The Silver Surfer is ridiculous
Posted by Ron Edwards
A while back I posted at the Forge about playtesting Doctor Xaos, and came up with this little skit, now partly modified for excellence and context:
“Come on … the Silver Surfer? I mean, with a surfboard?”
“It’s so awesome. He was the herald of Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, but then he gave up the ability to skim the spaceways, man … for us! For Earth! He couldn’t be complicit in the slaughter and, and serve unfettered arrogant power any more. And now he’s trapped here. This is literature! Like Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Homer!”
“You’re serious. … Dude, he rides around on a flying surfboard.” (skims comic, doing impromptu vocal rendition of Wipe Out riff) “OK, the story’s pretty good, but -“
(beginning to squirt tears) “Are you not understanding? Do you not see the essential conflict, where the alien turns out to be the most human of us all? Where experiential indulgence meets its limits in the face of universal shared responsibility? How justice must be striven for, against all odds and despite all sacrifice? He, he even gave up his true love! As Norrin Rad, he loved Shalla Bal, and she him! And -“
“Wait, his name is … Rad? And his girlfriend is Shallow Ball?” (gives up, doubles over laughing)
“Give me that comic back! You’re not allowed to touch it any more! I hate you!”
The horrible thing is that I was able to compose the comics-fan dialogue effortlessly and had to stretch to reach the mind-set of the other guy.
In the game Doctor Xaos, this is why the Cheese Rule is specifically not called out to apply to anyone but the title character, most especially not to the lesser villain. When it comes to superhero/supervillain comics, there is no such thing as good vs. bad powers, good vs. bad justificaton, or good vs. bad genre concept. There is only engaging vs. worthless story content (I’m including both words and pictures in that), and that’s it. If the story content is engaging, and I do mean rock-solid, wow, I am on it, what happens next, then even the most absurd nonsense can get thrown in for powers, justification, or genre concept, and it does not detract.
Think about that for role-playing games.
- Presumed intrinsic coolness of powers/skills/whatever is a red herring, and I’m speaking as an 80s Champions jock when I say that.
- Justification of powers-concept is a red herring and I’m speaking as a lifelong devotee of science fiction when I say that.
- Setting is a red herring, and I’m speaking as a role-player with impeccable old-school 70s cred when I say that.
None of these generates that central engagement. What does? I believe I know, and this whole blog is pretty much my answer. I focus on the difference between (i) a powerful story in its entirety, when you’re done reading or viewing or hearing it, and (ii) powerful story components as they are encountered and as they change during reading or viewing or hearing it. Note as well my phrasing two paragraphs above, not “story,” but “story content,” because I want to focus on (ii).
That’s huge. That focus is mostly absent in my experience from all academic or analytical blithering about story engagement and content. They want to talk about the whole thing, whether before, frozen in the mind of The Brilliant Author or after, out there in the wild as Sociological Agent, whereas I want to talk about what it’s like to be encountering it now.
This is why I can even go beyond what I said above, when I say that absurd nonsense for powers, justification, or genre concept changes nothing – I want to revise that, to say, particularly absurd stuff can bring the powerful story content forward even more forcefully, even more engaging. There is no such thing as “suspension of disbelief.” There is only the success or failure of this exact sort of content.
He might have disavowed his assigned “Jolly Jack” tag, but there are reasons he’s called King Kirby, and this is one of them.
This too is why the Doctor Xaos game rules now say that the lesser villain player needs to be someone conversant with the rules, preferably through prior play, not, as I’d mistakenly written in a prior draft, someone who was intimately familiar with superhero comics. It’s a mechanics thing; I want the broader range of choices and the (Shakespearean! Tolstoy-ian! Rilly!) depths of those choices available without grappling with rules options.
Be ridiculous. You’re in good company:
Next: BONUS POST: The Black Panther(s), the Coal Tiger, and US
About Ron EdwardsGame author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor
Posted on March 29, 2015, in Heroics, Lesser is still great, Storytalk, Supers role-playing and tagged Cheese rule, cosmic zap, Doctor Xaos RPG, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Leo Tolstoy, Moebius, Silver Surfer, Stan Lee, suspension of disbelief fallacy, WIlliam Shakespeare, Wipe Out. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.