A trope is a recognizable theme used in storytelling. The kidnapped princess, the final battle, the training montage, these are all tropes we have seen again and again. Usually recognition of a familiar trope is a good thing, it lets the audience know how they should feel about things and sets them up either for a satisfying conclusion or an excited twist. But what happens when a trope goes stale? When you can’t watch two hours of TV without seeing the same situation over and over, like the writers just emptied their cliche bladders all over the place? Some themes have suffered this fate, through excessive use now they accomplish the opposite of what the writers want. They take the viewer out of the experience. What follows is a list of tropes that I find tiresome, troubling and most of all, trite.

#10 – Youth Interface Activate!

“I am glad that I ignored my first impulse to crush you like a cockroach, Sam Witwicky.”
I remember, back when I was little, talking to one of my friends about Transformers, and I recall him saying, “wouldn’t it be awesome to be that kid who gets to hang out with Optimus Prime?” And even then I remember answering “No, it would be awesome to be Optimus Prime.” The kid sidekick trope is probably the least offensive because now a days it’s very rare. It seems (non-anime) writers have finally gotten it into their heads that being a superhero is a lot more appealing than being friends with a superhero. However, I’m still putting it on the list because of how incredibly dissonant it is to watch an episode of Superfriends in which Superman is basically saying, “I have an idea of how to defeat Lex Luthor, but it will require us to put two powerless teenagers and their idiot dog in mortal danger!” Also, in comics we constantly have to deal with writers trying desperately to make former kid sidekicks appealing by giving them superpowers, but amazingly the most consistent superpower Jimmy Olsen and Rick Jones have is their nigh invulnerability to relevance.

#9 – Girl Version

“Ok guys, everyone loves Krypto the super-dog, right? Well what if there was a female version? We could call her Kryptalina the super-… oh wait.”
How do we make girls read Superman? I know, let’s add a Super-type-girl! Or at least that’s where this meddlesome meme used to come from, now it’s just a calculated business move. It’s pretty obvious that if Wolverine sells 10% of the comics in the market share, Buxom Underage Female Wolverine should add at least two points to that. Of course this also applies to kid versions of superheroes as well as animal versions. Each of those is wonderfully blah in its own way. This is also where I throw in my now-required blah blah blah why are women and minorities relegated to less powerful clones of white male blah blah blah. Sadly this is one that a lot of comic fans just accept, but it drives me up the wall because it’s such an obvious and unimaginative ploy. Sure, maybe after years and years you get a gem like Wally West, but in order to get it you need to make your way through an enormous field taking care not to step on any Scrappy-Doos.

#8 – Nazis

“Ve haf vayz of making you talk… incessantly.”
Americans are obsessed with World War II. And why not? It was a big victory that wouldn’t have been achieved if the U.S. hadn’t stepped in. There were clear heroes and villains, it solidified the U.S.’s positions as a world power, it was a war that changed everything… And sixty-five years later we’re still hearing about it. Largely because Nazis make the perfect villains! They were bad people, they ordered and allowed some of the greatest atrocities in human history to happen, they hated entire subsets of people and wanted to rule the world. Sadly, no other group has stepped up to the challenge of evil superpower so that we can incorporate them into American fiction. Islamic extremists come close, but writing about that Jihad is a minefield, between the risk of offending American Muslims as well as the nagging issue of “how did these guys get guns and training in the first place?” most writers know better than to open that container of annelids. Russia got a lot of play for a while, but there was a reason why they called it “the cold war” in the end not a lot happened and now Russia is not really a threat. Like everything else in this list Nazis are used as shorthand, in this case for evil. Why spend any amount of time developing what, exactly, makes your villain evil, when you can just drop a convenient swastika in the background and be done with it?

#7 – Mon Dieu!

“Come to Jean Luc’s baguette emporium, you will surrender… to savings!”
Let’s dwell on World War II for a while (since every one else seems to). Does it seem weird to anyone else that the American stereotype of the French is that they are weak and surrender at the drop of a hat? Why? Because in (that magnificent) World War II the French surrendered. I don’t think people realize where France is located in Europe. Seriously, go look on a map, I’ll wait… There you go, see? It’s right there next to Spain and, wait that’s that country on the other side? oh yeah GERMANY. It’s like being Mike Tyson’s roommate in college, and having your friends make fun of you for letting him take the top bunk, who’s going to stop him? he just beat up Poland. But that analogy may have broken down. All in all I suppose it also makes for funnier jokes than the other stuff the French have done:
“Hey, did your hear how much aid the French sent after Hurricane Katrina?”
“Yeah, you’d think after giving us that big ass statue that we use as a symbol for our country they would have called it good.”
“Ha ha, yeah silly Frenchies.”


“Oh man, Asterix: the movie wasn’t very good.”
“Figures, first they redefine the art of cinema, while inventing many of the techniques that American directors use to this day, and then they send us a flop like this.”
“Ha ha, yeah, silly Frenchies.”

