Category Archives: Superpower

Women and Minorities in Writing: The Marvel Debate

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This week, I find myself in the unique position of watching current events that further two previous topics of mine. Marvel recently announced changes to two of its major characters- giving the title of Captain America to African-American hero the Falcon and that the title of Thor will be carried by a woman. These announcements have been met with much speculation, including accusations of race and gender baiting. While I cannot give a definitive answer to that debate, I would like to examine them as they relate to my earlier discussions on race and gender in writing.

To begin, we should first establish exactly how these changes are coming about. For Cap, Steve Rogers has had the super-solider serum drained out of him, and is no longer able to function as Captain America. As such, he has assumed a strategic role and given the mantle to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, a former sidekick and long time friend of the Captain. Of the two changes, this one is less of an obvious ‘baiting’. Unlike DC’s move to create diversity by placing Teen Titan Cyborg in the Justice League (despite his having no previous association or status with the group), Sam Wilson has been a part of the C.A. mythos for years, and has operated as a protégé to Rogers for almost as long. Beyond former sidekick Bucky Barnes, there are few else who could hold the shield of the Captain. As for his skin color, I again state that Wilson is a hero in his own right with a well established history that gives him credibility. Also, the C.A. mythos have already established Isaiah Bradley as the ‘black Captain America’, the lone survivor of early American tests to recreate the super-solider serum on black soldiers (who died as a result and were kept secret). Therefore, placing Sam as the new Cap becomes more meaningful then learning that the previous ‘black Cap’ carried shame as well as pride with him.

Thor’s change is more difficult to determine. As of this writing, the story calls for Thor to become unworthy of his hammer, which will be taken up by a female character. As this change has just been announced, no successor or method has been named. This makes it more difficult to judge; Cap’s succession contained true to form reasoning and a protégé taking up the costume. Without knowing how or why these changes occur, or who will take up the hammer, I cannot judge it accurately. However, based on what is known thus far, this change has more of a ‘baiting’ feel to it. While Cap’s mantle can be passed down, Thor is a mythological figure and is the ‘god’ of thunder. Unless his personality is also placed with the new Thor (unlikely), this new Thor could very easily seem a pretender and inexperienced. Also, while there has always been call for diversity in comics, I doubt that women find draping a woman in the guise and identity of a male hero is much of an improvement. Still, too little is known to make a proper evaluation; but since Marvel did a good job pulling off Loki’s temporary gender change, there is still a possibility this could work.

So what do we take from this? Is this a chance to update and adapt heroes or simply a ploy to increase readership? In honesty, I do feel this falls under a ploy. Despite the logic behind the Falcon’s ascension, and the too-early nature of Thor, I simply don’t believe Marvel would permanently alter two of its largest properties. One simply needs to look at Superior Spider-Man (in which Dr. Octopus temporarily took over the mind and body of Spider-Man) and how its run returned Peter Parker to the front just in time for “Amazing Spider-Man 2”. By the time the next Marvel film with Cap and/or Thor rolls out, I think things will have reverted. So what do we take from it as writers? First, how well Cap’s story not only follows logic and history, but how it also keeps skin color at the back- this is someone that proven himself, and just happens to be a minority. Second, how simply dressing an opposite gender character in an established identity may not be diversity as much as marketing. And third, that writers still need to watch how and why they create minority and female characters, because all this controversy clearly says there are still issues attached to it.

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On Magic

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Greetings once again and welcome to the blog. Last week’s discussion of Discworld and all its fantastical nature caused me to reflect on another element of fantasy- magic. While not all fantasy stories have this directly, there is usually a hint of it or it is part of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. However, magic is often portrayed as the ‘answer’ to various questions in these novels. This is understandable since magic is undefined and can really do anything. However, stories that use magic do need to have rules that define it, or magic simply becomes another dues ex machina.

