Bring Back The No-Prize

There is a hideous sub-breed of geek that demands realism from those who tell stories about men who fly and women fight ancient death wyrms with bare steel while wearing chain mail bikinis. They can be found scolding their entertainers—who they place on pedestals once reserved for gods and supermodels, the better to tear them down from later—in any given corner of the Internet.

Last night I found them on io9, having a rabid debate about how Batman wouldn’t be able to operate as an “urban legend” for 30 years in a modern Gotham with CCTVs.

Set aside for a moment the fact that they were speculating on information offered by a film blogger—a species of journalist trained at the Nabokov-Nolan Institute of Unreliable Narrators—and dial in on the concern they have that a billionaire who dresses up like a bat would not be able to remain a shadowy figure. That closed-circuit televisions, being by definition not connected to a network, are not susceptible to online attacks from the mighty Cray supercomputers that line the cavern walls under Wayne Manor.

Once upon a time Marvel Comics, whose film division has set up a lovely division of the U.S. Mint for the shareholders of the Walt Disney Company, had a smart way of dealing with this breed of nerd. It was called the No-Prize.

If you wrote into the letter column at the back of a Marvel comic with a complaint about logic or continuity you were nothing special. Write in with an explanation about an apparent gap in logic and you won a No-Prize. Which wasn’t much of anything, except for the honor of having participated in the storytelling process in a positive way.

Marvel ultimately discontinued the No-Prize. If I remember correctly it is because the hunt for errors to explain away became too popular. Unfortunately the tradition of looking for errors has continued, but without the lessons that the No-Prize system provided. Essentially every awarding of a No-Prize was the triumph of creative thinking over the dull instinct to scold.

I wish someone, be it a comic publisher or a speculative fiction blog, would bring the No-Prize back and teach the young nerdlings of today how to use their imaginations for good. The idea that you can create your way out of a set of bad decisions is one of the lessons of comics culture that I cherish deeply, a value that doesn’t seem to remotely exist today.