It’s honestly a really difficult question to answer. But I also feel like it’s a pretty pertinent one for any writer. We write stories. Naturally we’re inclined to write the kinds of stories we like, yes? Well, not necessarily. Sometimes a story comes from a place that’s not really a part of one’s general wheelhouse. I’m doing that right now with EXTRA. Were it not for the circumstances behind that story’s existence, I likely wouldn’t be writing it from the standpoint of genre, style, tone, any of that. And if I wasn’t the one who wrote it, I likely wouldn’t read it. At least, I wouldn’t really be compelled to read it on my own. It’d be one of those things where people nag me about it until I finally got around to it… eventually. When I’m ready.
But enough of that non-answer. Getting to the actual answer is… challenging. Because I like so many different stories. My favorite movie is The Iron Giant. “Okay. Easy. That’s your favorite kind of story, right?” Well… no. Honestly, that’s the only story like it that I’m even all that familiar with. To the point where I’ve memorized every single line, down to the timing. I’ve seen it that much. The movie’s been my favorite since I was a child. But other than that, I tend not to really care all that much for the “A boy and his…” formula. Not that I think it’s bad. It just seldom interests me.
“All right, well, what’s your favorite videogame?” That’s a bit of a cheat since it’s Pokemon. But given the fact that I roleplay the game in my head as I go through it, establishing an internal canon and everything, that’s not really fair. I’m already making the story, in that case. Sure, it’s mixed in with the narrative of the game, but it’s my character and my team. That’s the power of customization. If I were to disregard Pokemon, though (in all honesty, it’s even more unfair since Pokemon is my favorite media franchise period), then what would it be? Easy. Tales of Symphonia. Big JRPG adventure with a cast of colorful characters to meet along the way, plenty of cheesy dialogue and jokes, and a fairly rich story, whenever it does decide to take itself seriously. Okay. So that’s my favorite kind of story, right? It even fits with my favorite genre – adventure. Well, not so fast. That’s more of a niche than a type of story. A genre and a style, certainly. But not quite there.
“Fine. Then what about your favorite anime?” Yeah, I don’t have one of those. Contrary to what you may think from watching Rila and Riley talk, their opinions aren’t always entirely my own. Neither Kill la Kill nor Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru are my absolute favorite anime. I love them both to my very core. But not “favorite of all time” level. I just don’t have that with anime.
“Okay, okay. Then what about your first love? What about comic books?” Ah. And there’s the interesting one where we might find the answer, yes? Western superhero comics from the big two. “But wait. You barely read American comics anymore.” Yes, but that’s purely laziness and complication with getting back into it after falling off the horse. It’s rough at times, mate. I’ll probs get back on that one soon-ish. Maybe. If I can find the time. In any case, though, I’ll say this. Superheroes have probably had more of an impact on me than any anime or videogame ever has. That isn’t me saying superheroes are “better.” Just that they stick more with me, likely because they’re not contained stories. They’re not even sagas. Because those still have endings. They’re like a modern mythology. It’s a dynamic I find fascinating, on its own. But the fact that they’ve endured in their current form for as long as they have speaks to their effectiveness.
“So you like superhero stories most?” Again, that’s not what I mean when I say “types of stories.” Superheroes are, put plainly, a genre. But I think one can find the types of stories I like very consistently in the pages of superhero comics. It kind of hit me while I was watching a couple of videos, last night. Specifically reviews of Action Comics #775 and its DC Animated Movie Adaptation, Superman vs. The Elite. I’ll put one thing out there, right now. Superheroes are the one topic where I have a ranked list. Right at the top of that list is none other than Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America. The dude’s been my favorite superhero since I was, like… 12. And anyone who knows me knows that that’s kind of odd, seeing as I’m not the most patriotic person. But I like the idea of Captain America. And, just as importantly, I like the ideal of Captain America. Wanna know who my second favorite superhero is? Wonder Woman. Followed by Spider-Man, then a superhero duo hardly anyone’s aware of and I’ll discuss another time. But bringing up #5 on my list is Superman… tied with Batman, but the subject is more pertinent to Superman, right now so I’ll talk about him for now and get into the bat another time. Though he’s another great example.