Seriously stop picking on the french, if you piss them off enough they’ll just start making collect calls over and romancing your ladies away from you. Although I suppose that is also a stereotype. Oh well, c’est la vie.

#6 – The Girl’s the MacGuffin

“Take care of her, she’s more precious than you’ll ever know… because she’s the Holy Grail.”
Really this one’s as much a trap for the writer as it is for the reader (or viewer). Rather than looking for an all powerful artifact you are looking for an all powerful sassy girl you are destined to fall in love with. If you hint at it too much, you’ll telegraph it, and the audience won’t be surprised (like maybe in a Tom Hanks movie). If you don’t address it before the third act, it comes out of nowhere (like maybe in a recent M. Night Shyamaladaptation). Furthermore, you pretty much have to base the whole premise of your comic/movie/flipbook/ around it, so if the audience gets wise to it before the big reveal they’ll completely lose interest. And if that happens, even with Oscar-worthy acting or Eisner-worthy writing, you’ll still have a whole third act of characters exchanging meaningful looks and whispering cryptic phrases that might as well amount to “I got a great deal on these shoes at JC Penney.” Well no duh, albino Jude Law, JC Penney has great every-day low prices. Sheesh…

#5 – Superman Analog

“Ok, new pitch for an Elseworlds book. Everyone loves Superman, right? But what if Superman was raised… in Kansas!?”
As I was sitting here, brainstorming for this article I came up with, no exaggeration, about twelve superman-like characters across various companies. Which is really sad. How lame is it that this sort of thing requires no explanation? “In Invincible the Superman analog is called Omni-Man.” is all the information you need, because EVERY COMIC BOOK UNIVERSE HAS AT LEAST ONE SUPERMAN ANALOG. Granted there’s plenty of potential for exploration there, and there have been several amazing, flavorful, and unorthodox takes on Superman. But by that same token there are some amazing, flavorful and unorthodox barbecue sauces, that doesn’t mean I want BBQ sauce in everything I eat. I mean ran out of milk for my cereal that once, but that was a one time experiment.

#4 – The Chosen One

“General, kill all red-headed children in my kingdom!”
“Why, my lord? Was there a prophecy foretelling your demise at the hands of a red-haired youth?”
“No, those ginger bastards just piss me off!”

Here’s another one that people just automatically accept. “Oh, OK, it’s fantasy, so clearly there has to be some prophecy saying some peasant kid will someday free the land from a great evil, right?” Wrong. This is just fantasy writers abusing a very easy writing crutch. Think about the major fantasy films (and a few sci-fi ones) of the past decade, how many of them feature a prophecy prominently? How many of them said that Anakin/Neo/Ang would one day bring peace to the galaxy/sexy ravers/planeteer nations? Of course, as with all of these there are good, original ways to execute this, the problem is that writers don’t walk into a project saying “Hey, I got a good idea for a cool twist on ‘the ancient prophecy’ angle.” No, they walk in saying “Hey, I got an awesome action scene in mind, how do I get the characters there for it? I know, an ancient prophecy.”

#3 – The Punk-Out

“If he killed Chuck Norris, what chance do we stand against him?”
We have talked about this one on the podcast before. A punk-out is when you establish a new character as the biggest badass by having him easily obliterate the previous biggest bad ass, or by similarly bringing him low. It’s an unfortunately common device for sequels and second-seasons. The first time I ever remember seeing this (and maybe I saw it before, but didn’t really notice) was on a Japanese show called Saint Seiya, AKA Knights of the Zodiac, AKA supercool armor guys. In the show there was a character who was way more powerful than the protagonists and, after a brief fight (in which the heroes couldn’t so much as scratch him) decided to let them through because he liked them. The next season then began by having some unknown warrior one-shot this character… for no reason. Even as a kid I remember thinking, wow, that was a waste of a potentially cool fight. And you know what? Kid Rodrigo was right because neither Dragonball Z, nor the WWE, nor the second season of Legend of the Seeker, nor Transformers 2 have convinced me of the validity of this trope.

#2 – Poca-freakin-hontas

“You think the only people who are people are the people who read People Magaziiiiiine”
I’ve come to the conclusion that Americans have a deep-rooted cultural guilt over the execution of Manifest Destiny. Why else is it that every two to five years we get a new movie in which a bunch of mean invaders eradicate a bunch of technologically inferior natives? And you might say, “well it’s a reference to history, stuff like that actually happened.” Sure it did, and so did other cool things like “A bunch of outnumbered guys defended a fort” and “A bunch of outgunned guys invaded a beach… uphill… in the rain.” But we don’t see a summer blockbuster re-imagine them over and over again. No, I think that audiences like going to movies like Avatar and Dances with Wolves, so they can feel bad “Yes, it is terrible what white people did to Native Americans hundreds of years ago, I feel bad, ooh a catharsis, what’s for dinner?” Meanwhile those of us not plagued by the atrocities of our forefathers (Hard to pick a side when both sides are represented in your bloodline) have to sit there and watch while the only sensitive white guy puts on samurai armor, or a loincloth or a genetically engineered body and stands with the natives against his own people… just like last year.

