Rocket Racer Super Saver


I was going to say I hadn’t seen a good “superhero” character made since Milligan and McCarthy made Paradax.  “Everythin’ okay?” I still ask that of people.  They still take from it, what I took from it then.  Because of those words, I’m a superhero each and every day.

So here, now that the pyramid of posts has been nicely set up, is that MEME thing my buddy Matthew was asking about.  Oh Lordy.  I think I told you folks before about my crazy attempts to invent a “super-team” back when I was a kid…the thought that led to the extremely enlightening contest of who could think up the WORST super-team…

Well now it’s characters.

I thought up some lousy characters, when I was a kid.  Mind you, eventually Ed and I thought of some (I think) great superhero characters…

But then that’s what this all ought to be about, oughtn’t it?

Where does that idea of great lie, how is it informed, in what context does it operate, what is the bar and how does one get over or under it.  I actually believe it is rather a high bar.  Though high jumps, in this metaphor, can be achieved by anyone.  But it…won’t do you no good if…

…You can’t find the bar?

So it’s a murder mystery, only without a body.  Or a crime.  Okay.  Let’s do THIS…!

My guy (invented before Ditko made “Speedball”) is a mutant who can’t get along with the X-Men.  Oh, he tries.  But he just can’t do it.  And in the end, he’s the first mutant to be kicked out of the School For Gifted Youngsters.

His code-name is “Nex”.  His superpower is shifting kinetic energy around.  He can fall from three miles up, shift his kinetic energy to the ground below him:  an earthquake results, but he’s okay.  He’s the spare term in the calculation of the conservation of energy:  if a falling meteor touches his skin, a crater opens up under his feet, and the now-stationary big rock next to his shoulder just sort of topples somewhere other than where he is  His power “level” seems to be topless. but no one can figure out how to make a useful power-set from it.  Like Cyclops and Havok, he can’t turn it off.  It’s always on.  It’s just there.  Everything around him’s moving REALLY SLOWLY.  He can’t walk past a window without it breaking.  A thunderstorm can’t break out around him without the lightning going parabolic, hitting everything that isn’t him.  He’s thankful gravity still works when he’s around.

He can’t go in the Danger Room.  He’ll fuck it up.

So much less can he go to Muir Isle.

Think of him as an Anti-Madrox.

And think of him as a guy Professor X just doesn’t know how to treat.  He doesn’t cause big problems.  Just little problems.  But:  all the time.  The Prof owns a block of apartments way on the outside of town, that no one lives in:  Nex should go there.  There, he and the Prof will commune telepathically, practise meditation skills.  It’ll take a really long time.

So Nex runs away and tries to be Spider-Man.  In other words he’s the one Marvel superhero that’s inspired by Spider-Man.  Because he figures Spidey’s got it easy, so he tries to be him.  I mean, things couldn’t get any worse, right?

Okay, your turn.


24 responses to “Rocket Racer Super Saver

  1. In your original version of this post you mentioned how comic-book creators have learned to keep the really good material to themselves, so they can profit from it, as opposed to turning it over to DC or Marvel. I can identify with that line of thinking.

    See, I’m in the early stages of brewing up a novel, one which features superheroes, so in a way I’m on the keep-it-to-yourself track. As in, is it really an optimum solution to allocate a good superhero idea to A Trout in the Milk as opposed to something that may someday make me a couple of dollars?

    Well, no, it isn’t, but then there’s also this principle: ideas are cheap. I used to make up superheroes all the time for various superhero role-playing games I was involved with, and stuff like that. It’s not hard, either; there’s no end to them. Absolutely no reason why I can’t whip off another one, a new one, one that won’t reduce my mental inventory any (which means I’m not going to use Greyghost or Dawn Coyote or Incandesca or Billy Blue Blazes or Cinnamon Girl or Perseid or Frequent Flyer or Daylighter or Neontetra or Valentine or any of those other malarkeys).

    What do we need to start with… we need a hook (by which I mean name/costume/powers), we need a motivation (which includes origin), and we need a setting (including supporting cast).

    Originally I had one idea that I typed up for this, and I liked it, but then I thought about it and decided that there was an aspect to the idea that wasn’t necessarily welcome. That is, I’m putting this superhero character in a world full of superheroes. Which is okay if that’s what you want, but maybe I should be trying to come up with someone who’s more self-contained. So here’s both.

    Clouded Leopard, aka Danica Dalh.

