Friday, July 31, 2009

A Psychopathic Serial-Killing Synthorg Stripper -- Spree

When I was in junior high, the sudden advent of VCRs and cable TV transformed my teenage life. For the first time, I had access to “adult” movies. I’m not talking XXX porn. I’m talking sexploitation & blaxploitation films like Vixen!, Foxy Brown, Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, I Spit on Your Grave, and Women in Cages. By the time I was in high school, I’d immersed myself in the entire lexicon of trashy ‘60s and ‘70s softcore. Of all these films, however, one stood above the rest:

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (Russ Meyer, 1965)

The title still makes me salivate to this day. Psycho-killer go-go dancers. I mean, what’s NOT to love? I first saw Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! during my junior year in high school. I’d seen my share of violent sexploitation B-movies prior to FPKK, but nothing prepared me for the adventures of Billie, Rosie, and Varla.

Russ Meyer’s paean to oversexed, sadistic, thrill-killing überfrauen directly inspired my creation of Spree, Götterdämmerung’s psychotic, serial-killing, synthorg stripper. As originally conceived back in the early ‘80s, Spree was a two-dimensional cyborg hybrid, kind of a cross between the Bionic Woman and Deathlok. Possessing the body of Adrienne Barbeau, the face of Charlene Tilton, and the personality of FPKK’s Varla, Spree delighted in committing sadistic psychosexual atrocities upon men, women, and children alike. Within the feminine ranks of Maniac’s Götterdämmerung, Spree’s penchant for viciousness was only surpassed by Mosquito and a young psychotic prodigy named Marisol Garcia, a.k.a. Slice.

As I further developed Spree’s character in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I began crafting a suitable back-story of appalling childhood sexual abuse to explain her extreme psychopathology. Borrowing biographical bits from real-life killers like Karla Homolka and Aileen Wuornos, I created a more three-dimensional version of Spree, which made her both more compelling and more horrific. In these later stories, Spree developed a lesbian infatuation with teenage Slice, who reciprocated to some degree before turning away from Götterdämmerung and joining the forces of good. Needless to say, Spree viewed Slice’s defection not only as a desertion from Maniac’s cause but also as a personal betrayal.

Spree, as I originally wrote her, was literally a killing machine. Every limb on her body featured a highly-destructive weapon. When I introduced the character to Tony Lewis, however, he reconceived the nature of her hybrid powers.

Tony saw Spree not as a stereotypical, clichéd cyborg, but rather a kind of “synthorg.” In Tony’s rendering, Spree’s arsenal isn’t comprised of conventional weapons attached to her body. Instead, the weapons become organic in nature, growing out of her body like synthetic appendages. The bullets fired from her bodily weaponry actually form from her living skeleton. Some twenty-five years after her creation, Tony has finally transformed Spree into a true living weapon.

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.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Larry Kramer a.k.a. the Fabulous Fris-- er... Awesome Airfoil

The first character casualty in Worlds Apart occurred years before I ever finished my first draft. I took his demise particularly hard because he was one of my oldest and most endearing creations. This hero wasn’t killed by some sociopathic super-baddie or noble act of self-sacrificing martyrdom. The causa mortis listed on his fictional death certificate would read something like: Acute Litigatory Apoplexy. In layman’s terms, my original character died because his legal right to exist rested on some pretty shaky ground. Let me explain.

In the horrifically humid summer between fourth and fifth grade, I created a superhero in my backyard while amusing myself throwing frisbees. Using the flying discs as projectiles, I engaged in a kind of target-shooting exercise against the side of our garage. At some point, I grew tired of retrieving the thrown frisbees and hit upon an idea. Punching small holes in the lips of the discs, I threaded some fishing line through the openings. My frisbees were now attached to fishing line which wrapped around my throwing hand. Suddenly, I could not only hurl the discs, but also recall them back into my hands with a snap of my wrists.

