7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

Today's escapist storytellers share a rich legacy, from classic TV to great SF novels. But most of us also guzzled superhero comics during our formative years. And the writing of Stan Lee, John Byrne and countless others shaped us, in good ways and bad. Here are seven story pitfalls we picked up from classic superhero comics.

George R.R. Martin wrote fan letters to Marvel Comics. And many of today's most prominent television writers cut their teeth on superhero comics as well. And it's easy to see how people benefited from an early exposure to the work of great comics creators, including a sense of dynamism and a love of escapism. You can learn so much about great storytelling from reading classic superhero comics.

At the same time, sometimes the influence of classic comics can be a mixed bag, and you pick up stuff that could be a hindrance. Including these overused habits:

7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

1. Action scenes just happen, because it's time for one

Especially in older superhero comics, fight scenes just sort of erupt every few pages. When two heroes meet, they have to fight before they can team up, villains just randomly attack or turn out to be robbing a bank nearby, etc. etc. It's kind of awesome and beautiful, but also a smidge random. Like, action happens not because it drives the story or even because it makes you want to pump your fist in the air — but just because there's a need for a few pages of punching here. And you definitely see that in lots of movies and some books and television too. There's nothing wrong with a gratuitous action scene, as long as it's actually awesome and not just obligatory.

7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

2. Ornamental Dialogue

Back in the day, tons of superhero comics were written in the "Marvel style," where the writer would supply a detailed outline, the artist would draw it, and then dialogue would be added last. But even in other cases, often the artist would wind up changing things around to the point where all new dialogue had to be slotted in. (And in some cases, one writer came up with the story, and a different writer got the finished pages and made up dialogue, sometimes just coming up with random jokes to fit each panel.) In any case, one of the hallmarks of comic book-influenced writing, on occasion, is the scene in which the pacing is "off" because unnecessary amounts of dialogue is being thrown in. Or there's a long speech (akin to one designed to fill a splash page). Or — my favorite — people pause in the middle of an action scene to trade quips or barbs.

7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

3. Grim and angsty = tough and sophisticated

Especially starting in the mid-1980s with the new, edgy wave of superhero comics, comics creators took on the notion that "grim 'n' gritty" heroes and copious amounts of angst were a reasonable substitute for depth. By the 1990s, everybody was going "dark," and wallowing in angst was the preferred mode of emotional expression for everyone from the X-Men to the Justice League. And the influence of grim/angsty storytelling on heroic narratives can still be seen today, with fantastic superpowers often portrayed as a terrible burden that weighs down your soul.

4. The Illusion of Change

Stan Lee invented the notion of "illusion of change" to explain how, in his comics, you would be tricked into thinking the story was developing while it actually wasn't. And if you read those phone book-sized Essential Marvel volumes, you really get a sense of this — the story is constantly churning and the status quo constantly seems to shift. But any actual change in the characters' circumstances is glacial or illusory, or subject to sudden reversals. It's not that characters like Peter Parker or Bruce Banner didn't change over time — but if you read their comics month to month, you'd be left with the impression that things were happening at blinding speed, while in fact it took years for real shifts to occur. Lots of people creating serialized narratives nowadays try to create the same "illusion of change," with mixed results — when done badly, or overdone, it can just look like nothing in the story makes any sense, because the superficial changes seem too random.

7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

5. Over-reliance on "Origin Stories"

This one is slightly more of a gray area — origin stories can be a powerful tool in heroic stories, and they can help to make a hero or villain seem clear and relatable. A single story sets up the hero or villain's motivation and explains how they got launched on this path. But not everybody has a single incident that causes all of his or her behavior. And not everybody has a single, clear-cut motivation that "explains" everything — people sometimes are just a product of their upbringing and a constellation of random experiences. So not everybody needs an "origin story."
7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

6. Female characters are just love interests or distaff versions of the men

This is a problem with heroic narratives generally, going back centuries — but superhero comics gave us the stereotypical romance narrative, where Lois Lane loves Superman but spurns Clark Kent, not realizing they're the same guy. And while characters like Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson are tough and adventurous, they're also usually defined by their relationships to their male heroes — plus superhero comics gave us the weird trend of creating female versions of male characters, like She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl or Ms. Marvel. Instead of getting to be their own heroes, female characters often got stuck becoming the "girl" versions of the "men." And writers who were influenced by superhero comics often get stuck with this mindset. Supergirl/Batgirl art by Thony Silas Dias de Aguiar

