"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
Whenever John Seavey does a new Storytelling Engine, we’ll have it here. Click here to read John’s description of what a Storytelling Engine IS, anyways. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented.
Storytelling Engines: Bat Lash
(or “Right Story, Wrong Reality”)
Looking back over “Bat Lash”, as it’s presented in the latest “Showcase Presents” volume, one has to wonder exactly what went wrong. It’s clear something must not have worked in setting up the elements that go into a long-running series, because “Showcase Presents: Bat Lash” is only 240 pages long, less than half the length of a usual volume. What was it that made “Bat Lash” so short-lived? Was it a lack of a good protagonist? A poor setting? Weak supporting characters? Uninteresting antagonists?
Clearly, it wasn’t a bad creative team. Sergio Aragones and Denny O’Neil are two legendary writers, and Nick Cardy’s art is genuinely spectacular. This really is a book with some of the best in the business in it, doing stellar work. But maybe if we look a little closer at Bat Lash’s storytelling engine, we’ll get more of a hint.
Continue Reading »
Here’s the latest, and for now, the FINAL Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Click here to read John’s description of what a Storytelling Engine IS, anyways. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented.
Storytelling Engines: Darkman
(or “The Kitchen-Sink Superhero”)
Sam Raimi’s been pretty open about two things when it comes to the creation of Darkman; one, that he wanted to create a superhero who could sustain an open-ended series of films, and two, that he drew on a lot of other superheroes for influence. The character winds up being an interesting mix of Wolverine, Swamp Thing, Batman, the Unknown Soldier and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Doom Patrol
(or “Synergy And Synchronicity”)
Among comic book historians, there’s a lot of discussion over the origins of the Doom Patrol. Not the actual origins, of course; we all know that the brilliant, irascible scientist known as “The Chief” found three people who had been transformed by unusual accidents into unwilling super-heroes, and brought them together to fight such unusual menaces as the Brotherhood of Evil, the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, and General Immortus (the same villain who had crippled the Chief.) But there are enough similarities between the Doom Patrol and the X-Men, and the Doom Patrol and the Fantastic Four, for people to wonder…did series writer Arnold Drake inspire Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? Or was he inspired by them? Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Battletech
(or “Subverting History”)
I’m not saying anything particularly new when I say that science fiction is rarely about the actual future. It’s really more about the present, translated into an allegorical form, and the venerable “Battletech” franchise is no exception. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Ambush Bug
(or “They Thought Him Up!”)
The sub-title, for those of you not familiar with Keith Giffen’s nigh-legendary humor creation, refers to Giffen’s “secret origin” for the character. It’s at once completely accurate and utterly defiant to the fans who worry deeply about the continuity of DC’s fictional universe…but it’s incomplete. So here, with apologies to Giffen, is the expanded and revised Secret Origin of Ambush Bug! Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Sherlock Holmes
(or “The Ultimate Success”)
Storytelling Engines: Marvel Horror, Part Two
(or “At Long Last, Failure!”)
“Wait a second!” I hear you asking. “The only long-running series you’ve done two columns on are the X-Men and Spider-Man! Even the Fantastic Four didn’t get a two-parter, and they’re your ‘favorite’ comic! Why does ‘Marvel Horror’ get a second column?”
The answer is, “Because the first volume of ‘Marvel Horror’ and the second volume of ‘Marvel Horror’ are two completely different storytelling engines.” The first volume was all about the Son of Satan and his sister, Satana, while the second volume collects together several failed attempts at ongoing horror series from Marvel’s Bronze Age, when the restriction on horror comics was first lifted by the Comics Code. Marvel did an immensely successful Dracula series, a successful werewolf comic, a brief Frankenstein comic…but what else did they try?
The answers reveal a lot of interesting things about storytelling engines. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Strange Adventures
(or “Storytelling Paleontology”)
When we look at ‘Strange Adventures’, the 50s science-fiction anthology comic published by DC, it’s worth asking the question, “Is this actually a storytelling engine at all?” Continue Reading »
Here’s the latest Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Click here to read John’s description of what a Storytelling Engine IS, anyways. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented. John didn’t think that this installment was comic book related, but he must have missed the news that Boom! is doing a Muppet Show comic book in a couple of months!
