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Should a Twist in a Comic Necessarily Be Surprising?

Awhile back, I mentioned my theory regarding what I felt was comic writers going out of their way to make sure they were surprising their readers, and the result ended up being detrimental to the story.

“Don’t compete with your readers to see if you can surprise them,” was my main point, as doing so almost always leads to crazy ideas done simply because “no one would ever guess I would do THAT!”

Okay, that being said, I also mentioned that it was silly to build a story around a twist that was too obvious. I still agree with that, but what if a twist was just PART of a story? At what point does the obviousness of a twist become detrimental to the story itself? SHOULD a twist being obvious count against the story?

I will admit that I write this with an example in mind – the current Black Canary mini-series. It has been a pretty enjoyable read, but issue #3 and #4 involved one of the most blatantly obvious “twists” that I can recall in a recent comic book. It is about as obvious as a comic ending with the title character being killed, only for the next issue to reveal how the hero evaded the fatal trap (See the last two issues of Fantastic Four for an example of this tried and true method). In those instances, we don’t hold it against the writer for the “twist” of the hero not actually dying, mostly because it is not really meant as a “twist,” as the writer does not actually expect us to believe that the character is actually dead.

But in Black Canary, it reads as though the twist IS intended to throw the reader, and I’d be mightily surprised if it did to any reader.

So, would that count as a negative aspect of the comic?

Is it necessary, to be considered a successful twist, for the twist to be actually surprising, even if otherwise, the twist is executed well in the comic?

31 Comments

I like being surprised as much as the next guy but it was a little frustrating hearing people complain about the Supernova reveal in 52.

The reason why it wasn’t all that surprising is because it was the person who it made the most sense to be from a storyline perspective.

Which is, you know, good writing.

Now if you can have a well-executed twist that IS surprising and that makes complete sense in the context of the storyline with clues up the wahoo, then that’s all the better.

I thought X-Men 200 did it pretty well, actually, in that whether it was planned or not, it seemed like the entire line-up was set up to do exactly what they should have done on paper, yet because of our own experience in reading comics and watching bad guys get redeemed, it wasn’t really expected. It was cute.

Lately, it’s become like pro wrestling. Twists & turns are coming for no apparent reason. It’s all too predictable, and frequently telegraphed, serving to bludgeon the reader rather than entertain. Adding to the problem is they’re all the same genre.

I’m not a big DC fan, so I’m not reading the current Black Canary mini, and am therefore unable to comment on it’s twist. What I CAN comment on, however, is the twist that happened when she was pairing (I think) with Green Arrow. Y’all remember… the barely off-camera rape.
I doubt anyone saw that one coming. To boot, it had long-term consequences for the character (or at least it should have – again, I don’t read DC). It’s not something that can be un-done or explained away somehow.

The same thing can be said of Infinite Crisis. At least I think that’s the title. It was when Dr Light raped & killed the Enlongated Man’s wife & Atom’s ex-wife went loopey. Both characterizations were only logical AND unexpected in a comic-book way. In real life, we might have seen Atom’s ex- coming from a mile away, but not in comics.

The last example is blatant, telegraphed, and completely logical. It happened in the Avengers. No, it’s not the Skrull thing… that was another punch in the face. I don’t like those, but I trust Bendis to make it both justified and great in the end. No, I’m talking about Spider-Woman walking off with the Skrull body. Did she turn? It sure looks like it. If so, who’d she turn to? Nick Fury? Stark? Hydra? We don’t know, but we’ve been watching it slowly happen for about 3 years. We knew it was eventually going to happen, and all we could do was watch and wait. THAT’S the swerve we need more of.

All three types are what we need more of, actually. Twists need to make logical sense to the story. They need to be emotionally accurate to the character and the situations. This brings me to another point: acting like humans.

There are very few characters who can get away with not having the normal human emotional response to any given situation. Being a Marvel guy, I have to cite Captain America. He’s an icon and HAS to react in a certain manner. Just about everyone else has a historical personality type, but they’re still human. In order to sell the story as believable to the reader, there HAS to be an emotional connection to the characters. To do that, they need to behave in normal, human ways. Real people react that way, heroes should too, to a certain point. Too often, they all act pretty much the same, with no human emotion ore reasonable reaction. When these sudden swerves happen, they make no sense whatsoever because there’s no lead-in through characterization. That’s what makes the swerves not work.

At least that’s my two-cents worth.

If you’re referring to The Longbow Hunters, Mike Grell has said repeatedly that Black Canary was not raped – off or on camera – just, not raped, period.