7 Bad Storytelling Habits That We All Learned from Superhero Comics

7. Reboots, retcons, imaginary stories and insane redundancy

And finally, there's the big one. Superhero comics really pioneered the notion of retcons — aka retroactive continuity, in which some element is introduced in the hero's past which we're told was "always" true. And then, with stories like Crisis on Infinite Earths, superhero comics also gave us the "reboot," in which a hero's past is completely rewritten by someone punching reality or whatever. And going back to the 1960s, superhero stories also gave us the "imaginary story," like the saga of Superman and Batman's sons — which probably led to the final season of Roseanne among other things. And finally, superhero stories have given us insane redundancy, in which the same stories are told over and over again with the details slightly changed each time. All of this has helped to pioneer the notion that continuity is important — important enough to obsess over — but completely gooey and fungible. You can squash continuity and smush it and stretch it out and warp it back on itself, and it'll bounce back somehow. Hence the years of movies and TV shows (and sometimes even books) screwing around with their own continuity and also endlessly mashing the "restart" button on long-running sagas.

TV Ratings: MSNBC Falls Below HLN in May, Rachel Maddow Hits Lows

Fox News Channel maintains a handsome lead in primetime and total day, while primetime runner-up CNN continues a healthy climb from the lows of 2012.

The Rachel Maddow Show - H 2013
MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show"

HLN's wall-to-wall coverage of the Jodi Arias trial has had substantial ratings legs. Surging around the time of the May 8 verdict, the network notched an extremely rare monthly victory: It topped MSNBC in total day and primetime. And with CNN posting its second consecutive month as a distant primetime runner-up to Fox News Channel, MSNBC is in a very precarious fourth place.
Averaging 539,000 viewers in primetime and 175,000 viewers in the adults 25-54 demographic, MSNBC suffered double-digit drops from last May -- down a respective 20 and 19 percent. Losses were less substantial in total day, down 10 percent to an average 346,000 viewers and down 7 percent to 115,000 adults 25-54, while all other nets pulled growth in multiple categories.

The soft start for All In With Chris Hayes has not helped. Hayes, down 32 percent in total viewers from The Ed Show last May, has offered a poor lead-in for MSNBC's primetime flagship, The Rachel Maddow Show, at 9 p.m. The show delivered its lowest-rated month since it debuted in September 2008 (717,000 total viewers) and its second lowest with adults 25-54 (210,000). Maddow was topped by typical time slot victor Sean Hannity and CNN's Piers Morgan.

Winner FNC, posting modest year-to-year losses in the key demo, was still number three across all of cable in both primetime and total day. Heavily covering White House woes like the Benghazi hearings, the network averaged 1,246,000 daily viewers (up 24 percent) and 236,000 adults 25-54 (down 5 percent) for the full day. Primetime saw 17 percent growth with 1,973,000 total viewers and a 6 percent dip with 308,000 in 25-54.
CNN is in significantly better shape than it was last May when it hit 20-year lows. The network's year-to-year growth brought in a third-place 465,000 total viewers for total day and a second-place 660,000 total viewers in primetime, growth of 61 and 70 percent. CNN's demo jumps were more considerable, rising 92 percent to 161,000 adults 25-54 in total day and 97 percent to 225,000 adults 25-54 in primetime.

But the biggest percentage gains belong to HLN. The network posted its best May ever, coming in second in total day and third in primetime. Afternoon interest in Arias had the network up 111 percent to an average 494,000 viewers and up 90 percent to 175,000 in the demo during total day. Primetime saw total viewership climb 91 percent to 624,000 viewers and 97 percent to 209,000 adults 25-54.
Year-to-year comparisons will get trickier as the summer wears on, as 2012 saw viewership jump as the presidential election approached. HLN is also poised for a significant drop when the eventual Arias sentencing puts an end to what has been a very good story for the network.
Read the complete rankings, May 2013 versus May 2012, via Nielsen:
Total Day
FNC: 1,246,000 total viewers, up 24 percent (236,000 in 25-54, down 5 percent)
CNN: 465,000 total viewers, up 61 percent (161,000 in 25-54, up 92 percent)
MSNBC: 346,000 total viewers, down 10 percent (115,000 in 25-54, down 7 percent)
HLN: 494,000 total viewers, up 111 percent (175,000 in 25-54, up 90 percent)
FNC: 1,973,000 total viewers, up 17 percent (308,000 in 25-54, down 6 percent)
CNN: 660,000 total viewers, up 70 percent (225,000 in 25-54, up 97 percent)
MSNBC: 539,000 total viewers, down 20 percent (175,000 in 25-54, down 19 percent)
HLN: 624,000 total viewers, up 91 percent (209,000 in 25-54, up 97 percent)

'American Idol' to Axe All 4 Judges as Part of Massive Makeover

By Jethro Nededog
"American Idol" is going nuclear for Season 13.

None of the four judges on the singing competition will be asked to return next season, an individual with knowledge of Fox's plans told The Wrap. Longtime producer Nigel Lythgoe is expected to get the boot. And despite reports to the contrary, Fox isn't even considering bringing former judge Jennifer Lopez back as a lifesaver for next season.
Like we said: nuclear.

