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Thread: Week 48- Superhero Fights

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 48- Superhero Fights

    Itís Tuesday! I know a lot of you are sick and tired of the rain, but me, Iím ready for it. It doesnít rain that much where Iím atówe basically have a monsoon season, and weíre going to be entering it soon. Lots of rain, thunder, lightning, hail, flooding, and tree fires. My idea of a good time. And if it happens on a Tuesday? Even better!

    Weíve been talking a lot about superheroes. Remember at the outset, I said that weíd more than likely be here for a while. Iím just following through on that.

    Now, besides the soap opera that are the long-term superheroes, there is a single reason we come back, time and again. The fights! Thatís what weíre going to talk about this week. Superhero fights, and the tedium of writing something cool.

    (Steven, I read superheroes for a lot more than the fights.) No, you donít. Not really. You like your fights peppered with things such as drama and character arcs, but really, youíre there for the fights. These are adolescent power fantasies, remember, and the reason our characters have these strange abilities goes back to our two most basic responses: fight or flight. Whatís the point of a power fantasy if youíre not lording it over someone? You want to beat the ever-loving crap out of the bully who gave you an atomic wedgie, stole your lunch money, or embarrassed you in front of the entire school, including the pretty brunette youíve had your four eyes on since puberty.

    Your fantasies are violent. Superhero comics are violent. They can be no other way. The sooner you realize that, the better off youíll be. Actually, hereís what I want you to do. You know who Iím about to reference. Go watch the Spider-Man movies. Whenever heís in costume, fighting a villain, theyíre beating the snot out of each other. These movies are violent. The cartoons arenít as violent as the moviesótheyíve been sanitized because cartoons are seen as a childrenís medium here in the statesóbut the movies are deep with violence. Get used to that.

    Now, as writers, hell, as geeks, weíve probably never been in a fight that we won in our lives, if weíve had a fight at all. And you know what? Thatís okay. Fighting isnít glamorous, no matter how it looks in the comics and the movies. Youíd probably end up hurting yourself as much as the person youíre fighting, because you donít know how to hold your fist, throw a punch, or where and how to hit a person.

    Hand to hand combat doesnít have to be your forte, but you cannot rely on your artist to choreograph all of the fights youíre going to be going through. Let me say that again: you cannot rely on your artist to choreograph all of the fights. You have to be able to choreograph some of them yourself. This means you have to learn something about fighting.

    Hand to hand combat isnít as simple as most would believe. Not in the real world. A lot of it is stripped down and straightforward for comics, but when you start talking about things such as martial arts, the complexity of explanations go up. (Huh?) Donít worry. You know I like giving examples.

    Weíre going to talk about two heroes: Captain America [because you were expecting Spidey] (Caught me!) and Iron Fist.

    Letís put this in script form. To set the scene, Cap is fighting Wolverine [because Cap/Logan fights are always fun]. Weíll put this in the Danger Room, just because.

    Panel 1: Cap has his shield up, catching a raking blow from Wolvieís claws full on his shield.

    Panel 2: Cap has sidestepped Logan, and is throwing a punch with his shield arm. The punch has connected, hitting Logan in the side of the neck with the shield. This is a vicious blow, and it should look like it hurts.

    Panel 3: Close on the Logan, who looks enraged with pain. This isnít the berserker rage, but if you were a sane person, youíd back away quickly from the look in his eyes.

    See how simple and straightforward those are? Hand to hand combat. Like I said, stripped down and straightforward. Martial arts, however, can get complicated.

    If you happen to have an artist who has studied martial arts or who has worked on a martial arts book, then youíre in luck! You can relax just a bit, because theyíre going to help you a lot. But the likelihood of itÖI wouldnít hold my breath for that set of circumstances. Youíre going to have to learn some terms. Letís look at it first. Iron Fist, fighting Daredevil. This is in an alley, at night.

    Panel 1: Iron Fist is standing in a classic cat stance, left hand fisted and chambered, right hand extend and bladed. Daredevil is across from him, looking bloodied and bruised and definitely worse for wear, compared to the fresh-looking Fist. Daredevilís stance is a mirror of Fistís, but much sloppier. There isnít a lot of space between them.

    Panel 2: Iron Fist has closed the space with a reverse punch to DDís solar plexus, which has connected and has DD bent over.

    Panel 3: Fist has now spun backwards, doing a crouching sweep, knocking DD off his feet.

    Fun, right? Now, how many know these terms: cat stance, chamber, blade, reverse punch. A show of hands, please. Mm hm. As I thought. Not many of you. Nope, not going to explain it, because itís outside the scope of this column. But you know what you need to study when you create your martial artists. (What about you, huh? Are you just throwing these terms around, or do you know martial arts?) [Iíve studied martial arts, yes. I want to get back into it, but I lack the time and money. Besides, if I got back into it, I might not have time for this column.]

