web stats

CSBG Archive

Comic Book Dictionary Help!

Okay, so we are all familiar, more or less, with the term “Mary Sue,” right? It basically refers to self-insertion by the author in a story via a proxy character. However, is it really still a “Mary Sue” if the character is not a proxy for the author, but still, the writer goes out of his/her way to make their creation “the best at what they do”? I think we can all agree that it is, generally speaking, pretty tacky when a brand new character created by a book’s writer is suddenly beating up established characters, with the presumed intent of making the creation of the writer look better.

Remember how annoying it was when Batman was turning to Tarantula for help during War Crimes? Stuff like that – it’s silly and poor writing.

But I don’t think it is necessarily a “Mary Sue.” I don’t think Tarantula was a “Mary Sue” of Devin Grayson.

But she WAS a bad character who fits into a specific reoccurring category of characters written by their creators who suddenly are “the best” and have other characters talk about how good they are (Another good example is Constantine Drakkon in Green Arrow).

So my request is this – help me think of a good term for these characters so I can do a Comic Book Dictionary installment on the new term!

74 Comments

How about Poochies. Like on Itchy and Scratchy.

Jonathans. After the Buffy character who cast a spell to make just the situation you’re describing happen in Superstar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstar_%28Buffy_episode%29. Alternatively, Levinsons (his surname).

I vote for Jonathans, too. Good idea. Funny, relatively easy to explain, and there should be more references to Jonathan in pop culture.

I’m afraid I can’t agree, guys. “Poochie” is much more representative of corporate pandering than it is playing favorites with characters.

And “Jonathan” would require a longer explanation than Brian provided in the first place.

Allow me to take the lazy way out by suggesting we just pick a particularly egregious example of this type of character (like Tarantula or Echo) and name the rest after them.

SEAN

How about “cuckoos”? The cuckoo bird lays its eggs in another bird’s nest with the expectation that the victim will raise the cuckoo’s young. It’s extremely disruptive. The cuckoo may push eggs out of the nest, the chick may destroy eggs or even push the other chicks out, and so on. Cuckoo chicks tend to mature really fast, too.

So the parallels are there. Someone writing a book about characters they haven’t created will insert a character of his own, inflate that character’s importance to the detriment of the characterization of the book’s cast, and generally muck things up. This inserted character rises to prominence quickly (since no one else will want to write them once the writer’s run is over).

Now that I think about it in a little more detail, “cuckoo” should refer to these awful characters and “cuckoo writer” or “cuckoo creator” to their creators.

What do you think?

“Mary Sue.” A character does not have to be a self-insertion to be a Mary Sue. The term’s own history is pretty clear on this.

Cuckoo. I was going to try and come up with one myself ’till I read the sugegstion for cuckoo.

If its just a matter of an author favouring a character which they have created the I think Mary Sue is correct.

My point with Poochies is that occasionally a company really pushes a new character, and tries to convince everyone that it’s the best thing ever when it clearly isn’t. Not even close.

Super-Cool Ultra Badass, spoken with tongue firmly in cheek?

Class Two Mary Sue?

We should call them Trevanians.

I suggest “Ronin” nameless, faceless character whose creator fit him/her in wherever he could.

What’s wrong with Constantine Dracon?

I third Cuckoo. The explanation is perfect.

It’s not especially witty, but I think “pet character” is a good descriptive term. “Mary Sue” is one particular subset of the Pet Character, one that usually involves some sort of *personal* wish fulfillment and/or “self-representation” on the part of an author. The “Mary Sue” author often may be working through personal “issues” via this character.

It’s also related to a phenomenon in role-playing games, the “GM’s Pet,” or a fantastically competent non-player character who overshadows the players. Example here:
http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1108

The pet character may or may not be related to “nepotistic continuity”, where a writer keeps returning to some particular character he/she created.

But the touchstone of “Pet Character” in comics is probably that the writer is much more fond of the character than the average reader is.

I like “cukoos.”

