The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

The Black Terror, Part One

Posted by BigWords on May 21, 2013

When I point out that I don’t see characters in isolation, it can be rather confusing for those who may not be au fait with the Wold Newton conceit. Accepting that there needs to be examples here, I’ll use the bare bones of the script I had played with at the beginning of December. First though, I have to explain why the character in question was considered. I want to get through this as cleanly as possible, though I may accidentally omit some piece of vital information, and leave some of my research or references obscure. There are a lot of things that I used to flesh out the concept, and even though it is all in files on the computer, most of it is buried in pages and pages of plot and notes on important (to me) details irrelevant to this post. Nudge me if I am being too obscure.

Back when Dynamite Entertainment started getting attention, I was (understandably) excited at the prospect of various characters being brought out of limbo and returned to print. The final products were, unfortunately, not handled to their full potential. No specifics. Just… Disappointing comics, from where I was sitting. That basic problem I highlighted about research was hampering my enjoyment, but more than that, there was a feeling that not enough fun was being had with the main characters. Whatever the final products, the fact that they are willing to explore unconventional characters makes me feel rather warm and fuzzy. Dynamite, in time, might turn out to be the company whose titles I am going to read most of.

Well… Aside from the glorious mayhem Dark Horse publish. I’m always going to have a soft spot for those guys.

So here’s the thing – Black Terror didn’t feel right to me. I had first encountered the character in the Golden Age comics I have been collecting, and it came as a bit of a surprise to see Alan Moore kinda miss the point with his use in Terra Obscura. It wasn’t a bad series, by any means, but it didn’t feel like he had his heart in the reinvention of the character. Then I saw the Dynamite version, and… Oh dear. In the original comics, he states at one point that he didn’t usually use firearms, though he was proficient in their use. I liked that. Something in not routinely using guns felt completely in line with my thoughts on heroes. He didn’t need to be packing heat to defend himself.

Which made me think, for some reason, that boxing might be a sport that he was interested in. It made sense to me that he would have been working out to get his physique, and it fixed a minor plot point that I had been pondering, though it also opened up an explanation for his name – happy coincidences figure a lot in the way I put stories together. Small hooks bring in new ideas, generate plots, character moments and explain relationships. The boxing angle needed another element, and it was when I began looking into his occupation that I got the notion that his “lucky accident” in the lab wasn’t so much of an accident. Then I realized that he needed a family. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Black Terror, originally created by Richard E. Hughes (a very prolific author) and Don Gabrielson, and continued for a while by Patricia Highsmith, was a natural choice for my taste. The skull and crossbones costume, a career in chemistry that lent itself to some interesting and original stories, and a supporting cast which spoke to small town Americana of the early forties. There’s an incredible amount of minor detail present in the original comics, with numerous political angles creeping into the otherwise traditional superhero comic elements. It took me about a year to finally see something in the character that I had missed, though within a day I had the complete origin down in my head, beginning with the most unlikely of moments.

Robert Benton is a genius. He’s able to put chemicals together to craft elixirs granting him great strength, but we never find out much more about the potion from any of the Nedor comics. I have limited interest in the use of the character in modern titles, and my focus was entirely built around what could be done with the character in a new way, so I purposefully ignored modern material. The question of why this great mind had been sidelined to a small town when he could have been an asset to the war effort bothered me. It was a question which required answering in order to make anything of his life hang together. The answer was boxing. Being a medical student in the thirties couldn’t have been cheap, and the answer was obvious when I started connecting the dots.

There’s that schooling to deal with, though. Where did he study? It was more for a humorous reference than anything else that I decided on Miskatonic University Medical School, but with Herbert West being a former student it felt right. When I had decided on him being reprimanded for attending illegal boxing matches as a medic, thus limiting his employment, it made sense he would end up in a small town rather than in a prestigious position in New York. When I was filling in the background, I also remembered a motto which felt like something that the university would have carved above the entrance to the chemistry wing – “Aureum Seculum Redivivum”. It isn’t often you can do a chemistry joke doubling as a comic book one…

The illegal boxing ring not only tied the character to one of West’s experiments, it also led to me thinking about the name, and the influence of Bill Richmond in his mind. The strength of this let me off the hook a little on the reason for such a dumb name. His love of boxing, and a sense of history would play into nearly everything, though a third element would soon distract me. Adding some Lovecraftian elements and boxing may, to any other writer, have been more than enough fleshing out, but that damn chest emblem needed elaboration. It was too simple to use piracy as a hook, and it left a bad taste in my mouth thinking about such a potentially powerful symbol being wasted. There was something much more powerful to play with right under my nose. An avenue leading straight into the middle of another plot generating idea.

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