Writing Talk – Verisimilitude

I thought I would use my last post complaining about Captain America #602 to launch into a greater talk about verisimilitude and what angers me most about when politics, sports, religion, or whatever invades places where it doesn’t belong.

For those too lazy to check: my complaint about Cap 602 was something like if there was an issue of Captain Britain where he decides to punch out the queen.  Seems after that, you should take the ‘Britain’ or ‘America’ out of your name.

This doesn’t mean you can’t let your personal beliefs influence your work.  Indeed, they will whether you intend them to or not, but there is a point where letting said beliefs become so overt that they distort your efforts and ruin your point and original work.

For another example, let’s look at a comic that I’ve grown tired of waiting for Linkara to review that angered me just as much as Captain America #602.  Not because of the politics, but the violating it did of the fictional universe it took place in.

The comic in question is JLA #83.

American Nightmare (title of this issue) was written by Joe Kelly who I will admit can be a good comic writer.  His story “What’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way” is one of the best Superman stories of all time in my opinion.  But sometimes his ambition outstrips his abilities and we get stories with plot holes, loose ends and other errors.  This issue is a showcase of his worst writing habits.

The short review is this: JLA #83 is a long editorial on the Iraq war debate of 2003.

The comic starts out with some narration and pictures of the JLA fighting some monsters.  Standard stuff really.  It all comes unhinged on page 3 where we learn we’re going to jettison the verisimilitude of the DC universe in favor of “topical” writing.

“–Exclusive video of the worst terror attack on England’s soil, narrowly averted by the JLA.”
Really?  Of everything that goes on in the DCU, this is the worst terror attack?  Apparently the Joker, Darkseid, or any other of the dozens of supervillains populating the universe have always avoided jolly good England.  Considering what went on in World War 3 (the JLA story in issues 34-41), one would think these monsters are small beans.  Oh, but it turns out that this attack has evidence linking it to another nation named Qurac.

No I’m not going to complain about the name, Qurac has a deep and rich history in the DCU.  What I will complain about is Wonder Woman’s line: “The device, and the biochemical compound it animated, bear all the traits of Professor Ivo’s work, Mister President.  The League is searching for him as we speak… but he has no connections to Qurac.”  Really?  What does the connection have to do with anything?  It’s like the story assumes Ivo has never sold his goods on the black market.  But the worst is that we have the growing of an interesting idea, that only serves to be squashed for a petty point.  Where do villains get a lot of their funding?  In the extremely excellent ‘tower of babel’ storyline (JLA #42-46), Ra’s al Ghul constructs a tower designed to keep the world from operating.  Where does he get funding for that?  Through the story, he also has a large contingent of henchmen and I’ve often been curious how villains keep finding these guys to work for them.  The idea that some countries might be providing funds or manpower to these maniacs as another level of international politics is a neat idea.  Maybe we’ll see it some day.

Instead we get a page of President Luthor (yes, Lex Luthor) making the ‘case’ for military action against Qurac.  To Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  Um… why?  Wait, there is one panel showing a room full of people but who they are or what they are doing is not said.  I guess President Luthor wanted them there so Wonder Woman can say, “International Law and the UN Charter forbid unprovoked unilateral action against a sovereign nation.”  And?  The principles of law is fundamentally enforcement. (note: there is also a difference between morality and law,  the former is not at issue right now, just the latter)  If you break a law (say… speeding) there are clear rules and guidelines determining who levy penalties on you for breaking that law (state, county, federal, etc in America).  If any nation (USA, Qurac, England, whoever) breaks international law, who levies penalties on them?  Will it be Superman and/or Wonder Woman? (again: interesting idea, not really addressed here)  It also makes one wonder: Luthor shows a video of “…slaughtering dissidents within [Barat, Qurac’s leader] own borders…” (not to be confused with Borat, which would have made this comic a lot better).  Is slaughtering dissidents against international law and the UN charter in the DCU?  If no, why not?  If yes, who’s levying penalties against Qurac?

Instead we finish the page with Luthor wondering about the merits of assassination (another complex and fascinating issue glossed over) and closing out asking the big 3 to “help me save lives”.

