An Arrow through The Heart

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Each medium has its own codes and conventions. When you take the content (message) from one medium and convey it in another it becomes altered – change the medium, change the message.  Trying to carry over the audience from one medium to the next, while acquiring an audience new to the content becomes a difficult balance.  In part, this is why  adaptations can fail or succeed  in attempts to being faithful to the source material. Too faithful, may mean that it is working against the codes and conventions of the new medium, which in turn fails to grow the new audience. Adapting the material to make the most of the medium, while growing the audience, may in turn upset, even alienate, the original built-in audience and undermine the potential growth envisioned in the adaptation of the content.  An obvious example of this is when works of print,  such as novels, short stories, sequential graphic narratives ( graphic novels and comics ), are adapted to movies or television.

 

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There are are a number of examples that can be used. The current CW television show, Arrow, is such an example.  The show, Arrow, began as an adaptation of the DC superhero, The Green Arrow.  This comic character has a long history, going back to the 1940s.

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The comic superhero is an interesting genre of fictional hero. It has its origins in both the pulp magazines and the newspaper comic strips.  It evolved into a sequential narrative that blended the genres of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, with the masked/disguised hero-vigilante . Originally aimed at children and young teens, as time went on the target audience became decidedly male. Over many decades it began to skew to an increasingly older target audience, that has been often stereotypically portrayed as the inept adult male, the Nerds on (CBS) Big Bang Theory being a comical example.

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The problem then, in adapting the Green Arrow character to a  weekly television series becomes one of how to to portray the character and his world . A recent development in American television broadcasting is that some networks have attempted to create an identifiable house style of entertainment, both in the variety of  shows and how they appeal to a specific demographic of the viewing audience.  In the case of CW, the emphasis has been on youth and in particular, young women. For Arrow to be accepted by the network and succeed, it would have to adjust its content to appeal to that demographic.

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In deciding this, certain elements of the character and his world were placed to the fore front, other elements reduced or jettisoned.  Emphasis was placed on how the protagonist, Oliver Queen, would take on a Count of Monte Cristo  goal of vengeance-redemption of his father’s failings. His character would be of a modern brooding Bryonic hero.

 

He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.

       (Byron’s The Cosair)

He returns after five years to a family full of melodramatic secrets and  fractured by the tragic loss of a father and son . He gains in this television adaptation, a younger troubled sister, a step father, and a mother who is the classic matriarch of a rich and powerful.  Also added to the mix is a wronged girlfriend, Dinah Laurel Lance ( an adaptation of the comic’s Black Canary– Dinah Lance, the super hero and sometimes romantic interest) and her angry police detective father. In addition, there is a boyhood friend, Tommy Merlyn, to be part the required love triangle and a tie to the big bad, Malcolm Merlyn ( comic  villain). 

Black Canary Variations

Initially, costumed villains and science fiction/fantasy elements are avoided for more “grounded” political and industrial corruption. A Bight colourful costume and the mask are also avoided. Relationships are tortured, full of torn allegiances, secrets and lies/half-truths. A private security employee, John Diggle, is also introduced to eventually become confidant and “side-kick support”.  A need for technical support comes in the form of the character, Felicity Smoak ( the name of a comic character used as a lighthearted fan service). Presented as a plucky techno Girl Friday – she initially was  intended to provide the technical backup that a modern 21st century  hero would need, as well as comic relief providing asides and commentary on the fantastical events and situations, plus unintended double entendres.

 

There were some unintended side effects to this adaptation. The action  superhero elements generated far more interest than expected. Instead of a soft comic book adventure veneer over top of a  evening soap-melodrama, the superhero elements widened the audience. The lighter character of Felicity became an  identifiable surrogate for the female audience and a desirable attractive character for many in the audience. On the other hand, this additional character  combined with the acceleration of the super-heroics  to turn much of the love triangle involving Tommy, Laurel and Oliver into a slow mess. Tommy becomes the season’s sacrificial character to satisfy need for real consequences, and act as a motivational drive for various characters. Laurel’s role in the overall narrative now becomes an issue. 