#1 – The Bad Guy’s Related to You

“Luke… you can’t tell because of this mask, but you totally have my nose…”
The Beatles are to modern music what Star Wars is to modern movies (modern narratives, really). The biggest problem with this is that a lot of the ideas first brought to the mainstream by the original trilogy have stuck around almost unchanged. I equate this to chewing a tasty piece of high quality gum and then, after spitting it out, accidentally stepping on it. If you want to see this taken to an almost comical extent check out Legend of the Seeker TV series, as the characters travel the countryside it becomes obvious that more and more people are related to the main character. To the point where I was really starting to get worried that the forbidden love storyline was going to become a double-forbidden love storyline.


About Author

Nobody really knows what Rodrigo's deal is. He is a perpetual enigma, an unknown quantity, the X factor. He's the new kid in school, the unlisted number, the person all your friends talk about, but you've never met. How can one person be so mysterious, you ask? THAT IS ALSO TOTALLY A MYSTERY! You can try to keep tabs on him on twitter by following @fearsomecritter, but that probably won't help.


  1. Agreed on most of it, except the Alamo bit I was always told the main reason for the Texas Revolution was that the the Americans didn’t want to give up their slaves. With that in mind I can’t see them as heroes or martyrs in Texas war for “freedom”. Mind you I’m from Chile and my teachers might have been biased…

    • Your teachers were biased. Both the US and European immigrants as well as native Mexicans in the Mexican State of Coahulia y Tejas began revolting against the government of General/President Santa Anna to bring back the Mexican Constitution of 1824. Out of that, the area declared itself independent as the Republic of Texas March 2, 1836. Slavery, unfortunately, became an issue during the annexation of Texas to the US as a state in that Texas was brought in as a slave state while the other states formed to the north were brought in as “free” states.

      That aside, I throw a hearty AMEN!! to the choices in the article. One I would add would be the “Ancient/Alien Civilization that was more advanced than we today…yada yada yada…”

      • Cool! I hate knowing half truths/biased stuff…

        The biggest cliché is still the fact that the good guys always win and that every story needs a romantic relationship that may or may not be doomed from the get go.

  2. As far as #2 is concerned, what make me crazy there is that when the ‘outsider’ comes in to help the ‘poor peoples’ defend against the overwhelming advanced invaders, they come in as second in command or the boyfriend of the princess. They never just are an anonymous front line soldier, somehow they have to learn the ways of the people, better than the people themselves who have lived there since birth.

  3. Interesting article. I agree with almost all of it.

    Regarding “girl versions” – I remember reading that Spider-Woman and She-Hulk were created by Marvel as copyright protection, so no one else could create a similar character. She-Hulk actually became a pretty interesting character in her own way. Jessica Drew is sometimes interesting. However, most girl versions are pretty boring (ahem, Super-Girl). I would extend this to “Young versions” too — Super-Boy and the Young Avengers have never been very appealing IMO.

  4. I really hate the Supermen Analogs. I agree with your statements about it completely and would only add one thing: Superman (and the analogs) is always invincible with the exception of the ONE thing that can weaken them. Therefore, the writer needs to find some usually ridicules way to sideline him. Sentry kept blowing up so at least it became funny after a while but seriously Nigh invulnerable demigods are boring and pointless.

    • brainypirate on

      Heck, I think Superman is too powerful! I appreciate him from the standpoint of his optimism, determination, commitment to fair play, etc. And I get the concept of a super-being with lots of powers. But does he have to be the most powerful in ALL of them? Why not take the “Flash-Supes Who’s Faster” concept and apply it to everyone in the JLA. Supes is fast, but Flash can be faster. Supes is smart, but Bats can be smarter. Supes is strong by Wonder Woman (or Hawkman or Martian Manhunter or all above the above) are stronger. Give him a solid amount of all these powers, but don’t make him invincible in any of them.

      And while you’re at it, take Batman down a peg too — sheesh!!! He’s like a non-idiot savant with how over-prepared he is….

      • You are absolutely right. As a kid, I gave up reading Superman because there was no drama. I realized at 10 that nothing was really going to hurt/kill/destroy him.

        All the heroes should be reined in a bit with editorial constraints. Otherwise you get runaway power levels or characters with ridiculous combinations of over-the-top abilities. I mean, really, shouldn’t Martian Manhunter be considered the most powerful of all with his hundreds of abilities?

        • Although, I wouldn’t mind a character that had a tons of really dumb little powers. Either all at once, or like the short-lived Marvel Initiative character Spinner (I think) got a new power once every so many hours and got to see what the character did with them. Kind of like a Dial H for Hero guy, but you could make the powers really stupid.