If the intent of the author is to have a plot twist, then it should be something actually surprising.

However, for me I’d rather have a more obvious twist that fits in with the rest of the story than have a surprise twist that doesn’t make any sense.

One of my favorite plot twists was Mark Waid’s “The Return of Barry Allen”. In that instance, Waid effectively distracted me from considering a plot development that on review might seem obvious.

In contrast, Armageddon 2001 was a great example of how a promising storyline was ruined because of the obsession with surprising the reader. The big reveal of which hero becomes the villain, Monarch, was changed at the last minute to counter a leak about the planned conclusion. The big reveal made no sense. There was no real buildup to suggest that the character could actually become Monarch. The final revelation didn’t even feel like a surprise, more like lazy storytelling.

When it comes to twists in comic books – Thunderbolts #1 takes the cake.

I remember reading the book, and enjoying it, but also being slightly disappointed. What’s the point of this book I wondered.

Well, I found out!

at poster #2, you’re thinking of identity crisis.

and about spider-woman, i think it was pretty clear that she was going to stark with the body.

Spider-Woman has also been in bed with Hydra, right before the Civil War. If she’s a double agent, she would have been lying the whole time. Until we see for certain, there’s room for doubt. Even when we do see that she went to Stark, there’s the Hydra thing in the background.

The real point was that it was a good twist. She apparently switched sides to the registration camp.

I agree with both “The Return of Barry Allen” and Thunderbolts. Like Kevhines, while reading issue #1, I remember thinking, “This is weak,” until the ending redeemed it.

Wacky idea, but twists should be good.

I pretty much saw the reveal of the traitor in the original Runaways lineup coming a couple issues beforehand (and I nailed the further revelations about how long the traitor had been orchestrating things), but the way it was executed was still awesome.

Heck, I had the Watchmen ending spoiled for me a couple years before I ever read it, and I still loved it just because of how they paced it. Mmmmm, that’s good villain snark.

I think the big thing is that they should be played fair.

The clues need to be there. It needs to be logical.

You need to be able to guess it.

And with the internet, someone WILL guess it. And that theory will spread and it’ll be more of a problem to come up with logical twists that no one guesses than it was 10 years ago.

ALSO, you’re going to have more and more people who come up with theories and publicize them, so you’ll come out with some theories more elaborate and maybe even logical than the actual payoff.

That was a big problem for Identity Crisis 7. That last issue could almost in no way, shape, or form live up to the speculation.

People really look down on that series and on Meltzer’s superhero writing now, but at the time it was incredible hot and everyone had some crazy Earth-1 Jason Todd-esque theory.

I think you need to distinguish between twists and cliffhangers. The latter is what you are describing (and what I read) in the past two issues of Fantastic Four–situations that leave the reader gasping and wanting to know how a seemingly impossible situation will be resolved. A twist is a surprise revelation that then forces the reader/viewer to re-evaluate everything that has come before. The “secret” to The Crying Game was a twist as the audience was presented with surprising information the forced a re-evaluation as to what happened to that point and sent the story off in a new direction.

Twists don’t necessarily have to be surprising, but they *do* have to be fulfilling.

“The real point was that it was a good twist. She apparently switched sides to the registration camp. ”
Yeah but did she really ‘switch sides’? When I read it I saw her thinking “There really is no other option here, this is the only person that could save us”. It wasn’t about sides to her anymore.

Yes, a good ‘twist’ makes you re-evaluate everything you read before.

The perfect example is the Sixth Sense, which I think is a good movie without the twist, but once you see the twist you can re-watch the entire movie from a different point of view and its even better for it.

Thunderbolts #1 actually got pretty much guessed by fandom, back in the day, even before the issue hit the stands. Mostly because of the various power sets of the characters. But that’s just evidence that it was a good twist: a good twist should be figurable with enough detection on the part of dedicated fans.

Yeah I thought Avengers was pretty logical. Spider Woman said she was going to go to Tony Stark- so she left. The other characters said “no” but I didn’t take them seriously. The way Bendis speak goes- people have tons of opinions all the time. It’s a blessing and a curse. So this “betrayal” didn’t strike me.

I was surprised about New X-Men’s “Man in the iron mask” reveal. I kept hitting myself that I didn’t put the clues together but then, I was enjoying the meat of the stories too much to wait for a bone.

The Ex Machina “twist” where the mayor supports gay marriage was fun too.

