Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Frisson of Woo, or “Thirty Seconds to Grab ‘Em”

A few posts back, I wrote about essential traits and core appeals of super-characters, and forwarded a theory of how to determine said trait. Astute readers debated my ideas of what constituted essential traits of a few major characters.

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!


  • The Question one is good, bbut he's got to club someone in the face with a right hook as well.

    By Blogger sean witzke, at 1:49 PM  

  • Ant Man (Scott Lang): First couple seconds, all you see is what looks like a rolling plain or a desert. There is dust in the distance and you hear what sounds like thunder.

    Suddenly, on the horizon, an army of ants, on the ground and in the air and proudly leading the charge is Ant Man!

    Zoom out, see the vast insect army (which includes all manner of arthropods, not just the hymenoptera) taking out human sized soldiers (or exterminators or something).

    [The emphasis has to be on Scott Lang leading his insects, and the implication has to be that the insects are winning.]

    By Blogger Canton, at 2:09 PM  

  • Got mine right here.

    Bless you for the Frisson of Woo!

    By Blogger Chris, at 2:49 PM  

  • Assassin sits on roof top. He sees his target, a woman walking out of building. He fires, we follow the bullet in slo-mo. As it gets closer--as we freak out that we are actually going to see the bullet hit--a hand reaches out from behind the bullet and catches it. We get the barest hint of a blue sleeve before a smash cut to black. Fade in the S. Fade out the S. Audience explodes.

    I also have one with train engine running in place because someone in red boots is standing in the way, and another with a crowd of people one by one looking up, up in the sky, because a small flying object (is it a bird? is it a plane?) is flying above a very, very tall building.

    By Blogger Steven, at 3:16 PM  

  • Captain America
    Close-up of an War Department form, and a hand stamping it with a big, red "4-F". PAN UP to a eager, but obviously scrawny and sickly, young man.

    "But there must be something I can do!" An officer takes him aside. "Son, there just may be. But I won't lie to you, there's a huge risk."

    Quick montage of experimental treatments, and a sudden flash-forward to a room full of NAZIS. They're all fighting someone... or something? we can't quite see. But they're losing. We see occasional flashes, in extreme close-up, of a red, white and blue SHIELD hitting a Nazi and knocking him out.

    NAZI OFFICER: "Why won't he fall! Stop him! He's only one ma..."

    He's cut short by a flying shield that hits him in the jaw, knocking him out and sending several teeth flying. We follow the flight path of the shield as it richochets and KOs two more Nazis, then is caught in a red gloved hand.

    Finally, we ZOOM OUT to a wide shot of the room, showing 40 unconscious Nazis, and Captain America standing tall....

    By Blogger David C, at 3:19 PM  

  • Hmm, on reflection, with only 30 seconds, you'd probably need to save the recruiting center stuff for the longer trailer, and just open on the Nazis being up to no good in their swastika-laden Nazi Base, then go to the fight....

    By Blogger David C, at 3:23 PM  

  • Oh, you want to see a ton of Frissions of Woo, one right after another after another?

    Final episode of JLU.

    fer example, one scene has all the Ditko characters fighting parademons. Captain Atom's blasting away, Hawk and Dove are using the teamwork, the Creeper's, um, creeping...

    when out of nowhere the Question comes barrelling through in his crappy-ass sedan, and punches a parademon in the face. AWESOME.

    It helped define a few character frission for me. Green Lantern's is making creative constructs with his ring. J'onn's is shape-shifting. Wonder Woman's is combination of hugs and body slams. Superman's...

    do I even need to say what Superman's frission of woo is?

    By Blogger Steven, at 4:51 PM  

  • See, for me, the best way to drive home the WOO of Captain America is to show his effect on the men he inspires. Yes, kicking Nazi ass is his shtick, but Kato could do the same thing. Here's what I came up with for Cap.

    NAZI SOLDIERS are raining down fire on an American position, pouring it on. AMERICAN TROOPS are huddled behind cover, looking grim and resigned to their fate. The American RADIOMAN is screaming into the handset for backup, but then he looks up, his expression changes, and he says "never mind". Cut back to THE NAZIS, who hear cheers and are perplexed/dismayed. Camera angle from behind the sights of a German MG42, focusing on a moving red-and-white target that comes closer and coloser until we see that it's THE SHIELD. Standard issue US SERGEANT exhorting his men to give Cap covering fire, a rising roar of noise coming from the men. Quick cut to a shot of CAPTAIN AMERICA running towards the German position with a platoon of men on his heels. Quick cuts of fighting in the German trenches, Cap whupping ass, Germans gofers running to the command post, ending with a scene of a runner bursting into the GERMAN COMMAND POST. The guards say "was ist los?" The runner has time for "Kapitan" before we cut to the interior of the office, the general petrified as we hear the shield ricochet outside. And then CAP kicks down the door and says something badass.

