The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘public domain’

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.

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The Black Terror, Part Two

Posted by BigWords on May 22, 2013

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.

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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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A Pause For Breath

Posted by BigWords on May 20, 2013

My brain does not work the same way as yours. Let me get that out of the way straight off.

When I read things, my brain is accessing a small network of related material, cross-referencing and indexing away thoughts. There are no stories which exist in isolation, and while it may appear that things are held apart from other properties by limitations, I can see past those constraints and apply a reading that is rather different from popular opinion. As I have been discussing comics, I’ll start there. Continuity, in varying degrees, is a perennial hot topic for readers and writers alike. Most publishers of comics these days have a sense of continuity – both direct and indirect references, jokes, plots arising from continuity…

I’m breaking ranks in a big way here, but I gotta say that continuity, by and large, is something that is more interesting when ignored completely.

There’s a lot more I could say about Flashpoint, or Civil War, or any of the recent – and tiresome – crossovers. You probably don’t need my assistance in seeing how pitiful the attention-grabbing storylines spanning multiple series have become, destroying the flow of individual titles and cramming in all kinds of idiocy. It started well, with the original Crisis, but they have become unwieldy, cumbersome and annoying. It is one of the reasons that I try to avoid superhero comics in favor of… Well, anything and everything that doesn’t have a surfeit of capes and splash panels. Go read everything Eddie Campbell has done. And Bryan Talbot. Hell, for that matter go read Harvey Pekar’s stuff. Genius. And no bloody tie-ins with ludicrous hyperbole.

I don’t need publishers adding details to things when I am more than capable of filling in the blanks myself. My concept of characters varies wildly from the official depictions anyway, so reading the adventures of a character (specifically superheroes, but other types can be included here) I am most likely mentally ticking off all the things wrong with the script. There are degrees of severity to the “mistakes”, though I get most annoyed at simple real-world references that are wildly off the mark. For example, police characters in many comics seem to have been written with Saturday morning cartoons as the main reference point in their construction. Likewise, archaeologists are largely depicted in the same manner as Indiana Jones. That is, with no real attempt at believability.

If you have read this blog before, then you will know that I am a) hesitant to play with other people’s toys, and b) love the public domain. This is not, as it may seem, a contradiction.

Writing characters which are identified with specific companies, or form the output of a specific creator (such as Mr. Monster now being more identified through Michael T. Gilbert than the Golden Age character), seems – to me, anyways – to be rather pointless. It is the reason that I find it incredibly difficult to even think of writing Batman or Spider-Man, for example. When others say that they have a great idea for a story featuring a character from the Big Two, I tend to try not to say anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to write for such companies, I just can’t see the attraction of tackling any of the long-runners. They have been around for so long that anything I could add to the narrative has probably already been done. It is time to move past tired and overused characters.

But the public domain? Gods, how I adore the public domain.

Look, you may not realize it, but you probably already own a fairly decent PD collection. You have the complete works of Shakespeare, right? Those plays are in the public domain. And everything Chaucer wrote. But it isn’t all old stuff, which may have difficulty attracting a younger audience, as you can see from my previous post about all the good things that you can legally download, upload, torrent and remix to your heart’s content. Go wild. In fact, I strongly urge you to keep uploading, downloading, torrenting, and remixing that stuff, as the continued exploitation of things which are freely yours to do with as you will keeps them from being taken back by unscrupulous companies. And yes, companies are trying to steal back things from the public domain.

I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t start lashing out at those assholes until I was 100% confident of my ability to be online and tackle them. I’m steering clear of the specifics, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out those to whom I am referring.

And I think I may have talked myself into writing an ethics post at some point. Add that to the To Do list.

With the Flashpoint read-through and this preamble, I have sufficiently prepared you for what is gonna come next. It is something I seriously considered for all of a week at the end of 2012 before scrubbing my brain and coming to my senses. Before I get into the swing of things, and may get rather involved in the details, I want to make one thing very, very clear – this is not a “look at how clever I am” thing. This isn’t about who is smarter, this is all about the very minimum authors should be doing. This is about how things should be. I want people to consider the titles on sale right now, and how much better they could be had a little more work been done. I’m not singling out people who aren’t living up to their abilities in the posts.

I have made comment about my war on mediocrity, and this is, partially, the outcome.

And thus we are ready for the main event.

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Scumbag Of The Week: Jason Peterson

Posted by BigWords on April 2, 2012

Just a quick heads-up for people who should be aware of things going on in the interwebs.

 

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A Quick And Easy Way To Create Comics Digitally

Posted by BigWords on January 11, 2010

There are probably the better parts of twenty or so comics on various hard drives, so I have plenty of elements if I ever decide I really want to torture myself trying to pitch a title, but with the Commando character I’m in uncharted waters. I haven’t thought of trying to do a comic which harkens back to the old days of paper rationing and gung-ho national pride (because I get fixated on the irregular size) but I’m willing to see how well I can use the styles and distinctive mood to create something new. The main difference (‘cept for the shape of comics back then) is the text boxes and page layout in the better examples. I’m going to focus on elements rather than the bigger picture – no pun intended – to show my method through this.

