Short 'n Curlies #49

Short 'n Curlies #49

The Keyboard Is My FuckMonkey:

Okay…  Back to last week's ongoing Super-Heroic Super-Ramble.


You'll recall we concluded — using the triple-pronged spear of Logic, Axiomatic Truth and Si Shouting Nonsense Until We All Nod And Agree — that the modern archetype of a Crime-Fighting Super Hero is occasionally hamstrung by the sheer unbelievability of his or her moral choices.  Unilaterally deciding to Go Fight Villains, as a natural response to gaining Amazing! Super! Powers!, often borders on the Revoltingly Smug.  Right?


It's partly because of that — and partly because of a bunch of other creative pressures such as a) a cultural shift towards realism, b) a long-overdue attempt to introduce flavours of (whisper it) other genres into spandex-dominated Shared Universes, and c) All Writers Being Contrary Cunts — that a trend has arisen for characters who satisfy most of the obvious Traditional Super-Hero criteria, but aren't insufferable Goody-Two-Shoes types motivated only by a desire to Be Nice…

…And who also aren't baby-eating girlfriend-murdering serial rapists whose Eternal Struggle Against Crime hinges entirely on a sleazy vibe hacked out of the Nineties.

The character checklist runs via a few obvious staples:

1) There Must Be Action In This Character's Role.  That's because This Is Comics, and if you're trying to appeal to a readership whose standard monthly purchases have as their subtext — their subtext, you understand — the word "Punching", then you're not going to win anybody over by writing 22 pages of People Having A Natter.  That's why we don't have any comics about, say, little Johnny Ludqvist, who gets doused in translucent radioactive slime aged 10, develops a genius-level intellect and the ability to fold reality using mathematical principals, and goes-on to be a highly paid accountant.  Or Singhita Patacharia, whose mastery of chakric energy endows her with stunning Mind Control Powers and the gift of Emotional Manipulation, and who thereby becomes the world's most successful marriage guidance councillor.

No punching = no readers.  At least, none migrating from the "standard" superhero comics we're trying to infiltrate here.

2) There Must Be Costumes.  And Codenames.  And Other People With Same.  This is one of those "bait the hat" principals, really.  If you want to get your kids to swallow poison — or, I suppose, medicine — you disguise it in a spoonful of sugar and waggle your eyebrows, saying "yummmmm om nom nom."  Equally, if you want to write something A Bit Different, set ostensibly in a Super-hero universe, to be purchased mainly by Super-hero fans, then you'd better make sure the fucking thing wears its underpants on the Outside and has three too many biceps on each arm.  Yummmm om nom nom.

3) It Helps If There's Standard Superheroism Going On In The Wings.  Because we don't want anyone to panic, right?  We don't want anyone to imagine, hahaha perish the thought, that this whole thing is an exercise in making Normal Superheroes look silly. So, phew, let's keep things nice and secure, on the sidelines of the recognisable Shared Universe.

Got that?  Okay.  Under this system we've already had a bunch of Highly Awesome lateral thinking, from all sorts of great writers and artists.  They've been quietly expanding the corners of what the world thinks of as "super heroics" for a long time.  They've given us Cops With Super Powers.  They've given us metahuman thieves and assassins and bodyguards, in Marvel and DC universes alike.  They've given us flying couriers, healing-powered medics, runaway kids and super-modern techno-hacker types who do their Punching in the digital realm.  They've tweaked the context too, to give us School Settings, Prison Settings, Hospital Settings: situations and environments in which the fundamentals of Being-An-Altruistic-Hero plays second fiddle to the conflicts, missions and sexy encounters of whichever Genre they're sneakily introducing.  It's Costumed Adventuring, Jim, but not as we know it.

And in every case the readers discover, early on, that they don't miss the Boyscout Bollocks. They realise that what's made Super-hero comics so fucking brilliant all along was not the thrusting All-American "Help Thy Neighbour" attitude — Doing! Good! — but, simply, the Interactions Of People We Can Relate-To, Dealing With Circumstances We Can't.

Write that down. Go print money.  And then behold–


I figured I'd spaff-out a few examples I've never seen done before, just to show a) how fucking easy it is to think sideways, b) how much bigger and more varied our shared fictional universes could be, c) how ridiculous it is that so many stories we see today are echoes of older tales, and d) how there's Life In The Old Spandex Yet.

It becomes a really simple quest to come-up with roles that spandex characters can fulfil, which require action and excitement, but aren't altruistic, fuzzy-headed or fundamentally un-justifiable.

So here's pitch #1: The Bounce!  Welcome to Cowl At The Moon: Superhuman Society's most exclusive nightclub, where bottles of Cryptonite Kristal are chugged as fast as the Service-Speedsters can pour them, where skeevy mutants in dark corners lactate designer drugs To Order, where the A-Listers lurk in their incandescent Sex-Sauna VIP area — confident the MechaPaps can't reach them — and where every steroidal suit-wearing fuckwit on the planet brings their Alter Ego to unwind, get laid, and Talk Business in shady alcoves.  The story revolves around the club's security staff — from the hulking hyperviolent Splatters (like bouncers, hahaha, see what I did there, except moreso), to the eerie Mystery Schmoozer, via the all-seeing camera-eyed Candidman and the terrifying Attendant (who cleanses your hands and your soul) — whose collective job it is to keep the riffraff outside (supervillains, cops, and — worst — normal people), to keep the peace inside (in the face of pilled-up patriots, inebriated inhumans and sexpest sorcerers), and to pound anyone stupid enough to produce a camera into a greasy smear.  Stick in a manipulative-nymphonuke owner, a bunch of internal conflicts, a wider arc about supermob turf-war, and a smattering of Guest Stars, and the thing writes itself.  KIMOTA.

Or, ummm, #2: Bay Leaf.  A debt-collection officer with a heart of gold and a skin of SOLID DARK-MATTER, who can tell the inherent value of any object — OR ANY SOUL — just by touching it.  (Cue: dum dum duuuum.)  He gets sent out to, I dunno, repossess crazy gadgetry from Debt-Owing Heroes' Secret Hideouts, and along the way REPAYS THE DEBT IN HIS OWN LIFE.  Or some such bollockery.

Or #3: Pith Into The Wind.  A colonial-era romp in which Her Imperial Majesty Victoria dispatches the Empire's most super-powered Bastards into the Darkest and Unknowniest Corners Of TIME ITSELF.  I'm talking SPANDEX EXPLORERS, by jove! The story revolves around Johnny Cricketer — whose steam-powered limbs extrude organic elephant guns — and his sidekick Lackey (armed with the awesome power of Cosmic Racism), plus secret stowaway Miss O'Nary (a fragile popsie with the heart of a Man Of God, tormented by her Inner Slag).  We'll get them popping-up at various key moments in the history of whichever Spandex Universe we're inside (Arrival of Galactus!  Death of Superman!  The De-McFarlane-ing of Spawn!), to plant Queen Vicky's flag, convert all the local wallahs to corpses, blow holes in whatever "Heathen Gods" they encounter, then fuck-off back to Blighty for a soothing cup of Earl Grey.  EXCELSIOR, by jingo!

And so on.

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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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