[EDITOR’S NOTE: Denny’s column normally runs on Tuesdays, which is great because Denny e-mails it to me on Sundays. For some reason – and for the second or third time – his various e-mail accounts don’t seem to like my various e-mail accounts. We think we’ve straightened it out. Go figure. If computers were cars, we’d all be riding horses.
And now, Mr. O’Neil… -MG]
While I was sort of half-watching the two Lost specials our pals at ABC television were treating us to recently, I recalled the hot new trend of a couple of years ago. Serialized stories. Nothing resolved until late in the season. They came and they went, those shows, though there are a few survivors, of which my favorite, and apparently the favorite of millions of my fellow citizens (including you?) is the aforementioned Lost.
The purpose of the specials, which ran on consecutive evenings, was ostensibly to remind the Faithful of what’s been happening to those funsters on the island, and to clue in the non-Faithful, like me, people who just watch the thing for an hour’s easy amusement, as to what the hell the continuity is. (Another reason for the specials might have been the writer’s strike, now settled; clip shows like these eat up airtime at little cost and need no new material. Or am I being cynical?)
Because the continuity has become complicated and complex, hard to understand unless the show means so much too you that you give it the concentration that might be better used to find a cure for some disease or arrive at a unified field theory. I, for one, was happy to get this electronic version of Cliff’s Notes. (Oh, so that was a flash-forward…And she’s the girl’s mother…And they haven’t forgotten about the monster in the jungle…Et cetera.)
The writers tasked with producing the scripts for Lost and its ilk have a problem that comics guys have had for years, ever since Stan Lee made continued stories the medium’s staple in the ’60s. How do you take advantage of what the serial form affords storytellers – building audience loyalty, complex plots, creating a cohesive universe – and still attract new audiences, who can’t hope to understand what’s going on because they haven’t experienced the previous 932 installments?
It’s a question that hasn’t got a definitive answer, and may never have one. In the case of Lost, I suspect that having an enormously capable and attractive cast helps. And despite the byways and labyrinths of the plot, the basic idea of the show is simple and powerful. I’m lost and I want to go home. Who can’t identify with that? It served Homer and Daniel Defoe well, to name just two bygone gents who used the paradigm.
Finally, the show’s creators have promised that the story will end, thus assuring us out in TV Ville that eventually we’ll get one of the prime satisfactions of experiencing fiction: closure. Of course, this promise will mean nothing to the casual viewer, who may not be aware of it, but for the Faithful and the fauxFaithful, like me, it’s reassuring, and reason not to waste Wednesday nights on that stupid unified field theory.
RECOMMENDED READING: Last week, Martha Thomases was kind enough to do what I didn’t: compile a list of the year’s recommended reading. Here is the first comment the piece elicited, from Richard Pachter: “Nothing by Raymond Chandler? Dashiell Hammett? John D. MacDonald? Elmore Leonard? For shame!”
Sigh…For shame indeed. Okay, better late than never: The Simple Art of Murder, by Raymond Chandler. This is a collection of Chandler’s early pulp stories, and they’re all fine examples of the type. But the book’s gem is the essay that gives the book its title. Do not neglect this, even if you have to read it standing in a bookstore aisle.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow – among many others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Zen and Violence, reprinting the first six issues of his classic series with artist Denys Cowan, is on sale right now, the second volume, Poisoned Ground, will be on sale April 30, and his novelization of The Dark Knight will be available this summer, and you can pre-order them now.
Dennis O'Neil was born in 1939, the same year that Batman first appeared in Detective Comics. It was thus perhaps fated that he would be so closely associated with the character, writing and editing the Dark Knight for more than 30 years. He's been an editor at Marvel and DC Comics. In addition to Batman, he's worked on Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the Question, The Shadow and more. O'Neil has won every major award in the industry. His prose novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Denny lives in Rockland County with his wife, Marifran.