    Okay. Here’s a young woman, Danica Dalh, who belongs to an old superhero family. Her parents, siblings, and other relatives are all powerful superheroes. (This is in a world where every city and town has their own stable of superheroes, generally posted there by the government, and you get some private-sector-run superheroes also. Coming from a superhero family is like coming from a military family. One might think that this would lead to a lot of compromises between superhero ideals and the demands of the sponsoring organizations, but in practice it hasn’t worked out that way.) Danica, with her pedigree and an impressive suite of sound-based powers, was all set to graduate from superhero college and step right into a high-profile superhero team in a major city, but inexplicably lost her powers a couple of months before graduation.

    Since then, she’s been informed that she won’t be able to graduate if she doesn’t get her powers back, her great job offers have dried up, she’s drifting apart from her boyfriend, and her family is all uncomfortable around her and treating her differently. She still wants to be a superhero, because that’s what she always thought she was going to be, but in this world superheroes with no powers are not only at a disadvantage but are also looked at as kind of weird.

    So now what? Well, there is still one organization that wants to recruit her, but a) as far as she always knew, they were supervillains, and b) what could they possibly want her for? Plus, weirdly, it seems that Danica is developing other superpowers–nothing that puts her on the same level as the sonic powerhouse she used to be, but an odd little ability to make herself completely invisible and imperceptible in all ways to exactly one person at a time. (This is oddly reminiscent of the hypnotism power of Danica’s late mother, a former supervillain, a circumstance which wouldn’t exactly heal the rift between her and her family, if they found out about it.) Maybe, with this power and the skills and fighting ability she’s learned over the years, she can make some kind of go at it…

    The typical Clouded Leopard story has Danica dealing with problems much more morally ambiguous than those faced by the other heroes in her world. They’re more powerful, see, and they have institutional support from the mainstream of society, so they get all the low-hanging fruit. Danica has to handle the problems that they won’t touch, and often is in over her head just in terms of how powerful the opposition is. Meanwhile, every time she gets involved in these questionable investigations, it just makes her family and former friends trust her less. Supporting cast: family, ex-boyfriend, neighbours, an ex-henchman of some supervillain who she befriends, coworkers from her civilian job. Part of Danica’s storytelling engine is that she’s not very powerful, so while there may be hints that she’ll get her old powers back, she never actually will. Similarly, she’ll remain in contact with her family and friends, and maybe come to some kind of equilibrium with them, but things will never really be easy with them.

    Anthony Rowley, aka George Gamble.

    George Gamble lives a constrained life. He’s got a big mortgage and a lot of debt; he’s going through a messy divorce (with custody battle) that circumscribes his freedom to date, to change residences, to change jobs; he’s a field designer for a powerful and conservative (and, he’s starting to discover, actively evil) defense contractor, RRJ, whose secrets he must keep (and who legally owns every idea in his head); he’s got some manageable-but-annoying health issues that restrict his diet; he belongs to a repressive family who has no sympathy for him at all. He has no room to move at all, and he can’t take it any more.

    But what’s he going to do to blow off steam? If he goes out and gets drunk, that’ll get back to his wife’s lawyers and to the corporate security people. If he picks up a woman in a bar, same thing. If he starts his own blog he could get fired, no matter how innocuous the stuff he writes about; that happened to a guy he knows. He can’t blow the whistle on RRJ; that’s been tried too and it’s a good way to end up dead. He can’t even eat a freaking bag of cheesies if he doesn’t want to spend the next eight hours in the bathroom. He’s in a box.

    George decides to commit suicide. His life is intolerable and he can’t see any other way out. But if he just kills himself, the life insurance won’t pay off and his kids will lose out. But what if someone else killed him? And he gets an idea. He makes a mask, sneaks out of his house (past the private detectives), and goes downtown looking for trouble. He finds it: two guys are trying to carjack a third guy. George attacks them wildly, fully expecting to get shot or stabbed or something. But he doesn’t; one guy runs, and the other is too surprised to fight effectively, and George knocks him out. The victim calls the cops to say what happened, and George takes off. It’s the most fun he’s had in years. Kill himself? Why would he ever want to do that?

    George is on to something here. He starts figuring out how to do this some more. As George Gamble, he can’t do anything but follow a bunch of rules, but as a superhero, he can do anything he wants! He can follow his own judgment, make his own plans! First thing, he needs a better costume. He gets a rubber frog mask and some vintage evening wear, which he alters so it’s good to fight and run around in. And he starts carefully delving into RRJ’s activities, looking for an illegal shipment he can interrupt.