Magic in Books

Because magic is imaginary, it can be bent to serve many forms. Wizards and sorcerers generally can use magic for anything they desire, or there are specific types of magic (fire-magic, for example) that can do certain things but not solve all problems. It also serves a difficult balance of not always needing to be explained. For example, if Merlin the wizard casts a spell, we accept whatever he does because he is Merlin and an established wizard. But at the same time, if a character was somehow affected by, let’s say, a healing spell, and then developed the ability to stop time, then we are left wondering why a spell would have such a different reaction on this person. An example of this kind of magic comes from a parody from The Simpsons, in which actress Lucy Lawless responds to fan questions with “A wizard did it’. This causes issues because it makes magic a blanket answer that also means that it has no rules and can answer a question without establishing why.

Many books do establish severe rules for magic. In the Dragonlance Chronicles, it is explained that magic requires not only innate talent, but perfect recitation and writing of spells. The use of magic also drains the user, until he or she must rest and regain their strength. This explains why wizards do not take over the world with their power. There are also divisions in the ranks- three distinct orders that focus on good, neutrality, and evil. While they are different, all orders are bound to magic and its preservation, and will work together when the need arises. However, not all examples of magic are so heavily regulated. Many fairy tales use magic in simpler ways that do not require a lot of detail. We can all remember the witches of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast that could use magic. But since these characters are generally established to have power by designation alone and use it for evil, an in depth explanation is not required. However, this example proves that simply having magic is not enough.

This brings me to one of the reasons I chose to do this blog- a series of discussions I have had with a friend over Disney’s Frozen, which is based on the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. While I generally liked the film, I was disappointed that no explanation was given for the cryokinetic powers of Queen Elsa. When I brought up this point, my friend countered that this was clearly a magic land (as it had trolls that used magic) and that I was overthinking the matter. While that may be true, I still found this blanket answer an issue, as the trolls do not show the powers Elsa displays nor do her parents (nor do they have an encounter prior to Elsa’s birth that would explain it, as seen in the film’s predecessor Tangled). It paints magic as random and unpredictable and while it is conceivable that any of the reasons I mentioned might have happened, it is a blow to the film to not show them, especially as Tangled managed to do so in a two minute segment. Because while magic can do anything, it requires proper logic and rules behind to function, or it simply becomes the tool of a lazy writer to explain without actually explaining. And that is something no magic wand can wave away.

On a side note, I will be hosting a book signing at the Westfield NJ Town Bookstore this Saturday from 2-4. If you are in the area, stop by, meet me, and pick up a great book.

Writing Lessons From Kick-Ass: How NOT to write a Hero.

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In today’s blog, I will be using a piece of popular culture to emphasize a point on writing, specifically writing heroes. I bring this up because of the release of Kick-Ass 2, the adaptation of the comic sequel to the comic/film Kick-Ass. Now, for those of you who might be fans of this series, I want to make clear I don’t think either the film or comic are examples of bad writing. The premise is solid, the story is solid, and I enjoy it’s more realistic take on people becoming superheroes. However, watching the film left me with mixed feelings, and I have had little interest in either medium’s version since. The reason for this is very simple- Kick-Ass is a superhero movie that simply doesn’t have any heroes in it. And while writers certainly don’t have to focus on heroic characters, they need to understand them when they do, or anything they’re trying to say with them gets lost. So why does Kick-Ass fail in the department? Here are three reasons why (note; I will only be using the first film as an example, as I have not seen the sequel at the time of this writing).

#3 The Villain is a Better Father then the Hero

Two of Kick-Ass’s most memorable characters are Big Daddy and Hit Girl, two makeshift heroes seeking revenge against gangster Frank D’amico, for falsely imprisoning Big Daddy and causing his wife (Hit Girl’s mother) to commit suicide. This is a classic revenge story, and the audience should easily be able to root for this father daughter duo. But instead, D’amico is portrayed as a more watchful and better parent to his son Chris. How? D’amico consistently puts down his son’s attempts to join organized crime, wanting him to find a better, more honest life then his father.

