OCs, brain slices, and the Midnighter

Image credit: ACO, DC Comics.

I quite enjoy creating characters. Some of them are for my own universes, some for existing universes — from comic books, games, movies, TV shows. In the latter case, the term “original character”, often called simply OC, is the usual nomenclature. The “original” is there to distinguish them from “canonical” characters. With the Mary Sue/Gary Stu accusations being rampant in writing circles, I used to worry a lot about their quality and originality, until I figured it made no sense to. They won’t ever be published anywhere and… they’re my power fantasies. Or my drama fantasies. They are a refuge from the emptiness of the Real World™, the shallowness of most real relationships, and an outlet for aspects of my personality. I often notice things about myself, about unexplained moods and the like, during the act of writing this fictional person to whom my little discomfort is the central theme. Creating them is a form of therapy to me.

I don’t know why I felt so embarrassed about this hobby until recently. (Actually, I do know — the Mary Sue debate.) If you dig into most pop culture characters, you’ll find they are their author’s power fantasies too. Aspects of their personalities, impersonations of current events that occupy their creators’ minds, avatars of people important to them. In the case of comic books, where the same character gets written by many different people in the span of many years (even decades), you can clearly see the reflection of the writer in each incarnation.

I won’t get into the whole Mary Sue/Gary Stu debate, not yet. Suffice to say, “aspects” is key here. I have little interest in re-creating myself in fictional worlds, maybe because the kind of person I am would simply not survive in, say, Skyrim, with all the asthma, myopia, and similar inadequacies. Or maybe because the fictional stories I like are a bit more dramatic than I would want my life to be. Tragic love is beautiful on the written page. Only. Regardless, I am of the opinion that an author can only ever create something that is part of them somehow. To what extent that is a “self-insert” is open to debate. Elsewhere.

There are a lot of common themes and tropes we see over and over again (that’s what they’re called tropes, after all). I don’t mind the repetition. If the story is well written and the character relatable, the piece of fiction is justified in its existence. After all, you can simplify absolutely any story into a small list of tropes — Hero’s Journey, anyone? There is a number of characters I’ve made in the span of several years, made folders and folders of notes about them, pictures reflecting their physical characteristics or events in their stories, poetry from various authors, only to find out that there was, somewhere out there, a very similar character. Sometimes the creation of another “hobbyist” such as myself, sometimes a famous piece of widely known stories. I had zero contact with them, yet somehow many aspects were similar.

This used to be disheartening — after all, if I ever publish anything with that character, nobody will believe I had no influence whatsoever from this other already-existing character. Not to mention it is a clear sign I’m actually pretty simple minded and have simple tastes, partaking in the same favored tropes of so many people. But now I find the whole affair fascinating. It shows how much everything does boil down to tropes, and how some tropes infect some forms of media more than others. It also gives me something to read/watch about a character that I already love, because they’re so similar to a brainchild of my own. It’s fun to compare the differences, and how the two characters would interact if their universes ever collided.

One such character only very recently came to my notice, with a backstory and name eerily reminiscent of one of my own mutants of the Marvel universe. I was in the process of reading the new Nightwing comic book series, Grayson. Not only Nightwing is one of the few DC Comics universe’s heroes I actually like, but this series makes him delve into one of my favorite genres — spy stories! Well, super spy stories, because they’re as unrealistic as can be — which suits me just fine. Thankfully, my suspension of disbelief skills have been honed to perfection and, honestly, I just love it when the incredibly powerful/intelligent/tragic hero saves the day after a long twilight of drama and hardship. I wasn’t disappointed with Grayson. The series is excellent, albeit not perfect — it is severely lacking in the villain department.

It wasn’t this new portrayal of a young adult Dick Grayson that sent me into a daze of “I must read all there is to read about this character”, however. It was this secondary character that made a guest appearance in a few volumes. A character that plays right into my love of tortured super-powered beings that don’t walk into freedom without a fair share of mental scars and scathing sarcasm: the Midnighter.

At first, I was simply extremely amused by his shining personality, his amazing leather-clad looks (fictional leather is vegan), and the name that sounded a lot like one of my OC’s. Then, I got disappointed when I noticed he wasn’t going to become a permanent cast member. I had never heard of him before, being very uninterested in the DC Comics universe as a rule, so I was delighted to learn he was not only part of a long-running series, but also had his very own spin-offs. I’ve caught up with most of his story so far, and I’m eagerly waiting for more on his own series. I’ll probably be talking about him again sometime.

Now, Midnighter has quite a few points where his similarities to my own character diverge. Yet he caught my eye immediately like I had seen my own OC come to life to dick around with Dick Grayson (I know, I know). Reading more into his story, he quickly became my favorite DC Comics character. Sorry, Nightwing. Unfortunately Stormwatch and The Authority, the series where he debuted, suffer from major issues when it comes to character development, story arcs and, once again, villains. Specially in the Authority I got the feeling the authors just shoved most of the group’s main members into the pages just so the team wouldn’t be too small to even be called a team. But this is a rant for another time.

Yes, it’s a bit sad that my own OCs will never come to life on that scale. It’s a bit of a downer that nearly none of my ideas are that original, maybe because of a lack of creativity or because I’m part of that “fanfiction fangirl” crowd that seems very homogeneous in its favored tropes. But coming across a similar character to one I’ve created has given me a lot of joy. Maybe simply because I want to see more and more of those tortured types. I may or may not have written extensive pieces of dialogue between the two of them, or analyses about putting Midnighter in the Marvel Universe, where he would have a chance of getting a much better story going on for him. Their similarities make me more aware of the themes I seem drawn to, and how appealing they are for so many people. Their differences enable me to still hold ownership of my own character and, even better, wonder how much furniture would be destroyed and skulls crushed if the two of them were to pair up against a common enemy.

P.S.: The image on the top is the cover of Midnighter #4 (2015). There are many things I want engraved on my tombstone (which is kinda funny since I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown wherever) and that image is one of them. Midnighter, with the Moscow Kremlin in the background (and a cemetery), holding a hammer and scythe. Blood on the snow, broken crosses, dead trees. Come to think of it, since I’ll be lacking a tombstone, I might as well just get it tattooed. The awesomeness is simply overwhelming. Oh yeah and Dick Grayson is there looking hot like he always does, kinda like cats.

Image credit: DC Comics.
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