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September 24 2006

(SPOILER) An Astonishing X-Men Morphology. A review of Astonishing X-Men #17 attempts to breakdown the structure of the series so far.

I discovered as a child that any movie or form of entertainment worked for me only so long as I accepted the illusion. No matter how well put together, if I made the concious decision to reduce it to actors and props, pictures and mechanics, it would lose its magic as sure as yanking Mickey's costumed head off at Disney.

And I would ruin it for myself.

I'm sure there are countless critiques, obvious and tenuous, for every creative endeaver. And the Internet, more and more, seems to have become a place where it's oh so cool to catalog and broadcast every little nit.

Personally, however, Astonishing is entertaining the heck out of me. In the moment and in the collections, the mechanics of the storytelling disappear behind the sheer artistry of it.

The only upsetting element, for me, is that there's only 1 arc left before it's over :(
But ReneRitchie, there's Runaways to look forward to!!
I'm trying to figure out exactly where that review went off the tracks. The reviewer wanted something "daring and different". I suppose Colossus as a transvestite stripper would fit that bill, but it wouldn't make for a good story.

If you abstract enough, I'm sure that a lot of Whedon's stories would *appear* to be cliches, but the devil is in the details. (Or the "toppings", as he put it.) The story takes a path that would be a cliche in lesser hands, but Joss asks how a real person would react, what would be different when these characters are put in that situation. Then the plot is no longer a cliche, although a superficial analysis would make you think so.

Danger's "son" wasn't beaten by a fastball special, it was beaten by Kitty *talking* to it, which is quite a bit different and daring, I would think. (That's also true for #6. The fastball would have ended things if Wolveringe sliced off the ship's wing on his way up. The punchline was when he stuck his fist in Ord's mouth.) When Colossus returned, the "hero resurrected from the dead" is cliche, but the reaction between Kitty and Peter was not. How often do you see shows where they kill off a character for dramatic purposes, someone pronounces "nothing will be the same again", and five minutes later (in the same show!) everything is the same again? Even when Whedon's characters get over the pain, you can still see the scars. (I'm thinking Wesley, but even Giles with Calendar's death.)

So the plots are not new, but which plots are? (I'm thinking if I abstract enough, I could compare Godfather to the last episode of Barney.) What is new is that the plots (and characters) are done right.

[ edited by OneTeV on 2006-09-24 16:18 ]
Joss is a folk artist, I think, in the best sense. He takes given stories and plays on them, and slowly expands them, in ways that the underlying structure of the stories support. That's why they work so well. He's not trying to transition from traditional to experimental music in the space of a chord change.

Since this critic craves originality, he should be sentenced to listen to intellectualized "new" music until he goes mad. Which should take about thirty minutes.
Joss is a folk artist

dreamlogic, I like that. I outlined a four-page morphology to explain why, but then decided I'm just not a morphology kind of guy.
I concur with ReneRitchie. I was enjoying the heck out of this series - and now I'll have this separate awareness of myself reading a comic in addition to simply being immersed in the story. Sigh.
I wonder if his analysis illustrates a distinction between plot and story.

Sure there are some repeated elements, like the fastball specials. But the emotional impact is different. The first time, with Wolverine, means that Colossus is fully back in action, an integrated part of the X-Team, saving the day. It's kind of exhilerating, like a restoration of past greatness.

The second time, with Kitty, Colossus has to realize that if he loves Kitty he has to let her risk herself for the team/mission. Their relationship changes with his decision.

These are fastball specials of emotional resonance!

And I think the distinction between plot and story I'm trying to make, or perhaps make up, is that plot is what happens and story is the effect that what happens has on the characters.

(Sorry, I should have invented a Russian name to cite as my authority.)
Piotr Nikolaivitch Rasputin's a fairly Russian name ;).

This technique may or may not be useful in lit crit (i'm not even vaguely qualified to judge) but as a means of determining how well a story entertains it's next to useless, IMO. Every romantic comedy is basically boy/girl meets boy/girl, boy/girl loses boy/girl, boy/girl ends up with boy/girl. In fact, how's this for every film ever made: act 1: setup, act 2: complications ensue, act 3: problem resolution.

In other words, if you abstract stories enough they are all the same. Surely it's not the bricks or even the mortar that makes a good wall, it's all how you put them together ?
Saje, the difference is a brick's not likely to take down a good wall, but a well-aimed mortar might.
Unless you use anti-mortar mortar then the brick might stand a better chance (cos there's no such thing as anti-brick bricks, that's just daft).
jaynelovevera prefers mortar-ology to morphology, saje

ET hide shameful spelling errors.

[ edited by Pointy on 2006-09-25 13:38 ]
Yes, Pointy, and Morpheus to mortality. Saje, if there were anti-brick bricks, you'd go from daft to a draft if the wind hit the raft in the aft as those staffed for their graft laughed. I think I need more free morphine.
Morpheus to mortality, jaynelovesvera? You are a poet as well as a punster. (Or perhaps a Neil Gaiman fan -- Morpheus is immortal, one of the Eternals. He's a/k/a the Sandman.) May the morphine be free when it needs to be. Slainte!
Personally, I favor Morl. I don't know what it means or if it is a real word, but making the 'l' sound after the 'r' is pleasant. And it is fun to debate whether it contains one syllable or two.
Tweaking cliches is something Joss Whedon seems particularly brilliant at, which makes his work (at least to me) both accessible and unpredictable.

And I do look forward to Runaways, but that will be a different artist and a different cast. Come next year, I'm still going to be missing me some Whedon/Cassaday X-Men.
napua, Morl is Merl's half-brother. Angel was often asking of Merl more than he cared to render. Then when Gunn's ex-gang's axeing of Merl rendered him to goo, Morl, mortified he'd revealed Merl's abode, bid adieu to LA, motoring to Marlborough in a morbid mood, where he morphed into a marsupial named Morley, which is two syllables.

Pointy, I can't call myself a Gaiman fan till I can get it through my cranium that it isn't pronounced Guy-man, but Gay-man, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Always great to read praise from other leaders in the field and that is some seriously glowing praise.

EDIT for typo.

[ edited by Paul_Rocks on 2006-09-25 14:22 ]
It is, isn't it. I think I'll make that a front page item, we could do with some nice Joss love.
Saje, you made a mistake... Every romantic comedy is basically boy/girl meets boy/girl, boy/girl loses boy/girl, boy/girl ends up with boy/girl.

Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.
Goodyear ? ;)
I think that would have to qualify as a bad year, but then again, boy has 364 more days to pull out a good year. And Jack Bauer just needs one. I stand corrected by myself. Wish I'd do that more often.
The problem with invoking Propp when discussing any story is that indeed the man managed to list every twist and turn and indeed the items that Neil suggests are part of Astonishings morphology can be found in Propp's list and seen in any story, particular genre stories. Slightly modified all of the items in that list can be applied to any adventure story -- see everything from The Matrix through Star Wars through, why not, Columbo. Except in these instances the Fast Ball Special becomes coolkungfusuperpowermoment/destructionofthedeathstarorsomeotherbigship/justonemorething. These things have a formula and writers like Steve Neale and Rick Altman have identified that this is why we keep returning to them. But as someone above said, the joy is in the detail.

On a slightly related note, I was listening to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing earlier and the great scene in which Beatrice and Benedick finally pledge each other's love to one another and then Bea asks Ben to murder Claudio for wronging Hero. It seemed very Joss like to me -- that moment of utter joy suddenly turned around into total character based tragedy.

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