A hero was born -- the fabulous Frisbee! I imagined him as a kind of Hawkeye or Green Arrow, albeit armed with an arsenal of gimmicked frisbees. I bestowed a not-so-secret identity upon him, world-famous frisbee champion Larry Kramer. I already had a home for him, too. His character would fit in perfectly with Beachcomber, a Trademark Comic I’d started a few months earlier with an aquatic-themed superhero and his sidekick, the sensational Sand Dollar. (Note: this is the self-same Sand Dollar who appears as a Lyon News analyst at the opening of Worlds Apart.)

Lovable Larry Kramer’s first appearance in Beachcomber found him stopping a gang of smugglers using only normal frisbees and some stainless-steel trash-can lids. Taken under wing by Beachcomber and Sand Dollar, Larry spent the next couple issues slacking and cracking wise before circumstances forced him to put aside such childish things. Inspired to use his natural gifts to fight evil, Larry Kramer became the Frisbee, one of the Trademark Universe’s oldest and most-utilized superheroes. Case closed. Or so I thought.

Enter Worlds Apart artist and amateur legal scholar Tony Lewis. When first introduced to the fabulous Frisbee back in the mid-‘90s, Tony off-handedly mentioned that he didn’t think I could actually use the name Frisbee if we ever created a comic book. “Frisbee,” Tony informed me, is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy company. I pooh-poohed him, told him the word “frisbee” had to be in the public domain by now, and promptly dispensed with his obviously paranoid reservations. I never even gave the matter another thought until years later when Worlds Apart started becoming a reality.

Much to my chagrin, as Worlds Apart started coalescing, Tony reintroduced the subject of Wham-O’s trademark on the word “frisbee” and their penchant for litigation. After doing some further research, I found myself compelled to agree. The fabulous Frisbee had to die. We could rename him, of course. But he would never be the same. A part of my childhood and my creative life required euthanasia. Not to be maudlin here, but I actually passed through all Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief before actually allowing myself to mourn his tragic passing.

From the ashes of the fabulous Frisbee arose the awesome Airfoil. He’s still Larry Kramer, and he’s still the same slacker-turned-super-dude. But he’s not the fabulous Frisbee. For more on Airfoil, let’s consult his revised entry in the Titanic Trademark Encyclopedia:

Airfoil (Larry Kramer). Known by beach bums the world over as the undisputed master of the flying disc, Larry Kramer was content to spend his teenage years living off endorsements, catching rays and waves, and chasing bevies of bikini-clad babes. All this changed, however, when Larry relocated to Lasher Beach and took up with a couple of fledgling superheroes, Beachcomber and the sensational Sand Dollar. During a tussle with super-baddie Tempest, Beachcomber and Sand Dollar were taken prisoner, and Larry took it upon himself to save his friends and the world to boot. Modifying Sand Dollar’s arsenal into an array of high-tech flying discs, Larry became the awesome Airfoil and hasn’t looked back since.

Since first arriving on the scene, Airfoil has continually butted heads with old-school, establishment-type heroes like Silver Streak, Hangman, and Flurry. Often looked upon as immature, lazy, and a bit air-headed, Airfoil’s membership in the original Protectors was only considered probationary. In fact, he wasn’t accorded full Protector status until years later during his fourth stint with the team. Needless to say, Airfoil spent most of those “probationary” years trying to establish a respectable reputation in the super-biz, a task made all the more difficult by his problem with authority and his penchant for partying and playing pranks.

Weapons -- Airfoil is armed with a flying disc for practically every occasion, his most popular being the exploding variety and those with razor-sharp edges. For transportation, Airfoil tools around town on a disc-shaped craft he calls his Hover-Bee.

Personal Items -- Airfoil likes his freedom and hates taking orders. On the other hand, he desires nothing more than adulation and recognition as a real super-hero. Subsequently, Airfoil has been a Protector (several times), a member of both the Challengers and the United Front, as well as flying solo. At one point, Airfoil was heavily involved with Clarion, but mostly he prefers keeping things loose and his possibilities open. Currently, Airfoil is on his fourth tour of duty as a Protector, where he enjoys the camaraderie of Clarion and his best bud, Buckshot.

NEXTthe FYI on Todd Harper, a.k.a. the battling BUCKSHOT!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Worst Trade EVER!

