paradox storylines

Morrison: the use of the prefix “Hyper”

David: Recycled jokes (ex. never assume–the ASS of U and ME joke)

Bendis: Against genetic self-manipulation

Warren Ellis loves to write sardonic, trenchcoat-wearing, chain-smoking, British black ops type characters.

Claremont loves to try and write English, Irish, or Scottish accents, despite the fact that he has clearly never set foot in any of these places.

Or, if he has, he was wearing earplugs at the time.

He likes to put in lots of other accents too, but I can’t comment on their accuracy.

Morrison: Themes of chaos vs. order (Zenith, Invisibles, Kid Eternity, arguably Seaguy, others). Rejection of “grim and gritty” superheroics in favor of crazier silver-age stuff (Flex Mentallo in Doom Patrol, two seperate arcs in JLA, and another in JLA Classified, Doom Force, the absurdity of Beardhunter… shall I go on? Honestly, I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a “superheroes are stupid” moment in one of his books.).

Gerber: Use of “moral crusaders” as villainous or antagonistic types (The Foolkiller in Man-Thing, the Kidney Lady and the Sinister Soofi in Howard the Duck, Iprah (sorta) in MAX Howard the Duck). Kinda funny that he had this tic even before “moral crusader” types caused the cancellation of Void Indigo…

Straczynski: Telekinetics who can only manipulate very small objects being used in black ops because the carotid artery is a very small object (used in both Babylon 5 and Rising Stars, explained in nearly the exact same manner).

Ellis: That one bar in Russia where people nuke themselves to avoid being used in the war machines of heaven and hell (both Stormwatch and Planetary).

Sam Kieth: Traumatic female childhoods/adolescences (at least three seperate plotlines in the Maxx touch on this, as do Zero Girl and Zero Girl: Full Circle).

Milligan: Heroes descovering/embracing queer (I am one, so I can use that word) identities (Enigma, X-Force/Statix… others?).

Other than less specific ones (Gaiman loves archaisms, Johns loves legacy heroes, Simone loves Kung Fu), that’s all that’s coming to mind at this moment.

Oh, and dave, about Claremont? He was born in London, so it’s reasonable to assume he’s set foot in England.

And I spend all that time writing that post without filling in my name. Me = dumbass.

eaten by a grue

May 2, 2009 at 7:11 am

I forget the writer, but didn’t the character of Mantis make an appearance in 3 different universes?

The Mantis stories were by Steve Englehart.

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