    Sure, it'd probably need to be trimmed to fit, but wouldn't that give you a frisson of woo?

    AQUAMAN is a tougher sell. What is his frisson of woo? I mean, I can envision something involving nasty modern pirates jacking an ocean liner in the South China Sea or somebody getting a bit too hungry on the life raft. The man wears a lot of hats - hero in the immensity of the open ocean, angry monarch, talks to fish, et cetera.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:00 PM  

  • The screen is black. A deep and powerful voice (Brian Blessed) cries out: "Bring forth my son!" A smaller voice replies, "Yes, Odin."

    The interior of what appears to be a Germanic medieval castle: the Norse Gods are gathered before the throne of Odin. They're really worried. One is kneeling before Odin, his head held low as the big guy chews him out. The subject of Odin's wrath has long blond hair. "Of all the gods of Asgard, one stands out in his arrogance, recklessness, and conceit! And now he has commited the most unforgivable crime of disobedience! To my shame the perpetrator own son!"

    Cut to Loki, among the other Gods, the only one smiling.

    Odin continues, "Thor -- I sentence you to exile until you learn humility! Your new home awaits you!"

    Thor looks up in alarm and asks, "Where am I going?"

    Huge crash and boom of thunder and lightning.

    Cut to Thor walking through Times Square in broad daylight. Crowds gather, women and men alike checking out the big longhaired bodybuilder and nodding appreciatively, cars crash, total pandemonium. Thor walks along, oblivious to the chaos he's creating.

    Then fast cuts of scenes from the movie, including: Thor fighting a dragon over New York, busy hospital emergency room, Don Blake walking with a cane, Thor kissing Jane Foster, Loki in a contemporary business suit, Loki flinging energy bolts at Thor, who deflects them with his spinning hammer.

    Another huge crash-boom of thunder and lightning, followed by the logo: THE MIGHTY THOR.

    By Blogger Richard, at 6:11 PM  

  • Toby S.,
    Yeah, I like yours too. Cap's capable of delivering lotsa different frissons of woo.... :)

    By Blogger David C, at 6:40 PM  

  • Some criminals are commiting a crime of sorts (bank robbery?) when a red streak flies through the room, and two of the bad guys are tied up unconscious.

    The bad guys are like "What?" when it happens again to another hapless robber.

    The remaining two get scared and run to the getaway car. They drive off, think they're safe, when suddenly a man in red tights knocks on the window of their speeding car. They look, and the driver is so freaked out, he crashes the car into a telephone pole.

    Driver's unconscious, the passenger runs for it. The man in red watches him run for a second, then disappears in a streak of red, appearing right in front of the robber, arms crossed. The robber stops dead, scared look on his face, when a red fist connects with his nose.

    Cue lightning bolt and Flash logo

    Flash logo.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:36 PM  

  • Just offhand, I've gotta think that Plastic Man's 30-second spot would be not unlike that for The Mask--combination '40s swing-music moxie and Looney Tunes pandemonium, only done five times better and ten times bigger.

    To open, you've got a bunch of Dick Tracy mobster types, plotting around an oddly-colored table, kvetching about the wackaloon stories of the weirdo who's busting up all the crime rings, when the table suddenly responds to a comment with something along the lines of "You don't know the half of it, brother!" and honks all their noses simultaneously (complete with bicycle horn SFX).

    Cue "Sing Sing Sing"...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:28 PM  


    - Slow-mo, framing shots of sunny streets in a decidedly fifties-style city.
    - Billy Batson sitting on his bed (blue jeans and a t-shirt, the bed has red sheets with a couple of yellow bands at the top) looking sadly at a framed sepiatone picture of his parents in the field.
    - A kindly old man in a well-lit sandstone hall passing his hand over a scrying pool.
    - Billy leaving school -> walking into the busy press room.
    A tagline reads "FAWCETT CITY IS A PLACE OF DREAMS..."
    - The music starts shifting to a more ominous tone, with shots of men in dark suits peering out of low-slung sedans, an old man working over scientific equipment, robed men marching in step into a darkened corridor, and things moving in the shadows.
    - The music shifts deeper as we see the scientist laughing, the robed men chanting and raising their hands in ritual, a dark hand coming out of the darkness and gripping a corner.
    A second tagline reads "...BUT NOT ALL DREAMS ARE PLEASANT."
    - The tempo increases as we see mobsters openly walking down the street armed, bank robbers making a getaway, fire pouring from a building's windows, shadowy figures moving menacingly through the darkness, and normal citizens running away from something we can't see as Billy stands wide-eyed among them.
    Third tagline reads "A BOY HAS BEEN CHOSEN"
    - Billy walking into the sandstone temple, cautious but curious.
    - A slow pan of the gods and demigods involved (if I recall correctly those would be Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury)
    - The kindly wizard "knighting" Billy with his staff and electicity crackling to it from his upraised hands.
    - Back to the running crowd shot, with Billy's expression settling to quiet resolve as the last of the civilians flees past him. The music begins to shift back upbeat.
    - The camera drops to ground level and pulls back until monstrous feet step into frame before rising up to look down at him from over the beast's shoulder. Eight-foot tall monster, at least.
    - Billy grins, but not at all cocky - slightly bashful, in fact. The music swells.
    Fifth tagline : "TO CALL DOWN THE LIGHTNING"
    - The music explodes into triumph as we get a montage of Captain Marvel throwing mobsters around, fighting giant monsters and/or robots, saving people from fires and train wrecks, and generally kicking ass in superhero style.
    Sixth tagline : "TO BE A MARVEL IN A CITY OF DREAMS"
    - In the midst of an adoring throng, CM takes off and flies up into the sunlight. The camera shifts to a head-on shot, and we see the same bashful grin for a good long beat before we get the final tagline for SHAZAM! - SUMMER 2009

