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Cronin Theory of Comics – It Doesn’t Matter If Bronze Tiger Can Beat You Up

There is no doubt that, once you create a shared universe, the Comparative Hierarchy exists. It doesn’t even have to be two titles. It can be just one title with more than one character. If you have a book starring, say, a detective, if you then introduce another detective, the question WILL come up in the mind of the reader – who is the better detective? Once you get to the point like the DC or Marvel Universe, it is staggering – as there are SO many characters to be placed within the Comparative Hierarchy. But you know what? I think it’s fun, and shouldn’t really affect stories. Character A can run faster than Character B who can run faster than Character C. Nothing wrong with that. It gives the fans something to talk about.

Where the trouble lies, though, is when the writer of Character C starts to be concerned that Character C is slower than Character A and B.

That way lies madness!!

It doesn’t matter if Bronze Tiger can beat your character up!

I like Bronze Tiger. I think he was used quite nicely by John Ostrander in Suicide Squad. Part of Bronze Tiger’s background is that he was a really good martial artist. Heck, that was pretty much ALL he had going for him in the abilities department. He couldn’t fly or lift a car or whatever. He could just beat people up. It didn’t define him as a character, but it was a pretty notable attribute. The thing is, as soon as Suicide Squad was cancelled, Bronze Tiger suddenly couldn’t beat up a single notable DC character.

And I think that’s just silly. Conner Hawke and Black Canary are both interesting characters. I think they’re both filled with a lot of depth of characterization – really fully realized characters. So why should it matter if Bronze Tiger could beat them up? At the end of the day, they’re still the better, more interesting characters, even if they might lose a fight to a character like Bronze Tiger.

But instead, it has become this status symbol that whoever is currently being featured get pumped up so that they are one of, if not THE best at whatever it is that they’re specialists in. It’s no longer enough to be an interesting character who is really good at a lot of things – he/she has to be categorically better than other characters.

And I think it is unnecessary. Writers should just concern themselves with writing interesting characters – it doesn’t matter where they “rank” or “compare” with other heroes.

Recently, Reginald Hudlin had Black Panther outdo Dr. Doom at building armor!! Building armor!!! What the heck is up with THAT? It just seems so…needy. Not only needy, it seems almost lazy. An example of telling, rather than showing. Like when everyone would talk about how The Ray was the most powerful character in the DC Universe…until Damage was…until Takion was….you get the drift.

So here’s a deal, writers, please just write interesting characters, and leave the Comparative Hierarchy to fan-discussions or message boards.

23 Comments

Beating so-and-so at such-and-such is often a hint of Mary-Sue-ism.

I’m still trying to work out why Ralph Dibny is always alluded to now as “best detective in the world ever, after Batman lol”.

I don’t recall it being mentioned that much back in the day, but in 52 you get it shoved down your throat every five seconds.

On Dibney, I remember James Robinson’s Starman taking great pains to show him as a great detective who still recognized his betters: Hamilton Drew, for instance…

It’s kinda like pro wrestling, where the guy getting the push at the moment will automatically come out on top, even if that contradicts every logical assumtion. I suppose you can’t expect a writer to make his character inferior to anyone.

In the 90s there was a stage where DC (well, Dixon especially) was ranking the top 5 martial artists every other month. I think the main purpose of it was to establish his favorite Mary Sue as one of the top dogs of martial artists, right up there with Shiva, Dragon and Batman. It was so annoying. It especially made no sense since he was trained in an ashram and his teachers were never noted as being world-class martial artists themselves, yet they were able to produce a superior martial artist than Dick Grayson, who was trained by one of the greatest martial artists in the world, was already a world-class acrobat before he even started training, plus got tons of on the job experience. But alas, Dixon really wanted his Mary Sue, so there you go.

It’s funny, you use Bronze Tiger as an example, but I still think my favorite dead horse to beat Nightwing is a better won. He was used over his career to help establish Deathstroke, Connor Hawke, Azrael and numerous others as badasses, all of whom have beaten him down. You say Bronze Tiger hasn’t won a notable fight since Suicide Squade ended. Dick hasn’t won a notable fight since New Teen Titans was started!

Yeah, but basically I think DC is worse with the obsessive-compulsive ranking thing.

This just occured to me, but it’s like pro wrestling. How many matches you win is based on how much “heat” your character is perceived to have (if I’m using my kayfabe terminology correctly), and how much the producers like you. I imagine the same is true for any format where characters fight each other constantly and the outcomes are determined by a pool of different writers. So, the Justice League jobs for Deathstroke to try and make him look better, then Deathstroke jobs for the Birds of Prey- sometimes it’s what the story needs, sometimes it’s just trying to maximize commercial appeal.

I think some of this tendency caused the escalation in Batman being a jerk. If a writer wanted to make a character look like one of the more pleasant and down-to-earth members of the DC family, it was easy to put them next to Batman and have him scowl at them for a few pages.

Yes Evan, “jobbing” is a very good term for the phenomenon where you are supposed to lose just for the purpose of making the other guy look good. The problem with jobbing is that if you overdo it with certain characters, those characters’ reputation goes down and suddenly beating them is no longer that impressive. Nightwing and Bronze Tiger have jobbed so much now that I think readers expect any half-decent fighter to be able to take them out.

“So, the Justice League jobs for Deathstroke to try and make him look better, then Deathstroke jobs for the Birds of Prey”

I rather liked that character till the “using 90% of his brain” thing in Identity Crisis being the reason why he could take down the entire Justice League.

/ twitches

I think the JLA/Deathstroke thing was meant to show how out-of-sorts the JLA were.
The obsession with ranking is a symptom of fanboys writing for fanboys.