I think the best twists, by definition, have to be obvious–if you’re looking at them. The skill of the author is not in coming up with a “big twist”, it’s in the deft misdirection that’s needed to prevent you from noticing the secret at the heart of the story.

‘The Prestige’, for example, has a twist that when you’re looking for it, could not be more obvious. It’s set up thematically throughout the story, it’s perfectly reflected through all the characters’ points of views and dialogue–heck, Michael Caine even has a speech at one point in the film where he tells you exactly what the twist is, and nobody believes him. But does that make it a bad twist? No, that’s what makes it a great twist.

A bad twist, by contrast, is in ’28 Days Later’. It’s definitely something impossible to predict, and it legitimately catches you off-guard…but that’s because it directly contradicts information presented earlier in the film, and is a result of the film-makers having painted themselves into a corner, and then just breaking their own rules, calling it a “twist”, and hoping that nobody notices the paint all over their shoes.

I dislike when the twist comes from information being withheld from us.

Since someone mentioned M. Night Shamlamadingdong’s Sixth Sense, I’ll bring up another example of his work.

The Village. The twist there was pretty much out of left field. Sure, they laid SOME ground work but it was in the most vague sense.

That left me feeling rather angry and empty at the end.

And I can’t believe no one has said this yet in this thread but…

What a twist!

I think the biggest problem is that a twist is not a reason for a story to exist. A clever plot twist is great, but the story should work if people can see it coming anyway.

My complaint of late is that I’ll read an issue, which ends with a big plot twist. No explanation, just a shocking last page. Then the next issue scrambles to explain it in an unsatisfactory way and I feel ripped off. The first example that comes to mind is from Civil war when Iron Man and company were losing that fight and Thor shows up, and it’s like “wow, Thor’s back!” But then the next issue includes the cloning/mind control BS and I quit reading it.

Mike Grell has said repeatedly that Black Canary was not raped – off or on camera – just, not raped, period.

And that doesn’t matter.

Everyone agrees it didn’t happen on-panel (see the Urban Legend Revealed where Mr. Grell was even nice enough to turn up and comment), but no writer or artist gets to say what actually happens off-panel; like a punch to the face that connects just outside the border of the panel, every reader’s imagination fills in the missing parts.

We don’t know, but we’ve been watching it slowly happen for about 3 years. We knew it was eventually going to happen, and all we could do was watch and wait. THAT’S the swerve we need more of.

That’s not a swerve, though – that’s an arc. A swerve is, by definition, a fast change with little or no build-up.

Thunderbolts #1 actually got pretty much guessed by fandom, back in the day, even before the issue hit the stands. Mostly because of the various power sets of the characters.

And also because of intentional clues dropped in their first two (pre-book) appearances…

I found Black Canary to fall flat, for just this reason. We already know, out-of-story, that Canary says ‘yes’ to GA. The gravestone cover was so over-the-top that you *knew* that it was a fake-out as soon as it showed up in Previews. And we saw Ollie concocting a secret plan and talking about his motivations for doing so in earlier issues. So I got to the end of #4 and said, “yeah, and?”

It would have been ok for the twist to be so blatantly telegraphed if there had been more substance to #4. As it was, it just felt like the issue was devoted to cluing Dinah in on what everybody else already knew– and confirming that she didn’t get to be the hero of her own miniseries.

Whereas The Return of Barry Allen twist could have been deduced but still surprised most of us– and there was no whole issue that felt like a waste if you already knew. One thing that helps: Wally figures it out before the reader does, so the hero gets to be the hero while the reader’s still in suspense.

I read the Black Canary mini, and also saw the twist coming. I don’t think it fell flat, because it was not anticipated by Dinah. The anticipation of the story for me, was her reaction when she found out the truth. Would it be in this story, or another down the road.

On another note:

“but no writer or artist gets to say what actually happens off-panel;”

Sorry, but that just doesn’t make any sense. The writer / artist is the only person who can definitively say what happens in a story, on or off panel. They wrote it. Their intentions are what counts. A reader can put whatever they want in between the panels, but that doesn’t make it accurate. Even if it’s a thousand readers or ten thousand Internets. Grell wins.

So, if I choose to believe that Peter Parker was a cannibalistic serial killer off panel, it’s valid? Wow, Lee and Ditko were sick.

The writer’s intentions stop at what’s printed on the page, just as a director’s stop with what’s shown on the screen. After that, it’s out of their hands, and handed over to the audience to decide what happens when we’re not looking…

I believe, yo go, that you’re referring to the frightening force known as “fanwank.” Or one definition of it, anyway.

