Bad Writing Good Writing

Further to my last post about creating and not trick to get yourself to start creating more is to create content about what you consume instead of merely consuming it.

What do I consume? Superhero content. 

Read and collected comic books from about age 10 until my early 20's. I don't collect them any more or read them on a regular basis...and I don't need to.

There's all kinds of superhero tv shows and movies to watch. It's now possible to have a steady diet of just superhero content between the Marvel stuff on Disney Plus, the DC stuff on the CW and HBO max, not to mention independent content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Oh actual big budget movies in the theatres.

While there is a glut of superhero content, not all of it is created equal. A lot of this is going to come down to personal preference and perhaps (to some degree - loyalty to characters you might've "grown up with" versus newer or lesser known characters.

But sometimes it might also just be good writing?

Case in point - The Flash tv show and Stargirl - two offerings from the DC Comics line of superhero content 'made for TV'. 

While I enjoy the genre, I grew up on DC Comics - they were my "jam" so-to-speak for some reason. Aside for The Hulk (and possibly Spider-man) when I was super young...the Marvel stuff just didn't resonate with me as much as a kid.

All I'm trying to say is that IF there was "brand loyalty" to bias my preference between two shows - it should be for DC over something else.

The Flash has had moments of greatness (I am a sucker for pretty much anything to do with time trave/paradoxes etc.)but a LOT of cringe. It is out of loyalty "to the brand" that I watch at times...sometimes it feels like "work" to watch it.

As for Stargirl...yeah, I'm turning 50 in a few years and I watch a show called "Stargirl" and the absurdity of it isn't lost on me. But what drew me to the show was the chance to see members of the Justice Society of America in live action, not watching a teenage girl superhero.

I kept an open mind, and felt the show avoided a lot of "the cringe" that seems to happen quite frequently on the Flash. It was the villains that seemed to pull me in, Brainwave in particular was really well done. It seemed like there were more "stakes" involved than with a lot of the CW superhero shows.

It seemed like less "work" to watch it.

But then I decided to re-watch Umbrella Academy. Yes, another superhero show but this time from Darkhorse comics. These aren't your typical "spandex and cape-wearing superheros" who fight the "bad guys".

For many reasons - I shouldn't like it, but damn does it pull me in.

There's superheroes and time travel, but the characters are nuanced and interesting, it seems like ALL of them are interesting. The villains, the heroes...even the side characters.

And does that not come down to the writing?

I went from re-watching episode 1 from 2019 to being drawn to re-watch both seasons. It wasn't work at all to watch, instead I would find it harder to almost stop watching.

It has to be the writing...right?

There is a fair degree of "LGBTQ" themes and skin colour, but it isn't heavy-handed, it isn't "preachy", it actually meshes in with the story and characters. Whereas with a lot of the mainstream superhero stuff - it feels unnatural and "shoe-horned" in, story (and decades worth of character development) be damned!

Maybe it's not just good writing vs. bad writing.

Umbrella Academy has two other things going for it; these aren't mainstream characters. They don't have decades worth of 'expectations' on them like we would have for icons like Superman, Batman, Flash, Spiderman, Hulk etc.

I consistently find when I have expectations, I'm disappointed far more often.

The other advantage Umbrella Academy has, which likely relates back to the writing - is the format. It is made for Netflix. It does not have to conform to TV network standards. There are no commercial breaks or TV censors to appease.

That gets a lot of red tape out of the way for the writers.  In fact, I have to say that Netflix style streamed online content is probably the best thing to happen to any content relating to superheroes. It allows for much deeper character development then a typical TV episode or "blockbuster movie", 'Snyder's cut' releases not-witstanding ;).

Look at Netflix's Daredevil; a character that I've never been particularly drawn to - but that series set a "super" high benchmark for everything that came after.

So maybe it's not just about the writing?

It's about long form content on platforms like Netflix (honourable mention also going to The Boys on Amazon Prime) where they can focus on the story. They know in advance how many episodes they have to work with and can make the story evolve in interesting a video equivalent of the comic book 'graphic novel'.

It's not too short (like a blockbuster movie that has to cram in or omit a lot of details to make the movie work for a 2 hour run time) or too long (like some TV seasons with multiple "filler episodes" that don't advance the plot and often feature lesser characters or "side plots" that aren't overly least to me).

The content is more mature too....more "real". People swear, they're failable...less likely to be seen as unrealistic, which pulls someone like me out of the show.

But maybe it is the writing?

All I know is that good writing should make you want to watch.

It shouldn't feel like work.

There should be characters that pull you in...even when they're the "bad guy". Even if they don't "look like you". 

When you find a show that does that....I think it's because the writing is good. The longform format definitely helps provide the right ecosystem where better writing can flourish without the restrictions of typical TV and "PG-13" movies, but in the end it's the writing that makes you care and want to keep watching.

So I'm finishing up Umbrella Academy Season Two, and looking forward to Season three in the coming weeks or months.

Will I keep watching Flash and Stargirl? Probably, but it won't be a priority. And should I find that threshold where even this born and bred superhero content junky has hit 'too much', you can bet the shows with the cringe writing will be the first to go.

Photo by Florian Klauer


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