          Hey if I realized for a day that I could hover 2 inches off the ground, I’d find a way to use that all day long. But yeah, I do agree that Superman is WAAAAAY too powerful and honestly WAY too dumb. He’s so powerful but is still consistently taken down issue after issue. He should do what Nazi Superman did on his earth and scour the earth and destroy every single piece of Kryptonite.

    • But the Superman analogs are sometimes tough to pin down as Superman analogs. I’ve seen a lot of people describe a character as an analog just because he was strong and could fly. Are those the only characteristics that define it?

      • Rouge & Ms Marvel are strong and can fly but they aren’t Nigh invulnerable. The Tick & Mr. Incredible were invulnerable and strong but that was it, no flying or eye beams. The reason these four aren’t Analogs of Superman (and ARE interesting characters) is that they can be stopped, conflict can appear easily and realistically, and there are things they simply cannot do. Mr. Incredible can flap his arms all he wants he isn’t flying.

  5. brainypirate on

    My issue with #2 is that if we didn’t have these movies about white folks destroying native culture, we’d have no reason to put Indians on the screen at all–because (apparently) the only Indian story worth telling is the one where they’re in danger and need rescuing by sympathetic white folks. Sheesh! Really?!? Why can’t we have a story in which the Indians conquer their own enemies–heck, why not make the bad guys Indians too? We don’t have to have white folks in every story!

    • One of the few movies along that line was “The Pathfinder”. However, that one also used a tired old plot: Baby/young child from a far away land/other race/other world is raised by honorable, good natives and he/she in turn fights off the scum-buckets that he was bred from (New Krypton, anyone? Anyone? Bueler?)

    • One exception that was executed brilliantly I think is Apocalypto. Great protagonist, great execution, and it’s Mayan vs. Mayan in a No Holds Barred throwdown. Oh yeah and a perfectly placed Jaguar attack to make you say, “HELL YEAH!”

  6. This list is so right on!! The only part I didn’t agree with is Nazis, I’ll never get bored with nazis, the only time I ever got sick of them was a episode on that stupid “Enterprise” show! Although comics do overdo it considerably, but comics are always dumb about such things.

    My BIGGEST, “I’m seriously ticked off here” trope is how all great ancient civilizations (Mayans, Egyptians, etc.), were influenced by ALIENS!!! So all these writers are saying, nobody on earth could accomplish amazing things unless they CHEATED?!? I love Doctor Who, but this comes up a lot and I can’t stand it!

    • A variation of that trope is that ancient civilizations had GREAT knowledge that has been hidden or lost over the ages. This is the basis of Dan Brown’s career.

    • Nazi’s still make perfect sense in a Captain America book, or maybe a book about The Twelve or something like that, but they aren’t the be-all-end-all in comic book villains. I agree, it’s just an easy cheat, there’s no need to do any exposition on who the Big Bad’s are, just a simple jacked up multiplication symbol and there ya go. I’m more of a Marvel guy, and they have AIM, Hydra, Leviathan, The Hand, The Brood, The Foot Clan, Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place, and more perfectly acceptable covert groups to use as baddies. Who are the groups like that in the DCU? Marconi’s gang? (is that a real thing?) I know there’s gotta be something, but I’m drawing a blank. Legion of Doom, maybe?

  7. 10. I get having a side kick if the alternative is to have a super powered potential atomic bomb in puberty running around out there by themselves.

    9. While girl version may be visually attractive, I can’t think of one i like right now.

    8. Nazis. I just think it’s strange that the Pope was in this classification.

    7. France. I recall this trope in recent World Cup news.

    6. It is indeed played out.

    5. I’m tired of this one as well.

    4. The Chosen Ones can be done well. I, however, find them to be at their best when the chosen one and his friend run into battle and the chose one dies instantly. Turns out the friend was the hero after all.

    3. The Punk Out is very prevalent in comics however I think you’re being unfair with DBZ. They spent quite a lot of episodes showing the characters training and learning new skills and getting power ups to explain this.

    2. I think America’s love with Pocahantas is the same as their love for Eastern culture. There is an honor and oneness with the earth and life that these cultures have that is absent in much of “white” culture. In my case it’s an envy issue for what they had.

    1. rarely has been done sucessfully since Star Wars.

    • On number 9, I can think of at least one female version that I do like, maybe two. The newish female Hawkeye and Stature of the Young Avengers. Even though it’s a different name, Stature is just a female Ant Man. I like Hawkgirl too. Those are a few, but I get the analog and I don’t usually care for that type of thing either. Those are a few that I like and some don’t fully count (IMO). The new Hawkeye chose the name herself to draw ties to the official Avengers team and she isn’t running around under the care of Clint Barton, nor is she some long lost relative of his either. Hawkgirl earned acceptance from me solely based on her cartoon presence.

      I also liked Duela Dent for like 5 minutes before she was killed.

  8. I would add another one.
    Reptilian creatures / characters are villains. Most reptilian (or creatures with scales) are nasty evil creatures. I listed a few that came to mind.

