Saturday, September 8, 2012

JL8 and What It Means To Define a Character

I don't normally feature other work, but today I found something that not only is cool enough to share with others, but ties into some overall points I've been thinking about.

 JL8 #1

JL8 is a web comic by Yale Stewart that follows children sized versions of DC's the Justice League as they navigate through the playground perils of every day youth. Most of the arcs are remniscent of most children's fare including bullies and school yard crushes, while retaining a solid foundation of humor. The real trick is in keeping the characters familiar and true to themsevles, while putting them in the bodies of children.

Yale manages to retain the characters' voices and overall personalities while putting them in new and often lighthearted situations mostly unfamiliar to how we've seen the characters previously. Yale is able to distill them down to their definitive state without turning them into cardboard cut outs.

Those who watched the Justice League animated series will remember an episode in which through magical hijinks the heroes were reduced to pre-teen age, they remembered their skills and training while losing their maturity. At first I hated the episode. I thought it was a cheap gimmick after the writers had run out of ideas. But around half way through the episode I found myself loving it, and even thinking I'd watch a full series in that style. While we may never see that, JL8 retains the idea and takes it further.

The reason for my change of heart was because the writers went beyond the gimmick to use the episode to show sides of the characters rarely seen. We got to see Batman,  Superman and Green Lantern in a more immature state, and Wonder Woman less dignified and pompous. More importantly by retaining the characters' skills the writers were able to retain the character's level of bad ass so we wouldn't lose out some of what makes these characters awesome in the first place.

In both the animated series and Yale's strip they used their setting and premise to show us sides of the characters and their relationships with their parents, mostly dead or missing in the comic, which we would have never other wise seen, outside of isolated flashbacks.



I've been thinking a lot about characters lately. About how you add depth and layers to a character while still making them feel true to themselves. In game of thrones Tyrion Lannister, played by the amazing Peter Dinklage in the show, is able to have a surface character that is a carefree fool and a deeper layer of incredibly intelligent and emotional conflict. This is informed by his background of his twisted family and physical conditon, but on camera comes across as natural. The writers were able to start us off with the jester, giving us hints of what lay beneath until finally showing it to us in full. This gave us a character with depth that still felt consistant, something I continue to strive for in my own writing.

In the Justice League they had the opposite problem. How do we take characters from their own histories and valued stories and remove layers of complexity while retaining their depth? Some may argue if they succeeded or not but I think they did. You have Superman as both the man of steal and  the outcast boy worried he'll break everything around him. You have Bats as both the brooding loner and the man struggeling to not only intergrate into a team but lead those following in the teams footsteps, and his complicated realtionship with Wonder Woman.

In Hawkgirl's story arc they took a character that was intially a battering ram and developed her over time, gave her conflicts, trials and triumphs. Yale does this in his comic as well. Early on there's a scene where Batman and Superman are confronting the bullies of the playground, Lex, the Joker and others. Superman gives a speech that could have come from any of his comics, you can't help but here it in the voice of Tim Daly (of Wings fame and the voice actor for superman for as long as I can remember.) It's a brilliant scene that shows the character at their finest, even when reduced to the more simplistic days of childhood.

Wrapping Up

We can learn a lot from characters by looking at them in different settings and points in their lives. The childhood Bruce of JL8 and the old man Wayne of Batman Beyond show us different sides of the character that can help us write them in their prime as Batman. We can also learn to add layers of depth to our characters while keeping a simplicity that makes them easy to understand and pick up by our readers.

Don't forget to check out JL8.

JL8 #1

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