Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Kincaid Effect in Comics

The Hathor Legacy has a post and comment thread about female characters on TV that start off absolutely wonderful, but change their personalities after a point as they get romantically involved with a male character they wouldn't normally be with and you end up with a character you despise. Betacandy calls it the Kincaid Effect, after the Law and Order character.

Its probably something to do with a changing writing team and cast, which of course makes me think of how comic book character personalities change as the creative team changes. Often with the female characters, you get the Kincaid Effect where a once-likable female character is suddenly the embodiment of every feminine stereotype you hate and coupled with a male character she shouldn't look twice at.

I've seen this happen in comics. It seems a common thing in team books, and outside of team books it can be very, very abrupt. I think the Kincaid Effect happened to both Jade and Donna Troy when they got paired off with Kyle Rayner.

Funny how the opposite effect happened with Guy Gardner when he got paired off with Ice in JLI. You'd think Ice would have to be changed to get with him, but really it was Guy's personality that was altered to fit her. Resulting in a much more likable Guy Gardner. (I'd call that skill on Keith Giffen's part. He could probably make me like Jade or Donna.)

This bears some thought.


  1. You probably know what I'm going to say here. :)

    I think it's a little different with TV writers and comic book teams, because with the former you have real actors rather than fictional drawings, so the expectation that these real actors would continue to be "in character" even with shifting writers is usually higher. A lot of viewers presume actors, particularly the higher paid ones, have some input into how the characters they're being paid to portray will react to any given situation.

    Unless you're talking about a fan who tends to treat fictional comic characters with more importance than living, breathing creators, you don't find this as much with comics because it's understood on a fundamental level that the characters are just drawings with word balloons (at least until they're optioned for movies or TV shows!), and that new creative teams are often deliberately brought in to interpret those drawings and balloons differently than the departing teams.

  2. This is an interesting premise. I like a little romance between characters as much as anyone, but not to the detriment of the characters personalities...ie: Jade, who was awfully whiney and unappealing. Donna seems to be better now, although she is apparently back with Kyle.

    Guy was MUCH more fun when he was with Ice. I loved the issue where they went to the Ice Capades, and he had to put up with Beetle's Fire's and Kilowog's little "joke". He was insane with rage and humiliation, but he kept it under control because it would have upset Ice.

    Well, he did completely lose it later, but he did have some justification. Heh.

  3. I'm not sure I'd count Guy and Ice as a Kincaid effect though. Guy's transformation wasn't instantaneous, it was an active struggle to change for her. And she did change a little as a result too, if only learning to stand up for herself a little more.

  4. Well, considering that Kyle was probably the best boyfriend Donna had, she should either stay alone or settle for him, because it doesn't appear anyone better will appear anytime soon. I don't mind the coupling of these two, and Donna is finally getting some good characterization as it appear. And really, the more fans identify Donna with Kyle, less the chances of a future Donna Troy writer ressurrecting Terry Long. No one deserve Terry Long. Not even people that were condemned to Hell should suffer being married to that creep guy

  5. Well, considering that Kyle was probably the best boyfriend Donna had, she should either stay alone or settle for him, because it doesn't appear anyone better will appear anytime soon.

    Thats just not possible. Yeah Kyle is better than Terry Long. But that isn't exactly a high bar to aim for. Plus of course there is the fact that Kyle's SOs tend to, y'know, die. In fact Donna's died at least once since their first "couple" moment...

    As for her finding someone better? All that needs is for someone to WRITE HER SOMEONE BETTER. They could do some clumsy new insta-love character or work in a romance with a current character or introduce someone new and then do a slow burn story that ends with them together...

    Me I say Lobo/Donna is the way to go. Neither of them stays dead ever. Plus they can shortened annoying tabloid or fanfic style as DoBo...

  6. Elayne -- Okay, as your first point goes, I don't see how that has any bearing on this. An actor is a creative force behind a fictional character. Well, rather than actors we have artists and writers, creative forces behind the character.

    I don't think its too much to ask to have character consistency between creative teams. Really good writers work damned hard to get the character traits down. What's the point of following Batman if he's not Batman from writer to writer? A good writer reads the prior stories and keeps the character in character in the story.

    As for your second paragraph, that's entirely uncalled for. No one here is laboring under the delusion that these character are making their own actions, and its insulting to insinuate they are. My post and the linked post made reference to the creative teams when speculating. Not only that, the entire theory is about creator actions.

    No one is referring to the mythical fan who thinks that a writer who doesn't use the right perfume scent when going through Batman's memories of his mother's death deserves to be tossed out on the street and starved. That's a strawman you need to stop bringing out in these conversations.

    We're talking about characters and how they affect enjoyment of the story. Sometimes a character is enjoyable enough you follow the story to read about that character. When they change and no longer become enjoyable, when you don't like reading about them anymore, you stop enjoying the story. We totally understand that they are elements of fiction, but we are reading and criticizing fiction in this part of the blogosphere so we're perfectly within our rights to point out that character inconsistencies can make the characters unenjoyable, and that the motives behind making those characters unenjoyable are often nefarious.

  7. LurkerWithout -- Lobo/Donna? Good heavens.

    I will admit, Donna was the best love interest Kyle got, and Kyle the best one Donna got, but I can't say I like the relationship. Its just the other relationships for both characters were that bad.

  8. Yeah, I'm going to have to agree that just because Kyle is the best thing Donna has isn't really a great argument :)

    It's the whole sharp stick in the eye versus the sharp stick in the groin argument -- I'd likely choose the stick in the eye, but that doesn't mean it's going to be even remotely pleasant.

    I DO wish the writers would give Donna a decent love-interest, and yes, one that didn't pretty much manage to kill off all his other love interests through some bizarre osmosis would be best :)

    As to fans versus writers, I think it should pretty much go unsaid, the vast, VAST majority of us KNOW these characters aren't real. That doesn't (and shouldn't) mean that writers can give fans whiplash with drastically varying characterizations. Frankly, there is a huge difference between having a different interpretation of a character, and pretty much salting the earth and rewriting someone completely counter to previously established books.

    There IS a middle ground, and it's unfair to decide that anyone who disagrees is immediately arguing for the complete, extreme opposite view.

    Take it and run.

  9. I DO wish the writers would give Donna a decent love-interest, and yes, one that didn't pretty much manage to kill off all his other love interests through some bizarre osmosis would be best :)

    Okay, what's scary here is I think you missed a name or a pronoun but I'm not sure which because this works for both characters.