    Examples include:
    TOS (The Gorn)
    ST:E (The Xindi (That did not switch sides))
    Zathura (Zorgons)
    Alien series
    Enemy Mine
    Conan – Thulsa Doom and the snake fetish

    X-men (The Brood)
    Batman (Killer Croc)
    Spiderman (The Lizard)
    GI Joe (Cobra)

    • I thought the whole point of Enemy Mine was that we the humans were the bad guys and the aliens were much more “human” then us.

      The reptilian thing is natural, heck I would go as far as say it’s evolutionary, it comes from the fact that reptiles are highly primitive and natural enemies of the mammals(be it for hunting grounds or as predators). They are pure instinct and we have a natural fear of them. The large ones are canivorous and some of the smaller ones are poisonous, its like the fear of fire, heights and lawyers it instinctive.

    • What about the tv show Dinosaurs? They were good guys and seen as just like we are, common dumb schlubs. Granted at the end of the series, everybody everywhere was killed and they all went extinct, so yeah fun stuff.

  9. Methinks there’s some excessive up-in-arms-getting over the Superman Analog bit.

    First, it’s not like the market is absolutely saturated with the trope. Out of literally thousands of titles published in the industry, there are literally fewer than two dozen at any given time that even use the trope, let alone are built around it. It’s not BBQ sauce in your cereal; it’s not even BBQ sauce on all of your burgers.

    Second, the analog winds up in most universes because =someone= has to be the most powerful character in that universe. If it’s not Sentry in the 616, it’s Thor. (Whose original Marvel incarnation was a Captain Marvel twist away from a direct copy.) In the Conde Nast-verse, Doc Savage winds up in that role by default. (The Shadow is Batman, the Whisperer is the Sandman, etc.)

    Third, the analog exists because the original is so full of story possibilities that the shared-universe and serial-publication memes prevent from actually being told with the original. (Even if the past couple years of Superman stories =has= had distinct echoes of, say, Omni-Man after the first Viltrumite invasion.) Supreme. The Plutonian. Captain Valor. Heck, the Big Red Cheese hisownself. Comics are hardly less well-off creatively for the existence of these.

  10. As tired as I am with Nazis in films I’m more tired of everything people disagree with being associated with Nazis. Resent examples of both Bush and Obama being called Nazis just go to show how stupid that kinda of name calling is.

    As far as films go you say Nazis are shorthand hand. Shorthand is making all your villains soldiers wear brown shirts, and arm bands. When you make them Nazis your just saying “well people don’t like Nazis. Then we don’t have to feel bad about killing them all.”
    It just lazy and lack imagination.

  11. Nazis make the best villains. You can literally do whatever you want to them (see INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) and audiences will cheer for the good guys ever single time, no matter what. They are the ultimate, unsympathetic antagonists.

    • I don’t think the world will ever truly recover from the trauma of WWII, which makes the Nazis the perfect enemies to mutilate/kill/torture without remorse.

      The problem is that you can’t have any type of evil military group without them devolving into “Nazis” even if that’s not what you are shooting for.

      Think army/militia group and evil/racist and most of the time Nazis will come to mind.

  12. Really awesome article, couldn’t agree more on the female versions and Superman analogue stuff. After the recent JSA arc (which I liked)I’m done with Nazis.

  13. 10. I resent you making that distinction between anime and non-anime. It’s unfair. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but your implying it happens more in anime. I’d like to know what shows your making that judgement on.

    9. What’s wrong is that they’re automaticly thought of of as inferior. And that sometimes comes from just not being the “first”. Like when you say that Moon Knight/Daredevil/Ted Kord/… is inferior to Batman. They might be born from “borrowed’ ideas, but that doesn’t make them useless. All they need is a writer to think of them as their own character instead of “Your just a copy of X”.

    8. It’s not artist that are obsessed with Nazi; It’s America. The whole country. That one is never going away. It might get replaced be Latin Drug Warlord, Asian Dictators and Arab Terrorist ever so often, but America will always go back to Nazi. It’s like the Joker: he has to fight Batman again EVENTUALLY.

    7. I haven’t seen this in a long time. Last I remember, it was brought up when they didn’t want to help us in the Iraq invasion and the US got back at them by making “Fredom Fries”.

    6. I can’t argue with this one. Though the only recent ones I remember are Dawn, Layla Miller and Hope.

    5. My thought on this one is that we haven’t taken it far enough. Where’s the Latino Superman? Yeah. Let’s give every country it’s own Superman. Then we make a Superman for every Zodiac sign. And Supermen for every planet in the solar system. And one for every year of the Chinese calender. Crunchy Superman. Sour Superman. Sleepy Superman. Superman J. Superman W. Math Superman…

    4. Can’t argue with this one. Doesn’t really bother me though.

    3. Your right. Shounen Anime is really guilty of this one. Though not to the extent of Loeb’s Red Hulk.

    2. This one’s never going away either. Though I have to say that part of it is that writers have trouble creating protagonist that aren’t of their ethnicity.