    Now, thatís just hand to hand combat, barely throwing punches. Thatís not really that complicated. The explanations can get a little deep when you extend the fight, but thatís to be expected. The real fun begins when you start using powers.

    Most powers are ranged attacks, meaning that they arenít up close and personal. Notice, I said most. Even your indirect powers, such as super strength, can be used to perform ranged attacks. The Hulk slapping his hands together to create a high wind, or a loud clap; the Thing tearing up the street in a wave; Superman using his super-breath [after eating garlic pizza!] to blow someone away. So, like I said, most powers are ranged attacks. Adding powers to a fight can be either simple or complex, depending on what you want to do.

    Now, when you start writing superpowered fights, your fights are going to be rather straightforward. Youíre going to have heroes beating directly on villains. Think of it like rapping. When you first start rapping, your rhymes are extremely simple, and you have no flow. Youíll have trouble coming up with rhymes on the fly, which will both sound good and make sense. (Steven, I donít listen to rap music. Itís crap.) Thatís fine. But you know at least one rap song, probably by heart. Thereís a huge difference between the Sugar Hill Gangís Rapperís Delight and any song by Eminem. Just as rap has evolved, so will your superpowered battles.

    Fights, when done well, can have as much drama as two people in a deep conversation. The best way to do this, however, is through the use of strategy and tactics. You cannot go into a superhero fight [especially a team fight] thinking that itís going to be simple and straightforward. Not if you want memorable fights. You have to think them through. They have to be a part of the storyline. When youíre plotting out the issue, plot out the fight, as well.

    What I want you to think about is a semi-complicated means to an end. Your opening salvo has to be able to mean a couple of different things, that only makes sense in retrospect. This, of course, is taking for granted that youíre writing an arc or limited series. If itís a single issue, straightforward fights are the way to go.

    During the arc, the fights should build up on each other. New information should be revealed/discovered/punched out with every skirmish. This will lead to the next fight, and the fight after that, until youíve reached the climatic final battle for all the marbles! A clash of titans, in a battle for the ages! (Overly dramatic much?)

    Another thing I want you to keep in mind when youíre plotting out your fights: the heroes cannot always win. This is especially true when youíre talking an arc, or if you want your villain to be a recurring character. Your hero doesnít necessarily have to lose, but they cannot decisively win. Not until the end of the arc. The reason? Youíre building drama.

    What drama is built if your hero can easily take out the villain? None. So you need to choreograph the fights in such a manner so that your hero either loses or doesnít win [and yes, there is a difference], they learn from their mistakes, and the next time they meet the villain, theyíre better prepared.

    Take Kurt Busiekís run on Thunderbolts. They didnít always win, but they always learnedóespecially after Hawkeye took over the team. You would do well to study the fights during his runs on that book.

    Remember when I said that you have to be something of a junior scientist when it comes to superheroes, because essentially youíre writing science fiction? That becomes most evident during fights or ways to overcome the villains. These fights need explanations, and those explanations need to be plausible within the extended realm of science fiction.

    Taking that a little further, powers, abilities, and actions generally need to be explained. Take Daredevil and his radar sense. It provides him with something akin to sight, and if you want to do something cool with it, you have to explain it. But you canít do it in laymanís terms. Oh, no. You have to be a little highbrow when you do it. Why? Because highbrow sounds so much cooler than an explanation in laymanís terms. And itís usually much shorter. Remember, space is premium in comics, and brevity rules.

    What Iím about to tell you right now is going to run counterintuitively to a lot of dialogue ďrulesĒ Iíve talked about. Ready for it? You can talk during fights.

    In a real-world fight, youíre not going to be saying much. Most real-world fights donít last longóless than a minute, generally. Why? Because most people arenít in any kind of physical shape to do more than throw a few punches. Reminds me of something that Chuck D of Public Enemy once said: See you running like roaches, black gangsters need track coaches. All that running and jumping and fantastic stuff you see in the movies? Itís bullshit. Most people are good for one sprint, and that sprint is going to be less than 100 yards. After that, theyíve got a stitch in their side, theyíre wheezing, their jaw is tight, and they feel like theyíre about to die. Thatís less than 100 yards. And in the movies, theyíre going for what seems like a long timeóespecially if theyíre trying to get away from someone. Itís bullshit.

    Now, do you notice them talking during these scenes? Nothing more than a basic ďCome on!Ē or somesuch. Or if theyíre trading blows, they donít even say that much. However, in superhero comics, you can be relatively long winded while fighting. Donít ask me why it works. I have no clue. It just does. Just go with it.

