How Dungeons & Dragons fixes all fiction (especially comic books)

You have no idea how much I miss blogging here, at this blog, where there is no pressure to be anything but me and no topics too arcane or non-theological to tackle, and especially: it's OK to blog about comics in a way that a 50-year-old guy who is still 12 on the inside would blog about comics.

First, you should listen to this podcast episode:

In that episode, they talk about something all of us people who were alive before computers who read science fiction and comics also did to greater and lesser degrees: we played (or were forbidden to play) Dungeons & Dragons.  Most of us probably played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (to be fair and completely too-specific), and we owned a bag full of dice and at least three hard-covered books which told us everything we needed to know about the kind of things we might build into a campaign, or that we might happen to encounter in a campaign.

In the pre-computer world, we used a lot of graph paper, and there had to be people who were playing with us and also plotting our rise and fall.  Compared to gaming today, it was actually quite social and quaint.  It looked a lot like a very complicated game of Cribbage, if I am honest, except that nobody since the middle ages wore a robe with a hood to a game of Cribbage.

But before any of this even went that far, we had to build a character, and the most fundamental thing about building that character was his or her alignments.  Now: what does that even mean?  Well, let me show you:


That is a grid I have been working on since listening to that podcast which has to do with character alignments, using the basic system which AD&D uses (or at least used to use).  And: you can see my attempts to puzzle in the basic interesting characters from Marvel Comics into this grid just for the sake of showing how it works.  As a caveat, the diagonal lines are meant to show motivational-outcomes for these alignments, not actual motives.  For example, Reed Richards is in the "vengeance" quadrant of you are reading the diagonals, but Reed isn't motivated by vengeance (notice I spelled it right here), is he?  He's actually motivated by goodness and autonomy -- as opposed to Doom who is motivated by a high view of authority ruined by a poor moral compass.  that's why they are good against each other: they are naturally in competition

And that brings me to the point of this post.  Right now, I think Marvel Comics stink right up to high heaven -- and it's for one obvious reason: all of their characters cluster around the center of this grid.  All of their characters are lame examples of millennial passivism when it comes to bigger questions, and therefor there's not really any drama to be worked out.  All the drama turns out to be low brow and sensual rather than playing out on a bigger table with bigger stakes.

So if anyone is reading this post at Marvel, think about this: the reason the movies are working and the comics are not is that the movies still have characters who are not clustered around the center of the grid.  The more you work to cluster them around the center of the grid, the more boring and unfulfilling the art turns out to be.



Michael Coughlin said...

Did you mean "stinks to high heaven?"

Frank Turk said...

That's what I said.

Jeremiah Petersen said...

3. Minor Reactions to the graph

1). It appears the only constant for a hero has to be by his/her nature to be on the "good" side in-order to be a hero. I don't mean that to be a truth-ism, but hero's have to be at least a little good, and villains have to be at least a little bad. This appears to be an inherent reality of the art-form and maybe fiction.

2). If it's boring for characters to be only in the middle, could it be equally as boring if they were only in the corners? Eg., Cap. A. vs. Punisher vs. Ultron vs. Thanos.

3). It's generally accepted that fictional characters need flaws in order to be interesting, but flaws can drag characters toward the middle. Is it exceptionally hard for writers to write flawed characters who are true to their alignments without compromising the character?

It's interesting to think about, so, thank you Frank.