 

Laurel is portrayed (intended) as destined love of the Oliver’s life.  Somewhere, way down the line, she is also destined to become the Black Canary.  Unfortunately her narrative role and relationship has been taken away from her, by circumstance.  Rather than being a strong assertive character, she becomes the helpless victim – as a consequence many in the audience take a dislike to the character. Rather than growing into the confidant and emotional support of the protagonist, the writers had inadvertently created another  female character who ends up filling that role, one with whom the audience identifies.  Because of the none fantasy elements ( no super powers), the means of turning Laurel into the Black Canary becomes tortuous and convoluted.  How to acquire the skills and motivation ? How to bring her character into the inner circle in a meaningful way ? How to back away from potential the soap opera love triangle that actually engenders hostility amongst the viewing audience ? The codes and conventions of the superhero comic  collide with those of a television drama  – narrative & character development evolves as the show progresses and responds to a target audience it did not totally anticipate.

 

Those in the viewing audience who were drawn to the show, hoping to see beloved characters adapted in a manner that was faithful to the spirit of the originals, were demanding that both Oliver and Laurel exhibit those familiar characteristics.  Oliver needed to be less dour and guilty. Laurel needed to be more assertive, competent and not so oblivious to the dual identity. The writer response was to use the Felicity-Oliver relationship to very slowly lighten up the protagonist’s character and actions, he smiled and even joked a couple of times in the season. Laurel however, went into an emotional  spiral shifting motivation and occupation. Now even more damaged, she was further from the inner circle and becoming an antagonist/obstacle.

Black Canary - Sarah Lance

In an attempt to create the Black Canary as quickly as the audience demanded, the writers introduced a new character by resurrecting the supposedly dead Sarah Lance, Laurel’s sister.  This character served the role so well in bringing a version the Black Canary character to life, that Laurel looked even more inadequate and unnecessary. The character of Laurel was so tied to the CW soap opera format that the writers were incapable of finding a way to transform her into the superhero that she was intended to become. 

 

It is especially ironic that Arrow, a show hoping to draw upon a strong female demographic and the comic-book fans, shifted more and more into a realm of fantastical adventure and individuals with either  magical or science fiction  based abilities  and yet failed so badly to  bring an early positive female superhero to life.  After further convolutions in plot, Laurel took on the role of Black Canary, acquired technology to produce the Canary sonic  cry, and even demonstrated competency as a lawyer, supportive friend, and as a costumed superhero, only now to become this season’s sacrificial character to motivate others and demonstrate serious consequences. 

White Canary - Legends of Tomorrow

 

There is already much outcry (pun intended) on the internet by those against her death. Typical show-runner  spin on why this was the best  move available to them in the narrative thrust.  It will take time to see what the outcome will be for the viewership of the show.  

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A couple of closing  observations to consider.  There may be a possibility that the actress, Katie Cassidy is still with the show for next season.  She will be portraying  her Earth Two self, Black Siren, on the companion show, The Flash. She will also voice the Black Canary character on the Vixon online cartoon.  Some viewers are interpreting the death as some type of fake-out to fool both the audience and this season’s big bad. This has, so far,  been denied by the show-runners.  Considering how audience demand has modified the trajectory of the show, it is possible that  viewer response may still alter plans. There  is another possibility to consider, Warner Bros. attempt to develop a DC superhero universe may be planning on introducing Black Canary in one of its films. There may have been pressure to   remove the character from the Arrow TV Universe , as they did with Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad.

 

The dark knight steps out of a Constructed Reality. – Ojo De Piedra

Observation on Mass Media : Mass Media Popular Culture  has moved beyond clothing as advertisements/brands and shaping style. We are moving into a culture that  takes the fictional realities beyond  CosPlay,  Role playing fairs & LARP  . Performance Art gradually becomes part of the regular urban landscape, so that a casual walk on the street in a growing number of cities around the globe can generate  street portrait, such as this one taken by Eduardo Mendoza.

While walking the streets of Mexico City’s downtown yesterday I found myself waiting for the green light along this well educated superhero.

Source: The dark knight. – Ojo De Piedra

Bryan Hitch on Batman

Comicbook characters such as Batman are part of contemporary iconography – a modern mythology on which we project  values, beliefs & ideologies in the forms of hopes & fears. Batman, being one of the earliest comic superheroes ( 75 years ), has his roots in the Pulp Magazine  & Pulp Hero tradition.

He blends the qualities of characters such as The Shadow & The Spider with the master savant detective first crystallized in the character of Sherlock Holmes. Batman’s comicbook universe setting  ranges from  Hard Boiled Noir to Gothic Fantasy, with  stop overs in the cosmic metaphysical realms associated with speculative fiction. This  makes the character both flexible and challenging, whether being portrayed in print or other media, such as movies and television. Bryan Hitch‘s observations, as writer & illustrator of the current JLA comic, provide some insight into this creative balancing act.

