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Monday, May 27, 2013 

"Projection" is just not the way to go

Not too surprisingly, Busiek didn't take very kindly to my argument against panning the characters instead of how they were written to start with. I guess he hasn't yet gotten over my take on his apologia for irrational liberalism. I'm sorry to see he isn't going about this very well, and equally disappointed he and some the respondents continue to act as though Claremont, the very guy who created Gambit to begin with, is irrelevant to their misgivings about Gambit. The replies he wrote include stuff like:

Okay, some points now:
  • I never denied that something was rotten in Denmark, nor did I ever say he should "dislike" Lobdell as a person. I can understand if he and others in his profession wish to keep good relations with other fellow writers in the business, but it still doesn't mean they can't form an opinion on a particular writer's skills. Whether or not Lobdell is fine with criticism, the point is already made that under Lobdell's weak writing for X-Men, many embarrassing errors were made, and when Claremont returned and wrote X-Treme X-Men in 2001, he compounded the mistakes by turning Gambit back to into more of a thief again, suggesting he doesn't have much faith in his own creations.
  • If he or anyone else don't like Gambit as a comics character, do they also dislike him as a cartoon and computer game character? In one of the first animated series based on X-Men, Gambit became a cast member, his relative newness notwithstanding, and there were also a number of computer games made where he was prominently featured too. Given how awful his characterization has been, wouldn't his use in cartoons and video games be just as embarrassing?
  • On the subject of accents, I can most fully agree that Gambit's southern accent is a major annoyance and a low point in Claremont's use of "foreign" dialects. He may not be the only writer who's ever written characters with accents. But very few others have written theirs as heavily as Claremont's, whose accents have the weight of a Boeing 747. I own the first Marvel Masterworks archive of the X-Men's early appearances, and the Blob did not have as thick an accent when he first debuted in 1964 as he did later when Claremont and Byrne cast him in 1980's Days of Future Past. I know that some will overlook Rogue's accent because for a lady, it can be considered sexy (and in one story from William Messner-Loebs' run on the Flash, he had Wally West say something like that), but for a man like Gambit, it can be embarrassing.
  • Busiek still misses the elephant in the room: Gambit was - and probably still is - depicted as constantly dishonest with the other X-Men, yet they're depicted in turn as boomeranging back to letting him through the front door again, with no solid demands that he turn over a new leaf, reform, and help turn state evidence against both the Thieves and Assassins Guilds. I seem to recall that Gambit led both of those laughably named gangs during his first crummy ongoing solo book, yet did nothing to disband them. How is that setting a good example? And why is it wrong to change that if it's the product of bad writing efforts? 
  • There have been other cases of protagonists in comics with stereotypical depictions, including Ebony White in Will Eisner's Spirit strip and Chop-Chop from Blackhawk, whose appalling renditions were fixed later on (several years ago, Darwyn Cooke wrote a Spirit miniseries that depicted Ebony much more respectably), and Eisner also apologized for his original character design for Ebony. If it helps to repair those mistakes, why shouldn't it help to do the same with Gambit? Or is he singled out as an exception because he's white?
And the reason why I've taken up so strong a belief in criticizing the writers and not just the characters? It's because years ago, I too expressed dislike for a few characters, with the caveat being that I acted as though it always was the character's fault for their personality traits and such, and all but ignored the writers. It was after those two notorious "events", Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembed that I got to thinking and realized why I was making a mistake: because I realized that no matter what flaws the characters I dislike had (and yes, it included Gambit at the time), if I took out my anger on them, I'd be following the very same mentality used to attack even those who were denigrated for far less, like Hal Jordan, Elongated Man and Sue Dibny, the Atom and Jean Loring, Scarlet Witch, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson and even Spoiler.

That's why I changed my approach, and I'm glad I did. I'm not going by the juvenile mentality that believes everything will be solved by doing horrible things with various cast members of superhero universes instead of trying to find ways to repair what's considered a bad direction. Neal Adams may have once said "there are no bad characters, only bad writers." And he's right. That's exactly the position I subscribe to now. Over the past decade or so, I've witnessed some would-be readers being exceedingly negative towards specific characters on message forums, and I may even have a few back issues with lettercols featuring the same. Comics may have grown up, but what about the audience? This is exactly why comics culture has come to be seen as insular.

The idea of attacking characters who don't even exist is also known as "projection": the audience who've got a problem with Gambit may be let down by Claremont for putting the keys in the ignition, and at Lobdell and Nicieza for flooring the accelerator, yet they still focus almost exclusively on the character. Honestly, it's taking the easy way out, and lets the writers who inflicted what they consider a curse on their favorite pastimes get away with it.

In the end, I'll be fair here and say that of course Busiek doesn't have to script any character he doesn't like. But that doesn't mean he has to do it simply because he "dislikes" the characters. It's better to refrain if the editors are irreponsible and won't ensure that better characteristics remain in place.

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...how do you know you're not still "projecting" after all these years, if not at fictional characters than at the ones behind said characters?

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