Next page we start to see the threads unravel.  The big 3 are on a hill, surveying Qurac and wondering what should be done.  Wonder Woman says, “Yes, Barat is the most horrific of dictators, but we cannot simply disregard international ethics to depose him.”  This gets even funnier when you realize that in JLA #61-64 (written by… JOE KELLY) Wonder Woman was all prepared to violate “international ethics” over a mother and child.  Or earlier in this very issue where the narration goes “We exist… because those with the power to stop injustice simply must.”  Um… isn’t the slaughtering of dissidents injustice?  So you must simply stop it but you can’t violate international ethics?  Are those ethics more important than saving lives?  Especially considering JLA #64 where Wonder Woman vows in the middle of a disaster, “Don’t make me a liar, boys.  No one dies today.”  Apparently lots of people get to die if it falls under the purview of “international ethics”.  Still, there’s Batman’s line “If Qurac’s not involved with Ivo, we throw it in Luthor’s face and stop this.”  Um… stop what?  The dissidents getting slaughtered?  Oh wait…

Next page Subtlety whimpers and begs Kelly to stop hurting it as Professor Ivo screams, “This is private land!  You have no authority here!  I am not your dog!”  Sorry, that’s just too funny when you’ve read JLA #5 (written by Morrison) where Ivo and Professor Morrow are having drinks as the JLA busts into their hideout.  Why didn’t Ivo scream “This is private land!” then?  I wonder if we went through most comics, how many times superheroes have invaded “private land”.  After all, in Alan Moore’s ‘the killing joke’ we are shown the Joker purchasing an abandoned amusement park which makes it his private land that Batman invades at the end.  Again, isn’t this a point that the JLA (and its members) violate regularly?

Oh but on the next page is the best line from Ivo himself: “under international law, if you are accusing me of crimes against humanity, I must be extradited and tried… until I am represented, I say nothing.”  First, where are you going to be extradited to?  Second, it seems like “crimes against humanity” would have a very different meaning in the DCU.  After all, the JLA series alone has had several instances of martians, ancient god weapons, demi-gods and more actually trying to destroy all of humanity.  Those martians punished at the end of JLA #4 (Morrison) didn’t get extradited and tried and they invaded the whole world and put it under mind control.  Somehow, that makes Ivo’s crime (even the part in England) seem more like a speeding ticket.  Heck, the martians returned in JLA #55-59 and almost suffocated all of humanity.  They got sent to the phantom zone without extradition or trial.

The next page is of a rush of people to buy supplies that the department of defense is advising people to pick up one of which is Lois Lane.

The wife of Superman is picking up olive oil to protect against napalm.

The WIFE of SUPERMAN.  At which point I scream that with your husband, you don’t need it and, with your husband, napalm is the LEAST of your worries.  I mean, remember how Lois stood twenty feet from Doomsday during the death of Superman event? (and really, Joe Kelly should)  That woman is scared about napalm?  That’s just stupid!

The next two pages are Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman going over the ‘evidence’ of Qurac in the Oval Office with President Luthor.  “UN Inspectors have no evidence of WMD’s in Qurac,” says WW.  “I still need hard evidence,” says Batman.

Batman.

The world’s greatest detective.  Who, in issue #5 (again) found out that a weapon they were fighting was “pentagon black ops at the highest security level… It took a little effort to acquire the data.”  Yet he doesn’t know whether some po dunk country has WMDs?  Or Superman, a guy that flies, has xray & telescopic visions can’t figure it out?  Or how about the Flash who checked out the location of some kids in a compound (that was probably on private property) in a few seconds?  When did he do this?  Oh it was JLA #80 WRITTEN BY JOE KELLY.  Apparently he can’t investigate Qurac in under a second. (it was at this point I nearly threw the comic across the room)

The next pages has Batman beating up some cops.

Yes, we’ve gone to assassinating Batman’s character now.

The rest of the comic devolves into nonsense with Luthor and Supes arguing over stupid stupid points that might be legitimate in our political debates but as I’ve pointed out above, fall apart the second you try fitting them into the DC universe.

And the kicker?  It was all a dream…

Too bad the comic isn’t.

.

In conclusion: if you want to make a political/whatever point, feel free to create something making that point.  If, however, you are working with an established universe or self-contained project, sacrificing verisimilitude on the alter of “making a point” will only undermine your point and the universe itself.  You’ll end up doing neither well.

And seeing good stories and ideas sacrificed to serve petty aims saddens me more than almost anything else.

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