Forbidden Cliche List 2003

We've had a whole lot (for us) of mail lately about the old cliche lists. I haven't mentioned them lately, I don't think. But people seem to be, on their own, separately, of their own volition (or that of some guiding Hand) going into the archives (unless they've been compiled into a chain letter out there circling the globe forever now like the midgard serpent) and enjoying the cliche lists. And then WRITING us about them.

Barb has these new cliches.

No more these cliches. Cliches bad. Only use these cliches to subvert them. Only try to subvert them if you are a professional. Professional drivers on closed track. Do not attempt this at home.

(Note: while superheroes are often referred to as “he” in this piece, many of these cliches can also be applied to superheroines. Having just written over fifty cliches in one sitting, the author of the piece just can’t be arsed to be more gender-specific. Appy-ollie-oggies in advance)

Have you guys and gals ever picked up a comic and thought, “I’ve seen this before?” Well, ladies and gents, you HAVE. Because comic book writers only seem to read other comics, read the same fantasy/SF books all the time, and only go to the same geek movies the other people in our fan community do, they only can generate variations on the ideas they‘ve consumed previously. If you grow the same crop year after year in the same soil, the soil will lose its nutrients and the crop will be adversely affected, growing puny and devoid of nutritional value. When you read cliched comic books, you’re consuming the intellectual equivalent of Soylent Green or that ground up cattle that cows are force fed that lead to mad cow disease. You’re been fed spoiled, regurgitated, cannibalized ideas. These can’t sustain you intellectually, idealistically, or creatively. This is what is happening in mainstream comics.

As a public service to mainstream comic book writers and readers, we---the Park and sometimes Barb Show---are going to list cliches that must be stopped in their tracks right now. Mostly, these are cliches involving plots, plausibility, characters, etc., but some extend to the way creators present themselves, too.

Readers, if you see any of these cliches show up in comic books you read, stop buying them immediately, as you are being given food devoid of nutritional value. If you as a comic book writer or would be comic book writer and you are writing stories based on these cliches, may we suggest that you sell your Silver Age comics and invest in some good books, take in an art film or twenty, and perhaps watch some Masterpiece Theatre until you get some new ideas.

If you see comic book writers lean on these cliches heavily or completely, ask yourself why they still get jobs when they can‘t write original stories. Or better yet, ask yourself why these cliches are acceptable in the comics you read (or perish forbid, the comics you write). Ask yourself if what passes for good and/or professional writing has a speck of original thought in it. Finally, ask yourself why you’d want to read a slight variation on the same old cliches over and over again.

Cliches that must DIE:

1. Girls Night Out issues. This is where a male writer writes a story about the female members of a superhero team going out to drink or perhaps go to a spa or otherwise do what the male writer THINKS women might do on their night’s out. You know when you see the female heroes put on skimpy things, get massages, and jump into a hot tub together that you’re reading a Victoria Secrets catalog, not a true representation of female bonding. This isn’t just a cliche, gents---it’s sexist tripe.

2. Fairy Tales starring members of a superhero team. Now, this was cute when Kitty Pryde did it over at the X-Men in “Kitty’s Fairytale“, but it was a cliche even back then.

3. Variations on # 2: The team stars in a film noir, a Western, a spy film, a Seventh Seal, Sixth Sense or a Star Wars type story. My God, at least star your superhero team in an original film genre. For instance, The X-Men starring in a restoration comedy. Gen13 in kabuki theatre. The Authority in All Quiet on The Western Front. Anything other than what we’ve already seen.

4. More variations: starring your hero/team in It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol.

5. Still another variation: Ripping off Rashomon. You may not have seen the film, but you’ve seen it ripped off to death. Whenever you see a story told from several points of view, with the heroes arguing and saying, “No, this is how it REALLY happened”, you’re seeing a Rashomon rip off. The saddest thing is that it’s been ripped off so many times, the author probably has no idea that the source material came from Akira Kurosawa.

6. Characters from movies/cartoons showing up in a comic. How many very unfunny Pokemon type spoofs/characters showed up in comics after that show became popular, for instance?

7. Two superheroes dating, only to have their evening invaded by supervillains. If you’re in your secret identity duds and you still attract supervillains, you must be sending out “come here supervillain pheromones” or your writer is stretching coincidence too far.

