I have often been chastised by fellow fans and my comic-shop co-workers for liking characters who aren’t “serious” or bad@$$ enough for their liking.  As a general rule, I make no excuses for my favorites, but I have often found myself wondering how the adventures of Underdog, Hong Kong Fooey or The Fat Fury are quantitatively any less ridiculous than those of Spider-Man.  Certainly the approach is different, as any comparison of comedy and drama should be, but the suspension of disbelief required isn’t all that different.  Moreover, as Jeff Rovin once notably remarked, the storied feats of Mighty Mouse can not honestly be called less heroic than those of Captain Marvel, regardless of their respective phyla.

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) knows that Matter-Eater Lad is the greatest Legionnaire simply because he calls himself that in public, asking:  What’s more important to a character: the illusion of realism or simple internal consistency?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. August 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm — Reply

    Internal consistency is king. The most ridiculous concepts are compelling and interesting if the story holds to its own conceits. Metalocalypse is beyond absurd, but it buys into and commits to its own absurdity and so it works.

    This is where a lot of comics fall completely flat for me. The creators become so concerned with their concepts being realistic and taken seriously that they simply aren’t fun anymore. This embarrassment over their goofier notions and the drive to distance themselves from that silliness was what led me to abandon Marvel and DC superhero comics completely. Every story and crossover seemed to desperately run away from anything that lacked ‘gravitas’ and ‘realism’ that there was no longer any joy in the tales of the Fastest Man Alive, or your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

    • August 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm — Reply

      I agree with Bruce entirely, though I find that DC is better at not being too embarrassed over their goofy things; the way Geoff Johns has been handling Aquaman and acknowledging the character’s ridiculed history is a good example of that in my mind.

      There are very few Marvel books that I will read (Ultimate Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man and Wolverine and the X-Men being the exceptions) and a lot of that is the way Marvel seems to need every story to be either gritty or “epic.” I may have just picked the wrong Marvel titles to try, but nonetheless they just don’t appeal to me.

      But I do agree that a lot of independents do a good job of just focusing on that internal consistency rather than trying to make the full story “believable,” as if a guy who can fly would ever be so.

  2. foolsmask
    August 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm — Reply

    Simple internal consistency wins for me. I can suspend disbelief at the drop of a hat and get into a story, but the moment a story breaks its own rules I will bail and never look back.

    Indiana Jones can use a fridge to survive a nuclear blast but the moment it fails to save someone else, I’m done.

    • zebsdead
      August 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm — Reply

      this brings up a side question: if, as many of us seem to think (myself included), “realism” is secondary, is there a level at which it can become problematic, jump the shark, break the fourth wall, or otherwise undermine the reigning internal consistency? Don’t normally comment on comments, but this particular example is an interesting one.

      • August 12, 2012 at 10:51 am — Reply

        Over-use or inappropriate use of realism can totally undermine the story being told. Take, for example, Kevin Smith’s revelation that a startled and inexperienced Batman wet himself during the events of Batman: Year One. It’s a realistic detail, maybe even a good one (depending on the story being told) but in a larger context, it undermines the Year One story in a couple of ways.

        • zebsdead
          August 13, 2012 at 5:02 pm — Reply

          Hadn’t heard that piece of intel. Could see a fortunate, bladder-centric kick jostling a few things loose, but the mindset of the character was well-established. Unless it was an act of despair, a dark hour before the true shape of his calling was revealed to him…nah.
          Is the default answer that the level at which “realism” mucks with “consistency” is different for every situation, dependent on the fragile contract between the artist’s execution and the audience’s skill at managing anvils? Or, like Senators and porn, do we just know it when we see it? (i have no frame of reference, so must ask: is this an appropriate forum for discussion? are there rules of etiquette for comments?)

  3. August 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm — Reply

    Internal consistency. I call this the Adventure Time Rule – everything about that show makes me wonder if I’m high whenever I watch it, but it sticks to its own logic & rules quite well. Even when it brings something with some “gravitas” to it in a story, it’s treated with the same tone as the absurd stuff. The same applies to comics or TV or anything else. Worrying about realism so much is what sucks any sense of fun from the end product.

  4. DPDave
    August 11, 2012 at 1:15 pm — Reply

    I think that the two concepts – realism and internal consistency – work on 2 different scales and at 2 different times. The realism of a character is a large-scale concept that a reader/viewer has to buy into only once. Its the backdrop, an establishment of what level of suspension of disbelief is going to be asked of the audience. Its like an initial vetting stage – if a world populated by cyborg-centaurs is too much to buy into at the beginning of a series, then it still will be half way through. The guy that doesn’t buy it initially never even gets to the point where he would then examine the internal consistency.

    Only if someone is comfortable with the level of realism – whatever level of realism that is – will they stick around long enough to examine the smaller scale issue of internal consistency.

    So, realism is initially important – different people will demand a different level of realism. After that stage the internal consistency is more important, because the realism issue has already been dealt with. Its hard to say which is more important overall – the realism will put people off initially but a lack of internal consistency will frustrate fans in the long run and disrupt the story-telling.

  5. Shush
    August 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm — Reply

    Internal Consistency is my vote. Simply saying, if you keep things consistent then that provides a sense of realism.

  6. zebsdead
    August 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm — Reply

    Allow me to redirect momentarily. Part of the fuel for this debate is the level (be it conscious or, more commonly, deep subtext) of relatability (for lack of a more suitable term) of the character in question. Superman does something BA, and achieves an easier rapport, has a greater effect, because he is more relatable, more “serious”, than Captain Carrot. The concepts are both, to a degree, absurd, yet fanboys can feel more of that power-by-proxy from a character that they feel is an appropriate avatar. This brings up all manner of psychology, as we get into wish-fulfillment, self-image, and one’s overall depth of introspection. Also, have you ever consciously gone against what you feel to be “the mainstream”? Looked past what is presented in the center of frame for those interesting, oft-overlooked peripheries? Thought your (insert popular hero)-loving acquaintance was too strident, too close-minded, easily programmed to spout mindless praise, or just an unleavened d-bag?
    Redirections aside, i prefer the internal consistency. The framework that suspends my disbelief is better bulwarked by an internal scaffold than a gritty facade of the ever-abused term “realism.”

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