First of all we are faced with the physical comic itself. Given the harshness of white paper, and when trying to recreate the feel of a Golden Age comic this is important, the look is completely off – so it is necessary to use a  suitable substitute. Yes, that is a Photoshop recreation of old paper… And the original is 2.7 GB in size and seven layers deep. Obsessed much? Probably, but I like playing with the software. The paper used on Fawcett and Fox comics are prone to browning (as are other publishers to greater or lesser degrees), but I don’t want the base image I’m building on to look too dirty. Off-white is enough to give the impression of age and distress without turning people off the idea of looking at it in the first place.

If you have never seen a GA comic, you might be surprised to find the name of the comic printed at the top of each page throughout the book (just like in some novels), and trying to match this is damn hard. The first attempt (using – appropriately enough – ‘Comic Book Commando’ font) is overlaid with a 50% fade of the background to break up the solid black. It ain’t perfect, but it’ll do until I can start scanning scratchier, hand-written fonts. There are many little details I want to capture, and some of the most distinctive elements are the stuff that isn’t considered important any more – such as letterboxes. But I’m getting ahead of myself… First there is the basic page shape to deal with.

I can’t work irregular shapes. I’ve tried. I’ve attempted three or four different shapes which correspond to GA comics, but each and every workaround is hampered by the restrictions which I need to impose on the underlying framework. Before I even consider adding any visual elements to the page, I start with a new Photoshop file 12cm x 18cm (at 500 pixels per cm – more than enough for b&w printing), and a white background. Onto the white background I drop in a layer that assists with scaling, being a grid of ½cm black and white cubes, and a layer of solid red (at 25% opacity) so I can pick out any stray pixels that need correcting. Yes, that does come under the heading of obsessive, but it works for me.


For anyone wanting to play along at home, this is what the image ought to look like thus far. Using the Magic Wand Tool (W) – add to selection – I select the four corner boxes from the grid layer, and then create a new layer. It is simply a matter of joining up the boxes to each other to give a border to work within – this is an easy way of checking how cluttered the artwork looks with text inserted – using the full page would look cluttered anyway, and this gives a better approximation of the printed image.

Save this, as it can be used and re-used for multiple images.

When I need to use grids, a rather outdated style these days, I have them set up as standard images ready to re-use when needed. The gutter width varies depending on the number of panels per page, but I like to keep them as close as possible throughout the length of the title.

The boxes are still red, being ‘layer via copy’ from my red layer, though putting in black borders this early seems as if I am rushing things. I like the images ready to use before I decide on how strong the borders are going to be rendered. Of course, my natural instinct would be to use as many quirky border effects as possible. The following element example is from a kung fu comic I started a while back, and demonstrates how unusual border elements don’t necessarily have to be complicated.

This, of course, is redundant with a Golden Age comic, so I’m having to treat every single panel as if it was fresh off the page. Too many clean lines will ruin the immersion, and it is complicated enough trying to work out the depth of image I can get away with as it is. The most complicated pieces of the puzzle (ironically) will be the text boxes, as some of the best examples hail from the early forties.  Yes, I know it looks awkward and too faded at the moment, but it should look okay once I have gone over it with several more layers of rendering, smoothing out the gray background and darkening the text.

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Mining The Public Domain

Posted by BigWords on January 6, 2010

As I try to keep myself occupied with adequate levels of strangeness, it occurs to me that there seems to have been a shift in public opinion regarding public domain characters while I wasn’t paying attention. There used to be a sniggering, sneering attitude taken whenever people brought up the outmoded (and often laughable) characters and situations which had been abandoned by their creators, but these days it is hard to turn around without catching a glimpse of a famous character free from troublesome copyright problems. I guess it saves people the trouble of having to do the hard work. Or something.

Take a few moments to think of the number of revivals kicking around at the moment. The new Sherlock Holmes film, the Project Superpowers comics, the Robin Hood and Merlin series from the BBC… There are many, many examples kicking around now, which take the elements of the original characters and spin them off in new ways, and I’m wondering if this current fascination may have something of worth. Maybe there is redemption for the neglected characters nobody seems to want to take the blame credit for. Lets pick a good example from the Golden Age of comics… Hmmm. Captain Commando seems particularly pathetic.

Now, my first problem is the name. There’s no way anyone can write a character called Captain Commando with a straight face. I’ll simply use Commando from now on, if only to save myself from getting a migraine trying to take him seriously. And then I come to the costume. Were S. M. Iger and Alex Blum being incredibly lazy when they came up with this particular patriotic character, or did they know he was fated for the trash heap when they first cobbled together the (sparse) elements? There is nothing particularly memorable about him save for that awful, awful name – nothing to be proud of here, guys.

Do I have to point out the V on his costume? Considering that neither his real name nor his nomme de guerre (or even an affiliate organization to which he is attached à la Legion of Super-Heroes) contains the letter, it’s merely a visual distraction. That isn’t even the most obvious problem with the costume, because, given his military rank, he displays a lack of any insignia or other company identifiers. I’ve always liked the fetishism of uniforms (look at the Germans in the second world war for the prime example of military style), so there has to be something which looks like it is straight out of a war film.