"All four are gone," the insider told TheWrap. "They feel they've lost their core audience and they want it back."

Driven by this belief and the need to attract younger viewers, Fox is set to make major on-air changes to "Idol," the most notable of which will be an entirely new judging panel. New judges pop icon Mariah Carey, rapper Nicki Minaj and country star Keith Urban won't be back. Even original judge Randy Jackson won't survive the blood bath this time around.

A Fox spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

All four judges have options to return for another season, but Fox won't be picking them up, according to the knowledgeable individual, who said: "No more big checks for divas."

The network has resolved to stop paying the huge salaries it has been shoveling out for its big name talent, i.e. Carey's reported $18 million package, Minaj's $12 million salary and former judge Jennifer Lopez's $15 million.

The show's format will also change. Its look will be redesigned and the dated tribute nights will be a thing of the past. But the show's trademark audition episodes will continue.

Behind the scenes, Fox Broadcasting chairman Kevin Reilly is charged with "fixing Idol." And one of the first changes will occur at the top of the food chain: Longtime executive producer Lythgoe is expected to be replaced. What that means for the show's producers, FremantleMedia, remains to be seen.

Fox's meltdown has everything to do with the talent competition's declining viewership. Its ratings are already down 22 percent this season and it hit a series low for ratings last Thursday, when it attracted only 11 million viewers and a 2.4 rating/7 share in the ad-coveted 18-49 demographic. The ratings slide is especially problematic during May Sweeps, where ratings numbers are used to dictate advertising rates.

Viewing has been in decline for several seasons now. At its height during Season 6, "Idol" attracted about 30 million viewers an episode.

So, why not just cancel the show?

"Idol" is still a huge revenue generator for Fox, bringing in $836.4 million in ad revenue last year, according to Kantar Media. Plus, it has nothing to replace it. Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" is far from being "Idol's" heir apparent after failing to meet ratings expectations over its first two seasons. It, too, is undergoing another round of changes for Season 3, with pop star Britney Spears and record executive L.A. Reid not returning.

"Idol's" problems are compounded by the success of NBC's "The Voice." Currently airing its fourth season, the show recently crossed a milestone when it beat "Idol" (and everyone else on the small screen for that matter) in both total viewers and the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic. Additionally, "The Voice" took "Idol's" spot in the Emmy race last year, replacing it among the nominees in the Outstanding Reality Competition category.

Fox and Fremantle declined comment for this story, as did a representative for Keith Urban.
Representatives for Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.

Steven Spielberg’s Next Film Will Be Bradley Cooper’s ‘American Sniper’

BREAKING: DreamWorks and Warner Bros will team on Steven Spielberg‘s next film American Sniper, with Bradley Cooper aboard to star in the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Cooper optioned the book himself, along with Andrew Lazar’s Mad Chance, and it has turned out to be quite a coup for the actor. Jason Hall (Paranoia) wrote the script and will executive produce, with Spielberg, Cooper, Lazar, and Peter Morgan producing. Kyle, an expert marksman who spread his love for weapons by teaching others how to shoot, was recently and tragically gunned down along with a pal by a fellow discharged vet they had taken to a Texas shooting range to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
The film is based on the book American Sniper: The Autobiography Of The Most Lethal Sniper In U.S. Military History by Kyle, Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice. The film chronicles Texas native Kyle’s journey from rodeo cowboy to SEAL Chief with the highest number of sniper kills in U.S. military history. The book spent 18 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and 13 weeks at No. 1. Cooper’s production company, 22nd & Indiana Pictures, optioned rights to the book a year ago with Lazar’s Mad Chance. Sheroum Kim overseeing for 22nd & Indiana and Jon Berg is overseeing for Warner Bros. DreamWorks’ Kristie Macosko Krieger and Adam Somner will produce for Spielberg. CAA and WME shared this big deal, with WME repping the book. Hall’s repped by CAA and Management 360.

Stars Share Memories of George Jones at Memorial Service

Alan JacksonPhoto Credit: Ray Tharaldson & Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Kenny Chesney, Charlie Daniels, Brad Paisley and Many Others Eulogize the Late Singer
Alan Jackson
George Jones' funeral at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville was a somber yet uplifting ceremony of music and remembrances of the Country Music Hall of Fame member who is widely considered the greatest country singer of all time.

Jones passed away Friday (April 26) at age of 81.

Numerous country stars, politicians and other celebrities were in attendance Thursday (May 2) to pay their respects to Jones and his wife Nancy. Some provided musical tributes while others offered eulogies and fond memories about the late singer's talent and friendships.