Storytelling Engines: The Muppet Show
(or “Failure Is Funny”)
I don’t think it’d be controversial to say that Jim Henson was something of a genius when it came to comedy (then again, judging by some of my previous posts, I also don’t think it’d be controversial to say that I’m not good at guessing what’s going to be controversial and what isn’t.) He certainly spent time thinking about settings and character dynamics that would help him come up with skits for a half-hour variety show; he’s famously quoted for his axiom on how to end a comedy sketch (“blow something up, have one character eat another, or start tossing animals in the air”), but he also spent a lot of time working on ways to begin one. ‘The Muppet Show’, his best-known series, is filled with recurring gags and repeated characters that somehow never get old, and it all comes from one of the simplest rules of comedy. Failure is funny. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Sgt. Rock
(or “A Rock-Solid Character Study”)
For all that I frequently talk in these columns about the need to consider the entire set-up of a series in order to really get a feel for its storytelling engine–setting, supporting cast, core concept, recurring antagonists–every once in a while a series reminds me that the whole thing really does live and die on its main character. Sure, there are a few ensemble series where no one character is the protagonist, and everyone plays a role in the development of the story…but “Sergeant Rock” is most definitely not one of those series. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: George Romero’s “Dead” Films
Normally, when I talk about a series’ storytelling engine, what I’m really doing is trying to take a look at a long-running (or occasionally short-running) series from a different perspective. Instead of just seeing the elements of the series as part of the story the writer is telling, I’m looking at them as story-generating components–the supporting cast fulfills this function, the setting adds this potential, the protagonist moves the plot this way, and so on. But it’s very rare that I think that writers consciously consider their status quo as a machine that generates plots.
In the case of George Romero’s seminal zombie movie series (“Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “Day of the Dead”, “Land of the Dead”, “Diary of the Dead”), though, that’s pretty much exactly what they are. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: James Bond
(or “The Dreaded Reboot”)
Even its detractors would have to admit that the James Bond film series is a genuinely astonishing achievement. Even the most popular movies die off after five or six sequels (horror icons like Freddy and Jason managed eight to ten), but James Bond’s 22nd “official” film is in theaters now, and they’re already getting started on Number 23. The series really does seem to be an “evergreen” franchise, having outlasted five of the actors who played the part (not counting the Niven Bond, the Sellers Bond, the Woody Allen Bond…) and the author who wrote the series of books it was based on.
Of course, those same detractors might also argue that the Bond movies are more of a formula than a storytelling engine; after an exciting opening set-piece, Bond meets with M and learns of some threat to the free world, then goes and gets interesting gadgets from Q (an element played down in recent movies, as the real-world spy technology has essentially caught up with Bond’s MI6 boffins). He goes off and investigates, meeting beautiful women, getting into an exciting chase and evading at least one elaborate death-trap, before fighting the villain in an action-packed climax. That sums up the plot of most Bond movies and books (although it should be noted that Ian Fleming’s novels were far less gadget-heavy and more cerebral, playing to the strengths of the printed page instead of the big screen.)
But the Bond formula offers plenty of flexibility; Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Firefly
(or “The Real World Tells Stories Too”)
(And a hearty “welcome back!” to all the Joss Whedon fans who visited my blog!)
Whenever people try to describe Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’ to someone who hasn’t seen the series yet, the inevitable term they use is, “It’s a Western in space.” Which is true enough as far as it goes; any series that has an episode with the heroes smuggling cattle to another planet definitely earns the title “Western in space” pretty definitively. But when he came up with the idea for ‘Firefly’ and its storytelling engine (TV series are always very concerned with storytelling engines, because TV series look at 100 episodes as a minimum benchmark for success), Whedon didn’t just decide to combine the tropes of the Western genre with the tropes of the science-fiction genre. He used the reality of the American frontier, rather than the fiction of the Old West, as his model to create a storytelling engine. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: Indiana Jones
(or “Know Thyself”)
Indiana Jones’ storytelling engine was worked out by two absolute masters of their form while both of them were (arguably) at their creative peak, and it shows. Continue Reading »
Storytelling Engines: City of Heroes
(or “Echo Chambers Need To Be Empty”)
Occasionally, I feel the need to open these columns up by reminding people of what a storytelling engine is, and the reasoning behind it. Not because I think that my readers have poor memories or don’t know how to go through my archived columns, but just because there are times when I want to look at a very specific angle regarding storytelling engines, and it’s useful to have the definition fresh. So I’ll say it again, really quick: A “storytelling engine” is the set of those elements in an open-ended series (including but not limited to protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters, setting, and central concept) that help the writer(s) generate stories.
That last part is very important to a massively-multiplayer online video game like “City of Heroes”, because there’s a pretty strong demand for stories. Players of MMOs put years of their time into playing the game, and they’re always looking for “content”, storylines for their characters to follow that makes progression through the game more than simply “defeat the next bad guy and move on.” (In City of Heroes, you don’t “kill” bad guys, you “defeat” them. With your battle-axe, flame sword, katana, venomous spines…)
As a result, the developers of the game have designed a world that is filled with storytelling engine elements. Continue Reading »
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