Let’s not cut any corners here, I have a little topic I’ve been wanting to rant about for some time now. My nightly routine may as well have devolved into sitting in a dark corner rubbing my hands maniacally as I carefully bide my time, waiting like prey in the foliage for my chance to pounce, all so that I could pour some words down the sewage drain to your brain about a thing I think is dumb. And yeah, sure, maybe I won’t have people entirely on my side for this, but really I just need this off my chest.
I hate how casually people throw the term “Mary Sue/Gary Stu” around onto characters in fiction.
There, I said it. And there’s probably some characters that come to your mind automatically when thinking about that term, the likes of which I would happily bet aren’t actually accurate.
For anyone who hasn’t heard this term before, characters in fiction get referred to as a “Mary Sue” (or “Gary Stu” as the male equivalent) when they are never actually challenged or in danger, essentially boring or lacking flaws, typically including being very powerful/supposedly always having the answer to all the problems of their respective story. The biggest offender is Superman, which is just a big red flag telling you when someone doesn’t know anything about the character and has just seen the movies.
So yeah, let’s get started on some Mary Sue breakdowns here:
Katara, from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Alright, this one is a weird one. I have seen people say that Katara is a Mary Sue and I gotta ask, if you’re calling her that, then did you actually watch the show?? The disrespect here is ABSURD, money back guarantee.
The argument is just that she’s perfect. That she’s always gotta be right, always gotta be better than everyone, and that she gets annoying. Am I crazy? Am I on some weird nostalgia trip while thinking about her character? I don’t understand this. The closest I’ll get to saying she’s a Mary Sue is that she is debatably the least interesting character of the Gaang. Sokka’s both entertaining at every turn and has the intellect to prove his worth on the team, who then gets great character development and sword training skills to really seal the deal. Zuko has his redemption arc and is the only ex-bad guy on the team. Toph is the best character in the series, hands down. Aang’s pacifist dynamic amidst a world at war is handled extremely well and his growth from a child who had his childhood stolen to an adept savior of his era is enthralling to watch. So yeah, maybe Katara is comparatively not as interesting, but she’s still a 10/10 amongst other 10/10s. She also abides by a more peace-centered mindset, but once seeing her willpower and emotions played with, we see her struggle with darker temptations. We watch her work almost constantly at becoming a better water bender, not just for the sake of the team, but also to show what she can do for the world. She’s rational, but can break out into spur-of-the-moment rage. She hones her skills to be not only the greatest healer, but also an incredibly skilled and clever offensive bender. She is NOT afraid to blood bend your dumbass off a cliff, so don’t even TRY to call her names.
Besides, how are you gonna talk shit about Aang’s wife like that? I could make a Will Smith slap joke here but that got old within like three days of it happening so why bother anymore?
Katara is far from boring and not perfect. Yeah she becomes strong, but she works for it. Not a Mary Sue, no debate here.
Giorno Giovanna, from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
This one also bothers me a lot. I’ve seen my man Giorno get called a Gary Stu pretty much every time someone has talked about him, especially ever since the anime adaptation of Vento Aureo came out. Lemme tell you why that’s a big no-no.
JoJo’s is a long-running franchise, the likes of which has its story separated into parts. Each part follows a different member of the Joestar family bloodline through whatever that protagonist’s goal is. Some parts are more loosely connected than others, but since we see a different main character every time, each one is different in many ways, especially in design and personality. Whereas Joseph is cocky and loud, a dishonorable cheater but really clever, you also get someone like Jonathan, a chivalrous and straightforward man.
The issue with Giorno is he’s incredibly calm and determined. His ability is to change something inanimate into something living. For example, he turns a brick into a living snake and has turned other things into replacement organs and flesh to supplement wounds. This ability of his is not a combat-oriented ability by default, and seeing as how he is an action series protag, that means that Giorno is constantly having to outsmart his opponents and find a way around their abilities with his. JoJo does this with its other protags anyway, so why is Giorno the one who gets called boring? Well, it’s simply because of his calm, determined demeanor. Whereas the other characters will show off worried expressions when they’re backed into a corner, Giorno is pretty stoic. Completely level-headed, he just pushes forward. I can understand this is not as entertaining as Joseph shouting “HOTFOOT IT OUTTA HERE, SMOKEY!” in front of a big gay Aztec god, but come on man. The moments where we really get to see Giorno shout and emote are refreshing, they’re exciting, and they’re made better by the contrast. Giorno is not boring, and Giorno does not always have all the answers. Go watch the anime’s adaptation of the Seven Page Muda and tell me that it’s not goddamn SICK. His punches sound like a machine gun firing off and he’s screaming through all of it. It’s literally iconic.