Tanya Tucker, Randy Travis, the the Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels, Travis Tritt, Barbara Mandrell, Kid Rock, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley, Ronnie Milsap, Kenny Chesney, Wynonna and Alan Jackson all spoke or performed a song in Jones' memory.

Also speaking were Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, former first lady Laura Bush and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The Rev. Mike Wilson, Jones' pastor, offered opening prayers and the ceremony's closing benediction.

Stars who did not take the stage but were in the audience for the event included Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Dierks Bentley, Trace Adkins, Jamey Johnson, Rodney Crowell, Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry, Bill Anderson, Marty Stuart, Little Jimmy Dickens, Joe Diffie, Bobby Bare, producer Buddy Cannon and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

Thousands of Jones' fans lined up hoping to secure a seat in the Opry House, filling the theater's upper deck and outer flanks after friends and family were allowed to take their seats closer to the stage.

Tucker opened the proceedings with a poem before giving the stage over to Gov. Haslam, who remarked about a trip he took to Tokyo, Japan, in which he found himself in the city's only "country bar" listening to the house band play George Jones covers. Jones was truly a worldwide star, he said.

Travis spoke in a shaky voice about playing a concert with Jones in which the elder demanded to take the stage first -- a common occurrence in Jones' later years of performing -- saying he "would have [paid] all those people to leave" rather than follow the star.

The Oak Ridge Boys spoke of trusting in God's word as they performed "Farther Along," then made way for Schieffer to take the podium. The Texas-born newsman has been a lifelong country music and George Jones fan.

  Photo by Ray Tharaldson all rights reserved 2013
"Nobody could sing like George Jones," Schieffer said, "You couldn't because you hadn't been through what he had been through."

Then Schieffer explained what it was that made Jones such a hero to his fans.

"I think it was the honesty in George's voice that gave it such universal appeal," Schieffer said. "He was as honest and open in his music as he was about himself. He knew what it was like to make a hard living -- the kind of job that some parts of your body are going to hurt when you go home that night. He knew about heartbreak, he knew about disappointment, he knew about betrayal. He was more than a country singer. He was a country song. And it was never an easy song. ... God made just one like him, but aren't we glad He did."

Daniels received a rousing applause after remarking that Jones refused to follow trends and fads in country music, staying true to himself and old-school country instead.

Throughout the event, speakers and performers did not shy away or lessen the truth of Jones' troubles during the '60s and '70s -- from his tendency to miss shows to his well-known love of drink.

Opry announcer Keith Bilbrey commented on such trials but reminded the crowd that Jones was an honest man and that "if he did it, he admitted it and he made it right."

Tritt offered the repeated refrain that all of Jones' friends, family and fans owed Jones' wife Nancy a debt of gratitude, crediting her with pulling him out of alcoholism and various other personal issues that most thought would eventually kill him.

Fighting back tears, Barbra Mandrell spoke of Jones as a kind and caring man who helped out younger artists whenever possible.

Kid Rock, who became close with Jones toward the end of his life and visited the singer in the hospital before he died, delivered a poignant speech, much of it directly to Nancy.

"Quite frankly, I know how difficult it can be to be with one of us," he said. "We give so much of our self to the people, to the fans, to the crowds and to the business that sometimes when you come home, it can be a little empty there because you don't have so much left to give. ... But no matter what we got of George Jones, [Nancy] got the best of him."

He then performed an original tune titled "Best of Me" that echoed the sentiment.

Vince Gill and Patty Loveless brought the Opry house to tears, partially for their soaring rendition of Gill's "Go Rest High on That Mountain" but mostly because Gill could not sing much of the song through his own crying. Loveless consoled the singer as he omitted one verse in favor of a guitar solo for lack of a voice.

"It is my belief that they don't make those shoes anymore," he said before the performance, referring to Jones' song about the changing times of country music, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes."

Former first lady Laura Bush remarked that Jones' voice had made an impression on countless Americans, herself included.

"Pain and Love," she said. "George Jones spoke of them both whenever he sang a note."

Paisley used his time onstage to encourage young people watching on TV to discover Jones if they hadn't already. He also spoke of the redemption Jones achieved in his life and what an inspiration it was for others.

Huckabee said that when he was younger, men were not supposed to cry. It was Jones' songs, he said, that did the crying on their behalf.

Kenny Chesney, who was clearly shaken, said he looked up to Jones like a father, while Wynonna contended that America had lost a national treasure.

But perhaps the most powerful speech of the night was not a speech at all. To close the ceremony, Jackson strode the microphone and seemed to will himself to get through Jones' signature song, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Forceful with the song's heartbreaking lyrics but with quivering lips, Jackson removed his cowboy hat as the Opry house joined him for the song's final line.

"We love you, George," was all that was left to say.