Comics Ate My Brain

April 18, 2007

Could, Would, Does, Part II: Evil Kids, Mismatched Moons, the Multiverse, and Green Lantern

Filed under: green lantern, meta, questions, star trek — Tom Bondurant @ 2:40 am
This weekend the Star Trek Remastered episode was “And The Children Shall Lead,” a … well, just a wretched episode that I think trumps even “Spock’s Brain” as the worst the Original Series offered.

It’s got a creepy premise — a research team commits suicide to keep a malevolent entity stranded on a distant planet, and their deaths leave their children vulnerable to being controlled by the entity itself — but wow, everyone acts like idiots. I mean, no one thinks to tackle scrawny Tommy Starnes as he makes his onanistic gestures? What’s worse, the kids can take over the Enterprise so easily because apparently they only need to control a half-dozen people. Never mind the other 420-odd, who are apparently fascinated by shiny objects and FreeCell. Oh, and shiny objects reminds me: daggers, Sulu? I wonder — would that long-desired Excelsior-centered spinoff have ever featured a story where the Captain was paralyzed because he thought his ship would be Ginsu’ed open?

Sheesh. I don’t even need to mention Melvin Belli’s sparkly muumuu.

As you can tell, “ATCSL” really tests my defense of the wild and wacky as harmless examples of the “Does” approach. It cries out to be rehabilitated. In fact, I couldn’t help but make connections between it and the plot of Star Trek V. Both feature eevil aliens manipulating the naive to bring them starships and spread their eevil throughout the galaxy, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to suppose that Gorgan, the Friendly Angel, is (appropriately enough) affiliated with ST5’s “God.” There’s probably a novel waiting to be written there, complete with flying daggers attacking Excelsior.

Of course, we could all just agree to forget “ATCSL,” much as Gene Roddenberry disavowed Star Trek V, but that raises a troubling question: once those disavowals start, where do they stop? Indeed, aren’t such disavowals the flip side of this whole Could, Would, Does structure? On one hand, the Does approach seems very fundamentalist, even dogmatic, in its suggestion that even the dopey stuff has value. On the other, though, a desire to justify every detail seems to lead inexorably to the Could and Would camps. I haven’t quite figured out how to graph the degrees of Could, Would, and Does, but apparently one can pass through the Does realm and end up in the Could.

This kind of analysis always reminds me of “Twin Peaks.” If you remember, the show made a big splash over its initial run of six or seven episodes in the spring of 1990. It then went on vacation for the summer and came back at the end of September — the very day, in fact, that “The Best Of Both Worlds, Part 2” premiered on my local station. Oh mais oui, many donuts and slices of cherry pie were consumed that night!

Ahem. So I was watching all the “first-season” episodes, looking for clues, and noticed that at the end of the first-season finale, when Cooper is shot, the Moon was in a particular phase. However, at the beginning of the second-season opener, which picked up immediately thereafter, the Moon had changed phases. Now, at first, I thought this was a clue, because who knew what was and wasn’t a clue at that point? The more I thought about it, though, the more I figured it was just a mistake — or, in a more sinister vein, a deliberate attempt by David Lynch & Co. to screw with his viewers’ heads. By the time I got to the troublesome logistics of X Files bees carrying virus-laden pollen, I was too tired of overthinking and just went with the flow.

I don’t like admitting that kind of thing, because it seems antithetical to the Could approach, and the Could is a fairly rational, if somewhat obsessive, middle ground between the fundamentalisms of the Does and Would viewpoints. I’m trying to see how far the Does approach will go, but as we have seen, the Does approach ultimately sank both “Twin Peaks” and The X Files. This is — not to put too fine a point on it — because the Does approach could also be shorthand for “making it up as you go along,” which both David Lynch and Chris Carter were doing after a while. Moreover, the cynical might well describe it as “the rubes will buy anything.” I stoppped watching “Lost” when I thought its writers were headed down the same path.

Accordingly, there’s a strong desire to temper the Does excesses with Could justifications. This becomes a problem when the Could-derived rules start limiting the Does-inspired possibilities. To bring this back to superheroes (thank goodness), I remember a few stories from the 1970s and early ’80s which tried to establish that various parallel Earths were twenty years ahead of each other, such that the Batman of Earth-2 was 20 years older than his Earth-1 counterpart, and the Earth-1 Batman was twenty years older than some other Bruce Wayne, etc. This was the premise for the very fine story “To Kill A Legend” in Detective Comics #500, but expanded to an ongoing rule of an infinite Multiverse, it’s too restrictive.

This may seem a little hypocritical, since I called the Multiverse a Could tool in the last post, but I think the difference is that the Multiverse expands storytelling possibilities, whereas rules defining it may tend to restrict those possibilities.

Take the Green Lantern mythology. A Green Lantern ring is a very Does-oriented device. The basic mechanics of the ring are also, I would argue, Does-oriented. The Guardians of the Universe use those big blue chess-club brains to generate green plasma for the Central Power Battery. The CPB then beams that energy all over the universe to thousands of individual power batteries, which in turn provide 24-hour recharges for individual rings. The setup may have been tweaked slightly since the Kyle Rayner era, but that’s pretty much it. It works for the kinds of stories appropriate to Green Lantern adventures.

However, it cries out to be rationalized and justified. What kind of nanotechnology is in the rings? How much of a charge do the individual batteries hold? Is the Central Battery like a cosmic cell-tower, beaming energy invisibly throughout all creation? Mustn’t that energy therefore travel faster than light? Couldn’t it be intercepted? These, I feel, are the kinds of questions around which Geoff Johns could construct the last GL epic anyone would ever need or want, involving Sinestro’s ultimate attempt to destroy his old masters by striking at the very supply lines of their power …

… but once Johns does that story, laying bare all the details of How The Rings Work, then every GL writer who follows Johns, and every GL fan, will be charged with that knowledge, and if anyone wants to change The Rules, he or she might be looking at another 5-part miniseries to explain the changes.

Instead, of course, Johns decided to continue the Kyle Rayner model and abolish the yellow impurity — ach! the only weakness that could crop up through a coloring error! — and, I think, the 24-hour rule as well. Not that the rings became more magical, mind you. Now they’re like super-tricorders, able to provide exposition at the slightest twitch of willpower. Additionally, now the Green Lanterns are more invested in procedure, thereby inviting fans to take notes for future nitpicking. There is a lot more jargon in Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps these days, which is not all bad, just … a little less swashbuckling.

I say that, and I’ve talked before about wanting the Green Lanterns to establish their jurisdictions more clearly, because in the Real World, they “Would” have to compete with local law enforcement….

Again, Could, Would, and Does all work together, and maybe with some more thought, I’ll start to figure out how.

Until next time–!


  1. I really hope Part III of this is on the way, Tom! Haven’t commented for a while, because you’ve inspired me to do a post of my own on this…it’ll be up shortly! Probably Tuesday.

    Comment by plok — April 29, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  2. Okay, maybe “Tuesday” was a bit ambitious…Still, it’s up now!

    Comment by plok — May 7, 2007 @ 10:25 am

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