— I wasn’t sure about Batman. When I had that abortive attempt to do “Justice League” 15 odd years ago with [Mark] Waid, I couldn’t figure out, visually, how to handle Batman. And I kind of translated that mentally into, “I probably wouldn’t be able to write him, either.” The odd thing, when I started writing the story out, was just how much Batman took care of his own business for you. You just find a situation, drop Batman in it, and he writes his own dialogue. It’s hilarious.

JLA - Bryan Hitch

Batman, at the same time, he’s the guy that has the detective skills, and the analytical skills, to be able to look at all this stuff, and start putting the picture together with the jigsaw pieces, and make that leap that some of the other characters may not be able to — because they’re looking very closely at the individual points, where Batman’s experience is a little wider, I think. I was worried about Batman, but I’m actually having such a nice time writing him in the context of these stories. And he’s such a useful character, because he’s the guy that figures everything out.

Batman - Bryan Hitch &  Paul Neary

I actually find him hilarious to write. He’s got that kind of grim visual, certainly, but I find that he’s the guy with the sarcastic one-liner — not necessarily because he’s trying to be funny, but you have a funny situation, and he nails the line at the end of the scene. And it’s funny because of that, not because he’s trying to be funny. I find that in that group environment, there’s a lot of humor to be had. I’ve been writing him a scene between him and Aquaman, and they’re actually talking about magic crystals, and just these two characters talking about magic crystals, they realize that they’re having an absurd conversation. FULL INTERVIEW at CBR: Bryan Hitch Stays Put at DC with “Justice League of America”

 

 

 

 

 

On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel

James Leask , First Nations writer, presents an insightful article on the revival of Marvel’s First Nations Superhero, Red Wolf.  Red Wolf was Marvel’s first Native American superhero. The William Talltrees version of Red Wolf first appeared in the story “The Coming of Red Wolf!” published in Avengers #80 (cover-dated Sept. 1970), and was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. The character appeared also in the next issue.

Avengers 80 - Red Wolf cv

The character became the star of the nine-issue series Red Wolf (May 1972 – Sept. 1973). The first six issues were set in the Old West of the 19th century.  These adventures featured Johnny Wakely.  In  issues #7-9,  Thomas Thunderhead a 1970s version of the Red Wolf  was featured in New York based adventures.

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Marvel comics is presently in the process of introducing an “updated” version of the character as it adjusts ( this-is-not-a-reboot ) universe with modifications to its more familiar characters.

 

Click image for background on Secrets of the All-New All-Different Marvel Image

Red Wolf All New All DifferentIt is not clear in what time period this new version will be having adventures. Leask  observes, “in the promo image, Red Wolf is dressed like the most problematic stereotype you have ever seen of an aboriginal person. He’s holding a bow and arrow. He’s wearing buckskin breeches. He’s wearing a loincloth on top of the buckskin breeches. He has a bone necklace and a warpaint. He’s not wearing a shirt. The only thing missing from the Injun Stereotype Bingo Card is a feather in his hair. It’s hard to make this more suspect-looking.”

This portrayal of a First Nations character reflects the Mass Media  Principle ” that all Mass Media art contain values, beliefs and ideologies.  As Leask point out, “having the aboriginal character dressed in warpaint and a loincloth sends one key message: he’s “savage.”That word has consistently plagued aboriginal people for centuries, and been used to justify any number of crimes and cruelties against us. It’s patently obvious Marvel isn’t trying to invoke that, but they are invoking it.”

This brings up another principle of Mass Media.  While conveying intended messages, Mass Media frequently conveys unintended  ones through lack of control of context or an unconscious acceptance of beliefs & values.“Of course, this is just a promotional image. We don’t know how Red Wolf will be included in All New, All Different Marvel or, for that matter, how he’ll be included in Secret Wars: 1872. We don’t know what books he’ll be in, who the creative team will be, or who he will be.”

Without a clear context, the audience is left with a visual image to derive a  context & expectation. While the earlier version of the character expressed many of the same stereotypical aspects  as this version, there was an attempt to fit the codes & conventions of a superhero. This new portrayal looks out of place next to the diverse contemporary characters displayed in the promo.

Read Leask’s the full analysis in the following link. 

 

On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel. via Comics Alliance