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“But Dad, why can’t I help you at work?”
“Because you’re not missing Harvard to dump some bodies in the East River

Big Daddy, upon release from prison, immediately set his revenge scheme into motion, training his daughter to be a brutal fighter, training her in guns, weapons, and various fighting techniques from an extremely young age (she is 11 when the film introduces her). As a result, she is desensitized to violence, focuses only on ‘the mission,’ and is basically a grizzled, hardened fighter in the body of an 11 year old. However, we are supposed to root for her and Big Daddy, who has turned his only child into an instrument of his own revenge (since we get the impression Hit-Girl was very young when her mother died, possibly too young to have many strong memories) and rewards her for her violent work.

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“Daddy, can you tell me about Mom?”
“You cripple that gangster there and I’ll see if I can tell you what color her hair was.”

Yet Big Daddy places all the blame on D’amico, even in one scene claiming that D’amico, not him, stole his daughter’s childhood. While revenge-fueled, murderous heroes like the Punisher have thrived for decades, such heroes generally work alone and do not drag others down with them. By dragging his daughter into his own revenger, Big Daddy loses any sympathy from the reader and his actions fail to have any sense of justice, because he is a lesser person then the villain he rails against. Which brings us to the next point…

#2 All the Heroes Are Driven By Revenge Or A Desire to Be Cool

Hit Girl and Big Daddy are clearly driven by their desire for revenge, but rather than using that to build them, they are limited and wasted by it. Their desire to be heroes is purely driven by personal reasons, and there is no sense they have any desire to help anyone else. They brutally go after D’amico and his henchmen, steal his money, and repeat the effort over and over, without any widening of the scope. It is totally believable that once D’amico dies, both characters would simply take his money, hang up their capes, and retire to the Bahamas, because sating their revenge is all that matters in their crusade ( In fact, that is almost what happens in the film). The same idea had Batman fans raging over the ending of the Dark Knight Rises, and it has the same problem here- it makes the characters look selfish and small minded.

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“Yeah, so I spent two years being Batman, eight years sulking, ruined my company, and left after taking down one supervillian. Least I got my parents murderer first.”

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“Wait, you kept going after you got revenge? Why?

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“Girls.”

On the flip side, the movie ends with Kickass’s actions sparking a wave of other makeshift heroes flooding the streets, ready to fight crime. Except none of them cared enough to do something before, but now that there’s a popular, Youtube promoted hero, they suddenly decided to put on costumes and go out to fight. These people are superhero ‘whiggers’- they are simply following a trend without truly understanding it, which most likely means they will stumble along, stopping some minor crimes, until they are either eliminated by the criminals or arrested by the police. And all of it can be laid at Kickass’s feet, who is worse then either side because he managed to be them both. He begins with some altruistic notions, but is basically a kid living out his superhero fantasy to feel cool. And by the end, when he is predictably beaten and tortured for his actions, he joins up with Hit-Girl, commits violent acts of revenge, and then promptly retires, leaving a whole generation of untrained heroes to tackle the villains that tortured them and slaughtered their loved ones.

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“Look, I’m sorry your brother, father, sister, uncle, and cousin were all violently murdered. I didn’t tell them to put on a suit and fight crime…”

#1 There is No Moral Code

All of the violence and selfish behavior in this film are truly symptoms of one major problem- there is absolutely no moral code. The villains are expectedly brutal and psychopathic, but the heroes are the same way. The only difference is that the heroes put on costumes and convince themselves they’re the good guys because they were wronged or they have some misguided thoughts on doing the right thing. But it never justifies mutilating henchmen or putting a child in harm’s way for your own revenge. This movie is basically watching two groups of psychos slaughter each other, and we are told to feel bad for ones in costumes. But their motivations fail because simply put, they make the Punisher, a cold-blooded killer that condones things by going after criminals, a better hero, since he works alone and goes after more criminals then just the ones that personally wronged him. And worst of all, they take the greatest misconception about superheroes and prove it true. We’ve all seen the scene where the police chief or someone in power argues that ‘vigilantes cannot be tolerated, because they’re so dangerous.” Real heroes prove them wrong, but Kick Ass and his group ARE those vigilantes we’re warned about- people who take the law into their own hands and don’t care about the consequences. And there is no greater failure for a hero then that.

