Mary Sue, who are you?I'm pretty sure someone else used that one before.
Mary Sue is, essentially, a term for a certain kind of badly written character. And while it is female (as it was named after a female parody character), I'll apply it to characters of all genders. Because, surprise surprise, male Sues do exist. They're also called Gary Stu, Marty Stu or whatever pun on Mary Sue you can find.
The Mary Sue is, shortly, too perfect. They can do anything. Everybody likes them, except for the bad guys, who want to tie them to a railroad track. But they won't succeed, because the Mary Sue is their opponent, and Mary Sue has to win. They're also good lucking and going to get their love interest of choice, after some painfully contrived misunderstandings and drama.
Okay, I may have exaggerated that, and not each of these elements always happens, but as said, they come in all varieties.
Sues and GenderThe term Mary Sue is female. This could lead to the conclusion that all Sues are female, which is just not true. Characters of all genders can be Sues.
That whole female thing also leads to people calling the term sexist. And people to use it in a way that's really sexist. So before I start rambling on about this, one thing: Just because a character is female, that doesn't make her a Sue.
Another point, where people actually have a point, is a certain double standard. Before I get to that, however, let me introduce to the number one killer argument:
So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in between torrid romances she rejects them all because she dedicated to what is Pure and Good. She has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. She is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes guys want her more. She has no superhuman abilities, yet she is more competent than her superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. She has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact she treats them pretty badly. They fear and respect her, and defer to her orders. Everyone is obsessed with her, even her enemies are attracted to her. She can plan ahead for anything and she’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy her are inevitably wrong.
This paragraph is then followed by a statement like "what a Sue, right," only to reveal that it's a description of genderflipped Batman. Okay, yes, this sounds like a pretty huge Sue. Now let's "re-genderflip" it and read it again.
So, there’s this guy. He’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every girl he meets falls in love with him, but in between torrid romances he rejects them all because he dedicated to what is Pure and Good. He has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. He is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes girls want him more. He has no superhuman abilities, yet he is more competent than his superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. He has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact he treats them pretty badly. They fear and respect him, and defer to his orders. Everyone is obsessed with him, even him enemies are attracted to him. He can plan ahead for anything and he’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy him are inevitably wrong.It still sounds like a pretty huge Sue. You know, the thing that keeps characters like Batman or Sherlock Holmes from being blatant Sues is the fact that they have depth and are well-written. Sure, their characters include many things that are also classic Sue traits, but they use them better than your average Sue. You know, I'll go on a tangent here and explain why Batman works, based on this.
Why Batman worksBatman has gathered a fair amount of Sue traits. I admit that. But the above paragraph isn't really Batman. It's Batman, as seen by someone who either does not care about the inner workings of Batman, or someone who wants Batman to be zomfgawesome. Let's pick this apart, and please don't whack me with rolled-up comic books if I get something wrong.
He’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet.Ah, yeah, a tragic backstory. Sue trait number one.
How is this a Sue trait? Tragic backstories in Sues basically spit in the face of everyone who has been through similar events. The two main reactions Sues show to traumatic events are to either shrug it off or to shove it in everyone's face.
Why does it work here? Traumatic events like, in this case, the murder of Bruce's parents by a criminal, change people. They have to learn how to cope with these things. Bruce Wayne coped with it by being Batman. He did a lot to become Batman, and even now, that event is influencing him. The fact that he doesn't use guns is one of these influences.
Being rich can also be seen as a Sue trait, but I'll let it slip because it makes sense with the rest of his character, including all the nice toys.
How is this a Sue trait? As seen here, being rich is an enabler. A rich character already has the money and doesn't need to work for it, hence they have more free time on their hands for wacky antics.
Why does it work here? Okay, Batman's totally guilty of that. He inherited his money/company from his father. Still, in this case it's kind of a necessary trait, and makes the tons of gadgets more plausible. It's kind of neutral here.
He has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks.Ah, yeah. A classic super genius.
How is this a Sue trait? Being a genius is often used as an excuse to have a teenager do what adults do, and shove them into a group they're too young for, just because they're smart. Not to mention that it's not enough to have your super brain, you also need to fill it. There's no super physics without knowing physics first.
Why does it work here? While technically also a Sue trait, I'll shove that one into the same category as the money: It justifies some other aspects, like how he could learn all that stuff and come up with his plans. Also, Batman's intellect is basically his superpower. If we can believe that a man can fly, we can believe that a man can be really smart.
Of course, Batman's super fit.
How is this a Sue trait? Similar to above average mental abilities, being harder better faster stronger than others is used to get the character in question where they really shouldn't be. And of course, Sues hardly train for their abilities. They just got them.
Why does it work here? It's not like he was born super strong. Batman worked for what he can do. Sure, it's a biiit much, but he has some sort of justification for being able to do all that stuff. Also, he has this goal of stopping crime and his parents' death probably gave him the determination to go through with it. Don't think he didn't do anything for it.
Okay, I think I've made my point. I'll stop here because every other trait I'd be picking apart would look like this:
Batman has a Sue trait.
How is this a Sue trait? Most Sues have this trait without really exploring the consequences.
Why does it work here? Batman explores the consequences and has it in a context that makes sense.
And that would be boring. In the hands of a competent writer, Batman's a deep and interesting character with his edges and flaws. If done wrong, however, he sparkles like a Twipire in sunlight.
The Mary Sue Litmus TestIf you google Mary Sue Litmus Test, you'll find a quiz with a whole bunch of checkboxes, asking you stuff about the character in question. You do the quiz, click the button and it tells you how much of a Sue the character is. Theoretically. However, the symptoms are not the illness. As I pointed out with Batman, Sue traits don't necessarily mean that a character is a Sue. I could probably go and tell you to which Sue traits all these questions allude. Most of these things are often carelessly applied to characters, without thinking them through. If you invest some time in thinking about the consequences of a character being like they are, you'll find out that these traits aren't inherently bad. So don't blindly trust the tests, and ask other people what they think of your characters... okay, don't blindly trust them either, but you get the point. Still, the litmus test is a good tool for outlining what has been accumulated in your character and how well thought out they are.
Personal Opinions on SuesNo, I'm not going to rant about how people dare to like Sues, or how people dare to criticize other people's power fantasies. If you want to write your personal power fantasy, remember that it's yours, and not everyone else's. While you might find it cool, special and interesting, other people might find it ugh, lame and boring. That's called opinion. If someone calls you out on your character being flat, and that someone actually gives constructive criticism, listen. Even if it's your personal fantasy, it can be written in a way that's interesting for other people.
The pointThere was a point in there, right? Ah, yeah. The point is that Sue traits don't make the Sue, the writing does. Also, Sues are not automatically female. And, more important, female characters aren't automatically Sues. Same goes for characters who're somewhat outstanding. So, please think first before you call a character a Sue.
You may now throw the rotten tomatoes.