5 Simple Characters Ruined By Awful Attempts At Backstories
When you've struck gold with a simple, engaging character, you start the balancing act of keeping them interesting while not changing too much of what people originally liked about them. And this rarely works out because 99 percent of all ideas are bad, and too often, those are the ideas that burst through your mental flood gates and come leaking out of you. So every once in a while, someone will invent a character that is ultra awesome, and then the creator will think, "This needs more." And ruin the whole fucking thing. For instance...
Rob Zombie Could Not Stop Giving Michael Myers A Backstory
When Rob Zombie decided to remake the slasher movie classic Halloween, he did away with the simple origin story of "Boy kills person. Boy escapes mental institution. Boy kills waaaay more people." In its place, he decided that bullying and a terrible home life were the reasons that Michael Myers should start drastically lowering the census count of Illinois. And I don't have a problem with this. Around the time this movie came out, we were up to our poorly trimmed facial hair in bad horror remakes. Compared to the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Fog, Rob Zombie's Halloween is a boner pill of cinematic redemption.
And then Rob Zombie made a Halloween 2 (or "H2" as some of the early posters read, in an attempt to fill the acronym-shaped void in horror that only the Halloween 2 marketing department was aware of), and he gave Michael Myers even more motivation. This time, Myers was being driven to kill by his ghost mom, who had returned from the dead to tell him to go do stuff with "rivers of blood" and other things that make you want to smother the script in its sleep. But again, I don't have a huge problem with it. Halloween 2 is bizarre, daring, and stupid, and I would take bizarre, daring, and stupid over anything that the Halloween series produced in the entirety of the 90s.
"Hey guys. 1994 here. Just makin' sure that we're still good."
AND THEN, Rob Zombie made a special version of his fourth solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, which you don't need to listen to the first Hellbilly Deluxe to not enjoy. And on that album, he gave us even more backstory for Michael Myers, with a song called "Michael." It's an industrial metal song tune from the point of view of Michael Myers, 'cause Rob Zombie gonna Rob Zombie, and hoo, boy, is it terrible.
I don't want to say that the universe doesn't need a song where Rob Zombie groans the internal monologue of a murderer from a horror movie that he remade, because I can't see the future. I don't know what "Michael" has to offer future generations, and if it's meant to be the point in time that humanity eventually looks back on and says "Yeah, that's where shit started to turn," I don't want to wish it away. However, if we're talking about whether the character of Michael Myers specifically needs it, I feel like I can pretty definitely say that no, Michael Myers does not benefit from "I dream pitch black. Sleep of misery."
Now, in Rob Zombie's Halloween movies, Michael Myers only says one word: "DIE!", which he yells as he's stabbing someone. That's fitting. If I were a seven-foot-tall, unkillable redneck, that's probably what I'd go with as well. But it's odd that Michael Myers' thoughts are emo band first drafts. "Pain inside my head. The hell I'm forced to live." I don't know, man. Bullets don't hurt you, your dead mom is back to hang out, and you obviously enjoy your hobbies. I'm not quite sure that I buy that you're so unhappy. Maybe instead of "DIE!" you should've gone with something like "Taking Back Sunday's early work really spoke to me."
That's a man with a lot of opinions about post-2003 Brand New.
Boba Fett Has Apparently Read Corinthians
Boba Fett is the template for how you create a mysterious character that people can get behind. He barely says anything, you don't know about his real motivations other than the fact that he digs money and not dying, and when he gets beaten, it's due to a fluke. He had his wrist laser thing pointed at Luke, but blind ass Han Solo hit him in the backpack with a spear. If it hadn't been for that mishap, Boba would've been tossing people left and right like it was a Tatooine Royal Rumble. I wrote so much fan fiction about Boba Fett in middle school that I'm surprised that I'm still not repeating sixth grade.
My interest in Boba Fett actually led me to start buying any Star Wars novel that had his mask on it, thus leading me to buy Star Wars novels in general, thus leading me to have a very limited friend group at scout camp. And the piece de resistance of these novels was Tales of the Bounty Hunters, which had all of the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back on the cover, including a Dengar that wishes he could be anywhere else.