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“Can we trust you?”

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“Totally.”

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“Good, cause this guy’s a real problem.”

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Genre Top 5: Zombies

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This week, I was intending to continue with my Publishing series, but this particularly entry has required some additional information by an associate with greater experience. Therefore, today I will continue with my Genre Top 5, focusing on a current trend in writing- zombies. While I generally prefer zombie tales to the vampire and werewolf tales of the last few years (I’m looking at you Twilight), this doesn’t mean every zombie story is perfect. Some are little more than rip offs of classic films like Night of the Living Dead, with more gore and splatter then storytelling. What’s worse, many authors don’t try to take the idea of the zombie and infuse it with new ideas, like different settings or even humor. So I’ve list the best of the zombie novels I’ve read, which succeed because of the different takes they give the undead.

5. Hebert West, ReAnimator– H.P. Lovecraft

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I already spoke of this novel in my Horror top five, but its importance as an early tale of the dead rising makes it essential for this list.

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies– Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

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This was the first zombie novel I picked up, and I can say all my interest in the books come from this one tale. For literary buffs, it is an adaption of the classic Jane Austen tale, but places the Victorian characters into a minor zombie apocalypse, which has forced the five sisters to undergo intense self-defense training in the far East. However, the story never loses its Victorian feel or manner (the zombies are even referred to as ‘hungry ones’ to make things more civilized) and while Elizabeth Bennett is now resolved to slaughter the zombies of England, the book keeps intact her family’s dilemmas and her complicated courtship of Mr. Darcy. An excellent adaption that makes the classic novel easier to swallow for those not romantically inclined.

3. Night of the Living Trekkies– Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

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A zombie story for the sci-fi crowd, this novel makes the zombie plague the result of alien parasites, who rapidly infect the crowd of a Star Trek convention in a Houston hotel. The story is filled with plenty of references for fans (the main character is named Jim Pike, an anagram of two Enterprise captains, and the chapters are named after classic and appropriate Trek episodes), and moves at a quick pace. But what truly makes it work is not just how well the references work, but also the surprising depth behind it. Pike is a Iraq War veteran dealing with severe fears from his time in war; he is terrified of taking responsibility for the lives of others, but is forced to do so (and reignite his Trekkie past) to save his sister and the few human guests left in the hotels. It is a story of personal growth mixed with phasers and brain-eating, and every aspect works brilliantly.

2. Deck Z– Chris Paulson and Matt Solomon

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A historical zombie thriller, this takes the undead aboard the most tragic ship in recent history, the RMS Titanic. Thankfully, this is not a parody of the popular movie, but the tale of a post WWI German scientist who discovers a zombie creating substance that he hides above the ship to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, an assassin causes the substance to leak and spread about the ship, just as the iceberg comes into view. While the concept alone will likely attract those hoping zombies will eat Celine Dion at some point, the story works because it doesn’t allow itself to delve into parody. The ship and events surrounding it are simply the background for a fast-paced story with enough historical accuracy mixed with zombie plague. Taking real figures like Captain Edward Smith and making them zombie hunters is effective, while the main characters hope to use the substance to cure disease makes him sympathetic and understandable. An excellent seafaring horror tale that James Camereon might’ve wanted to look at.

1. Apocalypse Cow– Michael Logan

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An award winning zombie tale (it is the first recipient of the Terry Pratchett Prize), it focuses on cows and other animals in the UK being infected with a zombie-esque disease that also resembles mad-cow disease. While the premise is certainly silly sounding, the story works because the author expands the idea by having other animals infected (imagine every animal in America suddenly going mad and hungering for flesh). The human characters also work wonderfully, as each one has some relation to the outbreak- a slaughterhouse worker, a rebellious vegan teenager, and a reporter looking for the next big story. Their story mixes in both humor and heartbreak as they attempt to escape to safety while saving and losing members of their families and friends. It feels like a story that’s ready to be turned into a film, and I would eagerly pay money to see that happen.