    Sure enough, he finds out about a couple of cases of sophisticated tech that some domestic terrorists are going to pick up from RRJ’s loading dock one night when the security cameras will be conveniently offline. He arms himself with some leftover Fourth of July fireworks and disrupts the transaction. George isn’t the greatest fighter in the world, although he has started taking lessons at his gym, but he’s got the element of surprise on his side. Plus, it seems that his opponents are always a step behind in fighting him because he lacks any instinct for self-preservation, and this gives him an advantage. He manages to make it out of there with the terrorists’ van, full of useful stuff (and an unconscious terrorist), and a suitcase of cash.

    He ditches the van and tied-up terrorist, along with the nastiest equipment, stuff he’d never want to use, somewhere where the cops will find it quickly (with a note, saying “Heigh-ho! -Anthony Rowley”), and takes the rest home to build into his costume. He puts night-vision stuff in the eyeholes of the frog mask, makes everything as bulletproof as he can easily wear around, and makes a sword and pistol to wear by his side. The sword has ten charges of electricity in it that he can use to stun people with, and the pistol has five different kinds of rounds it can fire (normal, rubber, tear gas, tranq, explosive).

    The Anthony Rowley story is that George has made a superhero identity so that he can have some freedom and act effectively. It’s nice that he’s doing good, but that’s not really why he’s doing it. He’s a little like Spider-Man in this, but:
    – Peter Parker has growing-up issues that George doesn’t have
    – Peter isn’t subconsciously self-destructive like George is
    – Peter accepts being Spider-Man and enjoys the freedom that comes with it; George actively created Anthony Rowley because he needs that freedom
    – Peter feels that being Spider-Man is his responsibility; George becomes Anthony Rowley to get away from his responsibilities
    – Peter’s private life is infinitely more fulfilling than George’s is

    As a superhero George is quite reckless. He’ll try to handle any problem, no matter how intimidating. He’s quite an intelligent guy, and tries to approach superheroism with as much intelligence as possible, but behind it all there’s an element of go-ahead-and-kill-me–see-if-I-care. He doesn’t want to die, particularly, but he’s always ready to. What he won’t allow is to be taken alive by the cops; having to stop being Anthony Rowley would be a lot worse than dying.

    This is a world with no superpowers or anything; Anthony Rowley’s opponents are mostly street crooks on the one hand and RRJ and its global conspiracies on the other. Although I could see George reading a news story about some evil guy, or terrible crime, somewhere and deciding to make that his new project. Supporting cast: ex-wife, lawyers, kids, coworkers, maybe a cop who doesn’t insist on arresting him. Over time his divorce and employment status may change, but part of George’s storytelling engine is that his life sucks, so he’ll always go from one problem to another; he’ll never be happy out of costume.

    What do you think of them?

  2. Oh my—how irresistible. Your character would be fun to read. The kinetic energy power set has been underutilized in comics (I daydreamed a character with similar powers once too—read on), and a sympathetic character that just doesn’t fit in with the X-Men and wants to go it alone—I’d totally read that.

    Creating such scenarios has, for over thirty years, been a way I deal with occasional insomnia, so I come to this exercise with plenty of practice (if not originality). As just about every possible power set has been used somewhere before—just ask Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad–my interest is in showing how some unoriginal powers could be shown in a fresh way—and then imagine a character and storyline to work with it. (Sometimes characters come first, followed by powers. Not usually, though.)

    The kinetic-energy related character I came up with is similar to yours, except that he can act as a battery for the energy to use at will. Drop him from a building and neither he nor the pavement is dented—but he can now pick up a handful of gravel and shoot it like bullets or else blast himself into the sky. Or he can bounce like Speedball (a character I’ve never read—my inspiration came from the tricks the Flash can do other than, you know, run fast, and from the fact that superballs are awesome, but Bouncing Boy has been done already).

    This kid is part of The Nuclear Family, Cold-War-era siblings whose powers were triggered by a nuclear explosion: each has some aspect of the bomb’s power. I never came up for a good name for this guy: “Kinetic Kid” was one try; “Shockwave” another—both pretty lame. Unpredictable and always in motion, he’s a counterpoint to, and the goofy little brother of, “Lass Alamos,” who has heat and light powers. Their pathos-heavy older brother is the scary, seldom-seen Fallout, who absorbs/channels the other, uglier aspects of radiation. They’re the children of a WWII-era super-heroine and her husband, a former super-villain (and therein lies another tale).

    They travel the world with their famous parents as the face of postwar Allied triumphalism, have constant misunderstandings with Soviet/Eastern Bloc characters, but generally are fighting the evil mutant monsters, giant robots, space invaders, and Bond-villain-styled megalomaniacs endemic to their time. Their parents have a larger agenda, though…

  3. I’m afraid you’ve lost me. What exactly is the goal of this post? My original read was “worst superhero character,” but now I’m not sure. Help!