8. Ex-girlfriends of a superhero get together and compare notes on their superhero ex-boyfriend. Notice that ex-boyfriends of superheroines never do this. This is because the (almost always) male authors of these stories probably think women just sit around talking about men all day.

9. The old friend we’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again storyline: This friend shows up and either has a drug problem, some case involving his family that only the superhero can help with, some movie of the week social problem, etc. Often, this friend is brought in just so the comic can preach to us not to discriminate, to be tolerant, or that beating up on someone because of his race, creed, color, or affectional orientation is wrong. Now, indeed, this is a social good---discrimination is bad, tolerance is good. But, god, there must be a better way to introduce these concepts than the old friend cliche. At least have the friend stay around and become a major supporting character after that. Or, have it be a person that’s been in the comic for awhile. Doiby Dickles coming out of the closet, anyone?

10. The reporter that does a feature story on a superhero, only to have his/her respect for the hero raise about 1000 percent by the story’s end. These stories are always written as newspaper or magazine stories, which is funny, as they never READ like a legit newspaper or magazine feature.

11. The DA/Policeperson who thinks the hero is a vigilante that must be stamped out---in spite of the fact the city would be in utter chaos but for that hero. The lawyers in these stories are so dogmatic and wrong-headed--and so stupid--that you wonder how many times they had to take the bar exam to pass. The person opposing the superhero, in the end, either ends up respecting him or doubly hating him, in spite of evidence that shows that the hero is all that’s keeping the city from total anarchy.

12. A long-time nemesis kidnapping the alter-ego of the superhero and issuing a challenge that the hero must show up and save the alter-ego or the alter-ego gets it. Of course, the alter-ego IS the superhero, but can’t save himself without revealing that he is Blowhard Man or whatever.

13. First meetings of superheroes and/or their alter-egos that happen BEFORE the actual first meeting of the superheroes. Superman comics do this all the time. There’s one, for instance, where he meets Lois Lane when he was young Clark Kent, but somehow forgets about the incident until that particular story, as apparently Lois did, too. One wonders how these two got to be crack reporters if they have such crappy memories.

14. The guy who is best buddies with the secret identity of the superhero, but hates the superhero himself---or vice versa (liking the hero but not his alter-ego). This is the male version of the Lois Lane/Lana Lang syndrome of being close to Superman but never QUITE twigging on to his resemblance to Clark Kent.

15. Meeting future selves or alternative versions of oneself. DC and Marvel are equally guilty of this, so both must share the blame.

16. Meeting dead relatives through time travel.

17. Being the only survivor of a planet---but for some relatives, a dog, a cat, a horse, a tiny bottled town, a supervillain or three, and...

18. Suing a superhero for negligence in a rescue attempt. If there are superheroes in your fictional world, there probably also are laws that exempt superheroes from being sued under negligent rescue laws, just like the government is mostly exempt from law suits.

19. Please, no more retelling of origins or the hero going back to relive his origin in some way.

20. No more helpless girlfriends that are constantly kidnapped, please. Ladies, if you are going to date a superhero, get some mace, tear gas, pepper spray, a gun, or something else to protect you. How much simpler your life will be if you do---unless you actively enjoy getting kidnapped, tied up, and gagged by supervillains.

21. No more sexy villainesses that go up against the superhero and end up falling in lust/in love with him.

22. The lab accident that gives a hero superpowers. Most lab accidents only give a person a burn or some sort of radiation related disease. Park is saying something in the next room about Marvel's Doctor Demonicus as seen in Marvel's Godzilla #4 but I'm not listening to him.

23. The Villain that is the exact replica of yourself, either in terms of actual costume (ahem, Reverse Flash) or psychological problems (Two-Face? The Joker? Lex Luthor?)

24. No more girlfriend/sexy supervillain cat fights, unless the superhero has some type of fetish and both women are consenting adults, into that sort of a thing.

25. No more imaginary stories with imaginary futures with imaginary wives and imaginary children. If a superhero wants a wife and kids, let him go to therapy to get over his fears of commitment.

26. No more offspring gone bad, nor any more prophecies about that bad kid killing you. That gambit stunk in Starman, for instance. Park's talking in the next room about how someone stole it to put it on TV recently but I'm not listening because the writers of that show constantly steal from comic books anyhow.

