Thursday, January 17, 2008

Character Assassination

Comics are a mixed blessing. I tell anyone unfortnunate enough to listen that we are simultaneously experiencing the best and the worst work that comic books have ever seen. Case in point - Penance: Relentless # 4.

Before I get to the bitching and wrath part, let us be clear about one thing: this Penance mini-series is terrific. If you aren't getting it, you need to immediately backtrack the floppies or order the trade.

Penance: Relentless is a remarkable character study on a guy who should be suitable only for loathing. Paul Jenkins is creating a compelling character study (Robbie Baldwin is absolutely CREEPY) that also blends action into a well-paced cocktail. And here's where it gets extra special kids - he's actually using the events of Civil War to tell a story that follows logically and emotionally from said crossover. By Jove, it's just crazy enough to work! Somebody over at Marvel should be taking notes.

So now that we have the Love Fest out of the way, buckle up while I rant about the continuous mishandling of Reed Richards. Class, please turn to pages 2-3 of Penance: Relentless # 4 (or look at the caption at the top of the column) and follow along as we dissect some dialogue between Tony Stark and Reed Richards:

Tony Stark: Scale of one to ten, Reed: How much damage have we done?

Reed Richards: So far? About five. Would have been about thirty if Penance had actually used the stolen nuclear launch codes. We can all be thankful for that small mercy. I'm being facetious, of course, Tony. Thirty would be a statistical impossibility.

I can handle the fact that the current Marvel dictum is to make Reed Richards a giant D-Bag. As a "Rational" on the Myers-Briggs personality chart, I'll accept Reed making cold decisions based upon his data analysis and then pursuing some objectives that aren't warm, fuzzy, or popular.

But Reed Richards would NEVER utter that line of excrement. Paul Jenkins does to Reed what every hack seems to: plant some absurd vocabulary in his mouth in place of actual intelligence. Instead of having him say something that represents real thinking, Jenkins has him say "facetious" because it sounds "smart".

Then comes the real embarrassment - that crack about statistical impossibilities. Boy, that sounds sciency and geniusy, don't it? Of course not. No NT would ever close with that thought, because it's obvious. Two things that NTs hate more than anything in the world are inefficiencies and the obvious. He would simply never say that, at least not with a straight face.

But there he is on the page, looking haughty and pretentious, and delivering the line cold. I don't have any problem with Mr. Fantastic being a stone dick, but does he have to be a humorless dick?

Look, I recognize the difficulties that come with trying to write the world's greatest intellect. Unless you are the smartest person on earth, you have to fake it out a bit. It won't always ring true. But what Marvel has done is turn Reed Richards into the worst one-note Charlie in their stable.

What should be one of the most entertaining characters in the universe is never anything more than a stretchy statue who spouts ill-considered vocabulary and can't tell or take a joke. It's character assassination by hackery, it's unnecesary, and it needs to stop.


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