  4. I just realized that both plok and I used Spider-Man as a point of comparison for our characters. This is natural; Spider-Man is perhaps the best-conceived of all superheroes.

    Mike: This part

    The kinetic-energy related character I came up with is similar to yours, except that he can act as a battery for the energy to use at will. Drop him from a building and neither he nor the pavement is dented—but he can now pick up a handful of gravel and shoot it like bullets

    makes him sound a bit like Snotman from the Wild Cards novels. There are some differences, though. What might be some good names for this guy? How about:

    Sigma Boy (Greek letters are always good)
    Even Steven (because the total amount of energy always adds up right. Works even better if his real name’s not Steven; if you have to pick a fake surname for him too, use Hamilton)
    Springbok (because a spring also stores kinetic energy)

    Harvey: I took it as just, make up a superhero character.

  5. Matthew E, I think we must have posted within minutes of each other this morning–I didn’t see yours when I posted mine. Your scenarios are very well-thought out, I think. Danica’s storyline is of a subgenre I like: In a world full of superior-powered individuals, someone with relatively minor powers can still be effective–in the right circumstances. The trick for such characters is to create such circumstances, and to my mind, it usually includes using disguise and the element of surprise. I can think of plenty of situations where her powers (or Matter-Eater Lad’s, or anyone else this side of Arm-Fall-Off Boy, for that matter) if the person isn’t wearing a costume and/or sporting a public identity that blares out to the world the one thing you can count on them to do!

    Danica’s powers have echoes of The Shadow and Mandrake, but are more interesting in the modern era: on one hand, we are less alone than ever, with all of the electronic surveillance, smart-phones, twitter, etc. But on the other hand, we are also more alone than ever as people walk through air terminals and down streets with their Ipods/Iphones, completely cocooned and oblivious to others around them.

    But I REALLY like George Gamble. He would make a fine comics character, but given his mindset and non-powered milieu, he would do just as well–or better?–in a novel or series of novels. He’s very Noir (but of the type that can include humor). And its a storyline that cries out for an ending. Characters called “self-destructive” lose credibility if they don’t either die or change their outlook after a while. No rush, though.

    Like your name suggestions too. I have a love of superhero names that incorporate real names. “Even Stephen” fits in well with the Amazo-powered Joe Average, the chameleon-powered Joe Public, Water-powered Hydro-Jen, and the transporting Johnny On-the-Spot.

    I’ve got more heroes in my deck too, but I’ll throw this card out to DC: a team of new robots to act as Teen Titans to the JLA-status Metal Men. The new kids are called “The Young Alloys.” Money in the bank, people!

  6. I confess I’m not 100% clear either. Is the game to relate childhood superhero creations re-examined by the adult eye?

    In the mean time…

    “comic-book creators have learned to keep the really good material to themselves, so they can profit from it, as opposed to turning it over to DC or Marvel.”

    I think the effect of this is not discussed by critics of mainstream superhero comics nearly enough. I don’t think it’s ALL hopeless nostalgia; in this era of big budget superhero movies, savvy players like Geoff Johns or Mark Millar have no tangible benefit to come up with something new in the DC or Marvel Universes. So people come up with stuff like Red Hulk and Young Avengers and the new SHIELD series that’s sort of new, but since they wouldn’t and couldn’t exist independently of those universes, it’s not like you’re giving anything away.

    But then, you might ask, where are all these awesome new totaly original superheroes that creators have been sitting on for the last twenty years?

    The earlier post about Marvel introducing the notions of casuality and justification is relevant here, because in 2010 you can’t just have a new character decide to be a superhero without a lot of baggage and explanation. If Batman were created today, he couldn’t really just decide to “dress as a bat” and put on a mask and cape and tights…it would have to be acknowledged that he looks like a superhero, the concept of which would exist in his world as in ours only in comics and movies, and the world around him would probably have to view him in light of that (Kick-Ass, obviously, although even the first Iron Man movie plays around with the characters being aware of superhero conventions and cliches).

    The other solution is to build your OWN superhero universe where there’s a precedent for all that stuff, and writers do, but then you have the problem of having to fill it with tons and tons of characters and history, and so you tend to go to the pastiche well, and then you have to create Fake Superman, Fake SHIELD, Fake JLAvengers, etc., and so you’re still beholden to the existing Big Two universes.