27. The mystery as a “present” or a cover for a surprise party. Don’t you think a superhero must get tired of being a superhero? When it comes to his birthday, don’t you think he just wants to relax and open a few brewskis with his pals, without having to go through a “mystery” first? What gets me is that his mostly superpowered friends who cook up such things think he’ll ENJOY it, when he’s probably sick unto death of it.

28. Best friend superheroes that are made to fight each other. This cliche stretches co-incidence way too much.

29. Simians---talking or non. Some people love ’em. God knows why. Park's saying something in the next room about Big Julie but I'm not listening.

30. Best friends of a superhero that due to a tragedy of some type become the hero’s worst enemy.

31. Powers that get messed up or can’t conquer magic.

32. Pixies, nixies, gnomes, or other cute magical beings that have no other purpose in life than to either bug you or hero-worship you. You’d think that magical beings would have more interesting things to do than to hang about with non-magical superheroes.

33. Crime investigators that tell their kids not to play detective.

34. Commitment-phobe heroes that won’t commit to the female sex object in their lives because she’ll be “put in danger”, but don’t think to disassociate themselves from their families, too. You mean healthy young Mary Jane is in MORE danger from a supervillain than “I got old from all the stress in my lfe” Aunt May?

35. People that have known all along you were a superhero, but don’t actually sit down and tell you they know. They just play this big, dysfunctional “I know nothing” lie. Then, one day, you decide to tell this person about your double life and that person says, “Oh, I knew that all along.” How maddening! All those times when you twisted yourself up in a knot to hide it from this person and it wasn’t even a real secret.

36. Superheroes that are either media darlings or hated by the media. Wouldn’t you like to see a superhero that’s just kind of taken for granted in his world? Yeah, he or she saves the world, but only gets a little news story on page six or whatever instead of a banner headline on page one.

37. Dead or “murdered” characters that aren’t really dead. Death faking in all forms. The “Huck and Tom” funeral where the character thought dead comes in to everyone’s surprise and relief.

38. Injuries that take one issue to heal and never cause scars. You know what I mean. The injury is serious enough to be a cliff-hanger and the next issue, the character is back in action, with no need of an operation or physical therapy or anything. Unless you are Superman (or a variation thereof) or Wolverine, if you get hurt, you’re going to the hospital and staying there until you recover.

39. Significant others who have careers in the newsmedia or crime investigating. Date yourself a nice doctor or a web designer or a wait person or a marine or a school teacher or fire fighter...

40. Bad habits that take one issue to stop.

41. And its opposite---agonizing too much over a bad habit until that’s all an author can think of writing about the character.

42. Superheroes and superheroines that have obvious chemistry but don’t become couples---we just keep playing with the concept, though. Two words: Oracle and Nightwing. There is nothing stopping this romance, unless someone has the mistaken idea that physically challenged people cannot have full, happy lives---including fulfilling sexual relationships.

43. Villains that hate and obsess over a superhero. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a villain that says, “No, I’m just killing you because I want to stay out of jail. Nothing personal, old chap.” and shoots the superhero dead?

44. Bald is bad---unless you’re wheelchair-bound.

45. People who won’t believe in magic or superheroes or aliens or whatever, in spite of overwhelming experiential evidence in favor of the proposition.

46. Superheroes that are aliens and believe in the gods of those worlds---but we never find out what the tenets of these alien religions are.

47. Variation---a dead planet that apparently had no popular culture or literature or sports, even when it was alive. For instance, what did Kryptonians DO on Saturdays nights? What was the Martian Manhunter’s favorite sport’s team on Mars?

48. The kid that finds the injured superhero. How many times as a kid did this happen to you? You’re playing baseball and while running to catch the ball, you find Superduperman lying there, injured and needing your help?

49. Superheroes that are either physically or psychologically turned into babies, often leaving the junior members of the team to be the “adults”.

50. The Pied Piper syndrome: A bunch of kids are duped into doing evil things by listening to supervillain that acts as the children’s friend.

51. The person that seems to be betraying the team, but isn’t. Variation one: it’s part of the team’s plan to dupe the supervillain. Variation two: the evidence is circumstance or is a frame.

52. The former baddie that joins the team but isn’t trusted.

There. That was Barb. One for every card in Gambit's deck.

You can have the next fifty-two in two weeks after she kinetically charges them.

Your new mantra: I WILL NOT BUY BAD COMICS