Humor vs. Character: Death Match?

October 28th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,


The character responsible for Kyle disgusted lip-curl is Bueno Excellente, Garth Ennis’s Section 8character.  Bueno overcomes evil with the power of perversion.  Seriously.  A drugged sexual encounter between Kyle and Bueno is implied (although it is possible that Bueno managed to save Kyle), in the above panels.  Some people have said that, whichever scenario is implied, the above panels are a rape joke, and would have an effect of Kyle’s character.  Other people say that it was just a joke and not part of continuity.

(There’s also a ‘just a joke’ argument versus an ‘offensive’ argument.  Since that always comes up, I’ll briefly summarize my thoughts on the matter.  Phrasing something humorously doesn’t mean the central concept isn’t offensive, and if someone is tough enough to make jokes about sensitive subjects, they should be tough enough to take criticism.)

I haven’t seen Bueno in action, so I don’t know if the moment is out of character for him, but I imagine that this was just meant as a funny shout-out to another comic book, and not an important part of either character’s history.  (Unless Grant Morrison gets hold of it in 30 years.  Then it will be the basis for several whodunnit-type story-arcs.)  There are other moments scattered through comics that do the same thing.

Much was made of the Tamora Pierce (Edit: Jodi Picoult was the actual writer.  Thank you David Uzumeri.) Wonder Womanissue in which Wondy dropped an injured man she was carrying when he made a lascivious remark about her.  It was supposed to be a humorous beat, but many readers pointed out that it was an out-of-character move for Wonder Woman that could have had serious consequences.

Savant and Creote were introduced in Birds of Prey.  Savant was a computer genius who had no ability to judge time; he wouldn’t know if he had done something yesterday or a decade ago.  Creote was a Russian ultra-thug who, it was revealed, was gay and in love with Savant.  They were bad guys who were semi-redeemed over about forty issues, and then left the story.  About ten issues later, when the Birds need someone they can trust to take car of a young girl, Creote turned up in an apron with a feather duster under one arm, oven mitts on both hands and balancing what looked like a casserole dish.  The panel was a funny image, but Creote was established as a glowering tough guy who was indifferent to his surroundings; indifferent, in fact, to everything that wasn’t Savant.

Obviously, the skill, timing, and context of these moments influence how people take them, but so does personal taste.  Some people don’t mind a little out-of-character wackiness if it’s in service of an overall humorous tone.  Others don’t think its funny if it doesn’t feel right for the character.

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6 comments to “Humor vs. Character: Death Match?”

  1. I think that panel is actually from a later Hitman/JLA Special, so it’s definitely meant as an in-joke.

    That said, I think out-of-character humor is fine and dandy. I like drama in my comics and I like them in my movies. If there’s a bit of humor tossed into my drama, however, I don’t see a problem. You should be suspending your disbelief anyway, so go all the way!

  2. Hitman is one of my favorite comics (top 10? possibly? probably.), and that’s a good comic to use as an example of humor vs character. Basically, as in Hitman, the answer is “everything in moderation, and with a careful touch at all times.”

    Hitman’s a book that goes from wacky humor (zombie penguins, Section 8, throwing up on Batman’s shoes) to hard and deadly serious and back again. When it’s emotional, it’s extremely moving and heartbreaking. When it’s funny, zombie penguins get their heads lopped off by a guy with a chainsaw attached to his newly hand-less arm.

    I’ve of the mind that just about anything goes in corporate comics. The characters are flexible enough to support several interpretations, and have undoubtedly bounced back from worse than some irreverent jokes. Also, at this point, “out of character” is a term that’s getting harder and harder to define. Is it OOC for Detective Comics Batman? Or the overarching meta-Batman character, who exists in several cartoons, tv shows, comic books, novels, and other?

    So, if you’re in a book that’s appropriate for some funny jokes, have at it. Superman’s a boy scout, Batman’s got issues, blah blah blah. At the same time, ha ha humor out of nowhere in a serious book (such as Wonder Woman) or with a character not known for humor (Creote) is jarring and distracting, and really kinda dumb.

    I don’t have a hard, either/or answer. There’s a spectrum of appropriateness for humor vs character. In Hitman, since the level of humor has been established fairly high, you can get away with Section 8, Bueno Excelente, two guys making a “Cat Signal” out of a dead cat, and so on. However, in, say, Grant Morrison or Greg Rucka’s Bat-books, it’d stick out like a sore thumb and detract from the reading.

  3. Quick correction: That issue of Wonder Woman was Jodi Picoult, not Tamora Pierce.

  4. Bueno Excellente is a rapist.Is a Ennis character after all.
    And is a comedy character.
    Ennis hate Green Lantern so you could say that a rape is a sure bet.
    And is funny and I dont think you could say that is in continuity.
    Ennis dont write Superhero comics , he write Superhero parody comics.

  5. @David Uzumeri: Thanks!

  6. What David brothers said.

    And more so: humans (and by extension, characters that no matter what they look like, are based upon humans) are flexible and subject to ‘out of character moments’ themselves. People we would characterise as ‘humorless’ suddenly crack a fantastic dry joke in the office meeting. Tremendously patient people lose their cool. Dirty old pervs become protective of someone. I’d be sad to see anything less than that sort of flexibility in comic book characters.