Episode 71: The Problem with Combat in Serials

Not gonna lie, last night I got distracted by Binding of Isaac and didn’t have the energy to go longer on the computer and post something. My bad. I’d try and make up for it with a post worth breaking up into two things due to sheer length but as long as we’re being honest I don’t think I can pull that off either. Weird nerve pain has come back with a vengeance to the point that I am unsure how long this post will be or even if I can keep up the titular topic before I go off into an agony filled rant. Keep it together kid and let’s get this thing done. Sports and organized style fights are divided in temporal dimensions (except for “vale tudo” style fights, avoid those like the plague and don’t ask me how I know that) for a lot of valid reasons.

The first being standard human limitations. No one, not even the best marathon or soccer players out there, can perform at a proper level without some sort of break. You still need to be in amazing shape to keep up for those interludes, except in a few scenarios, but for the most part you need those breaks to avoid full out exhaustion. Secondly, breaking up the action into more digestable and enjoyable bits is good for readers/viewers who can take a break to discuss the action with other onlookers without being that douche in the theater that talks throughout the entire movie. Sure those breaks are also good for advertisers and the progression of rampant consumerism but they are good to help separate the action and help increase anticipation until things start up again.

Televised and live events go until they are finished but their depcition in other media through works of serialized fiction go at each medium’s prescribed lengths. A good serial will have plenty of cliffhangers so you will probably find that a match or a fight will get to it’s most amazing part before the end of a particular installment, thus making you wait for the resolution, and more importantly, the promised action. Manga and anime take a lot of criticism because they purposely delay important fights so much through the use of flashbacks and othe material that can be considered filler. Just try and get through an episode of DBZ where a significant percentage of time isn’t used in deep introspection, going over what everyone already knows, or powering up/screaming. The only way to avoid this is to limit your combats to only one installment but that shortens the amount of action you can give; plus, you have to make sure that your precombat stuff is good enough to make it’s own installment without too much trouble. With a movie you need to have your climactic battles occur in the actual film beginning to end. There’s no way you can end Rocky on Round 5 against Apollo Creed or anyone else. People would scream and declare shenanigans all over if you do that in a movie. In TV shows you have some more leeway but having any kind of competition taking place over more than a few installments ultimately decreases the extra anticipation and tension that comes with a “to be continued”  with an unexpected overtime or something of that degree. Comic books, especially the really epic stuff like a Death of Superman really needs multiple installments, especially if amazing splash pages are being used throughout. The problem comes with most of the medium in that you have too many installments spanning a particular event and outside of getting your hands on an omnibus edition your levels of narrative accessibility are kinda low.

Webcomics are designed to be short installments so unless you like your battles in the curbstomp or anticlimactic variety you need to practice your patience to see how any one fight may turn out. Consider the example of Order of the Stick, that had a full out war for months of installments. Hell the Darth Vaarsuvius saga took less than 24 hours and revolved around one character and that took a long time to show. Both of these chapters had several extra length installments but they just weren’t enough. And don’t even get me started on Goblins, those poor guys have been way too long on all their separate dungeon crawls. As cool as any one fight might be, you need to be careful as an author that it does not overpower the rest of the story to the point that everyone forgets the main plot unless it’s the climactic super special epic actual finale. There you are expected to go balls out with action awesomness. 

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