So, I was reading a wrestling article today, and it pointed me to another site. This is a common practice — 411mania, my go-to site for wrestling news, often connects to other sites like ZergNet. (You’ve seen it before — the usual “Best of the Net” stuff at the bottom of some pages, before the comments.) It led me to a site called comicsalliance.com, which had, perhaps, one of the most genuinely moving articles about fiction I’ve read in a long time.
Now, I have almost never read comics in my life (except webcomics). When I was a kid, growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I liked the Transformers comics, but I remember literally nothing about them. When I think about it, however, that’s extremely odd, because in my entertainment, I almost always prefer great characters to great plot, and that’s what comic books are, at the end of the day — about great characters.
shameless rip-off touching homage to my sci-fi series, he mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I don’t know if we’ll see Angel later, or if even he realizes there’s virtually no way to make a sci-fi angle for that show, even with the whole time travel thing). He dislikes (inasmuch as he dislikes anything in the series) season six, and while I largely agree, I also think “Once More, With Feeling” is the greatest single episode of the show. Why? Yes, it’s about seeing talented people sing incredibly well, but it’s more for a single moment — when Buffy sings out “I was in heaven” and it is so discordant with the rest of the songs… as it should be. Lots and lots of horrible, horrible things happen as a consequence of bringing her back from the dead (this particular time, at any rate), but her friends justify it by claiming they saved her from eternal torment. This is entirely in keeping with their characters.
When they find out she was in heaven instead of hell… the reactions, for me, are the absolute high point of the series, and it’s because the characters have been so well built that this shock is real. We, the audience, know where she was — it’s revealed in an earlier episode — and she keeps it to herself because she knows with absolute certainty that it would destroy her friends. And it does. That’s the climax of the entire series for me — nothing is ever the same afterwards. The characters adapt to the knowledge, but they react in varying ways.
Now, the plot of Buffy is sometimes incredibly silly — any show of that length is bound to have some. The characters keep you coming back. The logical extreme of “characters first” is comic books — but there’s also a medium that might not occur to you right away: pro wrestling.
Pro wrestling is about athleticism, too, but there are incredibly athletic and exciting wrestlers that never, to use the phrase, “draw a dime.” If you aren’t already a pro wrestling fan, you won’t watch Japanese wrestling. (I don’t often, but when I do, I’m always amazed.) You MIGHT watch something like CZW (Combat Zone Wrestling) or Japanese deathmatches if you’re a horrible person. Picture the obviously gimmicked tables in WWE (which are usually plywood) and replace them with actual pine/oak. They use thumb tacks, florescent light tubes, fucking land mines for Christ’s sake (and I am NOT making them up, although they’re a good deal weaker than real mines) or, for the most extreme brutality imaginable, replace the ring ropes with barbed wire. If you genuinely think wrestling is fake (as opposed to staged), watch one of those matches.
Yet the most compelling characters, the ones who break out into the mainstream (Hulk Hogan, the Rock, Stone Cold, and John Cena) are inevitably those with the best characters, even when that means they aren’t great athletes. And that’s fine, because at the end of the day, great matches are for the hardcore fans. Great characters are for everybody else.