The Next Best of the Best


The comics industry throughout its history has responded to popular genres in other media and tried to incorporate these genres into their publication lienup.  This for instance led to a heavy science fiction influence in the 1960s, which has influenced most of the most popular characters to this day of the big two publishers.  In the 1970s another genres garnered some interest - the martial arts genre, partially in response to the popularity of action movies from Asian countries.  Was this attempt really successful?  Well not really.  It did create some very popular characters - Iron Fist, Shang Chi, Bronze Tiger, and Richard Dragon - but the main drawback in my opinion is that what made the genre so popular on the silver screen was hard to replicate in comics.  The main issue here is the fight choreography, in that most of the movies have a choreographers, whereas the comics have only a writer and an artist.  There is also the matter of time and pacing as well, a lot of action can be packed into 5 seconds in the movies, but in comics these five seconds would require at least two pages of panels.  That being the case though there are still some comics which have become adept at displaying fight scenes but another drawback is in the characters themselves.  Take actor A versus actor B, they can get put into some plot where they are destined to an enticing battle at the end, and when the movie is over the same two actors can be recycled into a new story with a similar concept of plot without feeling reused.  In comics though this doesn't really function in the same way because of the re-use of the characters themselves.  When Connor Hawke beats the number one martial artist in the world then what is left for him to face next?  The number two fighter?  But he already beat the best?  Of course this leads to some confusion over ranking martial artists anyway, regardless of the plot, any real life martial artist will still have an off day when they are not considered the best.  What it also leads to is a lot of "best fighters in the world" who randomly show up and might feature in a few issues, but then they invariably disappear back into the darkness.  I can think of two cases where this has happened with Nightwing, two with Connor Hawke and one with Bronze Tiger that was a half issue length story, meaning the best in the world showed up on no more than twenty panels.  This lack of credible villains, which is both a problem with the characters and the medium, is really in my opinion why this genre will never be very successful even when the characters are well liked.  The best that can be done is to incorporate the genre into other stories, as stories with Batman and Daredevil have focused from time to time on martial arts, though not exclusively. 

Posted by SC

Woah, woah, this is an awesome blog! One of my favorites *eyes brighten up*  
To me, the main problem with martial arts in comics, is accuracy (lack of) and oversimplification, well there are lots of others, as you highlight, but I am trying to think of the ones, that the medium can actually overcome. In more fluid mediums like live action movies, and TV, anime so on, they do have advantages because of that fluidity, still.  
I find many more specialized and serious examples martial arts stories, treat martial arts like a mix of a science and art. There is a great emphasis on balance as well. As you mention, if a character beats the number one martial artist in the world, well then what? I feel the same way towards many other attributes as well which is why I hate when characters (in a shared universe filled with thousands of characters) have traits considered to be defining traits like being the strongest, smartest, most inspirational, most etc etc takes out the tension and excitement and the imagination and creativity of the character and surrounding characters.  
I think my favorite Martial Arts movie is still Once Upon a Time in China II and a large reason why is because of the balance and character interaction between the protagonist and the antagonist. Story worked hard to establish both characters as skilled and lethal and masterful. Woah, woah wait you think this genre will not be successful *gasp* I think you need to see the martial arts movies I recommended to you first...  
Anyway, in my opinion, comics can overcome the barriers it has here if the writers/artists are creative enough and willing and patient. First thing first is to stop having characters explain how this fighter knows 4000 styles of martial arts, and that guy over there who knows 4007 and so must obviously be superior and a lot of other similar tropes. Awwh haha cool blog!  
I think definitely the better a writer and artist work together will help this type of comic story as well. 

Posted by entropy_aegis

Chuck Dixon and Dennis O Neal would disagree.

Posted by ReVamp

I read this half an hour ago. Props Razzy.

Posted by OmegaAgent1

Glad you started this topic. How is it hard to replicate in comics? It's easier, write it and draw it and if it takes two pages fine. Action is one of the things we read comics for. It can be done shorter as well the fight doesn't have to have every detail, nothing else in comics does.

What happens after you beat the best, you beat him again. He or she is a villain they always come back. the next bad guy that wants to be the best you stop his evil plot and actions as well. What did Superman do after he beat Doomsday, he kept being Superman.

Lack of credible villains...really? Don't let the powers that be fool you. It's more than Lex Luthor roaming the underworld. Lex is the only one they want to use and boost up. That goes for the Joker, Superboy Prime and any of the other so called best bad guys. And don't let me leave out the good guys either. DC has other heroes who we want to read about. It doesn't have to be 12 Supermen. Bronze Tiger is one of those characters that is original and can be major if the just promote some change. DC is always accused of having to rely on legacy characters because they always force feed us blue soup and green ham.

Thanks for this blog your on top of it. I want to talk about this