Thursday, July 30, 2009

Todd Harper, a.k.a. the Battling Buckshot

As I alluded to in a previous blog entry, Todd Harper, a.k.a. Buckshot, and I share a lot of history. In many ways, Buckshot is me and I am Buckshot. What do I mean by this? Well, let me try to explain.

I missed a lot of school in junior high. Amazingly, this never affected my grades. I think I might have missed over 25 days during my eighth-grade year. No one ever said anything because my dad was a teacher, my mom was PTA president, and I aced all my classes. These days, a kid like me would be red-flagged immediately. Back in the ‘70s, the schools didn’t see “danger signs” with kids like me.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I think moody teenagers were allowed to be moody teenagers back then. These days, Sturm und Drang is a medical diagnosis treated with a host of pills. I’m sure a happy medium exists somewhere between these two approaches to adolescent malingering, but as of yet no one has striven to find it.

But back to me and my sick days. Why did I miss so much school? The answer is simple. I was being bullied. For some reason, some kid I didn’t even know and had never spoken with decided to make my life a living hell. Like any skinny, acne-ridden coward with a sense of self-preservation, my fight-or-flight instinct kicked in on the flight side. I never stood up to my bully in real life. I spent many school days at home feigning illness and trying to forget that I had to return the next day and be dehumanized all over again.

I created Buckshot one such day. I told myself a story about a kid like me getting bullied in school. Also like me, the kid didn’t stand up for himself and face down his tormentor. Unlike me, however, the kid’s reluctance wasn’t born of fear of his bully, but rather fear of himself. This kid knew if he ever fought back, he would kill his bully and possibly every other student and teacher in the school. This kid was a living bomb. If he ever punched or kicked something in anger, an explosion would radiate from his fists or feet. I called my alter-ego “Buckshot.”

Buckshot didn’t exist as part of the Trademark Universe per se. He couldn’t. His story was too personal. The events in Buckshot’s comic book mirrored events in my own life, right down to the names of the supporting characters. Buckshot was me. I wasn’t living in the Trademark Universe alongside other superheroes, so neither was Buckshot. Buckshot’s stories existed in a universe separate from my Trademark characters and remained that way until I entered high school.

My victimization stopped in high school. To my great joy, my nemesis found himself in the detention home when I started at North Olmsted High. For the first time in years, my fear disappeared. Although I still loved the character of Buckshot the Human Shotgun, I didn’t need him to be me anymore. That part of my life had concluded. So I did what any comic book writer does when he runs out of creative inspiration for an established character. I retconned him.

Mind you, I did this in 1979 before the term or concept of retconning had even been coined by DC Comics (in reference to events occurring in their book All-Star Squadron circa 1983, I believe). Suddenly, in this newly-imagined scenario, Buckshot burst onto the Trademark scene as part of Götterdämerung, Maniac’s terrorist shock troops.

My new retconned Buckshot was a bullying thug named Todd Harper. He had all the powers of my original creation with a homicidal streak to boot. In a bit of cruel irony only I appreciated, the new Trademark version of Buckshot had essentially the same personality and character as my own real-life bully. With his every ass-kicking at the hands of the Protectors, I got to relish an imaginative, vicarious ass-kicking of the real-life bully who’d once plagued me. I told myself these stories for a good six months until something unforeseen happened.

Just when I’d started living my life outside the shadow of my junior high bully, he reappeared again. The first day I saw him in the halls of the high school, the newly-found testosterone flowing in my blood crystallized into shards of ice. He looked at me as I looked at him. Then, to my utter shock, he turned away with barely an acknowledgement.

The D.H. changed my tormentor. He walked around school clutching a Bible, and he spent his free periods in the art room drawing. I never saw him commit another act of physical aggression or verbal bullying again. Granted, I refrained from associating with him and speaking to him, but I observed him from afar. He genuinely seemed committed to his own redemption.

Meanwhile, in the Trademark Universe, the new Buckshot was undergoing some character development, too. I guess my sentimentality towards the original Buckshot refused to die. For two long angst-filled years, Buckshot had been my alter self, my outlet for all the fear and anger I felt in junior high. Given this, I just couldn’t let Trademark Buckshot be nothing more than a cardboard-cut-out super-baddie.

So I began tinkering with the personality and nature of Todd Harper. I explored his childhood and fleshed out a rather grim, nurture-based explanation for his hostility and anti-social tendencies. Gradually over the course of a dozen or so adventures, Todd Harper transformed into the sole homicidal hybrid in Maniac’s army capable of rediscovering his conscience and soul. Unlike the rest of Maniac’s minions, Buckshot actually imagined a better life for himself. In dramatic fashion, he broke away from Maniac’s hard-wired reprogramming and surrendered to his most hated foes, the Protectors.

Thus began the next stage in Buckshot’s heroic development, the quest for redemption. In a later blog, I’m going to address the concept of redemption and how it relates to the archetypal heroic journey. For now, let me just say that I’ve always believed very strongly in mankind’s capacity and thirst for redemption. Throughout the various heroic stories I love -- Heracles, St. Paul, Sir Tristan, Shane -- the theme of redemption plays a paramount role in the forging of the true hero.

Buckshot’s own quest for redemption saw him paroled to the Protectors for one year. At first, none of his new teammates trusted him, especially Hangman, whose telepathic abilities allowed him access to the homicidal urges Buckshot continually repressed. Over time, however, Buckshot proved himself repeatedly in the eyes of Airfoil, Clarion, Flurry, Silver Streak, and even Hangman. Upon his twentieth birthday, Buckshot learned that Hangman had declared him cured while also arranging for Todd Harper to attend Ohio University as a freshman on a four-year full scholarship. Thus began the next stage in the parallel lives of Buckshot and Mark Kozak.