Call it what you want, it’s a valid point. Off-screen is off-screen. Hitchcock was the master of using the viewer to do his dirty work for him. If it’s a valid storytelling tool in one medium, it’s just as valid in another.

Also, it doesn’t really matter WHAT Grell says anymore. Weather it was his intention for BC to be done wrong off panel, or just to be roughed up, the fans perceive it how they collectively want to. If that differs from the author’s intent, then the author should have been more clear. I’m a bog fan of the phrase “perception is reality.” How a person sees a thing is reality for that person. There are just as many fans who think BC was raped as there are whose who will take the author’s comments.

On a side note, isn’t it convenient that Grell said AFTER the fact that she wasn’t raped? If he didn’t at least what us to believe she was, shouldn’t he have had her say what really happened when GA found her? I’ve never read the books, so maybe someone who has can check on that bit for us. The fact that he came out with his version of what happened off-panel well after the consensus was rape seems like ret-con to me.

In the Urban Legends Revealed article on the subject, Grell mentions someone complaining that he had shown Canary being raped, and when Grell pointed out that it wasn’t true, the guy complained that he had shown her being hit in the face, which wasn’t true either. That’s the trouble with giving validity to peoples’ perception of events–at some point people will cross the line into remembering things that are verifiably untrue. Do we have to allow something that’s verifiably false to have a sort of truth because someone remembers it wrong? If people are allowed to imagine whatever they want off-panel, why stop with off-panel events? As long as one isn’t actively looking at the panel at the time, it all comes down to perception.

Also, Grell didn’t “come out with his version” “well after”. His version was what he put in the comic, and he clearly didn’t expect people would interpret it in that way. Nor did he wait a long time before responding–the issue where BC talked with a therapist, where he explicitly stated she wasn’t raped, was early in the regular run of the GA. This was about as early as he could reasonably deal with it once he became aware that it needed to be dealt with. Grell shouldn’t be taken to task for not being able to psychically predict how people would misinterpret his work.

Or for not writing the scene where GA rescues BC to have her falling into his arms and saying “Well, thank goodness I wasn’t raped, at least”, either. The original topic is plot twists, after all, and that’s predicated on the idea that the author should be allowed to reserve part of the story to be revealed later, without unfounded accusations of retconning. (Carry that line of thinking to its logical conclusion and you wind up with Annie from “Misery,” who got worked up into a homicidal range at the idea that the situation at the end of a chapter of a serial wasn’t quite the situation at the beginning of the next one.)

If I read the first part of a story which ends with Batman’s apparent death, and never read the second part which clearly reveals that he’s not dead, am I allowed to go around claiming that Batman is really dead because that’s how I perceive it? Am I allowed to claim that my perceived version of Batman’s death supersedes both the printed page and the intentions of the author? Because it’s ultimately the same thing as the BC situation; it’s just that one is more obviously divergent from actual reality than the other.

(I don’t have a problem with the idea of a personal perceptual reality; it’s the idea that one’s personal reality should be allowed to automatically supersede others’, including the original creators’, that I take issue with.)

Oh, of course it shouldn’t – but then, the original creators’ only carries so much weight, as well. Especially when working in a collaborative medium. If Grell had only been the only person to ever write GA/BC, then his say-so would mean a lot more than everyone else’s.

People who “remember” seeing Canary raped (barely off camera? wha-huh?) or seeing her punched in the face are just like the folks who “remember” seeing Janet Leigh stabbed in Psycho – their minds filled it in based on what they actually DID see.

To increasingly crazy degrees, apparently.

Or one definition of it, anyway.

Not quite that bad – at least this one has some logic behind it…

And that’s the EXACT thing I was hinting at when I mentioned Alfred Hitchcock. What the viewer/reader fills in between shots/panels becomes just as important, if not more so, than what is actually seen because that’s what is remembered. Which brings us back to the preception thing.

Also, I’m not in support of “the guy complained that he had shown her being hit in the face, which wasn’t true either”. What happened on-screen/in panel is irrefutable. The perceived reality comes in what is not seen.

The entire point becomes mute if it was said by the character in-panel what did ot did not happen off-panel. If BC said in panel that she wasn’t raped, then she wasn’t. End of story.

The twist in Identity Crisis is hilariously sloppy and I feel kind of embarassed for anyone who was genuinely engaged by it.

i thought one of the best twists i’ve read was the in kirkmans invincible when omni-man turns out to be a bad guy

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