It might be worth looking to professional wrestling: they have terms like “Jabronie / jobber” to refer to the guy who always puts up a decent fight but loses to make other people look good (think The Wrecking Crew or the Royal Flush Gang), and concepts like face/heel to describe the relationship between any two combatants.

I think the new Batgirl would be an example of a “Poochie.”

There’s a new Batgirl? I’m not sure we used up the last one yet.

The extension of the writer is one possible aspect of the Mary Sue, but only one of many varieties. It generally just refers to a character who can do no wrong, and is right even when they do things that would be wrong if other characters did them. The law of cause and effect never catches up to these guys, and while they tend to embody what the writer considers cool, they don’t have to be the writer.

I’d say a “Poochie” was more a character created by committee. The difference is that here even the creators don’t like the character because they are working to a formula of what they think the audience will consider cool.

After #15, I vote for GMPC.

I’m partial to “Poochie” myself, but I think that’s from my days as a wrestling fan and being endlessly amused by some website referring to Kevin Nash as “Big Poochie”, for pretty much the same reasons.

In any case, “Mary Sue” should be reserved for self insertions, on account of the term’s origin.

I had been wondering what a “Mary Sue” was. What’s the origin?

My preference would be: don’t invent a new jargon term, just describe what you mean in plain English.

That’s still a Mary Sue, in my opinion.

But Poochie is fine. :)

“Trevanians”. I like that.

~ Gil

We should call them Trevanians.

After the author?

Oh, something I wrote earlier:

But the touchstone of “Pet Character” in comics is probably that the writer is much more fond of the character than the average reader is.

This point distinguishes characters like, e.g., Grant Morrison writing Batman on JLA. In some ways, he fits the definition, being super-competent, arguably much more of a badass than in other places, improbably capable of taking down super-foes, etc.

But he wouldn’t really be a “Pet Character” because, well, *everybody* likes Batman! But if you replaced Batman in those stories with a similar but less popular character doing the same stuff (say, oh, Green Arrow, I suppose), that character would definitely be in the Pet Character zone.

Eclipso

Susan Maries?

I’d save the term Poochy for the Bart Allen Flash.

“I had been wondering what a “Mary Sue” was. What’s the origin?”

A piece of Star Trek fan fiction where a character with that name joins the crew, outdoes everyone, and is fallen in love with by Kirk.

I was thinking how Trevanian’s protaganist in Shibumi is the most extreme example I’ve seen of an author making his character the perfect man in every way.

But actually I think Jonathans is the best idea.

I vote for Poochie too. Remember this quote from the episode when Homer was describing Poochie:

“Poochie should be in every scene. When Poochie isn’t on screen, the other characters should be talking about how cool Poochie is.”

That pretty much sums up the situation you’re describing.

My vote is for “Pet Character”, because it’s nice and clear. Even if someone isn’t familiar with the term, it should be pretty obvious what it means.

If, on the other hand, we’re going for wilfully obscure but mildly amusing private jargon based on pop culture references, then it surely has to be “Jonathan”. If only because, as Niels van Eekelen said, there should be more references to Jonathan in pop culture.

I like “pet character.”

“Cuckoos” isn’t bad, but I don’t like any negative terms that could be closely associated with my 5…er 4… er…3 now? Favorite characters in the last couple years.

Hmmm. Psylocke (sp?) comes to mind on this one. Claremont has built her up to mythical proportions, while most readers could give a damn. I can’t think of a better name, so I will go with Poochies. Why not?

“Hmmm. Psylocke (sp?) comes to mind on this one. Claremont has built her up to mythical proportions, while most readers could give a damn.”

Exactly what I was thinking.

As someone else mentioned, it seems that “Poochie” refers more to forced exposure of a character due to corporate interests, rather than the desires of the creator. There’s certainly a fine line, but I think it’s there. For instance, the new Supergirl probably fits both the critera for “pet character” and “Poochie”: Loeb made her exceptional at everything, while DC has forced the character down readers’ throats by putting her in several books. The afore-mentioned example of Psylocke qualifies only as a pet character, because, as stated, no one at Marvel but Claremont gives a damn about her. That’s my two cents, anyway.

