Enough with the fighting already!

As Morrissey might have crooned, “Some issues are better than others.”  I have been pretty good about my comics; I have been reading most of them before the Pick of the Week Podcast, and I feel like I am pretty much rolling along, happily, with what is going on in the comics scene. As I bask in this feeling of being content with my content, I have had some time to notice a few things that have lead to me thinking, “Well, that was one way to spend $2.99.”

The thing that has nagged me the most often is that use of “the fight” as a way of filling pages. Sometimes the use of some kind of explosive fight scene reminds me of when I would use a 13 point font instead of a 12 point font to make my school report go up a page or so.  It just seems like filler sometimes. Other times it’s even worse, it’s a way to draw to a close an otherwise pretty good story.  In the end, it just seems to me that if a plot relies on some kind of superhero battle to end it, it is just not going to be that fulfilling more often than not.

Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t necessarily get all excited about big time comic book fights. I think I might have awhile ago, but since no one really dies in comics (for the most part), the stake are just lower than they used to be when I didn’t know any better. I always liken this to the big battle at the end of The Phantom Menace, when we were treated to a battle between the evil clones and Jar-Jar guys.  (I hated that movie and I refuse to waste memory cycles trying to remember the name of the race.) We were just basically watching pixels hit other pixels and it was a huge yawnfest.  Yes, comic book battles are better than that,for the most part, maybe audiences really do like them, I have no idea. I suppose that the fight scene is the cornerstone of most superhero books, and there has to be a certain thrill for the creators to plot out better and better battles but in the end, what do we have? Crime was not committed, damsel saved, bomb averted–good.  These are good things.  But after a few hundred times, I have to work a bit to care.  

And maybe that’s just me being callous and not a particularly good audience member, but let me hasten to add that there are plenty of comic book fights that make an impact, but it’s usually because the impact of the fight was less on the characters jaw and more on his or her psyche.  The battles between Daredevil and Kingpin, especially toward the end of Bendis and Maleev’s run, they kind of struck me that way. Batman and Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, totally. But when I think about it, I am almost at the point where I find an argument more engaging than a fistfight, but maybe that’s more about me than the story.

The timing of a fight scene is very important. Look at Spider-Woman #1.  There is a ton of stuff that happens to Jessica’s character throughout the book, news and revelations that take her to the other side of the world, that make her re-examine what she is doing with her life. The battle with the Skrull Spidey at the end serves not only as a representation of the end of her new life, but, obviously, kicks off  a whole new chapter, a whole new responsibility, in her life.  She loses control, she kills this Skrull with her fists and her powers and, finally, is able to feel the pain from her fall, and, in a way, starts to feel again.  This is the kind of fight that means something.

And look at Amazing Spider-Man #606, how Spidey’s luck starts frizzing out because of his close proximity to Black Cat. The fight with Diablo is just an aspect of the story, but it serves to bring the two characters even closer together and physicalizes Peter’s inability to think clearly when he’s around his ex-girlfriend (I am a huge fan of this storyline, by the way).  Again, it’s the results of the battle (check out Fantastic Four #571, where we tune it at the end of a bunch of Reeds taking down Galactus) that resonate more with me than the actual fight itself. The battle moves the story along, rather than summing it up.

I was pretty much totally into Wolverine: Old Man Logan, but was scared that the whole thing would end up with some lame ass fight, and, well, I was right. We all were. Perhaps we had no choice but to have the big showdown, Western-style, at the very end, but I was disappointed. Yes, it was cool to see the Hulk so big and boy oh boy was I curious about the eating, but seriously, after seeing Wolverine suffer the results of an explosion that literally burned him to the bone in Civil War (which was lame), I just kind of assumed that he would somehow reform back and cut through the Hulk later on. Of course, we are just supposed to assume that the Hulk is truly dead even though he has the regenerating powers, blah blah blah–why not burn the Hulk to death and really nail it?  What do we get from this kind of fight? Revenge! The ultimate word in the second time we see the ultimate fight between Hulk and Wolverine.  So what?