    Original 21st century superheroes seem like a really really tricky situation, and I don’t have any easy answers for it. I’m open to the possibility, though, that I’m overthinking it, and you COULD just do a “pure” superhero like it’s a new idea and move on.

    Wait, what was the question again?

  7. Mike: Thanks very much. I was wondering whether to specify that Clouded Leopard’s powers could also be used against exactly one machine (or system) at a time, because you know that could come up. I wouldn’t object to giving Anthony Rowley’s story an ending, but really I can see it being spun out forever. If you know what you’re doing you can keep the same storytelling engine forever and just change the details.

    Superhero names with real names in them… I once made up a couple of supervillains for a Champions game, Suzie Lightning (after a Warren Zevon song) and N. Clement Weather. Also a woman with super-clothes-changing powers (not a hero or villain, obviously) who I considered giving the real name of Natalie Attired. Valentine (mentioned briefly above) had the secret identity of Candace Hart.

    Justin: The way I understand it, the game is to make up a new superhero, full stop.

    in 2010 you can’t just have a new character decide to be a superhero without a lot of baggage and explanation. If Batman were created today, he couldn’t really just decide to “dress as a bat” and put on a mask and cape and tights…it would have to be acknowledged that he looks like a superhero, the concept of which would exist in his world as in ours only in comics and movies, and the world around him would probably have to view him in light of that

    I think you’re right, although a) you can just ignore that if you really want to, and nobody will call you on it, and b) it can be coped with anyway. In fact, in the superhero blog/novel that I wrote a few years ago (accessible here) I used that fact to explain why there were superheroes.

    Just curious… did everybody pick up on the source material for Anthony Rowley?

  8. Sorry, folks — been dealing with power outages and work, will return soonest! Uh…and all will be revealed? Hmm, let’s hope so…I have a sort of a plan, but I’m not sure it’s a very good plan, and this post here that I bashed out under pressure of sleep is something I’m a lot less happy with than the first one, but, but, but, but, but but but. In any case the conversation seems pretty interesting to me, and the characters are really amusing and great! Although my favourite’s just gotta be Natalie Attired…

    …And the idea really is a fusion of two things, that probably (with your indulgence) must wait a while before being fully worked out…part of it is just to make up a superhero concept, and part of it is how superhero-making-up has gotten so screwed up by Marvel and DC and the marketplace in general, that what these things once did with such ease is now mostly beyond them…because it’s tough to make superheroes “move with the times”, much as Justin says. I mean, what are the times? How might superheroes “move with” them? Not that I believe the superhero fantasy is obsolete, far from it. What it did in 1938, it absolutely still does today, I mean if the world is still magnetically attracted to the hoary old Matter Of Britain, there’s no reason to say it’s “gotten over” the superhero! But a “superhero” is a thing mediated quite differently today, from how it was mediated in 1940, or 1970, or what-have-you…and as I’ve said before, it might have been mediated in a different way from the one we’ve got, once the young punks of the Seventies tried to spread their wings a little bit more, but it didn’t. However, even so, what they were doing in the Eighties was “moving with”, wasn’t it?

    Wow, I’m gonna go on too long here, and garble everything even worse. Short answer: make up a superhero. But you’ll notice, perhaps, that my superhero is composed of two parts — not just a shtick, but location in a milieu which controls the shtick somewhat. And I’m actually gonna come back to it and do it over without the milieu part, but…you know, I did want to look at those two parts, as two isolated parts of the problem in creating “new” superhero characters, that nevertheless sometimes get welded into one thing. Leaving business practices aside for the moment, along with other stumbling-blocks that relate to those practices as shtick relates to milieu, I was primarily thinking of this thing I read on a messageboard a year or two ago, which I’ll paraphrase for you:

    “There are no more superheroes to be made up, because all the good powers are already taken.”

    Which is a pretty screwy thing to say, right?

    But God help me, I want to dissect it.

    Okay, gotta post now, do more later!

  9. I was primarily thinking of this thing I read on a messageboard a year or two ago, which I’ll paraphrase for you:

    “There are no more superheroes to be made up, because all the good powers are already taken.”

    I may be anticipating some of your dissection, here, but my thoughts on that:

    That statement assumes that what’s important about superheroes are what powers they have. There are several reasons why this is not so.

    1. In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the two title characters have a conversation in which they try to make up their own superhero character, and it’s the best part of the book, and it gets right to the heart of the issue, when Sammy Klay finally says:

    “This is not the question,” he said. “If he’s like a cat or a spider or a fucking wolverine, if he’s huge, if he’s tiny, if he can shoot flames or ice or death rays or Vat 69, if he turns into fire or water or stone or India rubber. He could be a Martian, he could be a ghost, he could be a god or a demon or a wizard or a monster. Okay? It doesn’t matter. […] How? is not the question. What? is not the question,” Sammy said.
    “The question is why.”
    “The question is why.”