    These are fun.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:53 PM  

  • Okay, so my SHAZAM trailer is probably about sixty seconds long as I described it. But it can be cropped. The initial bits get cut to

    mobster + monster menace => "A BOY HAS BEEN CHOSEN" => Billy + Shazam => TO BATTLE => crowd scene as written => LIGHTNING => SHAZAM! + asskicking + bashful grin closer

    Still works.

    I'm grappling with the Flash - yes, he's the Fastest Man Alive, but how do you hook people who don't know the mythology? How do you make him a compelling character? I'm struggling to find the hook, but the problem is that the Flash really does have a game-breaker power if you ramp it up high enough. Let me take a stab at it... no taglines for this one.

    - a blond man in a slightly rumpled suit is walking down the street, reading the newspaper.
    - cut to an attractive woman sitting at an outdoor cafe, looking at her watch impatiently.
    - cut back to the blond man, who looks up distractedly as a loud alarm goes off nearby.
    - cut to inside of a bank, where masked men are brandishing big, nasty assault rifles and menacing the civilians.
    - cut back to the blonde man, tight on his eyes as they narrow at the sound of gunshots.
    - cut back to the inside of the bank, one of the robbers is spraying the ceiling with his rifle.
    - cut to the street, where the man is gone and the newspaper is starting to drop in slow motion.
    - cut back to the inside inside of the bank, the robber is still spraying the ceiling with bullets, but in slow motion.
    - cut to the terrified faces of the employees, cringing and recoiling from the gunfire until we hear a sudden and violent cacophony of whooshing and slamming noises.
    - cut back to the paper, which is halfway to the sidewalk when a suit-coated arm snags it. The camera follows the paper back up as the blond man resumes his reading and his stroll down the sidewalk.
    - cut back to inside the bank, with a panning shot over the stunned employees to the robbers, who are knocked out and neatly tied up; their guns, which are tastefully arranged in the corner; and last but not least, their bullets and shell casings, which are stacked in perfect pyramids on the counter.
    - cut back to the woman at the cafe, who looks up with exasperation at the blond man. "You're late again, Barry."
    - he sits down and says "Sorry, Iris, I had to make a quick stop at the bank."
    - as he puts the paper down next to him, a bullet slips out of his sleeve and falls to the ground, and the camera zooms into it rapidly to dissolve into the golden lightning bolt logo of THE FLASH.

    It wouldn't have much to do with the movie, but it'd be a great hook!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:01 PM  

  • Aquaman's Frisson of Woo:

    ...and I'm working on my Green Lantern.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:22 AM  

  • Oh, great, I was just about to finish obsessing over the "50 Best DC chracters" thing, and now you've given me something else to obsess over. Will it never end?

    By Blogger Cap'n Neurotic, at 10:20 AM  

  • Toby S.
    The Flash one is great. I would love to steal part of it for a character that wouldn't usually occur to me:
    A bank robbery. Four masked men leave the bank shooting and get in an SUV, or other large vehicle to escape. Laughing, they know they've made it.
    Dismay on the driver's face: as they're blazing down the highway, he sees something in the distance, like a rocket's trail. Coming right at them.
    A grinning, helmeted boy in a blue and yellow costume flies straight at them. The criminals scream as he flies through the SUV like it's tissue paper. Metal and glass everywhere.
    The criminals stagger out of the wreckage. Dazed and unbelieving. Until the Human Rocket swoops down, knocking them all out. He swoops up, pausing and grinning, before rocketing away.
    Interior of a high school. Class in session, no one is in the hall, except a young man rattling around in his locker as the pretty love interest approaches. "Richard?" She says. He looks at her, from behind the locker door, surprised. "Did you skip fifth period? You are so..."
    The bucket-helmet of Nova, the Human Rocket, falls out of the locker, clanging like a symbol when it lands. "Busted," she finishes.
    Nova, coming summer 2059!
    I wanted this to show Nova as someone who enjoys and is maybe a bit careless with his powers, as well as being a bit clueless and hardluck. Toby S. would probably get a production credit since I shameless swiped from his!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:06 PM  

  • Chuck, I'll take the production credit, but all you swiped from me was the bank robbers (and maybe a bit from my CM post), and bank robbers are fairly generic. You wrote a good pitch, and it makes Nova sound fairly interesting... which nobody's done for me in a while.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:43 PM  

  • Frisson of Woo:

    Ghost Rider

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:32 PM  

  • Oop, sorry about that. Wrong link.