    Notice, I said ďrelativelyĒ long winded. Having someone leading a battle from the safety of the rear isnít what Iím talking about, nor is an internal monologue or a Narratorís voiceover. Iím talking about actual dialogue and thought balloons between the combatants. Heroes and villains are the most garrulous when fighting, but you still have to follow the basic rules when doing fight scenes. This is not the time to be quiet. Again, counterintuitively, fight scenes are one of the places where some talking is an expectation.

    The talking solves two problems at once. First, this is where you get to show off your junior scientist chops. You get to show off how smart/clever you are with applications of the heroís/villainís powers. You get to explain. Explanations are a staple of superhero comics, if not the true heart of them. (Huh? What about the characters and their stories? Again, I think youíve lost it.) [Remember when we started this, in the overview, I said that most people come up with a set of powers for their characters before they come up with anything else? For City of Heroes, an MMORPG, you set powers before you set up what your character looks like. More than likely, itís going to be like that when DC releases their MMORPG, and Iím expecting Champions to be the same when their MMORPG is released. Powers are first, and those powers need to be explained. Thus, explanations can be said to be the true heart of superhero comics.]

    The second problem is moving the story forward. The fight can definitely help to do this, because reveals can be done through exposition. Done even semi-decently, during a fight is the only real time you can do exposition and not have readers mind all that much. Like I said, youíre expected to explain during this time. Use it wisely. Itís very easy to go overboard here. Iím going to urge you to fight the compulsion. Explain what needs to be, when it needs to be, as well as help define your character. You have to be smart when doing this. It can go wrong very easily.

    Thatís really about it for now. For homework, I want you to start thinking about choreographing your fights, and incorporating the thoughts of your fights into your plotting.

    See you next week!



  2. Join Date
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    Yay! I knew the martial arts terms!

    And, Forby, I was ALWAYS good at free-style rapping. One time I did an entire plot summary of the Old man And The Sea in free-style rap. Made it up right there on the spot.

    The things we do to hold students' intrest. :sigh:

    But, I digress (often).

    Great article, as ever. And you're right. When I first started writing scripts, i treated fights as a means to an end, I've since come to realize that are both a means AND an end unto themselves. It's strengthened my storytelling, I can tell you.

    I found that practiing with short scripts really helped to gel that out.

    For example, I just did an 8 pager for the second issue of EARTHBOUND COMICS' anthology LADY FIGHT (shameless plug). Within those 8 pages I had to introduce my heroine, with her wind-based hurricane powers, and my villain, a humanoid-shark;have them fight, and rap it all up neatly. Suffice it so say, the fight HAD to be more than just a slug-fest, as I didn't have any panels to spare. The fight had to be entertaining, informative, and move the story along.

    That's not even mentioning the puns and JAWS references I "had" to work in!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  3. AdamH Guest

    Great column, great column topic. This one cannot get covered enough, there's been more than a few scripts I've personally come across where people don't think about choreographing fight.

    Authors either write a bunch of moving panels, or they write scenes showing characters twisted up like pretzels trying to get every cool fighting move they've seen on TV/movies in.

    Steven's right, if you're going to create a martial artist, or a hand to hand combat specialist, DO YOUR RESEARCH! And that might not always be watching fight scenes in a movie. Check out some martial art instruction videos or books. Check some TV shows on the science of fighting/martial arts.

    Another thing to be aware is your positioning. This holds true in normal scripting in fights, if you can't envision how the character's supposed to be positioned in your head, act it out. It seems silly but I've done more than once when working on my scripts. Too many times you'll see "Billy-bob is punching with his right arm while blocking a blow from the back with his left arm AND kicking someone to his left AND blocking another kick with his right leg" too much to show in one panel (99% of the time) and darn near impossible to execute (99% of the time).

    Fights I've seen go the other way from Stretch Armstrong posing to moving panels. One of the biggest fight scene moving panels I've seen someone describing their hero blocking someone stabbing at them then turning the attackers knife back on the attacker in...all in one panel. Showing off cool fight scenes is fine, but remember your panel is a static image.

    I try to be good about moving panels but I throw them in sometimes too. I'm tempted to give my fiancee a hammer that says "MOVING PANEL" on it and hit me in the hand whenever I write one (not really, that sounds terrible).

    Not trying to steal Steven's thunder here but I figured I'd add my own 2 cents based on my own (admittedly limited) knowledge.

    -Adam Hudson



  4. Join Date
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    Adam, did Forby PAY you to post that? We all know moving panels are his white whale!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  5. AdamH Guest


    I am in no way affiliated with Steven D Forbes Inc. Esq. LLC Limited aka Captain "No moving panels" Ahab.