"Please, stop. I do not wish to Star Wars anymore."
As it turns out, all Boba Fett needed was a few more seconds of lingering screen time in the original trilogy, because the Fett found in Tales refuses to shut the fuck up. He doesn't not shut the fuck up at Jar Jar Binks levels, but compared to his 28 words of dialogue in the movies, him abruptly asking a guy in the middle of a bounty hunt "Does your conscience ever bother you?" is jarring. Tales feels like it was written to appease the one parent in the 1983 audience of Return of the Jedi who asked "WHO'S HE?!?" when Fett came on screen.
IS THAT DARK VADEN?
It all comes to a head when we finally see what Princess Leia was doing after she got caught by Jabba the Hutt, but before she strangled Jabba to death. Turns out, she was given to Fett as a gift to have sex with, which is a nice answer to the question "What could possibly ruin the magic of Star Wars?" Boba Fett refuses to touch her, though, as he and Leia agree that rape is bad. And good for him. He may talk too much, but at least he's not the literal worst. But before that, he says "Sex between those not married is immoral." You know, just in case Sunday School teachers needed some kind of affirmation from a fictional space mercenary.
Why add that? Boba Fett nods in Return of the Jedi. That's all we get as to hints of his personality in that movie, and now, it's revealed that he can't get two sentences deep into a conversation with an enemy without outlining his Judeo-Christian values. He couldn't leave that one inside the old brain space? Why not just tell her that you shouldn't covet your neighbor's possessions while you're at it, Boba? Oh, you basically do? You dive into a screaming rant about hating Han Solo because Han Solo was a smuggler? Oh shit! That definitely sounds like the Boba Fett I know. Quiet, composed, dangerous, and deeply committed to yelling the Ten Commandments at strangers.
No Fictional Character Has Been Ruined More Than WWE's Kane
Imagine, for a second, that it's 1997. You're watching the Undertaker -- an undead wizard whose special power is flipping someone upside down and then tripping -- fight Shawn Michaels, whose special power around that time period is cocaine. For months, though, you've been warned about the incoming danger of the Undertaker's long-lost brother, Kane, who was supposedly killed in a fire. And, then, suddenly, Kane shows up, dressed in red pajamas with biceps that are larger than most 1997 computer monitors. Kane flips Undertaker upside down and trips, and boom. You've never been more excited about anything in your life.
In pro wrestling, doing someone's finishing move on them is equivalent to murdering a loved one.
And now, for a second, imagine that it's 2017, and you've watched Kane go through a love triangle,
...go through a story where he was accused of sexually assaulting a corpse,
...has his mask removed to prove that he's not really scarred,
...go through a wedding/pregnancy storyline where it's hinted that he sexually assaulted a real person,
...has to face an imposter Kane,
...has to go through anger management,
...and finally starts walking around in business attire and being the henchman of seemingly anyone who asks.
I get it. Characters grow and change. Most of pro wrestling's most famous performers evolved in questionable, baffling strokes. But Kane hasn't so much evolved as he's simply been plugged into things that would be better suited for other wrestlers. He's a giant that can shoot fire out of the ring posts. There's a ton of stuff that you can do with that. Any storyline that needs some monster character for an underdog to overcome would benefit from having Kane there. But there are a bunch of other steroid acrobats that would do much better in roles that have them being sad because someone that used to kiss them is now kissing someone else.
Keeping up the mystique of a character over 20 years is nearly impossible, so you need to make some adjustments. It's just hard to hear "OH MY GOD, IT'S THE BIG RED MACHINE KANE. WHAT HELL WILL HE DELIVER? HOW CAN ANYONE STOP HIM?" without thinking "Well, you could just break up with him. That seems to do the trick."
Badass Pokemon Mewtwo Had His Motivation Killed Off
A lot of Pokemon have the backstory of "It's a Pokemon. There. Now catch all of them." But not Mewtwo. Mewtwo was invented by scientists in a lab. And when they were raising him, they mistreated him, because a grand theme of Pokemon is "Science is bad, unless you're doing it." Mewtwo would eventually escape and in the games, he sits by himself in the depths of a dungeon, waiting for somebody to try and fuck with him. And in the anime, he rebels against humans and tries to destroy the world until Pikachu and Ash convince him that that wouldn't be so great.