It just occurred to me one thing that bugs me about the “ranking” obsession. When it’s used, it tends to be used in a binary fashion:

IF ConnorHawke > BronzeTiger THEN
Winner = ConnorHawke
END IF

Pro Wrestling might work that way, but real life doesn’t – every sports fan knows about the “Any given Sunday” phenomenon, where the team or individual who’s clearly, objectively “better” doesn’t win every time. But in comics, such a “wrong” outcome isn’t just “Bronze Tiger had a bad day,” it’s a change in absolute terms.

That IS really annoying.

It’s also weird how it’s different for both companies.

At Marvel Spider-man is more or less equal to Daredevil is more or less equal to Iron Fist is more or less equal to Captain America. There are no really distinct tiers.

But once you get into the more powerful heroes, the Thing is less strong than the Sub-mariner (underwater) who is less strong than the Silver Surfer who is less strong than an enraged Hulk. (More or less.)

Over at DC, the less powerful heroes are “tiered off.” Nightwing is better than Huntress, but Bronze Tiger is better than Nightwing, but Batman is better than Bronze Tiger. (More or less.)

But the SUPER supers are more or less equal. Superman is more-or-less equal to Wonder Woman is more or less equal to Captain Marvel. Again, no really distinct tiers.

But, yeah, it IS silly and kind of anal to feel you have to PROVE your guy is tougher than Bronze Tiger. And it also feels like a substitute for REAL character development.

..but.. but… Doom is a bad guy who makes Armor. That’s like his thing. He put all his character points in it and took a really big charisma hit, which is why he talks int he 3rd person all the time.

…how the hell does the Black Panther make better armor than him? WHY make a story where the Black Panther makes better armor? That’s just stupid. The Black Panther outsmarts Doctor Doom? Yea, okay. Heroes do that. Shit, even Squirrel-Girl beat Doctor Doom once. That’s what the good guys do. They find a way to win.. but at no point did they ever say that Squirrel-Girl was stronger/better/crazier than Doctor Doom.

All of which makes me love Journey into Mystery #112 all the more, as the entire point of the story is that characterization is more important than fictional rankings of physical attributes.

"O" - the Humanatee!

September 11, 2006 at 2:28 pm

“..but.. but… Doom is a bad guy who makes Armor. That’s like his thing. He put all his character points in it and took a really big charisma hit, which is why he talks int he 3rd person all the time.

…how the hell does the Black Panther make better armor than him? WHY make a story where the Black Panther makes better armor?”

Because Hudlin’s Black Panther is better than everybody else at everything. And Wakanda is the bestest, smartest, most advancedest society ever!

Can an entire country be a Mary Sue? (Marysuevania?)

(Nothing against T’Challa or Wakanda, by the way. I’m very fond of the character and setting – just not Hudlin’s idealization of them.)

What can I say, Brian? It’s more important to have people always trying to prove that Wolverine isn’t “the best at what he does”, then it is to actually give Wolverine a personality beyond the borderline psychopath with the mental implants. *wink*

“Can an entire country be a Mary Sue? (Marysuevania?)”

As I pointed out on my own blog, Hudlin’s Wakanda answers that question with a firm and resolute “Yes.”

SanctumSanctorumComix

September 12, 2006 at 6:55 am

That’s why I got to give props to MAN-THING.

He is really good as standing around like a tree or sitting on his ass.

He is the BEST at being an under-achiever, but he doesn’t have to go PROVING it to everyone.

He doesn’t go around the swamp having “sloth” contests with everyone.

Yet, if another character, like the bloated zombie-corpse of a pirate goes floating by, in an OBVIOUS superior show of “slack”, the MAN-THING is chill with that.
Acknowledges the superior (lack of) effort and shambles off.

He’s zen that way.

~P~
P-TOR

I stopped checking out Black Panther when Hudlin introduced “The Klaw!” in such an incredibly corny way it even ‘out-cornied’ that character’s general ‘corny-ness’.

For the record, Bronze Tiger could beat me up.

It DOES matter if Bronze Tiger can beat you up. Because that creates the possibility of being beaten up by Bronze Tiger.

So could Black Panther beat up Bronze Tiger? Does it matter? Does anything matter? I mean, really? Why does Connor Hawke exist? Nothing against the character as a person, he seems nice enough, but I just would rather he had never been.

“What can I say, Brian? It’s more important to have people always trying to prove that Wolverine isn’t “the best at what he does”, then it is to actually give Wolverine a personality beyond the borderline psychopath with the mental implants. *wink*”–I love that everyone complains about Wolverine being a one-dimensional personality, but as soon as Joss Whedon writes Wolverine as an actual character, suddenly they’re finding a whole bunch of other reasons to hate AXM. Does anyone on the internet LIKE comics?

ernest peterson

May 11, 2009 at 9:30 am

Why is ever body picking the Bronze Tiger, he is the best matrial artist in the DC UNIVERS..!!!!!! no matter WHAT DC DOES OR SAY [ HE BEAT BATMAN ] and fought Richard Dragon to a no contest in dragon
last book and batman to no contest as well. and in batman brave and the bold batman said Bronze Tiger
is better than he is..

I think one of the things I love about Spider-Man is that he can beat some of the most powerfull guys around, and then get beaten by some of the weakest. And it all seems consistent!!! I guess it’s because his greatest ability is to avoid getting hurt, but any slip-up can result in real injury. And he has enough personality quirks that can add to or subtract from his fighting, depending on the mood he is in. That’s why he’s such a great all-purpose super-hero. He can realistically fit into whatever sort of story you need from him.

I think he’s perhaps the best example for why these simplistic ranking systems are so stupid. Spider-Man is stronger than Daredevil and weaker than Luke Cage, but that tells you nothing about who might win in any fight between the three.

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