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I'm Cathy Leamy, a Boston cartoonist and medical writer. Check out my comics! They're mainly about health care and autobio stories.

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Monday, March 7, 2005

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rage against the genre

I feel like the more of them I read, the less I enjoy stories that are explicitly flagged as "genre stories." Stories that stand on their own without needing a defining pigeonhole—I love reading those. But when they're specifically described as a genre story, they often feel to me like the focus is on running through a checklist of conventions rather than coming up with an original, engaging tale. "It's a genre story" comes off as an excuse for predictability and cliché.

Like if someone says "It's noir," then right off the bat I can tell you it'll probably have a city setting; a Dame; a criminal überboss with one or more henchman minibosses who will spar with the hero before the confrontation with the big boss; a protagonist who narrates every second, right down to moments of near-death like something out of Lovecraft; and one of the following plots: Retrieve my stolen thingy, retrieve my kidnapped woman, or somebody gets murdered.

I know a lot of people who really get into genre stories. They definitely have merit. But to me, the genre elements just feel so done before, so tired. Instead of getting excited about the detective meeting the dame, or the chosen one receiving the powerful relic, or whatever, I just end up rolling my eyes and checking off the mental checklist.

The ObComics angle to this is that my genre boredom is why I wasn't the biggest fan of the recent Madrox miniseries. I hate to say this because Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man is my all-time favorite X-character, hands down. Peter David's run on X-Factor was the one that got me into comics. Even Grant Morrison on scripts couldn't get me to buy X-Men regularly, but the minute a friend of mine mentions Madrox guest-starring? I'm shelling out cash. Shameless fangirl!

When I heard about Peter David getting the chance to write a Madrox miniseries, my heart turned over like a pancake. Sweet! His take on Madrox is novel and one that I can relate to: Having the potential to duplicate himself and send his dupes off to do anything in the world, Madrox can't decide what to do with his life, what direction to take. That touches a chord in me.

However, this limitless potential also makes him a candidate to be shoehorned into genre stories for the reason of "that's what he's trying this week." The Madrox miniseries had great characterization, inventive uses for Jamie's abilities, awesome moments of introspection ... and the checklist of predictable genre tropes. The dame, the henchman, mob baddies, guns and kissing, and the chatter of non-stop narration. I really wanted to get into the story more, but most of it felt like a retread of a dozen other stories I'd read before. Nothing felt new.

The miniseries had an open ending with the possibility of more stories in the future. I hope that Marvel's up for this, because I would love to see the character explored further but without the genre baggage, without the hackneyed checklist trappings. I'd like to see stories that are more about Jamie Madrox himself and less supernatural-noir that happens to have Jamie as the protagonist. Jamie love!

2 comments!     click to join in

1 Mister Wolf   (8:33pm - Mar 9, 2005)

You know, I love genre for EXACTLY the same reason you hate it.

I suppose it's a matter of variations on a theme. I like to see familiar stories told in different ways.

Not much else to say about that, tho'. I just like it.

2 Kitty   (8:39pm - Mar 9, 2005)

I think what it boils down to, for me, anyway, is liking a really good story or a really good character rather than the trappings. If people tell me about a book and the first thing they say is "it's a great genre story!", that flags to me that the atmosphere and the trappings are more important or prominent than the characters or the story. And that's just not my cup of tea.

And now WE FIGHT! :D

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