Anyway fight me coward, Giorno isn’t boring, you just jumped the gun on your interpretation.
Rey, from Star Wars
I can’t stand the Skywalker sequel trilogy. And no, I’m not saying that to make people upset. I’m not saying it to win extra points with people who don’t like it. I just legitimately want the point across that I’m saying this with no bias towards these movies.
Rey is not a Mary Sue.
Do I think that all of the characters in this trilogy were handled poorly? Yes.
Do I think the style of comedy used in these movies is also poor and doesn’t know when to shut up? Also yes.
But this is actually the first of my second half of my Mary Sue argument; the idea that there’s nothing wrong with a hero who is a hero.
Not only does Rey get training from Luke (minimal training, I know, but to get started with LUKE GODDAMN SKYWALKER as a short-lived mentor is nothing to scoff at), we are literally told in the intro credits of Rise of Skywalker that she has been training off screen during the time between movies, AND THEN we are told she is a Palpatine. There is no reason she SHOULD NOT be powerful, her connection with the force makes sense. We get a completely acceptable amount of reasoning as to how she can fly the Millennium Falcon in Force Awakens (besides, she doesn’t do super well at it in the first place).
Everyone was fine with Luke being strong by default from his bloodline. No one cared that Anakin had natural power from his bloodline. Why is this so different? Why does this one get people so upset?
Off-screen growth is not ideal. Chosen ones and powerful bloodlines being the reason a character is strong is often a cop-out in writing. But are we gonna act like these tropes don’t have a place in fiction? That they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t a literary tool, still an acceptable ingredient in the pie that makes up the story?
Power aside, what is so bad about the good guy of the story being the good guy? What is so wrong with Rey being a hero, doing things for the good of the people and the galaxy? We watched Luke be the center of a perfect outline of the Hero’s Journey and be a good guy. You’re gonna look me in the eyes and tell me that now that Rey is sitting down to talk to an alien kid to talk about their family name like chums, that’s unacceptable? She can’t be a Jedi for the people? Do people really need every story to be all grim all the time now?
Besides, she also gets the same “struggle with the dark side” character plot points that Luke and Anakin did. I don’t see “boring”, and I mean that honestly.
Superman, from… well, I mean, you know.
HERE COMES THE BIG BOY EH?
Everyone who bashes Superman doesn’t know the character.
Everyone who thinks the concept of Superman is only cool when he’s evil is simply using more words to say “Superman? Never read it lol”.
Superman’s whole selling point is that he is an alien, a god, who is ironically the most human of us all. His struggle with not being able to save everyone, the unrelenting persistence in being a paragon of justice, it’s all fantastic. Not only that, but it’s nice seeing someone be good. Truly good. Batman is a good guy, yeah, and when the writing for him is at it’s best, it’s heartwarming.
I know everyone cites this as a great Batman moment and just great writing in general, but it’s because they’re right. It’s sweet, it’s sad, and it’s a great depiction of the character.
So why is it so “boring” for Superman, who does things like this constantly? Why is it so bad for our heroes to be heroes? The struggle doesn’t always need to be about how likely the hero is to die. Sometimes it can be about saving one person. Sometimes it can be about how no matter how strong you are, you weren’t strong enough just once and it was heart wrenching. Superman is not boring, Superman is not a Gary Stu.
Funny enough, with Superman being the character on this list with the most history and writing, I actually have the least to say about him. It all just cycles back around to the same points I’ve made about him already, just with lots of examples… good guys can be good guys and that’s not a bad thing.
Am I trying to say that writing morally gray characters is bad? Absolutely not. I love the Punisher and Guts (Berserk) and Scar (Fullmetal Alchemist).
Do I also love my heroes to be heroes? Yeah, I love Nightwing, Luffy, and Captain America. Tropes are tropes for a reason, they’ve earned their right in fiction, there’s nothing wrong with using them sometimes. Let some things be lighthearted, it’s a nice break from reality. But that take is on me, free of charge.