We’ve seen the big battle end a story time and time again. Look at Secret Invasion.  I mean, heck, look at Star Wars. For some stories, when we have a complete vested interest in our protagonist’s struggles (or team of protagonists)–usually we are more vested when we lose a character that we had grown close to–then we expect a great battle sequence at the end, and we feel some kind of emotional resolution that supports the plot resolution in a satisfying way.  With Old Man Logan, I get it, I know that the last issue had no choice but to be a kind of Kill Bill revenge story, but, for some reason, I just wanted something different.

But then there are just the fight sequences that just take up space. We’ve all seen comic where there’s some fight sequence, usually with a 2 page spread, that hopefully looks nice, but does nothing, really, for the story.  I had this issue with the Manhunter story in the most recent Batman: Streets of Gotham. They resolved the plot with the skinless lady (a character that find impossible to take seriously… gimme a break, really) and then the Manhunter breaks up a robbery with The Huntress for a few pages, and then goes back to her day job.  Like, really? We needed that fight?  Boring! Boring! Boring!  

During the most recent Pick of the Week Podcast, the guys discussed why publishers will tend to release updated “Origin” stories every five years or so, the thinking being that readers tend to drop out after five years or so. Perhaps that’s what I am hitting? It’s been about 9 years since I started reading comics full time, and perhaps I am just picking up on a kind of classic crutch that creators will use to get through an issue.  Or perhaps my taste is changing. Because the thing is, after awhile, these fights become theater to me–fun theater, fine stuff, but after awhile, I find myself wondering more about the people who have to clean up after a superhero fight than the superheroes themselves.

I don’t mean to be overly negative and freely admit that this might be my own little problem, but I am curious as to how many of you out there have read through a fight scene, just jumping from text balloon to text balloon to get through the pages because the fight itself is just uninteresting just getting in the way of a more compelling storyline. Or am I just cherry-picking a few bad examples? I will still read superhero comics, but I think I am noticing that I care much more about the emotional battles than the standard villain-of-the-month variety.  

Mike Romo is a lover, not a fighter, baby. He exists as rikemomo on twitter or you can email him here.


  1. Thanks for the article!  I believe I have found out why Jeff Loeb’s Hulk is so disapointing to me.

  2. I completely agree. I hate it when I go buy a comic, and I pretty much just end up flipping through it and I’m done. Dont get me wrong, fights in comics are great, but they need to be scaled back from what many comics have them as. This said, I dont want a really wordy comic either. Regardless of the comic, looking at a page that has twenty completly filled word ballons makes me not really want pick that one up just because it looks like it’d take a longer time to read and understand. Comics need  to have a good mix between the two. Just enough fighting and just enough story. Its hard to find a good balance, but some really great comics do.

  3. You hit an awesome idea for a comic or a movie or something with that point about wondering about the people who have to clean up after superhero battles. I would love to read about that!

  4. @SteenAR: There was already a comic about that from Marvel called Damage Control. There were three four issue minis.

  5. @conor-I was always intrigued by the idea of Damage Control, but never got around to reading any, except for their part in the mostly bad Wolvie tie-in to Civil War.  Were they any good??

  6. @MisterJ: It’s been almost 20 years since I read them so It’s hard to give a definitive statement on their quality. I seem to remember that it was played hurmorously.

  7. @conor-oh, well that’s a shame that they went that way with it, but I can see them going in that direction during that time period.  Just not my cup of tea

    Anyway, thanks for the heads up

  8. awesome! i’ll have to check those out. thanks.


  9. And you just stated the reason I was apprehensive about getting into superhero comics. This website changed that though.

    Anyway, fight scenes for me are dependant on the artisit. If Its Quitely or Ottley, I’ll take in each panel. If its chaykin, not so much. Again if you don’t like OTT action scenes, you’re reading tye wrong genre.

    One trope I really hate though is the “cliffhanger with the bupkes payoff.” its tied more to the medium than a genre though.

