The Frisson of Woo, or “Thirty Seconds to Grab ‘Em”
So I’ve come up with a new test, a refinement of my earlier approach. Lemme know what you think.
Super-characters, particularly iconic ones, have appeals that one can grasp quickly. Yes, Superman has a winning personality, an understated wit, and a bitchin' spitcurl, but what the folks like to see is the superpowers. That’s what gets folks to buy the comics, see the movies, and wear the jammies.
I believe that every great character, every character capable of carrying his or her own comic series, should regularly provide a frisson of woo. The character should have the ability to make anyone, not just a regular comic reader, occasionally feel a little shiver of excitement and emit a little internal cry of “woo!”
The point of this silly exercise is threefold. First, it’s a test of a comic’s current creative team. I’d say that abandoning the woo-giving trait(s) is a bad, bad sign. It doesn't happen too often, but it does happen. Second, it’s a test of a character’s potential for public acceptance. If you can’t find a straightforward woo-generating trait for a character, said character is never going to be more than second-tier big-comic-crossover fodder. Third, it's fun to fart around with nonsense like this.
How to find that kernel of woo-ing?
Here’s my idea: imagine that a stack of new big-budget Hollywood movies starring the big comic book characters is about to hit the theaters of the world. Superman has his movie, Batman, Wonder Woman, hey, even Plastic Man, Doctor Strange, Green Lantern, Thor, and Wildcat all have their own movies. (For the sake of this essay, the movies capture the characters basically as the comics depict them.)
And you, you lucky fanboy/fangirl, are in charge of putting together the teevee commercial for the movies.
You have thirty seconds to assemble images and scenes to make John Q. Public interested in the character. You have thirty seconds to grab ‘em by the nose. Thirty seconds of precious, precious teevee time.
What goes in the thirty-second trailer?
I think that your answer to that would be whatever provides each character’s frisson of woo. It boils away the inessential and uncovers the characters’ core appeal.
There’s no time for sophistication in a thirty second ad; it requires bonk-them-over-the-head directness. Which shouldn’t be a problem. Head-bonking directness is something at which costumed super-folk excel; subtlety is not a superhero’s stock in trade.
Look at the thirty-second long teevee trailer for Superman Returns. It’s “dude in suit flying around, doing super stuff.” And it’s cool.
How about the ads for Batman Begins? It’s “dude dresses in freaky costume scaring the crap out of bad guys, gets revenge for feelings of powerlessness.”
Now, what about these theoretical ads?
Hawkman: A dude with giant bird wings flies around and hits stuff with a giant mace. He swoops around cities and mountains, pounding stuff and looking cool.
[Dude, that visual sells itself. Show a well-rendered Hawkman smashing up an in-flight Cessna or something and you’ll get people’s attention.]
The Question: A cloud of odd-colored smoke curls out of the corner of a darkened room. Following the cloud is a well-dressed man. A man with no face. He says something both vague and menacing, then disappears.
[That’ll stick in folks’ heads. Batman scares like a monster. Raar! The Question scares like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Creeeepy. People dig creeeepy.]
Green Lantern: A regular guy (test pilot, architect, artist, whatever) finds himself recruited by a massive space police force. He can make anything he imagines out of green energy by using a magic ring.
[The visuals of the 3,600-strong Green Lantern Corps, and crazy green ring constructs? That’ll catch people’s attention.]
Thor: A giant freakin’ dragon-serpent thing menaces a city. Trolls burst out of the ground. Then thunder booms, lightning bolts arc down, and a very large man with a very large hammer looks very pissed off. He warns the beasts to leave. They don’t. He swings the hammer and brings A Mighty Beatdown, shaking the heavens themselves.
[My pet guess for Thor’s woo-generation is when his normally placid exterior cracks and he uncorks the oceans of whoopass he keeps in reserve. When Thor goes into “I’ve had it with you” mode and Brings the Pain, I feel a hint of woo.]
Now, my readers, what would you put in your thirty-second trailers for your favorite super-folk?
How would you get people to want to see Wildcat: The Movin’ Picture, or Doctor Strange? Iron Man? Aquaman? Wonder Woman? Captain Marvel? Plastic Man? Vibe? Swamp Thing? Or any other character you love?
Come on, fans. Hollywood is calling!