And Then The Evil Twin

I was talking to my husband this morning — a bad habit, I know, but we were getting dressed after showering and it seems so weird to do it in total silence — about fan fic, comics, soap operas and evil twins. Or good twins. Well, twins, at any rate.

The truth is any type of episodic story telling that goes on very long — let along over generations — acquires certain very odd characteristics, like people “not being really dead” or resets, or characters who change completely, or entire cycles where we later find out it was all a dream or it was an evil twin who did it, or something.

Every. Single. One of them.

It might not be obvious, for instance, with things like classical myth, but that’s because what you read is sort of a “compilation of the best.” But for every tale, there’s another way the thing went, or things were done, or–

Then there comics. Once my boys got in a fist fight over which of the many reboots of… Batman, I think? was “the real one.” In their defense, they were 12 and 15. But still, just listening to them argue made my head hurt.

And those of us in the Jane Austen verse, particularly pride and prejudice fanfic….. Oh, my dear and fluffy lord. Every one of the characters has had an evil version, or been told “it’s just a dream.” Or been redeemed. Or.

So, what is your favorite instance of:
“But that’s not x, that’s y, his twin!”

“This character wasn’t really dead all these years. really, he was just–“

Outright reboot.

Two or more parallel/accepted story lines.

“Madness made me do it!”

And what other tropes common to all human episodic, long-drawn-out story telling can you think of that are evading me?

58 comments

    1. well technically, most characters had an evil twin…

      in my case, i have the goatee, therefore i am the evil twin,

  1. Inexplicable and unwarranted malignity of faceless third parties to justify conduct of main characters. Often when the main character wasn’t being horribly evil.

    1. When I consider what I’ve seen online for years, and in local schools for years before that, ‘inexplicable and unwarranted malignity’ coming out of nowhere doesn’t seem all that unreal.

        1. No, just seeing people display pointless malice towards others for seemingly no reason. Save maybe boredom and a childish love of cruelty.

  2. Morality creep ending up in gray on gray violence. Doing up bad guys that, while villainous, are not utter and complete monsters vs heroes that have flaws is one thing (and a good thing, really). When you draw the questionable morality of Ends Justifying Everything down far enough, a lot of long form epics turn into Crapsack Worlds (just *usually* not as grimdark as WH40K).

    The unintentional clone (might be the twin thing again) wherein a character comes back not as himself. Different name, race, even sex, but same character under the skin. You know it’s the one where the author had too much fun writing the character and had to bring them back after they ostentatiously killed them off.

    The Nerfbat of the gods, wherein the author realizes that the next step on the exciting conflict power scale is having the character fighting actual gods/beings the size of worlds/the universe itself, they have to scale things back in order to keep the story from imploding. This can be done really, really well… and it can be done really, really badly.

    And now I’m the hero! Wherein the story gets too many side stories and an entire book is about a different main character. Destroyermen suffered from this pretty badly, even though the story was pretty good there comes a point when you *don’t* tell the story that isn’t THE story, you just sum up in order to keep things going.

    All of these things and more can be done well, as stated. But it might take a good editor and/or good alphas/betas to catch when things go off the rails.

    1. David Drake pulled off the clone, but it was a work of art that took a *lot* of prep and a lot of skill to make it happen.

      Very few characters can make the reader legit ask if they just faked their own death or actually honest to God called a hit on themselves.

      And then you need to have already built a world were crazy stuff can happen that the main characters never find out why they happened, and have it be both believable and reasonable.

      And then, on top of all of that, you need to have a compelling character arc that justifies all of that work.

      That’s not trivial. Not at all.

      Actually, I think he wrote the clone story before he wrote how the character got killed off, but the continuity of that story set is also strong enough I can’t, just be reading them, tell which came first… Also hard. Very very hard.

      1. David Drake does a lot of things well. The man does his research and it shows. He writes compelling fight scenes. Has a subtle touch with some things, knows when to blindside you. And Redliners is a flipping masterpiece of a work, in my opinion.

        He also writes PTSD in a way that isn’t hack or cringe. That’s not an easy thing to do.

        1. I don’t know if you’re familiar or not with his history, but he wrote because of his PTSD.

          If you read his books in the order he wrote them, there is a very defined point when he has finally gotten through all of it. It think it’s right around Redliners.

          I need to reread that one. I think he might actually be bending some of the accepted rules of story and character arcs in that one. I need to take a look at that and see if I can understand what’s going on and why it is working.

          1. I know. And yeah, Redliners is about the time he got a handle on things. Using writing as a way to work out things we can’t in real life can be something healthy, I think.

            As far as bending the rules goes, I believe that writers go through phases, rules wise. Ignorance, learning, practice, proficiency, and finally, breaking the rules on purpose because we know they’re there, and we can get away with it. They’re more like guidelines, really. As long as you keep the reader engaged and entertained, you can get away with a *lot* of crap. Doesn’t mean you *should,* exactly, but the great thing about the reader side is you *fill in the gaps.*

            It’s one of those things that really helped me make my writing suck less. Always leave room for the reader’s imagination. One of my big flaws in writing is wanting to detail everything to death. Readers hate that when you do it too much. It slows the writing down.