The thing is, I just find all the hate thrown the big blue boyscout’s way to be… heavily unwarranted. And I say that as someone who used to be a part of it. Then I actually… you know… read one of the comics. Then another one. And another one. I started paying attention to the character in media that didn’t exclusively feature him. The more I read, the more I liked. There were certainly bad stories, but superheroes are written by dozens upon dozens upon dozens of writers. You’re gonna get bad stories. Just as any anime that runs for a long time is gonna have bad arcs. And here’s where we get back to what started all of this. One day my mother rented one of the DC Animated Movies and we sat down and watched it. She fell asleep, but I watched the whooole thing (love you, mom!) And, you guessed it, that movie was Superman vs. The Elite. I’d never read the comic it was based on but, even back then, the impact of that movie stuck with me. It didn’t affect me on some sort of deep, profound, personal level. I didn’t connect with it as an individual or anything. There was no “Oh, I so identify with this!” moment. Because, as stated, I don’t have that impulse. But it was basically the reason Superman got on my list at all.
The two videos I just watched were from Atop the Fourth Wall (Action Comics #775) and SF Debris (Superman vs. The Elite). Check out those videos when you can. They’re really great and insightful pieces that do a far better job of breaking down those stories and their themes than I feel I ever could. Now back to my point. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I don’t care about being related to. It’s probably why I like Superman and Cap as much as I do. “But Spider-Man-!” is high on that list because he represents the idea that everyone can be a hero. Not because I relate to him, personally. Wonder Woman is on that list because I like the idea of mercy and compassion being foremost in our minds when faced with those who oppose us. In fact, she’s the character who holds my favorite quote in all of comics, “Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” I think my thing is that I like stories where the characters are ideas. They’re representative of ideological concepts and we get to see those concepts at play against the world around them. Most often this is where the Flat Character Arcs come in. In anime and manga, these are perhaps the most prominent in the likes of Shounen Battle series. Goku is the most obvious/famous example. That’s why I like Dragon Ball as much as I do. It’s so simple, but it works remarkably well. The story isn’t about Goku’s growth. It certainly happens in places, but the story is mostly about how Goku and his outlook impact those around him and influence them to change.
Superman vs. The Elite is basically my favorite one-off superhero story. Ever. And the reason for that is that it takes Superman – a character who’s often mocked and derided as representing “outdated” or “naive” ideals – and thrusts him into the modern world while still maintaining everything that makes him… well… Superman. Instead of stubbornly trying to force him to fit into the modern mentality, it leaves him how he is and uses that setting to challenge those very ideals he represents and believes in. It forces him to evaluate his beliefs and tests not the level of his strength to win a fight, but his resolve to stick to his principles, showing humanity that there’s a better way. A nearly perfect Flat Arc story. The flashy powers are just that… flashy. More often than not, they’re just there because they’re neat to look at. Sure, in simpler stories without that kind of hook, then we can talk for days about it being problematic for storytelling purposes that he’s so bloody powerful. But the best Superman stories are the ones in which it doesn’t matter how strong he is. That’s the trick. Making it where the victory has nothing to do with his strength and everything to do with his character. And this is one such case. By focusing less on the Super, and more on the Man, you’re getting to a very simple, human story without a lot of easy answers. And those answers shouldn’t be easy. “Simple” doesn’t necessarily translate to “easy.” The world is filled with ambiguities. This is a simple story about morality. One befitting of the Man of Tomorrow – a title I honestly prefer to “Man of Steel” as the latter does place more emphasis on the Super than it does the Man, ironically.
I’m a pessimistic, fearful person. My mind always finds a way to reach out and latch onto the worst possible outcome of a situation. But despite that, I make a very active effort not to be cynical and bitter. I’m not always successful, of course. Especially in the internet age, it is incredibly difficult not to give in to the temptations of those things. Access to troubling information in great abundance (because ratings) can so easily sour us to the world. Online interaction makes it a simple thing for us to disassociate ourselves and resort to dehumanizing those on the other sides of a discussion. As easily as playing a videogame with people and thinking to yourself that everyone on your team is a moron or getting into an argument on Twitter over something completely fictional. Those darker instincts are always going to be there. When I catch myself slipping into any of that (though the Twitter thing never happens since I barely speak to anyone on there because… again… anxiety), I’m often rather upset with myself later. But I try. And that’s why I like those stories of characters who represent some manner of ideal, then thrusting them into a world that’s going to test the very thing they believe in. The exemplars. Those who don’t have to be told to be better, per se, but struggle against the temptation to be otherwise.