That’ll do for now.

Next on the agenda is that belt. I like simplicity combined with automatically recognizable elements, though there is no way that damn V is staying. He’s the poster boy for the US war effort (in his mind, at least), so he ought to have something a little more patriotic than a letter – even that lame-ass Aquaman has a letter on his buckle, and look how his career turned out. Maybe a simple American flag would suffice. It’s clear from a distance, and the soldiers who watch him from a distance will know whose side Commando is on.

John Grayson (Commando’s real name) doesn’t really have an origin, which also points to the lack of care in crafting the character. There’s already way too many characters whose origins are clouded in Super Soldier serum / radiation / mutant DNA bullshit, so there really should be a more realistic take on the origin if he has any hope of being of use. Considering how many of the Stars And Stripes characters have been deconstructed and psychoanalyzed over the years, for the worse in many cases, I don’t want to use too much of the sub-Freudean hackery that passes for ‘depth’ in comics.

The first point which I have to make regarding superheroes is simple – you can’t have a character say the Nazi’s are doubling their garrisons all along the coast if the character isn’t at least Superman-level. It doesn’t work with Batman, so it sure as hell doesn’t work with the lame sonufabitch pictured above. The Nazi’s are – in all likelihood – wetting themselves with laughter at him prancing around in his red underwear. I’ll let that sink in a moment before hashing out a half-decent origin for you… A guy wearing spandex is not threatening. It’s one of the unfortunate hold-overs from the early comics, and it has to stop being portrayed as anything but camp.

My point made, I promised you an origin. Here goes:

The US military forces, sensing that their troops are being demoralized by the superior fashion sense, the awesome-cool supernatural trinkets, and the sexy baroness’s in tight-fitting leather which Hitler has been parading in front of their GIs, decide they need a show of force that will raise the spirits of the troops. The best way to get the blood up is, apparently, by having a focal figure which they can look up to and attempt to emulate. Nobody bothered to check the ways that this could mess up their fighting force, with mere mortals trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal. Great way to encourage troops to run into a hail of gunfire…

So, barring any of their men tripping and falling into a vat of radioactive-super-soldier-making-macguffin, they need to manufacture their hero. There aren’t any easy ways to get a regular guy to the state of battle-readiness that Commando displays, so slight of hand is needed. I suggest this could be done simply and without recourse to any of the tired and predictable superhero staples which make me despair for the state of writing in comics. First of all, a small unit (twenty men) armed with enough firepower to take out any number of enemies they encounter are deployed as quietly as possible. No witnesses – this is a really important bit.

These guys, hand-picked for their abilities, do all the dirty work and make damn sure everyone within the target zone is eliminated. With the area cleared, Commando is safely dropped into the middle of the battle to be picked up by a unit which has been ordered to go pick him up. As he is being transported back to a very visible base to be flown back to HQ, he busies himself bullshitting the troops about how he managed to single-handedly take out the enemy forces in the area. Suitably buoyed by his tales of heroism, the soldiers have their spirits raised and hope renewed.

Shower, rinse, repeat.

There ya go – one origin story just as I promised.

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Pondering The Forgotten Characters

Posted by BigWords on July 4, 2009

Having (finally) posted something in the book review blog I started, I was thinking on old characters whose popularity had died out somewhat. In the research I have done on Victorian characters (don’t ask and I won’t yell) I found Captain Kettle, a formidable seaman with a pointed red beard. The stories were pure adventure fantasies written for an audience desperate for excitement, and they are still quite readable even today. But, unlike his contemporary Sherlock Holmes, Kettle has not had such a remarkable career since his creator, C.J. Cutcliffe, died in the mid-‘forties.

There are dozens of similar cases, where a character who held the public’s attention seem to slide off, never to be heard of again. I’ve had a few ideas, along the lines of the Wold Newton universe, but have never had the time or inclination to mess around with characters whose origins are tied to other hands. If anyone wants to write a book with characters culled from the magazines, pulps and turn of the century novels, then I’ll be first in line to buy the novel, but I’m not sure I could do it myself.

Is it a weakness or a strength that I need to mark my territory? That I have to have full control of characters? Is it an aspect of my OCD? Damn, I’m not sure if I could even participate in a series of novels and short stories like the Wild Cards books without imposing a whole bunch of rules and restrictions on what comes after me. I’m used to having a free hand at writing, and anything which appears to rule out developments that I may (though not necessarily will) take, kinda defeats the purpose of playing god. Anyway… if a character who is free for the taking is available to all, then would novels by other hands rule my work into, or out of, canon?

I’m probably the only person concerned with the veracity of character usage, as many derivitive works are flooding the market at the moment, taking characters who have slipped into the public domain and rebreathing life into their lungs. I’m not so sure that the trend is a positive one, for readers or writers, as it dilutes the market for original and unforeseen ideas that may – if proper care is taken – herald new writing concepts. If people are so concerned with making sure that their work doesn’t contradict previous novels, will they be paying enough attention to their prose?

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