It's a simple story: Man-made monster learns that annihilating man won't solve anything. It's also a story that's so vague that one could easily pad it out with useless stuff. "What's that you say?" the Anime Genre asked. "Pad it out with useless stuff? GLAD TO."
"Have it involve a friendship with a child? WELL, IF YOU SAY SO."
And so the origin story was expanded to give Mewtwo some childhood friends, including a human clone that he communicated telepathically with. See, the human clone was made from the deceased daughter of the lead scientist on the Mewtwo project, which is a special, vicious kind of unnecessary.
Mewtwo is enraged at humans because he doesn't understand them. All they've given him is pain, and now they're all like "Please, don't burn us alive." Bullshit. Enjoy your inescapable inferno. But giving him a kid pal that teaches him about the value of happiness kind of undermines the whole thing. His whole "Humans are a race that should be eradicated" argument falls flat when his imprinting was done with the kindest human ever. My dog is going to hate vacuum cleaners until I can go back in time to his birth and say "Elmer, meet your new brother, Loud Hell Machine From The Closet."
And in a while, we can introduce you to your other brother, Dog That Looks A Lot Like A Pigeon
And then Mewtwo gets his memory halfway erased, but the audience doesn't, which removes all of the stakes from the story. You're supposed to worry about whether or not Mewtwo will change. Now, you realize that all it will take is a couple of conversations about friendship and he'll be back on Team Don't Kill Us again.
Just Leave The Joker Alone, Guys
I read the novel adaptation for The Dark Knight movie, and they include an expansion of the scene where the Joker is standing on the street, waiting to be picked up for his big bank heist. He sees a lady and imagines pushing her in front of a car, but then... he gives her a hundred-dollar bill. So crazy, am I right? What will he do next? Think about something else and then not do it? That would be chaos!
What kooky things will this jokester not do next?
But that's been part of the problem with the Joker since the 70s. The day that writers learned that they could just throw character attributes and history at the Joker with no worries because they could say that it was a whacky Joker lie later was the day that the Joker became the comic medium's most misused character. The Batman movies don't usually fall prey to this, because they have a mission to put a bow on the story. Heath Ledger tells stories about his scars, but they're not there to give us things to disprove later. They add to his character as a lunatic that likes to watch people squirm in his presence. Even if Ledger had survived, we'd never be subjected to a scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Batman says "Nope, that never happened. Read your files, and you know what? You're a big ol' liar. That's what you are."
But comics and video games can't stop adding more and more to the dude's backstory. In Batman: Arkham Origins, you're tricked into thinking that Joker won't even be in the game before, surprise, he's the main villain! And he's secretly been the main villain the whole time! All of these other villains don't even matter anymore, because now we get to sit through another Joker origin retelling. It was so great to play the inventive, unique Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games, so that I could eventually play through a story that's been tired since it was inflicted upon Jack Nicholson.
Thought you were going to get a new look at the Batman mythos? Tricked you again!
I don't believe that the Joker is better when he's origin-less. The Dark Knight was one interpretation of the character. But when I read something like Batman: Endgame, where it's hinted that the Joker has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years, and that he's suddenly not the reaction to Batman's war on crime, or that there's multiple Jokers roaming the earth, it becomes tiresome. In The Killing Joke comic, the Joker says that he prefers his backstory to be "multiple choice," but it's gone from a fun mystery to a nightmare's idea of a fan theory.
Most Batman characters have gone through numerous origins. Batman's first origin tale basically told us that he cried, looked at a test tube, worked on his back muscles and then started fighting crime.
The bat thing was just as important as the test-tube thing.
But since a guy once wrote the Joker as having a few different possibilities for his origin, we now can't stop going back to it. And there are so many better stories to tell than once again covering how Clownman got his clown powers. For example, how has he affected the sales of purple suits in Gotham? There's gotta be some kind of economic backlash. C'mon, comics people. Give the readers what they want.
Daniel has a blog.
It's Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it's a chore to wonder if there's even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month's live podcast Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.
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