Mailbag: Snark and Cynicism

Another reach into the ol’ Action Force Mailbag today.  Reach me on Twitter (@aleemartinez), Facebook (A. Lee Martinez), or e-mail (, if you’d like me to possibly answer or comment on one of your questions.  Or even if you just want to drop a line and say hello.  Believe it or not, I don’t get a lot of fan mail.  I know.  ‘Tis inconceivable.  But true.

Today’s first question comes from Mark Baker (@MGeniuineBaker):

Ever thought about pitching something to Adult Swim? Given your sense of humor and love of animation, it seems like a good fit?


Interestingly enough, I don’t particularly care for a lot of what’s on Adult Swim.  About the only show I watch on it is The Venture Brothers, which is a good show, but also kind of near the end of the road of my interest for it.  Robot Chicken has its moments, but I don’t generally enjoy gross out or mean spirited humor, and jokes about laundry detergent mascots getting raped actively annoy me.  There are a few promising live-action shows that look kind of funny, but I have this rule that I won’t watch live action shows on Cartoon Network, no matter how good they might be.  It just isn’t something I can encourage.

If Cartoon Network came to me and wanted me to do a show, I’d love to try something.  I’m not stupid.  Every bit of exposure is invaluable, and while I’m sure certain tweaks would have to be made to fit the Adult Swim brand, I could certainly live with it.  Honestly, I’d be more interested in developing something for the all-ages division of Cartoon Network because I’m kind of tired of shoving adult humor (sex and swearing and snarkiness) into animation at this point.  I’d much rather do a sincere all-ages adventure series with heart and intelligence.  Duck Tales and Batman: TAS set the gold standard on that, and while I don’t know if I could reach that level of high art, I’d love to give it a shot.

What I find most interesting about questions like this though is that it speaks to the dilemma I have as a “funny” writer.  It’s not a question of content.  Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad.  I may not be a Robot Chicken fan, but I’m reluctant to dismiss anything that has achieved that level of popularity.  It speaks to many, and that’s great.  It just doesn’t speak to me, and it’s not something I aspire to write.

Perhaps that’s why I have such mixed feelings about the “funny” writer label.  It isn’t just the notion that I write slight stories.  It’s this accidental and intentional assumption that I don’t care about my stories and characters beyond what good they are as a joke.  I know that’s not always what people are suggesting, but it still often comes across as this idea that I’m working on gags rather than creating stories where gags occasionally show up.

More importantly, I never want to be thought of as snarky or insincere, and there are just a lot of edgy humor that I don’t usually care for.  There are exceptions.  I loved This is the End, but I think I loved it because, aside from being funny and underneath all the absurdity, it was a story about two friends working out their relationship while dealing with their own emotional baggage.  It wasn’t just a series of gags, and, sure, there was definitely some dark humor in there, but it was dark humor built on character motivations and analyzing tropes we’ve all come to expect.

Which is all a way of saying that, while I don’t care for much of what’s on Adult Swim, I would still jump a chance to develop something for it because it’d be a great opportunity.  But, despite my D-list celebrity status, nobody has come knocking yet.


@Grumpyhawk ask:

Any chance you want to expound on your comics tweets from yesterday? books/writers that get it wrong or right?


For anyone who isn’t keeping up on my every random thought distributed via Twitter, I recently remarked Reading about how a writer writing a Batman comic wants to “destroy everything Batman stands for” makes me glad I don’t read comics anymore.  To be fair, that’s not an exact quote.  I tried to find it again, but the internet isn’t being very helpful, so I’ll try to be more fair and say the writer, Grant Morrison, said that the end of his current Batman title, Batman, Inc., will be incredibly bleak and make everyone question what Batman is all about.  Again, paraphrasing, and if someone can find the original quote and interview, read it.  I’m not out to question Morrison’s writing credentials or his story choices.  The guy is popular and a very good writer, so while I might not like his choices, I know that this is a great big universe and everyone has their own emotional needs, etc.

As for me, I’ve grown tired of deconstruction and bleakness.  Especially in superhero fiction.  It was a fairly radical idea to explore in the 8o’s, but now, it seems to have become as much of a cliche as the stuff it tried to deconstruct originally.  I’ve never been a tremendous fan of Moore’s Watchmen or Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. I applaud them for their new look at old ideas, and I think they are rightfully masterpieces of the superhero genre and comic book medium, but they just don’t speak to me in the same way good ol’ fashioned genuinely heroic characters do.  But I am not the be all and end all of comic book superheroes, and I can no more fault someone for liking the darker stuff than I can always justify my love for brighter material.

But where I do think this new generation of bleak and literary writers are making a mistake is that the really well done deconstructions don’t take place in a continuing universe.  Watchmen challenges and ultimately nullifies everything about the idea of “heroic” superheroes, but it does so with the clear intent that this is a one-shot story.  It’s not meant to carry on after it’s over.  The original The Dark Knight Returns does this too.  And I don’t think this is an accident.  There is a real freedom to write those kind of stories with one-shot tales, but the moment the story becomes continuing, it loses a lot of its weight.