            But yeah, I need to reread Redliners again, too. And get back to polishing up Dr. Z, once the ibuprofen finally kicks in.

  3. Bizzarro universe in the Superman comics. Gave writers all sorts of opposite conflicts to mine for stories.,

    1. That and all the old pre the first Crisis alternate Earths like Earth-2, Earth-S, Earth-X…

  4. 1. Monster of the week becomes Vast conspiracy / secret hidden fault of supervillain.

    2. Power Inflation – since the hero gains a new power or treasure from each defeated monster, every new tale has to be bigger, and badder, than the last. Until it’s all The Fate of the Country! no, Region! No, World! No, Solar System! no! Universe! No, Multiverse! Is! At! Stake!

    3. The main characters become boring and static, and we move on to their sidekicks or kids for interesting new tales.

    1. Honestly, I think planning on the main character peaking. retiring, and handing off the story to other characters is probably the best way to architect a really long running series for exactly that reason.

      That also seems to be a solid way to manage power escalation and reset. Build up the main arc to the point where the original main character saves a world from a mad god, and then they retire/get locked into being world boss/do an Arthur and now all their old minions, kids, secondary characters with great potential now get to deal with taming the howling wilderness that victory left behind, and figure out how to live in the shadow of this titan from the past. You can even have fun retelling the stories of the original hero but from the perspective of people who weren’t there and only heard the stories after the fact.

      1. I still think Spider Man should have retired, hung up the webs, got married to Mary Jane and had kids, then passed on the mantle to someone else.

        Heck, passing the torch worked in Batman Beyond.

        And Xavier should have retired and gone to live with his space princess girlfriend, or he and Magneto both should have died in the Onslaught storyline.

        1. Probably the latter. From what I’ve seen of the two of them, neither were whole enough to actually retire.

          Sort of agree on Spiderman. I think part of the problem is they never seemed to want to let him grow up or grow old, and kept punching weird reset buttons on him. But yeah, as some point he needs to stop being the web-slinging madlad and be an Uncle Iroh.

          1. *shuffles feet*

            I liked the Clone Saga.

            I thought the “Ben Reilly was really Peter!” twist was great and could have allowed “Peter” to retire and Ben to take it in some interesting new directions.

            I also kinda liked the “Mayday Parker” storyline.

            Spider Man 2099 was cool.

            1. Mayday was awesome. I love the series that starred her. Not least for giving us a Marvel Comics world where superheroes had actually changed things for the better!

      2. I like it. That’s why I prefer the John Carter series to Tarzan’s: John Carter passed the torch to the next generation.

    2. It took me a while to realize this — indeed, at least a year after “The Last Jedi” — but it occurred to me that Star Wars in particular suffers from Power Inflation.

      It’s not particularly bad Power Inflation, to be sure — after all, I had read a lot of books, and watched a lot of movies, in order to come to that realization — but once it’s noticed, it’s kindof obvious. And it starts with “A New Hope”.

      Luke: Yay, we just blew up the Death Star!

      Antilles: Great, but what do we do for an encore?

      Morgan Freedman: For an encore, In “Return of the Jedi”, they make a second Death Star, but even bigger. And then make a giant Death Star-ish thing in “The Force Awakens”.

      Come to think of it, this is a major reason my friend didn’t like Kevin J. Anderson’s books (which I personally didn’t get around to read myself): despite the Empire dying, after having lost TWO Death Stars, they have giant world-destroying technology, and their Star Destroyers are even bigger than ever, among other things.

      While Star Wars suffers from Power Inflation, I think they’ve been able to get away with it because they have enough “Ok, so maybe we aren’t going to save the Universe today” stories (“The Empire Strikes Back” being the first one, to be sure!) to be able hide it — and it takes things like “The Last Jedi” (which, for all its faults, Power Inflation isn’t one of them!) to cause me to reflect on the entire Star Wars franchise.

  5. The Evil Overlord kill as family/destroys a village and the Hero who was the target was away and now is out for revenge.

    Although that’s more often an origin story, even James Bond has trouble keeping a girlfriend/wife alive.

  6. From personal experience, when the Muse is bring seriously recalcitrant, gigging her with a mirror universe with an evil twin is quite fun, and has been know to produce something publishable.

  7. The play within a play. In TV-land, almost every long running series has an episode where the characters are in or encounter a TV show about themselves. Wormhole Extreme in the Stargate series and Sam and Dean in a Supernatural episode come to mind. I’m pretty sure Buffy and Bones had similar episodes, but I don’t remember details.

    1. Oh, and there is a Pam-challenging length SciFi series where the first ten or so books are “ancient prophecy” by “unknown author in the 20th century” about what’s happening “now” in the 25th century. “Hero” something. Tomorrow’s Hero, Forever Hero, something like that. They’re still coming out. I go searching for it every couple of years and catch up.

        1. YUP. I have most all of the seasons on disc, but I haven’t watched the last couple of seasons yet. The SD crossover I did make a special effort to see though.