  10. I like watching violence. Especially choreographed violence. Violence is great.

  11. I love Jane Doe as a character, she was awesome in that story years ago Arkham something or other, also featured the creation of Great White Shark. 

    The fights in Superhero comics are part of the tropes, so I don’t complain about them unless they’re done badly. It’s like going to a western and not liking the fact they had a shoot out, because it’s cliche western.

    It’s part and parcel of the package. Of course I thought the Old Man Logan finished really badly, the whole part with the Hulk was very weak. Still going to grab it in trade though. 

  12. This is why I’m a little disappointed with the Question backup in Detective Comics. I love the Question as a character and I want to see detective work and intriguing twists and turns but instead we just get a lot of fighting every issue.

  13. @Mike – If you didn’t get your fire-retardant coverall from where I work, you paid too much! 😛

  14. That image you use from Old Man Logan. It’s so disturbing and morbid but it makes me laugh for some reason.

    You hit the nail on the head though. Listen, I like a fight scene in a comic as much as the next guy, but I want more in my comic books then that. Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns can do a great balance of adding to the story but still show an amazing fight. Like in the Green Lantern issue of last month, we get a lot of character development while Sinestro is battling Carol Ferris.

    That was the huge problem with Old Man Logan for me. Yeah it’s nice to see this Marvel continuity porn, and the fight sequences look amazing. But I want more to the story then just endless gallons of blood being spilled. The entire finale of the story was just Logan killing Hulks as brutal as possible. Then we get a quick blurb at the end to try and humanize him slightly. That doesn’t work for me, especially since we have the idea of a sequel in the works. (Possibly) This story should’ve ended in one mini and instead there’s going to be more blood spilled in an unnessicary sequel.

  15. I just love comic book fights.  I read this article earlier and tried to think of something, anything, that would make me see things your way, but there was none.  Even though I have read comics regularly around nine years as well, I just cannot bring myself to discredit the fight scenes. At least not reading monthly. There is, however, a little monotony when reading a trade and there is nothing happening from issue to issue because the writers chose to fill half of each issue with a battle that has nothing to do with the overarching story in the trade. Then again, I did avoid Locke and Key (Big Mistake) for months because I thought it would be just boring emotional drivel because I saw no big battle scenes when I flipped through.  So, although it is technically useless at times, I will always thrive on the battle scenes.

  16. If I read the word "tropes" one more time on this website my head’s gonna go all Michael Ironside in SCANNERS. 

    We should start a drinking game to the podcast – every time one of the guys says "tropes" or "conceit", take a drink.

  17. The flipside to this problem is when someone shows up on the last page, as a cliffhanger. Nine times out of ten, it’s not a character who’s there to bring new information, or move the plot forward, or have an emotional impact on the characters. It’s just, "Check out who they’re going to fight in the next issue!"

    Sorry, but when I reach the end of a dissapointing superhero book filled with boring and pedestrian fight scenes, it doesn’t excite me to know that NEXT month, the protagonist is going to fight Norman Osborn, or Wolverine, or the Punisher. If I was 12 … yeah, that’d be pretty awesome. But I’m 31, and I’d rather read a book that treats its audience like adults. But that’s an issue for a whole other column.



  18. @pdallor — good idea for the column…we’ll have to sneak that in somewhere!

     thanks for the great comments, all. I was curious to see how people felt; I wasn’t sure if I was in the minority or not, but it’s nice to read nuanced comments about it from you all.  Ha, yes, I guess we do use the word "trope" a lot..but, like-that’s kind of the word to use, right?  

     No matter–let’s see what this week’s comic bring!

  19. I really took to Astro City and Powers because so much of it had to do with the stories between the super powered fights.  Nowadays I want my story to take place in a Superhero world with Superhero fights, but I don’t want to linger on the fights. I want them like in the They Might Be Giants song "Particle Man".

    "They have a fight, Triangle wins. Triangle man."

  20. i loves fight!

    and a fight and the end of old man logan wont ruin the book for me!