The Black Terror, Part Three
Posted by BigWords on May 23, 2013
Back to the Skull & Crossbones… Man, that is so full of potential. And it opens in to a lot of things that can add depth to the character. It was while sketching out a basic timeline that I realized that I could strengthen the ties back and forth between the stitched together elements. Going back to the Herbert West story, and the explosion that aborts the experiments on Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., I had another feverish moment of canon-welding. There’s a funky character called Phantom Raider Of The Sky whose visuals and history fit the tone and mood which I was going for. And it fitted with the general theme of the characters being bound by events from the past, unable to escape the consequences of actions taken by others.
By incorporating other characters using the logo, I was able to form a timeline – John Perry of the Daily Clarion running a series of stories which seem to be using the Terror image, but it is Black Fury; a Japanese assassin of The Black Dragon Society trying to dirty Benton’s name; the actor Perry Knight appearing in a play in town… With the increasing appearance of the skull and crossbones surrounding Benton, it was also a way to increase his discomfort about having a secret identity, and the thought that someone might have discovered his role as Black Terror could be used to rack up the tension. It also led to a way to get other old properties tied into the continuity. Of course, having the plot set up through happy coincidences and conspiracy theories wasn’t enough. The basic reality of the character outside the fantasy has to be right for verisimilitude.
There are a few essential posts for anyone writing chemists working in a drugstore in the forties. There are not one, not two, but three posts which Sarah Sundin has written that are essential to capturing the atmosphere of the era. It was reading those posts that I realized I needed to show Benton in the white outfit (and that hat) which held so great an era-appropriate tinge. Nobody has really caught the forties flavor of the character, and it is stuff like the uniform which helps. Small details. I was reading books on vintage automobiles for something else a few years back, though I don’t have those to hand. Irrespective, there are places to get a feeling about the cars in play at the opening of WWII…
One of the things which attracted me to the character was the political edge about the character. One of the foes was Alderman Peters, lining his pocket and providing shoddy constructions, then there was the fact that his girlfriend worked for the mayor – it was a milieu almost built for a heady mix of corruption and political shenanigans. There isn’t another character from the forties so readily adaptable into a clever, in-depth examination of the ways that the war impacted on life. Even the throwaway element of his professor turning to crime for funds due to his research being appropriated for the war effort was strong enough to drag in some other character moments. It had the potential to be the forties version of The Wire if handled correctly.
When I talk about being able to see the connections which exist under the surface of a story, it is all this stuff I am talking about. It isn’t difficult to whip up something so complex and intelligent in a couple of days. I mentioned that there was a need for something more personal in the character – the original comics present a remarkably solitary figure despite friends – and it was in family that the character would face his greatest fears. He needed a brother. There’s a film which has slipped into the public domain that felt like the work of a divine hand, a narrative that tied itself into the character so well that there was little choice other than to accept Charles Benton as Robert’s erstwhile brother.
And the serum in that film is soooo right.
So, with all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place remarkably easy, it was time to address those guns. I am not adverse to characters wielding firearms, and in stories which take place in a pulpy, film noir world, there needs to be at least one scene where a character empties a revolver. But all the time? It gets too similar and tired, and there isn’t a link to the character’s other moments – with being a chemist, I had the notion that there might be more to the use of knockout gas or something… Small vials of milky liquid thrown at enemies rather than gunplay also fits with the attention paid to pugilistic tradition. This, in turn, keeps the character fresh and interesting when paired with characters who are more closely associated with carrying firearms.
Oh, and because he’s into boxing, it opens the door for Costigan to make an appearance at some point.