I am not, never have been, and probably never will be a full-blown conspiracy theorist, but I know people who are. It is handy to know such people, as having complex, and contradictory, plots by secret organizations explained is something I never tire of. Honestly, that shit is hilarious. It is all the fault of the Masons, the Bilderbergers and… IDK. Disney. Whatever. But the thought that there could be some agency behind certain events made me think of cool and interesting ways to weave an air of uncertainty through things. Hence the requirement that the ideology of the conspiracy peeps bleed into everything from an early point and get more pronounced as Robert Benton is dragged into the middle of the whole mess. The CIA would not come into existence until 1947, so I started thinking.
The organization started as the OSS in WWII (concurrent with the timeline of the Black Terror), and as I needed a face for the OSS I settled on The Spider’s niece, Silvia Rodney. She linked the voracious information-gathering and the complex manipulation elements together, and I decided to recast her and (post mortem) her uncle as members of an offshoot of a secret society. The skull and crossbones emblem, having a degree of relevance to this, meant I could pepper the number 322 and 42 in various permutations throughout the story. In the use of the chest emblem, even though there was the existing chemistry relevance, the added symbolism that the new threads brought meant I could explore some of that yummy Lovecraftian goodness with good reason.
Having this secret organization funneling research into superpowers, reanimation and other psuedoscientific things seemed highly amusing. And, in my mind anyways, Herbert was somehow still alive after encountering his misbegotten creations – possibly yelling “Nades, Suradis, Maniner” before the undead figures could dismember him. Regardless, the thoughts were flowing about the potion, the heroic persona, and the boxing connections. The most important element of all being the potion, which had felt too contrived and simplistic for a character who was quickly becoming more than a mere superhero in my mind. Transformation sequences in comics, film and literature are ten-a-penny, and normally don’t interest me as much as the question of identity and… well, stories which can be done.
Lets just step back for a moment and look at transformations.
There have been a bazillion transformation sequences in television, on film and in comics – ranging from the fetishistic Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Transformers sequences which lavish attention on shiny, shiny weapons and vehicles, through to… Well, the obvious character. There’s a reason I chose that video to highlight the problems of making a worthwhile transformation sequence. There are any number of examples to choose from, but in looking at The Black Terror’s appearance, there needed to be something extra. There are all kinds of reference material available about the effects of certain compounds on the human body, though this is one area where anything is permitted. Outside the remit of reality, and open to any interpretation, it is the most truly free elements the character permits.
The classic transformation sequence in fiction is rather… bland. Just take a look at the recent Captain America film to see my problems with the traditional form – it is too clean and simple. I like the idea of something more dramatic. I had a two page sequence planned, with thirty panels depicting the veins standing up in Benton’s neck, face reddening, a mad grimace twisting his features. His forearms pulling up in decorticate response as foam comes from his mouth, then twisting his head to one side, jaw clenched, before slumping to the ground. It is here that the big departure from the established continuity was required – I wanted to make Timothy Roland older, maybe in his early twenties. And that let me use the line “No doctors. And don’t tell anyone about the compound. If anyone asks, then… tell them it was formic acid or something.” A nice nod to the original comics, while keeping the horror elements.
Having laid out most of the main elements, there was one lingering problem that kept coming back to me. I hate masks. They are all too easy, and muddy the boundary between the adventure heroes and more stereotypical superheroes. I dislike superheroes, and the inclusion of the mask bothered me. Having established that Benton is a master chemist with access to potentially game-changing compounds, it made sense to make another leap for the sake of drama. There’s an exciting difference between a mask and a “visage of terror” (a line used repeatedly in Weird Tales). The use of chemicals to transform his face into an ashen, horrible image of pure terror – completely unlike his normal face – while in costume was the hook I needed to get into the story.