    2. DC and Marvel are always creating characters whose powers are duplicates of the powers of existing characters, and it doesn’t seem to put anybody off. Cripes, look at the Marvel Family; their powers are all the same and nobody cares.

    3. If superpowers are what’s important, then surely a superhero with no powers would be the most uninteresting of all. But there are all kinds of thriving superheroes with no powers, including such notorious vectors of boredom as, for instance, Batman.

    Not that there’s no truth at all in that statement. When it comes to superpowers, all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. But there’s still room for originality; you can think up something cool if only you try. Here, here’s a few new superpowers, or they’re new to me, anyway.

    The Old Switcheroo: it’s a kind of double teleportation; the superhero can instantaneously switch places, and physical positions, with whoever he targets with this power. Range: line of sight. You can actually travel pretty quickly across a city this way, if you don’t mind leaving a certain amount of chaos in your wake.
    Noth: while a superhero is nothing, he has no physical existence of any kind. Invisible, intangible, everything. He can perceive what’s going on around him (sight and hearing only), but can’t move to another place. Before he noths, though, he has to decide how long he’s going to do it for, and he can’t change his mind later. So it’s a good way of avoiding danger, or spying, but misjudging the duration can be a problem. Except for the perception part, it’s a lot like time-traveling a short way into the future.
    Popularity: the ability to create bubbles of hard vacuum from the palms of one’s hand. These can then be thrown as distance weapons. Not sure what kind of damage they’d do when they hit (and pop) – obviously a small one wouldn’t do much more than make a surprising noise. I guess you could also use them to make people pass out, if you held it against their faces. Seems like it ought to be good for something else but I’m not sure what.

    There; if I can do that in a few minutes, anybody can do it.

    As far as “moving with the times” goes, my take is that we’re in the times, and anything we do is inevitably of the times, even if we don’t want it to be. So it’s not worth worrying about; the thing is to just make whatever you’re making be good and let the times take care of themselves.

  10. Those are pretty nifty ideas, Matthew — I think you might be good at this!

    As to “the times”: well, I always feel a bit like an idiot if I ever say anything about the “zeitgeist”, but it sort of goes back to my tales of revitalization/gentrification in Vancouver and smaller communities — run-down neighbourhoods don’t have to reinvigorate themselves, and the application of the right amount of money at the right time can easily keep them depressed. Superhero comics are pretty much already scorched earth, as we’re always saying: readership’s declining. The movies seem to be doing well, though.

    What would it take to make superhero movies scorched earth?

    Sorry, gotta run. Back later.

  11. Like a lot of us, I made up a ton of super-heroes when I was a kid. A Universe worth, easily. Some were obvious derivatives of other characters. Some had standard powers, but different enough back-stories to be interesting, at least to me. I just got thinking about one that I considered a pretty minor part of my universe, a character rooted to a team but not solo material. Or is he?

    Louis Jones was a homeless man, and not right in the head. On the streets, is begging didn’t get him very far because he spooked people. His wild eyes and occasional ravings made people cross the street to avoid him. Plus, the colorful outfit under his long coat was just weird. Some of his fellow bums put up with him because he was entertaining. Others steered clear. The uninformed tried to assert their power over him, until they ran away, bleeding…

    On a distant world, the warrior Darkblade * serves the Queen. He takes on all comers, and uses his ebon swords to slash, hack, and destroy Her enemies. His enchanted swords carry him great distances, too, as they cut holes in the air that Darkblade ** walks through. One of those holes takes him to a filthy alley, an old coat, and a cardboard box.

    Or does it? No one from Earth has ever seen Louis use any black swords. Not his reluctant friends, not the people who do their best to avoid him, not even that nice social worker. Those Darkblade *** stories are something else, but they can’t be real. Meanwhile, Louis frets about a queen, a world, a life that may have no reality outside of a fractured mind.

    The series would follow two strands, Earth and The Other World (no idea if I ever had a name for it). I guess the question of Louis’ mental state would be answered eventually, but not for awhile. I’d probably have to change the name, which sounded way cool when I was in my early teens.

    * Yes, I grew up during the ’90s.
    ** I know, I know.
    *** Could be worse. Could be “Darqueblayde”

  12. Okay, let’s try this. The character is called The Silencer. She’s dressed as a traditional superhero detective, meaning suit, trenchcoat and fedora. She wears a black mask that covers her entire face except for her eyes. There is a big red X over the covered mouth that serves as her “icon.”

