When we last looked in on our intrepid, tv-watching old guy – that’d be me – he was waiting to treat himself to the premiere of Knight Rider, a remake of an old series.
Okay, I watched it.
I can’t really compare it to the original, which aired at a time in my life when television had a very low priority. The episode I do remember seeing annoyed me, just a bit, I think, because he talking car seemed to be as much a – brace for a pun – deus ex machina as…oh, say, the shafts in Green Arrow’s quiver or the items in Batman’s tiny utility belt compartments; whatever the hero needs, that’s what’s there. But, as noted, I was never a real Knight Rider watcher.
Having made that confession: the show I saw last Sunday didn’t seem to be awfully innovative. The one blatant updating was that one of the good guys was a gay, black woman, a character who probably would not have appeared on network television during the original Knight Rider’s heyday.
And that talking car? Pretty nifty, I have to admit – similar to the original, but a bit improved. For example, it changed colors at the twiddle of a dashboard thingy, which brings us to the aforementioned Batman.
When I was the batboss at DC Comics, I toyed with the idea of incorporating into the Batmobile a color-change option. But, I perhaps asked myself, how would it work? Maybe a skin composed of two thin layers of transparent plastic with enough air space between them to allow some kind of dye to be pumped in and out? Gee, that sounds clunky, and it’s the best I can do…What say we forget he whole thing?
What I was ignoring was a bit of advice I got from my first comic book editor, Stan Lee. Stan once told me that it’s a waste of space to “explain” comic book “science” because readers will accept what we tell them. If we say it works, it works. (‘Nuff said?)
Well, yes. In fact, obviously. We aren’t doing real life in superhero comics, and everyone knows that. (If they don’t, color-changing cars are the least of their problems.) As a general rule, anything that slows the story, or distracts from what the story’s about, is to be nixed, and blathery explanations do both.
But I’d like to enter an exception: We should not pervert real science,. Let’s not say that the solar system is a galaxy comprised of 29 planets held in place by Crazy Glue. (Or that the Earth is 6000 years old?) Let’s have some idea of the reality we’re departing from, and let’s not lie about it.
Two reasons: readers who know and respect the reality will be yanked out of your fictional world if you get it wrong and insult their intelligence, perhaps never to return, and you don’t want to abet the alarming ignorance about science that seems to prevail in our nation.
I guess what I’m saying is, made-up technology is fair game, made-up basic facts aren’t.
By the way: my car changed color overnight. Not technology – snow.
RECOMMENDED READING: Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics. A glimpse into the working of a first-rate creative mind.
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.