It puts me in mind of the original God of War.  The story about a man whose lust for blood and glory led to great personal tragedy, then to a quest to kill a god in revenge, then to the depths of despair and a sort of dark victory is solid on its own.  But by God of War 2 his dark hero manner and vengeance above all seems like the acts of a character who hasn’t learned any lessons, who is less tragic, more unintentionally comical.  And by the third game . . . well, it’s kind of hard to see this guy as anything other than a cartoon character.

So it is with any attempt to make an ongoing character “bleak” or “cynical”.  Cynicism is hard to maintain without becoming emo.  And bleakness can work in a lot of genres, but bleak superheroes, well, I just never got that as appealing in any ongoing manner.

In the previous question, I mentioned my distaste for snarkiness as a comedic device.  Well, I also have a certain distaste for cynicism.  Especially cynicism inserted where I’m just not sure it works.  Like Man of Steel, where a character in bright blue with a cape who punches asteroids is somehow deeply unhappy and unpleasant.  And while I get the whole “dark hero” aspect of Batman, I’ve never particularly enjoyed the idea that he is a hopeless hero.  Batman always struck me as the opposite of hopelessness.  Instead of wallowing in his own tragedy, Batman has elected to challenge it, to go forth in the world and try to make it a better place.  Oh, sure, he does so by dressing up in a funny costume and throwing boomerangs shaped like bats, but he lives in a superhero universe, so it’s not really that weird in context.

And, really, that’s my problem with a lot of this literary cynicism thrust in the superhero genre.  Superheroes are about a lot of things, but cynicism isn’t generally one of those things.  Your basic superhero is a man or a woman who fights crime, saves the day on a regular basis, and at the end of the day, is there to help.  A superhero who fails to do those things isn’t exactly super.  He or she is just a guy who happens to have superpowers.

Yes, I know Batman doesn’t have superpowers.  Except he totally does.  He is a scientist, athlete, detective, martial artists who is smarter, tougher, and better than any real human being could be.  If that doesn’t count as a superpower, I don’t know what does.

Call me old fashioned (I’m sure many will), but I rather like superheroes as symbols of hope and empowerment.  And that so many creators instead choose to see them as bleak and hopeless doesn’t diminish those writers’ talent or vision, but in the end, it’s just incompatible with what I tend to look for in my superheroes.  It’s no doubt why I no longer read much of the genre, and why a lot of the movies don’t appeal to me.  I can’t honestly say it’s a question of right or wrong.  Different strokes.

But I also can’t shake the feeling that stories about a guy dressed as a bat fighting a guy dressed like a clown are probably not the best place to explore cynicism.  A lot of people disagree with me though, so what the heck do I really know?


That’s it for today, Action Force.  Until next time, you know where to find me.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,



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  1. Mark
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    I was actually mostly thinking of Venture Brothers, which might be my all time favorite TV show, or Archer, which isn’t technically Adult Swim but has that sensibility and is made by the people who made SeaLab. I get what you are saying about shows that are just jokes for their own sake. I like Robot Chicken and Family guy if I watch an episode or two of them, but they start to have seriously diminishing returns after that. But good comedy is based on character just as much as drama is. I think part of the reason comedy isn’t taken seriously is that so many of its creators seem almost embarrassed about it. It’s so much easier to write something dramatic or exciting than it is to be funny, since you can manipulate people’s emotions, but you can’t trick them into laughing. Anyway, I love the sincerity and real human emotion you show in your work, but you should embrace the fact that you’re a funny person. You know who else were hilarious writers? Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain and Shakespeare. It’s good company to be in.

    • Mark
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      I really didn’t mean for that comment to come off in a negative way and I’m not trying to tell you “Make me laugh, clown!” Thanks for your thoughtful answer to my original question.

      • A. Lee Martinez
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 2:04 am | Permalink

        No offense taken, Mark. Nor did I mean to imply you were insulting me in any way. Always glad to get a thoughtful question that can springboard into a larger discussion.

  2. Posted July 29, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    WWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOoooooooo, you used my question 🙂 seriously though, thanks for expounding on those tweets. Your take on it makes a lot of sense to me, and while we probably don’t line up on comics 100%, I am starting to get tired of the near constant deconstruction/reconstruction of some of my favorite heroes. That Batman, Inc. is gonna land on such a down note has me bummed.

  3. Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Like any sketch show, Robot Chicken can be a mixed bag but overall I enjoy it. I think in large part just for the nostalgia that someone else remembers Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man, and especially those more obscure things like MASK. (Why hasn’t there been a MASK live action movie yet?!)

    I reckon Grant Morrison can end it however he wants. I mean there’s what a half-dozen other Batman titles at this point and he won’t be writing any of them so at this point he’s pretty much pissing into the wind. Though really I know another author who would smite you for saying anything ill about Morrison. My record on his work is more 50-50.

  4. Harry Hoeschler
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello Mr. martinez. My name is Harry and I am 10 years old. My mom just read Monster to me and its my favorite book ever! I will try and read all your books.
    Do you have an address so I can send you a letter and a drawing?

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