Heroes and Villians: Batman and the Joker

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Two weeks ago, I started a column on the relationship between heroes and villains. Then, I discussed two characters that managed to be total opposites, yet have just enough in common to make their battles carry some sadness. Today, I’ll be speaking about characters that are opposite in nature, but also with a unique difference in their very symbolism- Batman and the Joker.

Background

Two of the most well-known comic characters in history, Batman and the Joker have had a relationship that has stretched back over fifty years. Batman is, of course, the Dark Knight of Gotham City, sworn to protect the innocent after the childhood tragedy of losing his parents to crime. The Joker is the ultimate Gotham criminal, an insane murderer who happily causes chaos with lethal pranks, or with just a knife and some spray paint. Unlike Batman, the Clown Prince’s origin is a mystery, as he is too insane to give a clear account. The most common belief is that he fell into a vat of chemicals that bleached his skin and hair, giving him his clownish appearance. Both hero and villain have emerged at the top of their games, as one of the most respected and most feared figures, respectively, in the DC Universe.

The Traits of Good and Evil

As with most heroes and villains, the very natures of Batman and the Joker are at odds. Batman is arguably the ultimate anti-hero, using fear and intimidation to run the criminals of Gotham ragged. Batman is so driven in his mission to create peace and order that he can barely tolerate failure, and will go into a situation with five backup plans, with five more backups for each of those. By contrast, the Joker is driven simply by madness, and is therefore unpredictable. The Joker will often change his plans to suit his mood, or kill an associate for no real reason other than a joke. He is totally driven by dark humor and murder, and sees his work more as an art form then a mission. As such, he is the perfect foe for the logical, dark-edged Batman, who must ironically think like his insane counterpart in order to defeat him.

However one of the most unique things about the relationship between Batman and the Joker is the unique reversal of symbolism. The Batman is man dressed in black, who uses fear and intimidation, insists on doing things his way, and often keeps secrets from those around him. Yet he is the hero, while the Joker, who dresses like a clown and is obsessed with humor and jokes, is the villain. It is a unique dichotomy, that allows the readers to move beyond the traditional appearance of good and evil and get a serious role reversal with each battle (though there are certainly many that are afraid of clowns). But even with these opposing factor and even opposing roles, there is still rather unique factor that connects both Batman and the Joker- the masks they wear.

Comic experts will often make the argument that Batman ceased being Bruce Wayne when his parents were murdered, and that the Batman persona is his true nature. As such, he is being himself as Batman, while Bruce Wayne is the mask he wears to operate publically. While the Joker would likely never use a civilian identity, he has also totally become his alter-ego, with nary a second thought to his previous life. As such, these two are both men who define themselves by their masks and therefore each other. Batman’s darkness and heroic nature are at their most apparent when contrasted to the Joker’s humorous appearance and obsession with humor and death and vice versa. In fact, the Joker has often said that Batman is the driving force in his life, and in many portrayals, either becomes sane or shuts down completely, when Batman leaves the picture. And since Batman cannot bring himself to retire and lose himself, the Joker continues to exist and cause mayhem, which causes the need for Batman.

Final Thoughts

The Joker and Batman are two of the most epic foes in history, and bring a unique opposing nature and even an inversion to their rivalry. And at the same time, they are intrinsically linked; one simply does not exist or function as well, without the other. Writers can use their relationship to not only set two opposing forces against each, but to make them unique, and give their relationship something beyond the simple nature of black vs. white. And at the same time, these characters still manage to define each other by contrast, and as such, their battles become essential, necessary devices for them to truly define themselves and who they are, now and forever.