Like me, Buckshot attended Ohio University in the fall of 1984. Also like me, Todd Harper was slightly older than the rest of his freshman class. Unlike me, however, Buckshot bore the extra burden of trying to hide his notorious true identity from his new peers. For the next four years of college, Buckshot’s adventures paralleled my own college experiences. He was an English major; he was a news reporter on the campus radio station; he traveled overseas to England; and he temporarily taught middle and high school. Taking pages from Buckshot’s first incarnation, I actually incorporated classmates and professors from my own real life as supporting characters in the Buckshot comic book I continually narrated in my mind.

After graduating from college, Buckshot and I parted ways again, at least in regards to our mirrored lives. I got a job and entered the real world. Buckshot rejoined the Protectors full-time and seriously committed himself to ridding the world of Maniac’s legion. Along the way, he also became obsessed with rescuing and reforming another of Maniac’s minions, a child prostitute turned super-powered serial killer, Slice. But more on her later -- A LOT more.

To fill in the rest of the blanks regarding Buckshot, let’s once more consult the Titanic Trademark Encyclopedia:

Buckshot (Todd Harper) Young Todd Harper was a school bully and juvenile delinquent who ran afoul of the law in his early teens. Spending much of the time between 13 and 15 in juvenile detention facilities, Todd was finally tried as an adult at age 15 and convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a classmate. In prison, teenage Todd found himself the target of a whole host of predatory prisoners. An unusually savage and gifted fighter, Todd managed to successfully defend himself against his various assailants, sending most to the infirmary with life-crippling injuries and killing two inmates outright.

Ironically, Todd’s personality went through a dramatic shift at this time. The one-time bully now began sticking up for the prison’s victimized underclasses: homosexuals, child molesters, white-collar criminals, and others. One of these rescued victims, notorious serial killer Don McHale, never forgot what Todd did for him. During his second year inside, Todd befriended a new prisoner named Robby Prentice, a bespectacled teenage punk rocker convicted of kidnapping, torturing, raping, and mutilating three girls in his high school.

Under Prentice’s influence, Todd began selling his “protection services” to other inmates instead of offering them freely. Gradually, Todd and Robby became exactly the kind of predators that Harper had previously battled. Also during this period, the prison acquired the services of a special consultant, Dr. Darius Kilhausen, a brilliant scientist and researcher seeking test subjects for a radical new treatment to “cure” psychopathology and anti-social personality disorders using biomechanical technology. One of Kilhausen’s “students,” Don McHale, suggested that Todd Harper and Robby Prentice might make excellent additions to Kilhausen’s “school.” Kilhausen agreed, and Todd and Robby were recruited to join Kilhausen’s program.

Unbeknownst to prison officials, Dr. Kilhausen wasn’t committed to curing criminal behavior. In fact, he was using his prison “school” to recruit the sickest, most violent offenders into his own private terrorist army. Kilhausen’s biomechanical technology not only warped his “student’s” twisted psyches to inhuman extremes, his “treatments” also furnished them with a host of grotesque and ghastly superpowers. Todd himself was transformed into a kind of human shotgun whose hands and feet discharged massive explosions when striking solid objects. Likewise, Robby Prentice, Don McHale, and a host of other prisoners metamorphosized into hybrid super-soldiers.

Finally, having assembled and trained his army, Kilhausen staged a breakout and unleashed his super-powered shock troops on the world. His goal wasn’t world domination. Rather, it was world destruction. Knowing that his army would inevitably confront the community of earth’s superheroes, beings that he denounced as “itty-bitty false gods,” Kilhausen deemed his terrorist force Götterdämmerung, i.e., the Twilight of the Gods.

As Götterdämmerung wreaked havoc on an unprecedented planetary scale, Todd Harper’s propensity for violence earned him a spot on the Maniac’s first “team” of terror. After several particularly vicious assaults, the young super-thug earned the sobriquet Buckshot. Buckshot is able to vibrate his hands and feet so rapidly that they explode in powerful concussive blasts. One of his punches or kicks can level a brick wall or punch a hole through reinforced steel. A succession of his rapid-fire blows can devastate most anything.

After a year of battling earth’s superheroes on an almost daily basis, Buckshot was eventually subdued by the Hangman during a no-holds-barred slugfest. Sensing deep pain in the teen as well as a sense of remorse, Hangman did not turn Harper over to the authorities with the rest of his comrades. Instead, Hangman appealed to the courts, which gave the Protectors custody over Buckshot in the hopes he could be rehabilitated. Within the confines of the super-group, Buckshot worked through his probation until finally being accepted as a full-fledged member of the team several years later. During this time he has mastered all forms of self-defense under the tutelage of Silver Streak and Hangman.

Weapons -- He doesn’t need any.

Personal Items -- At first a hot-head and a bully, Buckshot has gradually transformed into a stable member of the Protectors and the super-community in general. He has personally brought several of his ex-anarchist buddies to the right side of the law, namely Rival and Slice. Through intensive years of practice, he has managed to control his power bursts to a refined degree. This new-found control allows him the limited ability to fly, maneuver in mid-air, and hover. Use of his powers over extended periods of time exhausts Buckshot, and his body often needs to recharge after a grueling fight.

Although contentious at first, Buckshot’s relationship with fellow Protector Airfoil has developed into the first real friendship Todd has ever experienced. Todd is also very close with his former Götterdämmerung teammate Slice, whom he considers his sister. Just recently, Todd became intimate with fellow Protector Clarion, although neither has any idea if the connection will grow or where it may be headed.

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