    1. I remember Desperado using the same trope, but I’m having trouble thinking of any other.

    • you’re right, that comment may have been unfair to anime in general, but there is an entire young-boy-and-giant-robot subgenre that plot-wise is little besides Gigantor’s pal Jimmy Olsen. I’d also put a lot of the “kid transforms into giant monster” shows in that category, since (in some) the kid basically becomes a mindless killing machine and thematically it is no different than him exiting stage left while superman beats up the bad guys. Also it’s worth noting that anime has amazingly developed a weird reversal of this theme with Pokemon-type shows, where rather than a useless boy summoning mindless giant monsters to fight for him, you have a useless boy summon small, cute monsters to fight for him.

      Also I’m all for Chinese zodiac supermen.
      “Rat Superman?”
      “So, is he a super-rat?”
      “Does he have rat powers?”
      “No, he has superman powers.”
      “That’s ridiculous,”
      “Wait until I tell you about Dragon Batman.”

      • Now I just want to see a Rat with a cape and Superman powers. “Able to chew through and old shoe in a single bite!”

  14. A fair enough list, Rodrigo, but I have to say that the French bit isn’t quite right. It’s more like having Mike Tyson as a roomate and building a wall between your two sides of the room….but not bothering to close in the gaping hole on one end….and then, after he’s strolled through, slapped you around a little bit and altogether humiliated you, joining up with him. Norway was conquered too, but they didn’t rule their own country as proxies for the Nazis, nor did Poland. That’s not to say that the French aren’t good people, but military exploits haven’t really been their forte since World War I….it probably has something to do with the Germans killing half of the men in the country at the time….

    • The French had good military exploits in WWI? (Just kidding…) My grandfather was with the NCNG First Division (“Old Hickory Division”) in both Mexico and Europe. He always said the women and the beer in South Texas/Mexico were better than the women and wine in France.

      My other grandfather was a Saponi Native American, so I’ve seen first hand what it’s like for an entire culture to be over-run and dispersed (Saponi’s are related to the Cherokee and some were left in central NC, along with the Lumbees. Some were left in the mountains and became the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and others were forced to move to Oklahoma and became the Western Band of the Cherokee Nation. The “noble native” trope usually makes a very human culture seem almost mystical and sacred in nature. Native Americans did (and do) have a cultural sense of honor but they had many of the same social problems that other cultures did including wars, etc. I’ve often thought, having grown up on a farm where the abundance of work prevented a lot of misbehavior, that the reason that most native populations at the “Stone Age” level were generally peaceful was that they were too busy working to survive to get in a lot of trouble.

    • The French thing comes from the fact that they were one of the great colonial powers in Europe but were defeated rather quickly and surrendered(no army could have stood against the Germans at that moment).

      They were powerful or at least thought as such and the fact they surrendered was taken as an unwillingness to fight, never mind the fact they got the snot beaten out of them…

  15. Chosen Ones are pretty common. Buffy, Neo, Airbender, Harry Potter and the rest should form a Legion of Chosen Ones.

  16. American atrocities against the Native Americans are more recent that “hundreds of years ago.” The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred in 1890.
    It pisses me off that the “native” characters are always helpless until the white character saves them, but when people write that what whites did to Native Americans occurred 100s of years ago, I think that maybe that conflict should be referenced more in movies. And even if it did end 100s of years ago, it’s pretty central to the history of our country. It’s an important story.
    I think people are too quick to dismiss “Avatar” as just like “Fern Gully” or “Dances with Wolves.” I think it went beyond that by comparing current American wars in the middle east to the American Indian Wars.

    • I mostly dismissed it for its lazy designs in terms of flaura and forna (It’s, Like, A Really Big Jungle! And All The Animals Are Really Big! and Coloured Different! And Have An Extra Pair Of Legs!), its lack of a strong female character, its cardboard-thin treatment of the themes and issues behind it, its over-endorsement of the Magical Golden Chosen Whiteboy, and the fact that for a film about race relations, they were quite eager to kill off the only non-white, non-blue character in an explosion for no logical reason at all.

  17. Stephen Yates on

    Is this an awesome list? Yes! But rather than speaking to artists’ lack of creativity, I think it speaks to the inundation of media we experience today. The philosopher Joseph Campbell wrote decades ago on the shared cultural memory of the human race – that whether true or false, myths and legends repeat the same tropes because they are part of the human experience! Seemingly prophetic ‘chosen’ leaders, mentoring relationships, women taking on the roles of men in patriarchal society…all are common themes in every culture. We just happen to now have media mines that churn out reiterations of these stories every five minutes.

