Sunday, October 25, 2009

Types of Writers, Part 2: Character Assassins

Today, we will be examining another type of writer that appears within the comics industry: Character Assassins.

Character Assassins, unlike Bloody Writers, do not necessarily wade in neck deep gore.  Rather, their speciality is to destroy the characters within the story.  When you see Black Canary suddenly become entirely ineffectual in a fight - in spite of being one of the top martial artists in the DCU - you can be almost certain that you've found a Character Assassin.

Character Assassins tend to either show apathy towards or ignorance of any previous characterization.  A character previously willing to die rather than kill an enemy will suddenly be committing murder without a moment's hesitation.  A cheerful, fun character will suddenly become dark and brooding.  An intelligent character will suddenly act like they could lose on Jeopardy with their opponents being a moldy tomato and a particularly intelligent gnat.

Character Assassins will mangle a character's personality, but strangely this is not always to make the character "worse."  A reasonably intelligent character will suddenly become knowledgable in all areas of science, mathematics and logic, and will always be right, no matter how absurd or counter-intuitive their ideas may seem.  Dumb characters will become smart, poor fighters will become black belts, insensitive jerks will become sweet as honey.  A good fighter will suddenly be unbeatable, regardless of the relative power levels of the individuals involved.  (Batman's quasi-mythical ability to "beat any opponent, given time to prepare" is the logical extension of this particular trait.  Whether this was the work of a Character Assassin or is simply a Fanon theory is up for debate.)  The key aspect of these shifts is that they are sudden (often occuring the first instant the writer gets hold of the character) and they are unexplained.

There are two main types of Character Assassins: Type A and Type I.

The Type A Character Assassin are characterized by apathy.  They simply don't care about the character's history.  They have a story they want to tell, and if it requires Wonder Woman to suddenly hate every person with a "Y" chromosome (in spite of her deep friendships with many of her male colleagues), so be it.  They don't care that a character was once reasonably intelligent and a bit of a flirt: now they are the village idiot who is willing to engage in sexist behavior that could get you sued, if not arrested.

The Type I Character Assassin is characterized by ignorance.  They honestly have no clue about character history.  They picked up an issue of Who's Who, saw a character that "looked cool" and decided to write about them, often knowing nothing more than the name and appearance of the character (and sometimes not even that).  They are the type of writers who learn that a character is a monk and portray them as a devout Catholic when the character is in fact a Zen Buddhist.  They didn't intend to grossly misrepresent the character: they simply were unaware of their history.

Like Type A, Type I Character Assassins will often display apathy towards learning about character history.  The key difference is that Type I Character Assassins rarely will contradict previous events that they know about (or bother to find out about); Type A just don't give a rat's behind.

Type I are more likely to recover from their Character Assassin ways as they learn about comics history, and may one day leave their Character Assassin ways behind as they develop as a writer.  Type A Character Assassins rarely, if ever, do.

The main difference between a Character Assassin and a writer who employs character growth is whether a reason for the personality shift is given, and whether the shift is allowed to occur over a period of time.  If a gruff, unapproachable character slowly warms up to their teammates over the course of a 20-issue run but retains their gruff demeanor with others, this is likely character growth rather than character assassination.  If the same individual suddenly becomes an insufferable jerk to their friends again with no explanation or reason, it is likely the work of a Character Assassin.

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