    It's a pet peeve of mine as well as most written fight scenes I've read playing out like Stretch Armstrong vs Negative Stretch Armstrong (now with bendy evil mustache!)

    - Adam Hudson



  6. MartinBrandt Guest

    Great column once again. Research, preach that, people need to research. That is a reason the great writers always tell you, write what you know.

    As for real world fights, I can't remember the percentage, but most fights end up on the ground within 3 seconds. There is nothing fun or interesting to the average person there. It is like watching submission fighting on MMA. It gets boring. Who knew, the ninja turtles lied to us.

    Now I am going to go watch a Bruce Lee film to make up for this Kitty Norville book I just devoured. It's the werewolf parts, I swear.



  7. Sliverbane Guest

    Oh, reeaaally?

    Now, as writers, hell, as geeks, weíve probably never been in a fight that we won in our lives, if weíve had a fight at all. And you know what? Thatís okay. Fighting isnít glamorous, no matter how it looks in the comics and the movies. Youíd probably end up hurting yourself as much as the person youíre fighting, because you donít know how to hold your fist, throw a punch, or where and how to hit a person.
    Actually I had a lot of fights in school. And I won them all... Bwaa-ha-haaa! I even got suspended over the last one. He deserved it. :mad:

    Fun, right? Now, how many know these terms: cat stance, chamber, blade, reverse punch. A show of hands, please. Mm hm. As I thought. Not many of you. Nope, not going to explain it, because itís outside the scope of this column. But you know what you need to study when you create your martial artists. (What about you, huh? Are you just throwing these terms around, or do you know martial arts?) [Iíve studied martial arts, yes. I want to get back into it, but I lack the time and money. Besides, if I got back into it, I might not have time for this column.]
    I've read many books featuring hand-to-hand/grappling and swordplay. So the terms you used were familiar. Solar plexus...ouch... lol I read this one author that was OBSESSED with pain and inflicting fractured and broken bones to his cast of characters. I learned a lot about how a body can break. Example: Separated sternum from a round-house kick to the chest.... I was gasping just from reading that!


    Home work? I love fight choreography!! Bring it on!!



  8. StevenForbes Guest

    You're a violent, mess of a woman, you know that? Good thing I'm married, or else I'd be...intrigued.

    And Were-lock....riiiiiiiight...

    And for the record, I have many white whales. The biggest one of them all is the boring-fish. I'm surprised no one's noticed.



  9. Dungbeetle Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by MartinBrandt View Post
    As for real world fights, I can't remember the percentage, but most fights end up on the ground within 3 seconds. There is nothing fun or interesting to the average person there. It is like watching submission fighting on MMA. It gets boring. Who knew, the ninja turtles lied to us.
    MMA, particularly Cage Rage and UFC, only goes to the ground because people have, over time, found that Gracie Jujitsu is the best way to beat that particular system. When it started, you had accomplished martial artists coming in and trying their completely different disciplines on eachother. Now everyone fights BJJ because it's the easiest way to win inside the confines of the given rules. K1 is a Japanese kickboxing competition. They occasionally do K1 Dynamite which is the same kickboxers fighting under UFC rules, and those fights rarely go to the ground. It's a matter of what people are comfortable with. Considering here we're talking superheroes, even if we're talking powerless superheroes like Batmans and Punishers, they're still people who focus a lot of time on learning and preparting to fight. I don't consider myself a hard man but the last time I had a fight (over 5 years ago) I was trying to give this guy a hug and he kept trying to headbutt me in the knuckles, anyway, it didn't go to the ground.

    You can never watch too many kung fu flicks, but then again you have to remember that the older the better, as Chinese cinema, unsurprisingly, got tired of standard wushu movies and went into the more fantastical Ang Lee type stuff which, while spectacular, is more fairy tale than martial arts. Thailand is where it's at right now. I'd suggest anyone writing an ensemble piece watch those early UFC fights and see how the styles work against eachother, otherwise your comics will look odd, with a cast predominantly formed of white males, who somehow all bizarrely know Shaolin kung fu.

    One more thing to note is the different between old men fighting and young men fighting. Young men tend to punch eachother in the face more. Face hits hurt a bit and leave a mark but don't really do that much damage most of the time. That's kind of the point of hitting them. Even a broken nose is preferable to a broken limb.

    In my opinion, there aren't enough instances of characters standing on eachother's throats and groins in modern comics.

    I'm really giving my country a good name here, aren't I?



  10. JeffHaas Guest

    Great article, with a lot of important things to keep in mind for my next script. Now what did you mean by "chambered" ?

    ***ok, note to self...have someone else write your martial art fights***



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