Monday, January 24, 2022

Why We Love the Mary Sue

 I'm going to catch flack for this. 

What is a Mary Sue? 

The term "Mary Sue" refers to a character that can in their own fiction essentially do no wrong. Everything they do is right the first time and everyone either admires them, loves them, fears them or whatever the narrative needs them to be. Mary Sues typically show up in comic book characters though they appear frequently in video game characters and in children's cartoons. Mary Sues in general are thought to be the result of bad writing and are constantly being criticized by the geek community at large. 

And yet we love them. 


Rampant Hypocrisy

I've gone on record stating how much I dislike Wolverine (Wow that was ten years ago and I still haven't run out of things to whine about...) and I've hinted at my dislike of Batman, not only for their portrayals of toxic masculinity but for their overall Mary Sue qualities, and yet there's plenty of other Sues I adore. I was thinking about this while replaying The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and realizing how much I love Geralt yet how big of one he is. He always knows how to kill every monster (Even if the player doesn't), he's constantly flexing lore at everyone he comes across, and everyone is either terrified of him or madly in love with him (Seriously, every female character is in love with this guy). 

I'm the same way with Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the titular Sherlock, arguably the first recorded Mary Sue (Okay maybe Odysseus) his super power is to always be right, which while if we were roommates I would crack his head on the pavement outside of 221B Baker Street, I absolutely love watching that show. Truth be told I probably wouldn't be great roommates with Geralt either since he seems like the kind of guy that would take over the TV for some stupid documentary on aliens while I'm trying to get my Golden Girls on. 

That's where my question comes in though: If Mary Sues would be insufferable to be around in real life and if they are a sign of bad writing, why do we love them so much? 

Ultimate Power Fantasy

The appeal to me is in the power fantasy. No matter how bad things are Geralt never loses his cool, even in situations where I would be running aimlessly flapping my arms and screaming incoherently. That effortless confidence in knowing that he has a perfect handle on every situation is something to be admired, even if it is unobtainable. Sherlock is the same way, dripping with confidence with no time to deal with anything inconsequential. 

The truth is Mary Sues have built in plot armor, meaning that because they're the heroes they are automatically meant to succeed. The difference between them and a more flawed character is that the Mary Sue almost knows that no matter what happens they are the main characters in their own stories, and act like they know they have the everything proof plot armor. In a world where things can be incredibly unsure, it's nice to project into a character that has control of their surroundings. 

Mary Sue Vacuum

The best Mary Sue stories to me put the characters into a vacuum where they don't have to interact with other characters that I like. Most Mary Sues charisma only extends to seducing romantic interests. Like I said, living in a house with Geralt, Sherlock and Guts, another Mary Sue I love, it would be a nightmare. Half the time everyone would be arguing over which quests to go on and the other half they'd be trying to outwit the others in a cunning-off. 

Or fight to the death. 

When Batman is alone tracking the Joker with just his inner monologue to accompany him ala the Hush comic arc he's pretty cool. When he's acting like he's the baddest thing in the Justice League with Wonder Woman and Superman standing right next to him and they AGREE with him then that's a character that just thinks too much of himself. Where the Mary Sue finds the most appeal is in a solo setting, where they're only better than the situation and aren't trying to prove to everyone that they're the best at everything and instead are just out being the best at everything. In the former they look insecure and in the latter we get that confidence that we love so much. 

Where Nobody Loves a Mary Sue

I can't go a post without mentioning my favorite thing of all time Dungeons and Dragons. For those who want to extend their Mary Sue persona into the realms of D&D my advice is DON'T. Remember that D&D is not meant to have a main character, it's a cooperative experience, and Mary Sues only exist to annoy everyone else at the table. Even if you were imitating Sherlock, Guts or Geralt I would have your character drawn and quartered if they tried to show Mary Sue traits. 


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