    Also, for the ‘super white character’, I think it speaks less to a Western sense of superiority and more to our value of diverse experiences. What makes the avatar/union officer/disney character special is not their western heritage, but their combination of heritages – thus (and i’m going to shoot myself for this) pocahontas 2, or any other ‘reverse’ of the trope, where the native comes into ‘civilized’ society and likewise becomes a greater member of that society, often due to a more fully realized sense of identity, community, and morality. What we in the west idolize is not ourselves, but the fully realized version of ourselves – the completely diverse, totally mature gift to society. Thus, the ‘avatar’ white guy is always the quiet, wise, introspective individual (or he quickly undergoes a personality shift to become this way).

  18. On #2, I’ve often said that the perfect formula for an Oscar movie is a plot in which an audience is made to feel guilty and ashamed, but not to the extent that they could have, you know, done anything about it – and not so that they should feel motivated to do so. Gone With The Wind, The Godfather, Casablanca, The English Patient, Dances With Wolves, The Reader, the detestably stupid Slumdog Millionaire, and even The Hurt Locker – all of them are about real-life conflicts and tragedies, but all of them feature fictional characters, so the audience is removed from any feeling of responsibility. These characters never existed, so by default our hands are washed of guilt for their tragic lives. Same with Avatar, even if (thank goodness) it didn’t win.

    Occasionally you’ll get something like Schindler’s List, based largely on fact with a few artistic changes or historical inaccuracies – but mostly it’s just stuff like Slumdog, in which Indian poverty is implied to be merely an outcome of destiny (a narrative device toned down very much in the Hindu religion of India) as opposed to subjugation by other nations or a crippling class system. The rule of thumb is: make ’em squirm – but only until the house lights turn on again.

  19. Just to clarify #8, WWII would have also been a victory if the U.S. wouldn’t have stepped in, the U.S. just made it arrive faster, because they stepped in at the end of the war when the nazis were already crippled and falling down.

    • I was unaware that 1942 (when the U.S. really got into it) was the end of the war and that the Nazis were already crippled and falling down. Admittedly, one of the most singularly stupid things the Nazis did, attacking the Soviets before finishing off Britain (and botching that attack by waiting too late in the year to start), occurred before the U.S. got into the fight, but I don’t see how anyone can say with certainty that the Nazis would have lost without U.S intervention; let’s not forget that both Britain and the USSR relied a lot on U.S. aid.

  20. The reason Islamic extremists don’t get more play doesn’t really have anything to do with previous U.S. support for mujahideen. It’s because a) they kill people who criticize them, which tends to discourage critics; and b) there are plenty of useful idiots who’ll accuse you of racism if you make Muslims the villains.

    I have a longstanding saying with regard to genre shows/movies: when in doubt, Nazis.

    When one thinks about it, it’s kind of weird, though, because when it comes to Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR, and Mao’s China, the Nazis are the bronze medalists in terms of murderousness. My theory is that Nazis are preferred villains for several reasons:

    One, Mao and Stalin weren’t as finicky about who they killed. Sure, Hitler was just as willing to kill anyone who got in his way, but he went out his way to single out groups for extermination (okay, Stalin had the kulaks, but, again, that was mainly because they were in his way). Hitler was a hater.

    Two, the undramatic (I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word) nature of how Stalin and Mao killed. Many of the tens of millions killed by Stalin and Mao died of starvation, which, while horrible, seems to lack the resonance of having men in uniforms show up and actively kill people. It’s probably why the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution still has resonance, even though the number killed was, by modern standards, relatively few.

    Three (and I know I’m going to get complaints on this one), communists still have fans. Look at all the dips wearing Che shirts, even though that guy was a murderous thug (and a racist and homophobe to boot), or the Hollywood types willing to hug Chavez or Castro. Even a historical piece making Stalinist or Maoists the bad guys risks alienating those people. Outside the Islamic world (where Mein Kampf is still a bestseller), Nazism isn’t all that popular, and it’s generally desireable to have a villain most people will actually hate.

    Four, Nazis just look more like villains. Sure, the words “KGB” are plenty sinister, and, from stories my uncles who were in Korea used to tell, the Chicoms are plenty scary, but the Nazis just look scarier, especially the Gestapo. For some reason, no matter how sharply they dress(ed), Soviet and Chinese troops just never manage to create the same air of menace.

    Five, the science/super weapons thing. On top of the jets and missles, the Nazis looked into things like sonic weapons, air vortex cannons, ICBM’s, orbital death rays (seriously), etc. Through in the whole evil thing and of course writers will choose them for villains: they’re just one tin suit away from being Doctor Doom.

    • Also, if you’re going to make Muslims villains in a particular story, if you want to be safe and try to not get the book burned before people give it a chance, you need to have some strong positive Muslim characters in the book that can be heroic and can be seen as model citizens. Another reason that Nazi’s are easy targets is that even though Nazi’s were German we don’t think all Germans are bad. It’s an easily identified subset. They proudly wore who and what they were right out in the open. Muslim in general right now in America just seems to be a term that puts some people on edge. And the extremists are a hidden group that while vocal at times, they aren’t standing around waving flags for all to see.