My oldest brother Bob has been reading and lurking this blog. Maybe one day he’ll be inspired to leave a comment here. In the meantime, I believe I’ve devised a sure-fire method to draw him out. I know Bob is dying for me to publicly relay a story he recalls from our childhood.

This misbegotten tale of unspeakable woe involves my older brother, Mike, a neighborhood kid named Jimmy Wilcox, Amazing Spider-Man #77 and a Sad Sack comic book. Personally, I can remember more compelling exploits from my distant past, but Bob does have a point. It’s a funny story, and it involves comic books. So why not tell it here? Like Bill Cosby said before the Junkyard Gang broke into song, if we’re not careful we may even learn something before this is all done.

I loved the old comic book vending machines, the metallic monstrosities with blurry display windows and long, clunky levers. North Olmsted boasted one such machine. It resided at the old Topps department store located on what would later be known as Great Northern Boulevard. This Topps should not be confused with the local grocery chain that came into the greater Cleveland area years later. Topps the department store competed for market share with discount chains like Uncle Bill’s, Kresge’s, and Woolworths. Our family occasionally shopped there, which is where I first encountered comic book vending machines.

The machine at Topps stood in the fluorescently-lit vestibule like a gawdy green-and-blue sentry guarding the jerky automatic doors. In my mind, this comic book machine had about fifty display windows (probably closer to twenty) corresponding to slots filled with various Marvel comic books. Each window featured the cover of the next comic book to be dispensed in its respective chute. You inserted a quarter into the slot, pulled the lever beneath the corresponding window, and your comic slid down the machine’s insides into a stainless steel receptacle tray.

I’m not going to say I worshipped that machine. But it stood as a kind of sacred totem during my early childhood. While my parents waited in line to pay at one of Topps’ cash registers, my brother Mike and I would go stand by the comic book machine and study the covers in the windows. Invariably, we would find an issue we just had to have, go back into the store, find my parents, and then beg my dad for a quarter to realize our dreams. More often than not, he’d part with two bits just so we’d stop with the whining and nagging.

Although I can’t remember the exact day we came into possession of Spider-Man #77, I’m fairly certain I can imaginitively recreate the scene as it probably occurred. To begin with, I’m almost positive I know what my brother Mike and I were wearing. Back then, my mom always dressed me, Rob, and Mike in matching outfits. This wasn’t particularly awful when the clothes were plain shirts and pants. However, my mom regularly purchased sets of plaid trousers and shorts for us.

When I say plaid, I mean PLAID. Loud in-your-face 70s Superfly plaid. My dad said we looked like “little burlesque comedians.” My older sister Kathy coined another catty phrase in reference to my mom’s penchant for plaid shorts: “Matching cutesie shorts.” I'm pretty sure Mike and I were donning such garish outfits the day he purchased Spider-Man #77. I’m also fairly certain that Kathy was standing in the vestibule with us as he made the purchase. Kathy always took it upon herself to “watch us” and “keep us out of trouble.” (Mike and I called it being “bossy.”)

So, on one such shopping trip to Topps circa 1969-70, my brother finagled a quarter from my dad and acquired Amazing Spider-Man #77. In this particular issue, guest star Human Torch helped Spidey defeat the loathesome Lizard. At the time he purchased Spider-Man #77, Mike would have been around six years old, and I probably four or five. I know we couldn’t even read the comic at that time, but the art was captivating. For the next few years, we kept that comic book in pretty great condition considering most of the comics in our collection lost their covers on the way home from the store.

By the time I was nine years old, I had already started regularly reading Marvel comic books, and Spider-Man #77 held a place of honor in my burgeoning comics collection. Simply put, Spider-Man #77 was my favorite Marvel comic book, surpassing even X-Men #65, Captain Marvel #6 and Invincible Iron Man #7. I held this issue in such high estimation that I sealed it in one of the special plastic “comic book bags” my dad bought me at my first comic book convention at the Statler Hotel in downtown Cleveland. Rereading Spider-Man #77 years later in reprinted form, I can see why. The simplicity of the story-telling, mixed with Spidey and Johnny Storm’s respective moral dilemmas, was classic Mighty Marvel.