    Frisson of Woo: Ghost Rider

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:35 PM  

  • Interior of a large mansion: Two large men in tuxs come breathlessly through double doors. They are wearing Mardi Gras type masks and one has a gun.

    Thug 1: Mr. Applegate, we have a guest not on the invitation list.

    Closeup: Applegate has his back to camera. He turns his head to look at the guards. He is wearing a mask as well. As he does we see past his shoulder. An elderly man is tied up and being tortured by a couple of thugs.

    Applegate: It's that reporter. Find him ...... (pulls off mask) and kill him.

    Interior of mansion: A large masquerade party is in progress. The camera follows one man as he tries to half walk/half run through the crowd. As he approaches a door he is cut off by guards, once, twice, three times. He turns and heads for a balcony.

    Exterior balcony: Man runs to edge of balcony, looks down at large bush and makes a jump for it.

    Exterior ground: Man crashes into bush and rolls out. He heads off into darkness pursued by a growing number of guards.

    Exterior garden: Man is running. We hear a shot and he falls/jumps into a large bush. Several more rounds are fired into the bush. All guards run up and tear bush apart. There is NOTHING THERE except the mask the man was wearing!!!

    Medium shot guard: an acorn falls from a tree and hits a guard in the head. He looks up and screams, raising his gun, all the other guards look up and start firing.

    Looking up into tree: A figure of red, yellow and green drops from the tree onto the camera. The figure laughs uncontrollably and maniaclly. The screen goes black and we hear guards screaming and gun fire.

    Fade in : The Creeper
    Halloween 2007

    Quick cut extreme closeup of crazed yellow face: The face says " boo " and then attacks the camera to black.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:29 PM  

  • Neil Gaiman chimes in a bit about the essential appeal of Superman here, in the latest issue of Wired.


    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 4:30 PM  

  • Scene opens on a city, New York maybe. Large portions of the city are on fire and gleaming shapes stalk through the rubble. A police officer stands with guarding a woman and child as a gleaming Ultron robot approaches. He fires off bullets which ricochet from it's mechanical shell

    Voiceover-"And then there came a day...

    The robot raises its hand to turn the cop and the woman/child to dust while the cop tries to shield them from the blast. A flurry of motion and a red & white disk drops into our POV and deflects the blast.

    "Unlike any other, when Earth's Mightiest Heroes found themselves United against a Common Threat....

    Pull back to show Cap holding his smoking shield. Deep breath as he shouts, "AVENGERS, ASSEMBLE!"

    Flash of action as Mjolnir streaks in and smashes the robot, knocking it off balance, Iron Man keeps it down with Repulsors, while the Scarlet Witch, looking hot & mysertious waves her hand to bring a building down on top of it.....

    Well, that is my dream at least. ;)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:32 AM  

  • Open in on Ho Yinsen, in a hut, talking straight to the audience. The shrapnel is pressing on the heart, the terrorists want a superweapon, and you could die at any moment. Blah blah cool one-liner involving THE FUTURE.

    Explode into action - armour being put on Stark by robot arms, flying, repulsor rays, chest x-ray showing weak heart, Iron Man lifting huge thing, plugging self into phone line and zooming into global network, firing chest laser, shot of Stane Industries, Senators banging desks and shouting, Stark drinking, Stane smiling evil-like, Tony Stark being slapped in the face by a beautiful woman, Iron Man versus Iron Monger, all very technological and futuristic, quick cuts, music builds --

    -suddenly stops dead. Stark clutching chest, having massive coronory. It could happen AT ANY TIME! Crash zoom into Stark's eye -

    Pulsing, futurist techno-epic music comes back harder than ever, circuitry fills the screen to spell IRON MAN.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:48 PM  

  • Okay, I am totally feeling that Iron Man thing! I've said it before: the bad ticker is absolutely essential. Also, Toby S.'s Cap actually gave me a little frisson of woo for a second there, and the C.M. wasn't bad either. All the rest of these are great too, but so far those ones knock me out the most...well, and I've always had a sneaking fondness for the original Nova...

    I'll be doing mine shortly!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:26 PM  

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