  21. One trope that I’m surprised you didn’t mention is the “evil version” of our recognized heroes.

    I hate this one, and it reappears like every six months. They’re even doing it right now in Marvel’s Cosmic line.

    Its so played out, and yet they just keep coming back to it! I think it deserves the #1 spot on your list.

  22. Great article. The only thing I disagreed with was this “the most consistent superpower Jimmy Olsen and Rick Jones have is their nigh invulnerability to relevance.”.
    Have you read Jack Kirby’s Superman? Jimmy Olsen rocked all in his own right. So much so they even gave him his own comic. He may not be as relevant today but back in the day he was an amazing character. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was a great comic and made Jimmy Olsen his own man in many ways, even if the title of the book said otherwise.

    • So was Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and equally amazing book? Jimmy is a highly recognizable powerless(usually) sidekick that has very little intrinsic value other than as someone Clark should hide his secret from and someone whom will constantly get put in a perilous situation requiring Clark to change into Superman and save the day.

      • To my knowledge Kirby never wrote Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane so I doubt it compares to Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Also keep in mind that when Kirby took on the title of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen it was DC’s lowest selling book, this was far from the case by the time he left it.
        Also keep in mind Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen introduced a lot of the characters and organizations that are still written about today The New Gods, Darkseid, Cadmus and others.
        If you toss Jimmy Olsen to the side then you also toss to the side all of the New Gods, The Guardian, and many other important characters and events of that time.

        • I seem to have a lot to keep in mind. You’re making the assertion that to toss one character aside is to disregard everything that has been influenced by said character, if I’m understanding and not screwing up what you meant. I am more or less saying that I can throw a pointless character like Jimmy away now and keep the other stuff that works. Just because he was a mainstay of the old Superman titles doesn’t mean he always has to be, you can diminish a characters role or do what DC always does and tries very hard to make Jimmy a relevant character by giving him powers or other ploys to make him seem important. I’m fine with Jimmy Olsen in general and don’t think he needs to go anywhere (granted I don’t read any Superman titles at all) I just think that he’s a boring character that DC is constantly trying to make people care about. He’s no Scrappy Doo or anything.

          • LOL I guess I should have proofread what I wrote. I hate doing that repeat thing.

            I agree that in this day an age his relevance in Superman titles is not high as he could be pretty easily replaced by any other investigative reporter but this wasn’t always the case. It would be nice if we as readers could just throw away these characters that we don’t like and move on with the ones that we do like but in doing so we get rid of a lot of that history that makes them relevant.
            Case in point Mary Jane Watson-Parker. Just because a fan doesn’t like a character doesn’t mean you should toss out that character.

            I guess overall my issue was with Rodrigo saying that Jimmy Olsen isn’t relevant. He isn’t a entirely relevant character right this moment but he is important to some character. He may be a tiresome trope now but he is still an important tiresome trope.

        • I guess that my point isn’t so much of a “lets get rid of him completely and try to forget all about him”, I just think that if a character is getting to be irrelevant or tired, then maybe it’s time to put him on the back burner for a while and only bring him back around when you feel like you can actually make him interesting again. I kinda liked the interplay of Jimmy and Forager and I really hated everything else about him throughout all of Countdown. If you’re going to give a character like Jimmy Olsen super powers, it’d be nice to see him actually be kind of badass, it’s fine if he bumbles a bit but don’t make him into Mr. Action. He’s instantly coming across as a huge joke (and not a very funny one) and I just lose interest in him. I get that inherently the character may be (in the author’s mind) acting exactly as he really would if he developed super powers, doesn’t mean we want to read it. Same thing goes when Tobey/Spiderman thought he was bad stuff in Spider-man 3 and started dancing all over the bar, the suit gave him more aggression and testosterone or whatever, but Peter Parker is still just a big dork and even though he thinks he’s super fly he’s still not. Still didn’t make the scene any more bearable. My thoughts are thus, either do the character right (and by right I mean try to make people want to care about this character) or don’t do him at all.

  23. well, in fact, the russians won WWII, not the americans who stepped in when everything has more or less been sorted. wishful thinking it is :)

  24. French defeated Germans in WW1, sure with British, Canadian and American help, but they took the most damage since the war was fought there, but played no small part in their liberation.

    Furthermore, even after France surrendered, there were many Resistance movements that lead counter intelligence and guerilla warfare against Nazis, that also played no small part in fall of nazism, they were actually the reason US was able to land on Normandy and open the last chapter to WW2.

    And also, Russia, Yugoslavia, Norway, Poland, Greece and Africa played a great role in downfall of nazism, it seems like everyone thinks US was the main man in fight against Germany, no it wasnt, Russia was already in Germany by D Day, war would last longer, but Russia would destroy Germany by 1946 at the most, and lets not forget that you ended the war with carpet bombing of Germany and nuclear bombing of Japan, so yeah, some heroes.

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