Now that I’ve set the scene, let me get to the action of my little fable. One HOT summer day, I walked inside the house from my garage sanctuary (see my previous blog “Cool Dry Places.”) in search of my comic book box. I wanted to reread some of my favorite issues to pass the unbearable afternoon. I scooped up the box from under my bed and headed back out to the garage. Ten minutes later, after rumaging through the box two to three times, I became acutely aware that Spider-Man #77 was missing, along with some other now-forgotten comics.

I freaked out. I ran back inside and scoured my room for the missing comic book. I screamed for my mom, who undoubtedly told me that I had probably just misplaced it. “It didn't just get up and walk away,” I’m sure she told me. But, of course, she didn’t understand my plight. As careless as I may have been with needless accoutrements like hair brushes and belts, I NEVER misplaced something as crucial as comic books, especially the crowning jewel in my comics collection.

I fretted over the missing comic book all afternoon until Mike and Kathy walked in shortly before suppertime. They had been out visiting some neighborhood kids, a brother and sister duo named Dawn and Jimmy Wilcox. Upon their arrival, I noticed immediately that Mike clutched a handful of comic books -- new never-before-seen issues of “funny book” dreck like Archie and Richie Rich.

“Wh--what are those?” I asked, my paranoid young mind already conjuring a glimmer of the horrific tragedy about to ensue.

“We traded some of our old comics to Jimmy Wilcox for these,” Mike explained, proudly displaying his ill-gotten booty.

The omnipresent sense of dread I’d been experiencing all afternoon suddenly crystalized into one thoroughly soul-crushing revelation. “You... didn’t... trade my... Spider-Man #77,” I croaked, barely able to even conceive of such a crime against humanity. “Did you?”

“Yeah,” Mike chirped. “I got this Sad Sack comic for it.”

“Whaaaaaaaaat?” I wailed.

By now, my mom no doubt entered the room. Even to this day, my typically loud voice always crescendos into a shrill, booming yawl when I become enraged. When I was a kid, my mom called me a “bellowing buffalo.” I’m sure families all across North Olmsted’s Deerfield housing development heard my young heart’s death knell that torrid summer evening.

I cried. I screamed. I raged against the dying of the light. But, alas, to no avail.

Despite my most fervent protestations, my mother refused to dispatch Mike back to the Wilcox household to retrieve his errant trade. When I beseeched my dad with a desperate appeal for justice, he, too, would not sanction such an obvious foray into “Indian-giving.”

But the comic book was MINE. Mike traded MY comic book.

Mike didn’t see it that way, though. He recalled that he actually purchased the comic from Topps. He had only given it to me years later to hold in my collection. He still claimed owner’s rights despite the fact he hadn’t read the issue in years. These rights, then, superceded my rights as the de facto steward of Spider-Man #77. In other words, if he wanted to trade sacred Spider-Man #77 for a damnable Sad Sack comic, it was his right.

My parents, who obviously viewed the prospect of Mike asking for the comic’s return as unseemly, agreed. Case closed. Court adjourned. Let’s eat supper.


I raged on, aghast at the injustice being perpetrated upon me by own family. Such a propensity for righteous indigantion still dominates my personality to this day. To paraphrase the oft-misquoted words of Saint Paul, I don’t suffer fools gladly. When faced with inequity, especially inequity I deem “foolish,” I am prone to explode with contemptuous, inconsolable fury. Ironically, such fulminations only succeed in worsening contentious situations. You think I would realize this life lesson after decades of dire disappointments.

Well, I haven’t. Whether confronted by narrow-minded college professors, callous call-center “customer service” representatives, intractable government bureaucrats, or bullying bean-counting bosses, I still cannot and WILL NOT suffer fools gladly. I know it’s thirty-odd years later and I should be over it by now, but I’m not.

For the record. Spider-Man #77 was MY comic book. My brother abrogated all rights to said comic book when he blithely entrusted it to my care without a second thought. Thus, Mike had no right to trade my Spider-Man #77 to Jimmy Wilcox for a loathesome Sad Sack comic. Moreover, my parents should have compelled him... no, make that sentenced him to return to the scene of his crime against nature and retrieve MY Spider-Man #77.