    Annie grew up in a house with three brothers and one sister. Her father, a widower, was very involved in his sons’ lives but not in his daughters’. He would use the line about how little girls are to be seen and not heard.

    And because it’s superhero comics, the father’s words have a kind of literal impact on his daughters’ futures. Annie is an avid reader, particularly of detective fiction, and becomes a librarian (get it?). Annie’s sister becomes a scientist who’s developed a comic book science way of cancelling sound vibrations (it’s like the Cone of Silence on Get Smart, and she probably calls it that as well). The practical applications are, I don’t know, housing around airports, quieter car engines, etc.

    Along comes a supervillain crime cabal/terrorist organization who wants the technology because there’s a lot of bad stuff you could do with that too. Silent helicopters, bank robbers who don’t make a sound. Suck the sound out of a location and hold it for ransom…they’ve got a guy whose whole job it was to think of applications for this, and he’s basically ready to set himself up as The Master of Anti-Sound or whatever.

    Annie just happens to be there with her sister when the bad guys strike. Everything goes wrong, though; Annie’s sister gets killed, and the Cone of Silence blows up with Annie inside it.

    But Annie survives and the sound cancelling ability becomes internalized in her, and she becomes a superhero. Detection is actually her primary attribute, but with her powers she can sneak up/break into places without a sound, disrupt communications (until the Text Bandits come to town with a way to compensate), that sort of thing. She can also completely shut off her sense of hearing, and the result is a sort of sensory deprivation state that helps her concentrate. Her only weapon is a device called the Earsplitter, developed by someone who used to work with her sister, which is shaped like a tiny water pistol and emits a piercing tone.

    She fights the evil cabal that killed her sister (including the guy who was all set to be Anti-Sound Man and still wants that technology…he had all these cool IDEAS that just got taken away from him, man!), solves various mysteries, maybe investigates the disappearance of the city’s previous superhero five years ago, that sort of thing. Personal-life subplot: One of her brothers who’s a total dick gets thrown out of his house, moves in with Annie, and makes things really unpleasant.

  13. Mike, you make me laugh. How could I judge you when my own excesses as a young man were so bad that I would’ve clung to “Darqueblayde” as a non-lameness credential? It sounds like a lot of things, your “Darkblade” idea, but then again to be fair…a lot of things sound like it, too!

    And, Justin: damn you, you do have a way of throwing in a little fascinating twist into your otherwise Pillsbury Crescent Roll stories, don’t you?!? You and that damn Harvey, you’re like salvage guys…”so what’s it worth?” “So weigh it and find out, then we’ll know.” Grrrr. Well, I’ve got a couple of glowing comments to make, I’ll admit it, but y’all are gonna have to wait a day or so, because the Little Genius is coming over.

    So HOLD ON…!

  14. “Sounds like a lot of things!?!?” Preposterous! Darkblade couldn’t possibly sound like, oh, let’s say John Carter meets The Maxx meets friggin’ Spawn!!

    I’m glad you laughed. If you really want to roll on the floor, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the Outcasts, my team of homeless super-heroes, including Half-Man and “Black” John Sabbath. They make the Outsiders look like the Justice League.

  15. Heh, “Pillsbury Crescent Roll”, nice! I do think a sort of “straight up” approach on a new superhero wouldn’t necessarily be a waste of everybody’s time; Alan Moore’s too-short run of Youngblood comics (and it got cancelled on a cliffhanger! I had to buy the behind-the-scenes book with his pitch in it for a clue as to what the rest of the stories would have been like) was pretty good at what it was doing.

    But – consequently, really – my idea does require all that superhero infrastructure I was postulating about, because the leap from “woman who’s very keen on mystery stories” to becoming a costumed detective is too big not to require it, by design. It was/is part of a larger concept, you could probably have guessed.

    ALSO: Now that I’ve gone back and read all these, I’m also quite taken with the Rowley/Gamble idea. I like the more complex variation on the death wish – he doesn’t really WANT to die anymore, but he’s quite comfortable with the idea…although the thing that’s going to kill him is the reason he’s found to live. What if the Punisher wasn’t such a drag? Frank Castle’s one enormous tragedy is replaced with a dozen smaller but still overwhelming tribulations.

  16. Thanks for holding the bus!

    Anthony Rowley has grown on my imagination. I keep thinking about him. He feels like Alec Guinness in the Ealing comedies, and I’d read Matt’s serial in a sweat of suspense. “Please explain how you’ve wound up in hospital needing $40,000 of dental work.” “Sanity is exactly what you can bear, you moron, that’s what I’ve found out.” Nastier than Spider-Man.