I think we actually need several terms. How about this?

Poochie: A character who is specifically created to be “the next big thing” but isn’t.

Jonathan: An existing character who is revamped with new powers or a “cool” new image in an attempt to make them more popular.

Cuckoo: A character created by a writer for an existing title and then given undue prominence by them.

So, that would make Speedball a Jonathan?

“So, that would make Speedball a Jonathan?”

Absolutely

I think “Poochie” characters are often “attempt to cash in on a trend just as it’s petering out” characters, too. So various Poochies would be:

Dazzler
Night Thrasher
The “camp superhero” versions of the Blackhawks
That “not a Dr.” Fate character everybody hated

Not as “trendy” but definitely Poochie:
Teen Tony Stark, Teen Atom (that seems to, incidentally, be another of those weird DC/Marvel coincidences like Doom Patrol/X-Men, except here the idea is an awful one.)

The problem with “Poochie” is that it’s already fast becoming as annoying and misused an expression as “Mary Sue”, in that people just use it as shorthand for “I don’t like that character.”

I mean, actually think about that Simpsons scene where the corporate suits design Poochie. How does anyone get Psylocke, Batgirl, or Bart Allen (as suggested in above comments) out of that?

“The problem with “Poochie” is that it’s already fast becoming as annoying and misused an expression as “Mary Sue”, in that people just use it as shorthand for “I don’t like that character.””

HEAT did this a lot.

I think one of the best examples is Connor Hawke, he came around was instantly one of the best, upstaging established characters, and I think he became officially established as the 3rd or 4th best martial artist in the DCU, good enough to even give Richard Dragon pause. It was so ridiculous how incredibly skilled he became in a few months.

The best example of a jobber is Dick Grayson, he’s probably the only person who jobbed consistently for months while headlining a top selling book. Even his defining comics moment, his graduation into the Nightwing role, rather than being some great physical victory, was just marked by even more jobbing!

A Wolvie. With the added characteristic of being shoehorned into every single story in a shared universe, regardless of style, continuity, character history, and then always ramped up with insane extrapolations of power to keep him/her “the best there is at what they do.”

Poochie is best for an “astroturfed” character from a corporation. Cuckoo sounds good the connection is kinda tenuous, imho. Pet character is kinda bland but works.

Bendis seems truly awful for Mary Sues/Poochies/pets. Agree/disagree?

What word describes a character who becomes the most average at what they do? “Byrned”?

HEAT did this a lot.

That’s interesting. I could almost see the argument made that Kyle was a self-insert of Marz’s, in that Kyle was the rookie GL and Marz was the rookie GL writer. In fact, Marz’s last issue as regular writer plays with exactly that idea.

But that’s a slippery slope, because by that logic, Wally West is a Mary Sue of Mark Waid’s. I think many writers put a lot of themselves into their characters they happen to relate to.

A Wolvie. With the added characteristic of being shoehorned into every single story in a shared universe, regardless of style, continuity, character history, and then always ramped up with insane extrapolations of power to keep him/her “the best there is at what they do.”

This is what I’m talking about. Wolverine isn’t forced in people’s faces in a desperate attempt to make him popular. He IS popular and he’s in a lot of books because it makes them sell more.

He’s the anti-Poochie. He’s the character people try to emulate when they create a Poochie.

Sadly, “pet character” really sounds like the “best” choice so far.

And it is so boooooooooring.

How about “trophy wife”? (to be used regardless of if the character’s male or female)

Peanut Gallery

April 27, 2007 at 2:39 am

LOL, I love “trophy wife”! That’s excellent!

Re: Wally West as a Mary Sue: a good writer can write a cliche without it being cliche. A lot of Morrison characters are “trophy wives” (White Queen) or Mary Sues (Marvel Boy), but his plots are so weird and intricate and characterizations so spot-on that it doesn’t really matter.