    2. Bones season 8 episode 12 ‘The Suit On The Set’ where Brennan and Booth are hired as consultants on a movie based on their cases.

  8. …an entire book is about a different main character……Chris Nuttall has pulled this off well in his Empire Corp series. He did this okay in the Zero Enigma series and badly in his Stuck in Magic book.

  9. I love, love, love when character is transported to a future where the bad guy wins and/or everything goes wrong, or an alternate present where something was changed and now everything has gone wrong. Some people see that as a cheat, but I think it raises the stakes when you can show how bad things can get if the heroes screw up.

    As a side-bonus, you can even work in the evil twin, like in The Age of Apocalypse storyline, where the alternate evil timeline disappears but some of the people from that timeline escape into ours, like Dark Beast.

    1. I’ve always wanted to see a story where several Doombots are quarreling over who does a better job of being Doom, only for the real Victor to try and settle them down. And of course he gets rejected for ‘not even trying’.

        1. Late to the party, but my wife was recently reading the TV Tropes page, Real Life section, about celebrities getting “Hey, you look like $NAME!” from people who don’t realize that they’re talking to the actual celebrity. My favorite was Tony Hawk, who, on presenting his photo ID, gets asked “Oh, your name’s Tony Hawk. Like that skater guy?” And he replies, “Yes, just like that skater guy” with a straight face.

          1. I love how Dolly Parton WEAPONIZED that– she stayed at low-end nice hotels, and got told by tons of folks how much she looked like herself. 😀
            Because of course Dolly Parton wouldn’t be staying at a Holiday Inn!

      1. Apparently, Charlie Chaplan lost a “Charlie Chaplan look-alike contest”. To be sure, though, he just showed up, because he heard about it, and didn’t have a chance to dress up as the particular “on-screen Charlie Chaplain character” everyone else was dressing up as.

  10. Ooh, the “drunk or hallucinating” explanation, too— Hercules killing his family.

    Um…. Oh! Secret arrangement that wasn’t told before to turn a situation inside out, especially if it’s a kidnapping– Hades and Persephone in the version where Zeus gave permission for the marriage, but didn’t tell Demeter about it.
    Also the further twist where they were in love, and it’s the horrible-mother-in-law thing.

  11. Villain And Hero Team Up Against Bigger Bad Guy!

    – AKA, Spike wants to help save the world because it’s full of people, and he really likes the happy meals on legs….

  12. Farscape was great for this. Not an evil twin/clone but a rare take on a love triangle that I actually enjoyed. Plus the Looney Tunes episode, the main character yoyoing in and out of madness, an awesome villain, and the body swapping episode.

  13. I think the second-best version of “evil twins” I’ve actually seen done was the film Start the Revolution Without Me, with Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland as mismatched twins (two each) on opposite sides of the French Revolution. The best, of course, is Sam Clemens’ The Prince and the Pauper, without which most Americans would likely never have heard of Edward VI.

    Many years ago, though, I thought of a dark comedy to flog the “evil twin” trope to the hilt: I haven’t written it yet, so any of the rest of y’all can take a swing at it, with or without attribution. It may or may not have even been done before.

    Premise: Two young men with similar features are picked up on warrants for crimes they did not commit. Both have police records, alibies, and a habit of blaming their crimes on “My Evil Twin.” But this time, they’re right. Of course, they are twins, separated at birth, and both leading “respectable” lives as fronts for white-collar and blue-collar crime, but when each dabbles in his brother’s line of work one New Year’s Eve, it’s the brother who get’s nicked for it. They meet in the jail and join forces. Rich Twin reveals that their late Dad’s estate is threatened by [antagonist] unless [feats of meticulous legality and choreographed absurdity] can be done to stop [antagonist]. After his valet/butler/Jeeves/Man-Friday arranges bail for them, they set out to secure the estate, free and clear, but it’s harder than it looks because [antagonist] is Jeeves’ “Evil Twin” and Jeeves is working with him all along.

    (In case you were wondering, yes, Dad probably achieved that zillionaire status in the same line of work both of his sons follow: to wit, crime. But that may or may not be relevant to the story, unless he had an Evil Twin, too. Twins tend to skip generations, so maybe it was Grandpa’s ill-won wealth that his evil twin helped amass.)

  14. Well there’s Dr. Who. He periodically reboots into a completely different version of himself.

    Very successful with that, right up until they went woke.

    Now I hear they are supposedly bringing back a popular version of himself to try to salvage things. He’s never reverted to a previous version. We’ll see how it goes.

  15. Am I the only one who immediately thought of Edgar Allen Poe and William Wilson?

    There were a lot of really good examples in DC’s “New 52” revamp. Too bad the company killed off all the interesting storylines in under a year. (And decided that going SJW was a good idea.)
    My favorite of the bunch was the Ravagers/Teen Titans/Superboy Harvest* arc. In which there are two Supeyboys, one evil.

    *The best villain DC had created in years. Naturally, they flushed him down the memory hole as fast a as they possibly could.

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