Points of Light: Justice League

Last week, I discussed a comic book movie adaption with The Crow. Comic books have always been a great passion of mine, particularly the work of DC Comics. The company responsible for heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (collectively referred to the Trinity, due to their status as the first regularly published comic heroes), DC is the oldest comic book publisher in America, and has some of the most iconic heroes and villains in comics today. And while their comic adaptions have ebbed and flowed in acclaim, one particular adaption has been a critical and commercial favorite with fans- Justice League, and its sequel Justice League Unlimited.

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The Story

Based on the long running book, and helmed by Batman: The Animated Series creator Bruce Timm, Justice League is a gathering of the greatest DC heroes (the Trinity, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl), into a single team working to overcome threats too great for any of the heroes alone. Watching the Earth from the orbiting satellite the Watchtower, the League dealt with threats such as The Injustice League, Mongul, Darkseid, Brainiac, and other classic DC villains, while dealing with betrayal, loss, the stress of working together, and eventually opening the League to a wide range of heroes in Unlimited.

What I Learned: Group Dynamics, Individuality, Depth

Perhaps the greatest strength of Justice League, both in the comics and the show, is its wide array of characters. Even though the heroes had banded together, this was still a group of characters that had very different personalities, and very different approaches to handling situations. While there were the obvious differences in Superman and Batman (one was the public hero who started the League, the other an urban legend who worked the League part-time), there were plenty of friction in the other heroes. Green Lantern was a former Marine, while the Flash was an impulsive jokester. Wonder Woman was a regal and somewhat naïve Amazon, while Hawkgirl was a gritty, hardened alien police officer. All of these issues were addressed at some point during the show’s run, even used at one point to disband the League in a plot by Gorilla Grodd. However, it made the League a stronger team because they not only overcame their differences and learned to work together, they also managed to remain a group of individuals, each with their own views and theories on how to do their job. And as a result, they gained a strong respect for each other, which is shown in one of my favorite scenes from the episode “Hereafter” where Superman is supposedly killed, a fact all but Batman accept.

And there is no stronger team-builder then the scene below, where the Flash is nearly killed.

All of this showed me how to really build the Knights up as a team, but keep them as individuals. They needed to be different, they needed to argue, maybe they even needed to hate each other a little. But because they were all needed, because they couldn’t do the job without each other, they had to learn teamwork, and how to respect what each of them brought to the table.

Beyond character however, Justice League brought something that most don’t associate with comics or animated TV shows- depth. Bruce Timm has said in the past that he thinks of his work as adult shows that children happen to like, and it truly shows. These were characters that could fly, punch though walls, had magic space rings, and millions of dollars in crime-fighting equipment. At first glance this seems primed for kids, but this was nowhere near earlier attempts like Superfriends (made quite clear when a statue of the Wonder Twins was destroyed in one episode). These were characters that despite all their superpowers, still felt like real people with serious problems to deal with. The episode with the dream controlling Dr. Destiny was a great show of this, as several members faced their fears (Superman fearing that he will grow too powerful to interact with humanity, Green Lantern’s fear that he is simply an extension of his ring, or Flash’s fear that his speed will literally push him past people). But the show also dealt with how far someone might go to get back what they lost ( “A Knight of Shadows”), how far the League should go in protecting humanity (“A Better World”), the League’s lives and connections outside of their work (“Comfort and Joy”), gaining and losing everything you’ve ever wanted (“For the Man Who Has Everything”), and one scene of sacrifice from Aquaman that still amazes me that it ever made air.

Damn.

What Writers Can Learn

Justice League might be a cartoon about a comic book, but any writer looking to work on group dynamics would do well to watch this show, or pick up a few books. It also stands as proof that even an idea that seems silly or childish can be portrayed as serious with the proper care and effort. As with my authors spotlights, the best thing I can recommend is to watch the episodes I’ve listed, or almost any episode of the series, to really see these traits in actions. As for the comics themselves, many are adapted from the comic stories (“Hereafter” is based on “The Death Of Superman”, “The Man Who Has Everything” is a classic Alan Moore story), but for comics that were not adapted, I can personally recommend “Tower of Babel,” “Divided We Fall”, “The Tornado’s Path,” and “Pain of the Gods,” all from my favorite run of the series. So head to your local comic store or wherever you get TV from, and check it out. It will help you learn about the most important parts of team building, and at the very least, might push us closer to that Justice League movie.