Cap is my favorite because he’s, frankly, an even better example of this than Superman is. To me, anyway. Because of the “man out of his time” angle. And you know what? It works both as a Flat Character Arc and a Positive Change Arc. Because we can see some of his more old fashioned beliefs being things he’s had to update his thinking on. Yet there are still always those essential moral principles that he will stick to and win through on, in the end. It’s why he works so well on The Avengers. I’m reminded of an excellent line from an… otherwise not-so-excellent Marvel Straight-to-DVD animated movie, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow. In that film, Ultron basically took over the world and the children of the Avengers were the last line of defense against him. The cybernetic intelligence scanned the son of Captain America and made the observation that the kid still had to die (and die first, I might add) because Steve Rogers, Captain America, was the most dangerous Avenger. Because he inspired them all. And that impact spans well beyond the Avengers, reaching into other teams and solo heroes. Even Deadpool admires the guy.
The stories that resonate most with me are those in which a character represents some sort of idea or ideal, then you drop them into a world that challenges it somehow and, by the end, they change that world, possibly even being stronger in that belief than when they first started. The Flat Character Arcs featuring ideological clashes, be they on a smaller scale – as with Goku consistently turning enemies to allies – or a societal one – as with Superman showing the world that there is a better way than violence and bitterness. Now, obviously I like me a good Positive Change Arc just fine. I once again bring up Kill la Kill, which is absolutely an example and one of my favorite anime. Mob Psycho 100, SSSS.Gridman, Kyoukai no Kanata. My list goes on. But the difference is that while I adore those, things like Medaka Box, No Game No Life, and yes, Dragon Ball resonate more with me because of what I’ve explained, here.
If we were to turn this on my own writing, it’ll likely become pretty evident that I do a lot more Positive Change Arcs than Flat Character Arcs. That’s largely because they’re honestly easier to do effectively. EXTRA is something that’s pretty dominantly built on a foundation of Positive Change Arcs. It’s a story about personal growth, after all. But Burning Sky is enormous and features a healthy range of both types of arcs (among others). One thing I really like is seeing characters go through a Positive Change Arc and then have what they learn in that arc become the basis for their evolution into a Flat Arc Character. God, I love that. Of course, I also like it when a character has elements of both a Flat Arc and a Positive Change arc, at the same time. People are not monoliths, after all. We’re subject to believing multiple things at once, some of which potentially contradictory. You’ll wind up seeing a lot of that, I think. You’d probably be able to tell which ones are which, right away. And if not, well, maybe you can make a little game of it.
I’ve been thinking of getting back into writing superheroes, lately. It’s been quite a while and I’m starting to really want to get back to that. I mentioned before that I have a fully functioning superhero universe just sitting on my shelf. Maybe I revisit that whole idea at some point. Shrink it down a bit in scope, apply some of the new writing strategies I’ve learned since I took a break from it, etc. Could be a fun exercise! Maybe a few short stories or something when I’m bored and can’t get into the headspace for Burning Sky or EXTRA. I’ve just been feeling really nostalgic for superheroes lately, but I know some of my older stories were preeetty cringe. So we’ll see if I can update ’em and make ’em into something more interesting.
Long story short, I like stories where the protagonist changes the world, be it their immediate surroundings or the greater world around them. Saving the world is great, but changing the world just has a stronger impact. Changing the world by saving the world is obviously a thing. But you can have one without the other is my point in making that distinction. Superman didn’t actually “save the day” in Action Comics #775/Superman vs. The Elite, after all. Not in the traditional sense, at least. And that’s what I’m getting at.
Okay. That’s all. Just more of my random musing, exploring the vast and mysterious recesses of my mind. Hopefully it was as nice a little foray into how I think for you as it was for me. All right, Stay safe, Stay healthy, Stay Awesome!
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