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  1. #1

    Default Ensembles vs. Teams

    I like a good ensemble story, but I hate teams. And there is a distinction.
    That distinction boils down to the difference between a protagonist and a supporting character.

    Without going deep into it and using the most basic, simplified definitions, a protagonist should have agency and self-reliance where a supporting character is not required to have either.

    Yes, one does want the supporting cast to have their own internal life and arcs, but (again using simplified, black & white terms) at the end of the day, the supporting character exists to prop up the protagonist and/or move the plot forward.
    To put it with even less nuance: the protagonist is the one who matters; the supporting character is expendable.

    So to bring it back to ensembles vs. teams...

    An ensemble story is multiple protagonists who, while varying in importance to the plot, each have their own motivation, agency, and self-reliance.
    A team story is a bunch of supporting characters who take turns being the protagonist.

    That's why comics like Justice League frustrate me.
    On paper, it's an ensemble featuring the various protagonists of their respective books...Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc.

    But in practice, it's just a team book.

    It's why I've never been able to get into X-Men.
    I only really like Psylocke and she gets her turn at the protagonist table every once in a while depending on the writer.

    The issue with ensemble stories is they're harder to write. It's time and thought consuming to construct a story that adequately juggles multiple protagonists and makes them each feel relevant and is repsectful of their abilities.
    That's why ensembles (not always but) tend to feature smaller, less rotating casts and/or more elaborate plots to give everyone something to do.

    And it's just the nature of the business. Books featuring more characters, whether they need to be there or not, usually sell better.

    And if you're churning out one or two books a month, I imagine it's tempting to fall back on the ol' "each member of the team is taken out one by one except this one character who's going to save them all alone" chestnut.
    But if that one character happens to be your personal favorite, you are in for a treat that month!

    Anyway...not sure how to wrap this up. So I guess I'll just say teams are bull****
    "Never place your trust in us. We're only human. Inevitably, we will disappoint you."

  2. #2


    It's just like in sports. Superstar leader + decent role players = legitimate title contender. While team of peers (usually tier 2 stars) is doomed to mediocrity

    Cheers, Daydreamy
    Last edited by Daydreamy; 09-25-2019 at 03:16 AM.

  3. #3
    Constant in Opal Nine Crocodile's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2015


    Comicswise, I guess the Defenders would be an ensemble while the Avengers are a team. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would surely be an ensemble as defined.

  4. #4
    Astonishing Member kjn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2018


    Not sure "ensemble" and "team" are the best terms here, but since they're already around:

    The distinction above puts a bit of a spotlight with why the dynamics of Birds of Prey shifted as more members were added to the team (initially Oracle/Black Canary, then Oracle/Black Canary/Huntress, and then more members were added).

    One larger team that—at least to some degree—manages to keep the "ensemble" dynamic is the current Justice League Dark run by Tynion. I think it's helped a lot by that Tynion was allowed to handpick his cast and had planned the story for a very long time.

    I think that also points to some numerical observations, like that a trio is the sweet spot for an ensemble book (at least three times more potential for interpersonal drama than with duos!), but the right writer can stretch it up to four (Fantastic Four) or five (Tynion's JLD).
    «Speaking generally, it is because of the desire of the tragic poets for the marvellous that so varied and inconsistent an account of Medea has been given out» (Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History [4.56.1])

  5. #5
    Mighty Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2018


    A supporting character needs a chance or something to happen so that they can become a protagonist.

  6. #6
    Astonishing Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2019


    It’s interesting. What you call “ensembles”, I call “crossovers” which is arguably the issue that you have.

    In “Justice League”, superheroes often loose members of their supporting cast and original concept to facilitate them being on the team. They essentially become inherently different characters amongst other superheroes.

    It’s one of the reasons why I was unimpressed with the Avengers movies.

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