Points of Light: The Crow

Last week, I said that Points of Light needed to focus on two dark films that inspired me in the creation of my two main characters.  I began with Sam Rami’s Darkman, which provided the torment and loss for Joe, as well as some dark humor and the asthetic of the Knights’ costumes.  Today, I will examine the other dark film and graphic novel, which was a major turning point for the creation of Nightstalker- James O’Barr’s The Crow.

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The Story

The Crow, one of the most famous independent comics of all time, is the story of Eric Draven, a musician killed alongside his girlfriend by a gang of violent street punks.  One year later, Draven is resurrected by a mysterious crow (which according to the film, guides souls to the land of the dead, and occasionally brings them back), dons a black costume and frightening white makeup, and goes out onto the streets to take his revenge on the criminals that destroyed his life.  The film and comic take different approaches- the comic deals far more with the emotional turmoil Draven goes through as he comes to terms with death, while the film focuses more on the acts of revenge he takes against the gang.  Both end with Draven taking the criminal out and returning to the earth to see his girlfriend again, finally accepting his death and the circumstances around it.

What I Learned: Duality, Dark Humor, Inner Turmoil

The Crow is laced with tragedy, and with good reason.  O’Barr wrote the story after his girlfriend was killed in a drunk driving accident coming to pick him up.  O’Barr poured all of his anger and guilt into the pages of the novel, and that all comes across in the movie, which sadly has its own tragedy (actor Brandon Lee was killed during filming due to an accident with an improperly loaded gun).  Regardless, Lee put on a tremendous show of Draven’s inner anger and rage as he took revenge.  What I found amazing however, was that despite his inner anger and turmoil, he still showed traces of humanity and tenderness, especially with his friend from his old life, Sarah.

Even when he finds that Sarah’s mother is with one of the thugs, Draven still takes time to both heal and lecture her on the importance of her child.

This, in a moment, crystalized Nightstalker for me.  While he was someone that was dark and scary and violent, he could still be human, and care about others, even regret the course of action he had to take, despite it’s varying levels of justification.  But when he was violent and scary, he would still bring everything he had to it.  Still, I always appreciate some humor in my heroes, and Draven could pull that off even in his most frightening scenes.

But more then anything, I saw Draven’s inner turmoil and how it was driving him.  He was driven by a desire for revenge, without question, but also so many other things.  He was wracked with guilt that he couldn’t save his girlfriend.  He was tormented by the pain he endured.  And the memories of his past humanity, which he knew he could never have again.  But he never showed any of that to the people he battled against.  All his pain was reserved for moments of solitude, or moments with the few allies he gathered in the time he returned.  It was a unique dynamic to me- someone that buried the pain, but dug it up when he was alone.  It made him human despite all his brutality and anger, and I knew how much Nightstalker would need that.

What Writers Can Learn

Like Darkman, The Crow is an amped up revenge story, but with a different focus.  Reading the comic or seeing the film is a way to see a character shaped by grief and loss; knowing the backstory shows how far a person might want to go to see justice done.  There’s also the moral of accepting death and our own limitations in the sight of it.  Even if the supernatural/superhero elements don’t reflect your own ideas, they are concepts that resonate in some of the greatest works in literature.  If you want to tell a story that deals with death and what it can cause a person to do,  there’s no greater and truer fiction then The Crow.

Points of Light: Darkman

In starting Portals of Darkness last week, I realized that there were two major influences for Points of Light I neglected to include thus far.  So the next two weeks will focus on shining a light on two very dark pieces of cinema that allowed to bring my two central characters to life.  And as such, we will start with a film that gave me the traits needed to bring Joseph Hashimoto, the Lightrider, into being- Sam Rami’s Darkman.