In light of their failed judgement decades ago, my parents should re-open this case, re-evaluate the argument, reconsider their verdict, and righteously rule in my favor. Mike should be forced to relocate Jimmy Wilcox and retrieve my comic book, or he should be required to make restitution by purchasing me a copy of Spider-Man #77 in commensurate condition to the issue he unjustly traded away.

To paraphrase Tom Mullen, Mel Gibson’s character in the remake of Ransom: “Give me back my Spider-Man #77!”

Case closed. Court of Appeals adjourned. Let’s eat supper.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cool Dry Places

I’ve always hated the summer. Heat makes me nauseous. Humidity renders me lethargic, and sunshine triggers the inevitable fusillade of cluster headaches. I’m not talking about extreme heat and humidity either. Any outside temperature over 50 degrees will typically trigger an adverse change in my mood. When the thermometer reaches 65 or 70° my anxiety level quickens, and even more drastic distempers can set in.

Internally, I’m miserable for more than 50% of the year. What starts as discomfort in April blossoms into full-blown agony during the so-called dog days of July and August. I only reach a kind of physiological equilibrium by the time Halloween sets in. Perhaps that’s why Samhain season has always been my favorite time of the year.

I’ve always found it rather peculiar that the DSM-IV covers Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), i.e. “winter blues,” so extensively. An entire library of studies have been devoted to SAD’s causes and treatments. Yet my particular condition, let’s call it “summer sorrow,” only rates an off-hand appellation as Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Adding further insult to injury, Wikipedia disses us summer sufferers, offering a voluminous entry for SAD, while no entry at all for so-called Reverse SAD. To put things into further perspective, even Glenn Frey’s ill-fated TV series South of Sunset rates its own Wikipedia entry, and CBS only aired one episode back in 1993.

I discovered my aversion to June, July, and August at an early age. Most kids worship the season between spring and fall. In late January and early February, shivering children in schoolyards all across the country whisper the words “summer vacation” the way Peter and the Apostles murmured Jesus’ name in those dark days before the first Easter. Conversely, young Mark Kozak blanched at the thought of impending spring and the three stifling, blazing, interminable months that followed. Like I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I was not a normal kid.

Since early childhood, then, my unfolding life can be viewed as one futile, never-ending, anti-heroic quest to retreat from the heat and find the ultimate cool, dry place. While other kids reveled in fifteen unabated hours of sweltering sunlight, I studiously avoided the outdoors unless I sensed the chill of dusk or the cool dark breezes of approaching rain. Quite happily, I spent the summers of my youth barricaded in the back corner of my family’s garage, battling beneath the walls of Troy with broken broom handles, or poring over the pages of my burgeoning book and comics collections.

During those long summer “vacations” between the ages of seven and thirteen, I read and reread my comic books continuously, just as I periodically lost myself in the pages of The Boy’s King Arthur, the d’Aulaires’ illustrative retellings of Greek and Norse myths, or any of Bernard Evslin’s books. That corner of the garage became my first cool, dry place, and even today serves as a repository for numerous cardboard boxes containing poetry, short stories, and Trademark comicbook sagas from my high school and collegiate years.

With early adolescence, I found a greater degree of freedom to explore the outside world while seeking even cooler, drier places. Only forty-five minutes from my house via the 75 RTA bus, I discovered the Cleveland Public Library downtown, specifically the John G. White Collection of Folklore, Oriental, and Medieval Literature. This collection, housed in its own designated room in the old library, became my sanctuary after school and during the summer break. Armed with nothing but my youthful love of myths and legends, I began digesting Homer, the Eddas and Malory in their original translations while simultaneously tackling some pretty heady scholarly works along the way: Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Middleton’s Evolution of Arthurian Romance, to name just a few. Although I had no idea at the time, my fun summer reading was unwittingly preparing me for my next cool, dry place -- the seventh floor stacks at Ohio University’s Alden Library.

I discovered Alden’s seventh floor stacks early during my first fall at OU. While other “typical” freshman frolicked outside, soaking up the waning warmth of Athens’ September, I retreated into the comfort zone I craved: quiet, solitude, air conditioning, books. I hadn’t even completed my first week of classes before I stumbled upon an article in a scholarly journal that provided me with a truly Joycean epiphany. I wish now that I’d written down the author’s name or the article’s title, but alas I didn’t. I do recall that I found the article in a sociology journal because I’d done a subject search on “comic books.”