I thought when Morrison did it they were called Fiction Suits

Pet character, boring as it may be, is easily the best because it requires no explanation. Go for clarity and simplicity.

And it looks like the world will never agree on just what a Mary Sue is. Or even what a Poochie is. And similar problems could arise for cuckoo. That’s the problem with going for clever over clarity.

The definition of Mary-Sue I use is that the character warps the story around them; the plot takes second place whenever the character appears on-panel, or that the story is skewed to allow the inclusion of the character where they should not be.

By that definition, they’re still Sues. They’re just not self-inserts.

This is what I’m talking about. Wolverine isn’t forced in people’s faces in a desperate attempt to make him popular. He IS popular and he’s in a lot of books because it makes them sell more.

He’s the anti-Poochie. He’s the character people try to emulate when they create a Poochie.

Got it right. Wolvie is popular so he gets ridiculously preferential writing treatment. What Brian’s talking about are characters that get the ridiculously preferential writing treatment first because the writer desperately WANTS to make the characters popular. I think “Trophy Wife” is the best term I’ve heard so far. I’d also like to nominate such characters be called “Hard Sells” as the writers are pulling out all the stops to get you to buy in.

Fonzies.

The Fonz was a supporting character on Happy Days who:

-overtook the main characters.
– the writers favored.
– was defined as being “the coolest.”
– jumped the shark.

I realize Fonzie was legitimately popular, but the term could fit. Comic book (and other serial media) writers try and make their favorite character a Fonzie.

Well, I certainly don’t care for “Jonathans.” :(

“Fonzies.

The Fonz was a supporting character on Happy Days who:

-overtook the main characters.
– the writers favored.
– was defined as being “the coolest.”
– jumped the shark.

I realize Fonzie was legitimately popular, but the term could fit. Comic book (and other serial media) writers try and make their favorite character a Fonzie.”

Your right that Fonzie was overused, but he was actually cool.

Poochie is to Fonzie what Daken is to Wolverine.

I made a little Venn diagram of how my personal definitions of Pet Character, Mary Sue, and Self-Insertion overlap (hope this is the right way to actually get a link to work):

“http://img124.imageshack.us/img124/3234/marysueft9.gif”

Not all self-insertions are necessarily Mary Sues, or even Pet Characters. For example, the “Grant Morrison” character in Animal Man is a self-insertion, but neither of the other things.

Fonzie doesn’t work because he wasn’t created with the intention of being as cool and popular as he eventually became. If you watch early Happy Days, he wasn’t that prominent. As he got insanely popular with viewers, his role on the show increased to satisfy those viewers. This is like Wolverine in the X-men, minor at first and major later due to fan popularity. Same goes for the Alex P. Keaton character on Family Ties, he ran away with the show and became the focus due to popularity, even though the writers originally intended other wise.

The Connor Hawkes and Drakkons of the world though are the guys who are the reverse, the writers push the exposure first in hopes that fan popularity comes later. (Has this ever worked?)

“Has this ever worked?”

Might be hard to tell, because if it did work, people would tend to forget that the popular character was at first “rammed down their throats.”

To take one possible example, maybe Hawkeye? From obscure Iron Man antagonist to fan-favorite Avenger? (To this day, that *first* “New Avengers” team with Cap, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch, looks like a remarkably gutsy move by Marvel.)

Tim Drake might be another example of a character who was highly exposed and succeeded in becoming popular. I remember him being everywhere around the time he debuted, including a series of mini series with various gaudy holograms and other cover enhancements.

Sean,

Great point. They were trying to push Tim Drake as great from the get-go, and it worked.

“Annie Oakley.” Or “Annie.” Or maybe an “Annie-Hero.”

Why? “Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.” That’s not too obscure a reference.

Plus, as a woman’s name, it bears a general similarity to the ‘Mary Sue’ phenomenon it’s related to.