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The Story

Written by Rami after his failed attempts to direct Batman and The Shadow, Darkman is the story of Peyton Westlake, a scientist working to develop a synthetic skin to aid burn victims; the skin is successful, but loses stability after 99 minutes in the light.  At the same time, Westlake’s attorney girlfriend Julie Hastings uncovers a document tying developer Louis Stack to bribery of the city council.  Stack sends his enforcers, led by Robert Durant, to intimidate Westlake for the document; in the process, they severely damage Westlake’s hands and face, before blowing up the lab with him inside.  Westlake survives, but is burned over 70% of his body; to allow him to ignore the constant pain, doctors sever his nerve endings, eliminating his sense of touch.  Westlake escapes and works to perfect his skin, rebuild his relationship with Julie, and get revenge on the enforcers, by using his skin to impersonate them and set them against each other.  However, the loss of touch has caused Westlake’s brain to amplify his emotions to compensate; therefore he becomes increasingly unstable as Stack and Durant work to destroy him and Julie.

What I Learned: Costume Aesthetic, Dark Humor,  Sense of Loss, Alienation, , Character Depth

As a fan of dark heroes, Darkman truly appealed to me and I was not disappointed by what I was shown.  First and foremost, the film helped me in developing the look of the Knights, specifically their costumes.  I was always entranced by the look of the Shadow- fedora, mask, long black coat, but it was also too clean for my tastes.  Darkman emulated that look but it made feel dark and gritty and REAL.  While I mixed that look with some medieveal themes, it was a major point in the look of the Knights- something unusual but with a degree of practicality (especially the mask).  Darkman also exemplifies another quality I admired- a great sense of dark humor.  While I’ve always loved this kind of hero, I especially enjoy a character that can crack a joke without losing his menace, and  Darkman does that perfectly, especially in this scene here.  It’s both menacing and humorous, something I took to effect with characters like Nightstalker and Sandshifter.

But above all, Darkman showed me to how create my main character.  In writing Joe, I needed to be able to truly the pain he was under by losing his life and family, as well as how he was changing under the stress of his new life.  Darkman was the best example I could find for such characteristics.  Actor Liam Neeson perfectly moved through the changes of a good man trying to help the world, to a man losing everything and picking up the pieces, to finally accepting that everything he once had is gone and he must move on.  Everything he goes through is meant to add weight to his character, from the damage done to him in his lab,

to his subsequent breakdowns while trying to remain true to himself

and the eventual decision to remain in the shadows.

Everything Darkman underwent was shown explicitly and made you feel everything he went through.  It amplified every time we have felt alone and lost from our true selves in life, and it was why we felt for him.  It showed what I needed to do have Joe go on his journey, experience joy and suffering, and eventually become a different, if not better man without losing the memory of who he was.  And without that, I had no book.

What Writers Can Learn

While Darkman is certainly an exaggerated example, it stands as an excellent demonstration of a character caught between two sides, and experiencing emotional pain and stress as they navigate their way.  Such characters are universal in fiction and writers can use Darkman to plot their own character’s course (choosing their own level of intensity of course).  The dark humor is a selective touch, but well done for those who choose to use it.  But all in all, the best thing Darkman offers is a solid, relatable character progression, and no matter what field you write in, that progression has to be brought out of the dark for your work to see the light.

What is Your Superpower?

Even if you never picked up a comic book in your life, there’s been some time where you wished you had some sort of special power.  It could be something simple, like warming yourself when it’s cold, always knowing where your keys are, or even just being to vanish to another place whenever you like.  But if you’re like me, with a love of comic books and understanding of powers like molecular reconfiguration and astral projection, then you have plenty of ideas as to what you would do in your wildest dreams- and what you could write about in a superhero-esque fantasy novel.  But then the question becomes how you make them work, and what the rules are for them.

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