Essentially, the article compared the transmission of comicbook idioms into our popular culture to the transmission of mythic lessons into the cultures of various ancient societies. Here, for the first time, I encountered a school of social and literary criticism that not only considered comicbooks serious literature, but also defined comicbooks as “modern mythology.” Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I began to understand why I couldn’t just simply put away my comicbooks with other childish things.

Almost from the moment I began reading myths, legends, and comic books, I intuitively sensed a deep archetypal connection between ancient epic heroes and contemporary superheroes. All I had to do was look at the characters of Thor, Hercules, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel (Shazam!) to see that comicbooks not only borrowed from myth but actually retold the ancient stories with a modern twist. When I started fashioning my own primordial superheroes and villains at age seven, my first creations were based on mythic characters I loved: Sir Launcelot, Fenris, Momotaro. Several years later, when I birthed the Trademark Universe, I quickly incorporated Achilles, the biblical Cain, and four elemental gods -- Flurry, Hellfield, Torrent, and Landslide -- into the mix. Somehow, almost instinctively, I knew my new universe needed a tangible link to the traditions of Hesiod, Snorri and La Chanson de Roland.

Amazingly, my college literature courses didn’t kill my love of comicbooks or my desire to create my own personal, modern mythology. In fact, higher education only succeeded in making my vision of the Trademark Universe even more ambitious. The entire time I was deconstructing Thomas Hardy and crafting Carveresque works of short fiction, I was simultaneously and surreptitiously scripting comicbooks inside my head. No one in the Honors Tutorial program for English had any idea that I was internally narrating the story of my life in the form of a comicbook.

Just like me, eighteen-year-old hybrid Buckshot found himself attending college incognito, terrified at the prospect of being revealed, looking for a girl that might accept him (homicidal past and all), and basically just trying to fit in. When my mentor Dr. Laurence Bartlett introduced me to Shakespeare’s Prospero, Milton’s Satan, and Shelley’s Prometheus, I found myself utilizing aspects of their complex personalities in the development of Trademark’s arch-supervillains, the Maniac, the Suzerain, and Cain. Likewise, my introduction to the concept of the Byronic Hero breathed new life into my decade-old creation Hellfield. In fact, Worlds Apart itself draws direct inspiration from a work first encountered at OU, John Barth’s postmodern, metafictional classic Chimera, introduced to me in a graduate creative writing workshop by the late, great Sheila Schwartz.

In many ways, my four years at OU represent one long, extended respite in a cool, dry place. Since leaving the bucolic surroundings of that Harvard on the Hocking, I’ve never again been able to meld the mundane preoccupations of my external existence with the esoteric ruminations of my internal landscape. Put more plainly, every day in the real, working world is caniculares dies, a dog day at the height of summer.

Jobs, bosses, customers, bills, taxes, standing in line at the DMV -- it all makes me nauseous, lethargic, and sick in the head. If not for the cool, dry places of my mature adulthood -- rambling talks with my wife, ambling hikes with my dog, aimless evening drives listening to Frank Rosolino, quiet back booths savoring a cold beer and a good book -- I doubt I ever would have finished Worlds Apart. In fact, I’d probably still be hiding from the sun in the corner of that old garage, fruitlessly dreaming among the stacks of unopened boxes, desperately waiting for the weather to change.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Welcome to Social Networking

As of this moment, Worlds Apart is now officially on MySpace & Facebook. -- This will pretty much mirror the blog as it appears here. -- This will have a lot of art from the comic, but no blog.

Mark Kozak is also on Twitter: -- Following Mark on Twitter will get you the latest news on updates made to this blog as well as the graphic novel @ . Mark's Twitter will also give you a glimpse into his personal life aside from Worlds Apart.

Mark & Tony welcome all comments & e-mails made here or via any of the other official Worlds Apart web venues.

Remember, Always Look for the Trademark!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Buckshot vs. Mosquito

Some early concept art for Worlds Apart!