    Does anyone have a take on Jeff Smith’s RASL? I should have been more interested from the start. I have the impression of a man with considerable real-world talents who can also slip away from the consequences of his actions by shifting to alternate worlds, until that begins to have consequences of its own. Very twisty. So, can we keep reinvigorating the old stuff with well considered plotting?

    I don’t have any clean-cut new superhero high concepts on hand. But if it were sufficient to just toss a couple of superpowers into an old standard … then I believe I can oblige, son.
    Hand me down that jack, you can help me get Morton the Magnetic Mule off of them railway tracks.

    Now this all begins with Floyd Yelvington, fella who farms mostly sheep say two three days’ ride out of Albequerque (they’re mostly sheep). Him and young Joanie. Navajo kid, she has a couple of nice aunties in town to take care of her but Joanie has made it known that she’d rather stay on Floyd’s patch where she can roam around and undertake practical investigations, as she says. Approximately Huckleberry Finn in levis, a tall felt hat down to her eyebrows, and recoil bruises. She can cook, sew, do real damage with a Winchester repeating rifle and set fires with her magnifying glass, among her accomplishments.

    Anyway Floyd got Morton young and for a while Morton was kind of thin and sickly. Concluding that he wasn’t getting enough iron in his diet, young Joanie went out and swept up some iron filings off the floor so they wouldn’t be wouldn’t be missed from Doc Eliott’s workshop in town. Checked them, with her magnet. And she proceeded to sprinkle them into Morton’s feed. Now it came out later that Doc had filed those shavings from a meteorite that landed on Yucca Flats that year. There must have been some magnetic field in there, and this field kind of took root in Morton and grew along with him.

    He has a tolerable personality as mules go, only with a powerful tendency to point north. They can steer him generally with a horseshoe magnet on a long pole, but his motivations are his own and when he resolves to stick somewhere then he’ll stick, especially if there’s something iron or steel to stick to. Been known to walk vertically up an oil derrick. When he really decides to shovel the coal on, he can squinch a pair of railway tracks together so’s the Santa Fe Special simply cannot skinny through, though they tried. And he can play the dickens with a person’s aim, which has come in handy on several occasions.

    So there can be a rambling series of stories generally starting from one of Joanie’s investigations, such as how come the mostly sheep are partly buffalo. And why are cactuses getting up and moving around at night, and if they’re not cactuses what are they and where did they learn to drive a Model T Ford? It could be something like Johnny B. Quick, and something like the shaggy-doggier Carl Barks duck stories.

  17. You bet he can! It almost goes without saying. He’s the reason the American Football Code up until the ’40s specifically debarred “livestock and electrical engines” from the field. (Hmmm, when did gridiron come in, actually?)

  18. I should’ve commented more, on these wonderful wonderful ideas. It’s not just Matthew: you’re all freaking me out. And in a way this is like that old “Digression Comics” meme, don’t you think? “The Hulk” as a haunted freighter…”Mr. Fantastic” as a ubiquitous milquetoast, a la Father Brown…oooh if I could just get my hands around the neck of that Father Brown…!

    Quasar, as…

    Oh, but that would be telling.

    Of course it’s often occurred to me, as I’m sure it has to you, how easy it is for fans like us to pick out the “superhero” elements of beloved characters in other popular entertainments. From the Great Brain to Bilbo Baggins to Neo, the play with wish-fulfillment, with self-actualization, is a powerful dramatic draw. But no less a draw is the play with mystery, with the occlusion of the clouded mirror. Two things strike me, here: one, the acknowledged need to set a superhero in a milieu — Matthew’s “Clouded Leopard” is phenomenally in line with the superhero-mixtures that’ve become popular in the last twenty years or more: the vampire/mafia/fantasy family perhaps pioneered or inspired by Englehart’s Avengers of the Seventies, the constant thought-balloons, the romantic complications, the potential…meanwhile Jonathan offers a (you’ll forgive me for saying it) kinda Australian-SF-flavoured implant into the old superhero body, that winks at old ground while it carves out a weird world of its own. And Mike, I think I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow…”Darkblade”, well that’s like forty percent of every translational fantasy, isn’t it? I admire the madness of it, I don’t joke in the slightest when I say I do.

    But now we should look at this a bit more closely, I think.



  19. Pingback: Cosmic Deadlock, Psychic Shamrock, Golden Gamecock…Here Comes Ragnarok « A Trout In The Milk·

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