Thursday, December 4, 2014
In Violation of the Man Rules?
So the other week I’m watching The Flash, and he’s up against some supervillain who can transform himself into living steel. This makes your typical superhero fight tough on Flash’s hands, even with those padded red gauntlets. He and the team of scientists he’s working with come up with a plan: if he hits the right amount of speed, comes in from like four miles away, and punches at just the right angle, he can knock the guy out. If any little thing goes wrong, of course, he could wind up badly injured, or dead. But now the bad guy’s captured his girlfriend, so if he can’t deliver the punch—
And I’m thinking, “Dude. You’re the Flash. You’re the Fastest Man Alive. Just run around the guy at superspeed and create a vacuum. Suck all the air out of his immediate vicinity. He passes out from oxygen deprivation and you win. You pal around with scientists. You’re a scientist. And nobody can figure this out?”
Guess not. He ends up punching the bad guy in the face so he can save the girl, because that’s how it’s done in comic books, and the action TV shows based on them. It’s how guys win fights.
Now Spider-Man is a different story. He has the proportionate strength of a spider, which makes him one powerful muthuh. If he punched a normal guy in the face, he’d probably kill the poor bugger. That’s why he uses his arachnid agility to dodge bank robbers’ gunfire and then trusses them up in his web. If he doesn’t punch a bank robber’s lights out (or smash his face in), nobody seems to mind.
Spidey is also, under the mask, Peter Parker, boy genius. On those occasions when his opponent is stronger than he is, Spidey has no trouble using his wits to win the day. If Spidey had super-speed, he would have used the vacuum trick to beat Steel Guy without a second’s hesitation. Spidey’s not only smarter than the Flash, he’s more practical. Spider-Man has figured out that simply punching the bad guy (and getting yourself flattened in the meantime) doesn’t always cut it. Again, nobody minds, because it’s Spider-Man.
I bring all this up because I’m hoping the ending of my latest WIP doesn’t alienate my audience. There’s a confrontation between Our Hero and a Bad Guy with no redeeming qualities. If Our Hero loses, the Bad Guy will kill the love interest. He’s made no secret of his intentions. Told you he had no redeeming qualities.
Just one little problem. These are shapeshifters. The hero’s a cougar and the bad guy’s a Bengal tiger. If the two of them stayed human it wouldn’t be a problem. Our Hero could pound the crap out of him. Unfortunately, the bad guy insists on keeping to his tiger form. Our Hero’s good, but his cougar’s just no match for a tiger in either size or muscle. As far as fighting him in human form, scratch that. Tarzan could kill lions with a full nelson, but first you’ve gotta grab the sucker, and a psycho tiger’s not going to just stand there while you set your hold. Our Hero left his gun at home and doesn’t have time to go back for it. Looks like he’s well and truly up the creek.
There is a solution, and I’ve already got it worked out. I’m just concerned I might be breaking the number-one rule of man fights here, by having my hero win by his wits instead of some physical skill. Because it always seems to come down to a physical battle, doesn’t it?
In a Western, it’s a gunfight. Fast draw wins. (In a Louis L’Amour Western fistfights are allowed, because L’Amour had been a boxer and knew what he was talking about.) Luke and Darth had a lightsaber battle. Harry Potter and Voldemort went at it with wands. Captain Kirk used to punch out damn near everybody. Sure, Spock used the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, but he wasn’t the hero. And my guy’s got … well …
To do him credit, he does briefly fight the tiger physically, just long enough to recognize he hasn’t got a prayer fighting that way. If he persists in following Man Fight rules he’s gonna get clawed into streamers, and where will that leave Our Heroine? So he has to do something outside the rules. In short, cheat.
I did something similar in another book. That hero was faced with a lose-lose proposition as orchestrated by the bad guy. He responded by tricking Enemy #2 into fighting Enemy #1, and letting both his enemies deal with each other while he cleaned out the attacking henchmen. He and the main bad guy never came face to face for a climactic battle. I was never really satisfied with that solution, but it was the only one I could come up with, given the corner I’d written myself into. Had the hero followed his natural impulses and just charged in, he most certainly would have been killed, and a lot of other people would have died nasty deaths as a result. Try explaining that to cheated readers, though.
My only excuse is that the heroine came up with the idea. Women are allowed to use their wits to win fights, since most of them aren’t Xena. Nobody thinks any less of them for, say, blowing up the bad guy with fireworks rather than challenging him to a sword fight (see: Mulan).
The guys, though, they’re pretty much stuck. They have to fight a superior opponent one-on-one. It’s practically written into the Constitution. So what if they’d lose in real life? This is fiction. In fiction, the hero always wins.
I want my guy to win, too. So forgive me if I tip the odds in his favor by having him be practical. He knows his limitations. He knows what’s at stake. He’s going to do whatever he can to keep Our Heroine safe. If that means out-thinking instead of out-punching the bad guy, then so be it.
I hope I don’t alienate too many readers or possible future readers with this choice. I just tell myself that somewhere, Spider-Man is giving a thumbs’-up.
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Quick coda: I just finished reading the last book in a young adult series. The hero fights the bad guy, but he doesn’t stop him. The series’ secondary bad guy has a change of heart, destroys the main bad guy, redeems himself, and dies a heroic death while the alleged hero just stands there. It’s like following Harry Potter for seven books and then Draco Malfoy defeats Voldemort. Pretty much of a letdown.
I guess this is necessary in middle grade/young adult fiction. By Book 5 the hero is only 16, and you can’t have 16-year-olds going around killing people, even megalomaniacal bad guys bent on total global destruction. It’s the same reason heroes of TV shows have their climactic fistfights on rooftops, so the bad guy can conveniently fall to his death. The hero must remain morally upright while still punching people in the face.
If this also holds true for romance, as I suspect it does, then I don’t feel so bad about my ending now. It lets Our Hero remain upright and true while still defeating the Bad Guy and defending Our Heroine. Though it would have been a lot easier if she’d just taken Our Hero’s gun and shot the son of a bitch. I don’t think that’s allowed either. It’d be interesting, though. Who wants to write it? Let me know what editors say, besides no. Writing is a fun profession.