I’m not denying that Wolverine is popular and gets a lot of writing because he’s a fan fave. But you have to admit he’s the perfect example of the character who was designed to be badass from the word go (his first appearance was going toe to toe with the Hulk, who if anything, was the benchmark for power in the Marvel U among lead characters) and has been expounded upon ever since to keep him “perfect” to the point that he eclipses other heroes in the Marvel U in any book he appears in.

I mean, in his literary “life” Wolverine has been (and forgive me if I flub here) a spy, a super soldier, a victim of experimentation, a ninja, a samurai, an adventurer, a post apocalyptic hero, a hard core crime noir tough guy complete with eye patch, and a space hero. He’s been a gruff father figure and a berserker killing machine. And for the ultimate anti-authoritarioan loner, he’s been on at least 4 super teams that I can think of (compare to stiff boyscout Cyclops who’s been on what one? Two if you count X-factor and even then that was just the classic x-men rebranded).

Wolvie went from being a guy with metal claws who could heal to being effectively immortal, super strong, and having the most precious and ubiquitious substance in the Marvel U (which became the benchmark for “unbreakable” essentially) implanted in him. And when he lost that, they gave him bone claws that could carve up rock. His lifespan was extended so he could be born in a Victorian novela and live long enough to fight World War II, the Cold War and pretty much every other “greatest generation” event in the 20th century. Plus, he’s had an affair with just about every “perfect woman” archetype possible.

And to top it all off, he was the archetype for every ’90s badass “post bronze age” hero in look and attitude.

I mean check out this quote from his bio on Wikipedia (which I don’t normally trust but this included a reference from Wolverine #51) that his physical and mental state was “equivalent of an Olympic-level gymnast performing a gold medal routine while simultaneously beating four chess computers in his head.”

Come on. Popular icon or not, that’s beyond a Mary Sue or a Marty Stu. That’s Wolvie.

“Wolvie went from being a guy with metal claws who could heal to being effectively immortal, super strong, and having the most precious and ubiquitious substance in the Marvel U (which became the benchmark for “unbreakable” essentially) implanted in him. And when he lost that, they gave him bone claws that could carve up rock. His lifespan was extended so he could be born in a Victorian novela and live long enough to fight World War II, the Cold War and pretty much every other “greatest generation” event in the 20th century. Plus, he’s had an affair with just about every “perfect woman” archetype possible.”

Yeah, Wolverine has certainly been ‘Jonathaned’ over the years, but I don’t think that makes him a Mary Sue.

Yeah, and if you look at the early Wolverine appearances beyond the first Hulk appearance, he really didn’t do all that much and was just a crass loudmouth jerk. He didn’t really contribute all that much to battles and was nowhere near as insanely powerful and aged. All that was added after he started getting popular.

I was also reluctantly going for “pet character” until “Annie Oakley” came along. That’s perfect!

(And there’s no better example than Cable. His powers, his background, his personality– nothing was actually interesting about the guy except that suddenly all of the long-established characters in every x-book were in awe of him, so the fans were, too.)

Bendis

How about “Earth Two Mary Sue”?

I actually think “cuckoo” works best, although “Annie Oakley” has its charms. (But you have to keep the “Oakley,” lest peoplel think you’re talking about that obnoxious singing orphan.) I also agree that, for maximum clarity, “pet character” is a good choice.

I wouldn’t take “Annie Oakley”. She was good at shooting, yes, but remember how she wailed “you can’t get a man with a gun”… The type we are discussing always gets the girls or boys in awe.

I’d go for “Poochie”… First, because it is born out of a corporate decision, not from the reader’s own choice. Also, the name sounds ridiculous, and these characters look ridiculous to the average reader, who can’t figure why the other characters think he /she is so “cool”

An example of this, for me, are Spielberg’s “Tiny Toons” or “Animaniacs”, always in that “hey! Ain’t we funny and cool!” pose which wasn’t funny or cool at all: they just vampirized previous characters who had been tested and tried through the years and earned, bona-fide, the love of spectators

Hello, This is a pretty cool blog on Comic Book Dictionary Help!! Thanks a lot and have fun!

i loved reading all the i deas here

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives