Comic Clichés, Part VIII: Dialogue and Plot Contrivances


All heroes will use all of these phrases at least once during the course of their careers:

  • “No! It can’t be! Not… you!”
  • “He’s stronger than I remember.”
  • “How can anyone so big move so fast?”
  • “Gotta move fast!”
  • “They/you may have started this fight, but I’m going to finish it!”
  • “There’s only one chance — a slim chance — but still a chance!”
  • “You’re going to have to do better than that!”
  • “I actually felt that!”
  • “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up!”
  • “This is one battle I have to fight alone.”
  • “Everything I touch, I destroy.”
  • “One last chance… got to summon my last ounce of power…”
  • “All this power… and yet I’m helpless…”
  • And many more…

All villains will use all of these phrases at least once during their supervillain careers:

  • “You!” (exclaimed as hero makes entrance)
  • “He’s only one man!”
  • “She’s only a woman!”
  • “It seems I underestimated you. That won’t happen again.”
  • “You dare mock me?!?”
  • “You will pay for that insult with your life!”
  • “Impossible! No one has ever survived that before!”
  • “You may have defeated my men, but now you face me!”
  • “Curse you!”
  • “What a shame that such beauty has to be destroyed.”
  • “How many times must I kill you…?”
  • “Again you interfere with my plans!”
  • And many more…

All deities, regardless of the era they’re from or the geographical location of their worshippers, speak a mangled form of Shakespearean English.

All African-American characters who hail “from the ‘hood” speak the language of the street, peppered with such words as “ain’t”, “nuttin'” and “bro.”

All foreign characters, especially those of Hispanic origin, will speak perfect English but pepper their speech with the occasional word recognized by most Americans, like graciasseñor, or por favor.

All French heroes, villains, and citizens talk “like zis,” with the “Z” sound replacing all the “th-” sounds in words, and the “I” sounds replaced by “EE” (“what is ze meaning of zees?”)

Heroes and villains must loudly declare their teammates’ full names until each character present has been introduced. They may then speak to each other like normal people. (e.g. “Thunderstrike, should Warhammer and I attack?” “No, Broadside, let Wavecrusher and Hyena-Man handle it!”)

Corollary: If the comic book stars the licensed likenesses of a popular line of toys of action figures, the likelihood of this “roll call” to happen in a given issue increases by a factor of 50.

Heroes and villains will invariably choose the middle of an intense fight as the time and place for a prolonged conversation about their philosophical differences, oblivious to the physical exertion that may prohibit such dialogue.

All superheroes in the deepest throes of despair can be brought out of it simply by a colleague or sidekick telling them to “snap out of it” and carry on.

Even when thinking to themselves, characters will offer expository thoughts about the people and things around them. (“Hey, it’s Lulu, the girl I’ve loved ever since we grew up in a small town together but I can’t tell her that because she’s engaged to my best friend, who doesn’t know I’m also the superhero he has sworn to destroy since he blames me for killing his father. What’s she doing here, since the last time we spoke she said she was going on a spiritual journey across western Tibet?”)

Heroes who were active during the Second World War always have a plausible reason for why they didn’t just fly to Berlin, grab Hitler, and deliver him gift-wrapped to Churchill and Roosevelt.

GL-fogHeroes who are otherwise invulnerable will always have precisely one weakness that renders them helpless: fire, the color yellow, pieces of their native planet, etc.

Corollary: Villains who scheme to trap them never think of JUST MAKING A BULLET OUT OF THE DAMN STUFF and ending it there.

In any case when the ultimate super-villain is about to destroy the planet/galaxy/universe/all of known existence, precisely one hero will make the ultimate sacrifice that will make it possible to defeat the villain.

Corollary: Said hero will likely never have been the star of his own book, nor ever will be.

Heroes will never be seen attending to the mundane portions of life: paying bills, cleaning the bathroom, washing the bloodstains out of their costumes, etc.

Corollary: Spider-Man is exempt from this when the plot requires him to find a way to make money to pay his rent.

Anyone who discovers the hero’s secret identity is doomed to one of several fates: (i) amnesia (ii) death or (iii) incurable insanity. Exceptions: spouses, other superheroes, terminally ill kids who can be trusted never to reveal a secret that’s worth millions to the right people.

Whenever a character is described as being “trapped in a world he never made,” no one will bring up the question: Is anyone ever trapped in a world they did make?

Whenever a super-strong hero catches several tons of debris in his two hands, he will always have two feet firmly planted on a floor that can withstand the pressure.

Businessmen, especially heads of multinational corporations, are evil. At least half of them are also underlings working for (i) other-dimensional demons, (ii) scheming alien overlords, or (iii) faceless, mysterious organizations cloaked in secrecy and dedicated to world domination.

All manhole covers are conveniently located when a quick escape is required.

Corollary #1: All manhole covers are light enough to lift so that any hero can just pick it up to peer through the crack.

Corollary #2: No cars ever drive on streets over manholes when heroes are climbing out of them or looking through them. Corollary #3:

Flagpoles, wires, and awnings also prove to be convenient when a falling hero needs a way to save him/herself.

In cases where the way to summon a hero is common knowledge, it will never occur to any villain to use it to get the drop on the hero.

In situations where a non-superpowered hero must face incredibly overwhelming odds, the hero will not consider calling it quits and getting a more powerful hero to save the day.

Corollary: In those moments when a hero DOES decide things are too hot to handle and calls the big guns, the more powerful heroes will be off planet or fighting a huge battle of their own, forcing the hero to gulp and make a “I’m humanity’s last hope” speech before saving the day.

Any time a villain dresses up as a superhero in order to frame him/her for a crime, the entire city — if not the world — will automatically assume the hero’s guilt, regardless of how many times he/she may have saved the world.

Corollary: The public’s quickness to condemn the hero is matched only by its quickness to forget the whole thing, once the villain’s nefarious deed is exposed.

The hero will always ignore the fact that a clue is a completely obvious trap, reasoning that walking into it is the only way to solve the case or catch the villain. (“You know it’s a trap.” “Yes, but I must go.”)

No matter how scantily clad or brazenly flirtatious they may be, female heroes never sleep around. It may be implied that some male heroes sleep around, but it must be clear that it is only because they are swashbuckling romantic types, and their romantic partners will never develop emotional attachments or feel used.


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