Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dreaded Deadline Doom

Check out the newest page of Worlds Apart here!

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Worlds Apart will no longer update on a regular weekly schedule. We started with plenty of lead time, but it has gradually been whittled away to the point where new pages will be posted as soon as they are completed.

As always, I’ll be fitting Worlds Apart in amongst the demands of “real life,” but rest assured that new pages will be going live periodically at Webcomics Nation!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Redemption


Character is shaped by failure, not success.

I detest clichés and pithy bon mots. The moment I encounter a speaker or writer excreting such pseudo-philosophical detritus I tend to ignore every other word that follows. By now I’ve forgotten where I first encountered the above adage regarding the relative merits of failure versus success. I may have caught the words on a late-night Tony Robbins infomercial, or perhaps the back cover of a Zig Ziglar paperback. Then again, the words could have been delivered off-the-cuff by William Faulkner or Thomas Hardy. The sentiment is trite, no doubt. But does its banality make the message any less true?

Character is shaped by failure, not success.

I remember the first time I read the real tale of Heracles (Hercules) in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Hamilton’s version wasn’t the expurgated, bowdlerized version I’d previously found in elementary school library books, but rather the actual story: homicidal rage, infanticide, and all. At the very beginning of Hamilton’s telling, a young Heracles gets angry with his music teacher, Linus, and strikes him dead with a lyre.

Huh?!

Several paragraphs later, a happily-married Heracles is once again consumed by blind fury, this time slaughtering his beloved wife and small children.

What? What the hell kind of hero does that?!

These horrific incidents in Heracles’ early career drastically affected how I read the rest of Hamilton’s account. I mean, this guy killed his innocent music teacher (FYI, my dad is a music teacher), and then slaughtered his whole family as an encore. His wife and kids?! Despite Heracles’ acclaim as Greek mythology’s greatest hero, I just couldn’t get past the senseless killings. To my thinking, Herc was a jerk and no hero at all. It didn’t matter how many monsters he killed or kingdoms he saved, Heracles could never truly atone for his early crimes. Even a second-tier hero like Meleager deserved top billing over a guy who killed his kids.

To my recollection, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was my first venture into adult treatments of myth and legend. At that point in my young life, my hunger for heroic tales was pushing me far beyond the confines of juvenile retellings and sending me headlong into the works of Robert Graves, Thomas Bullfinch, and unedited original sources like Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Just as with Hamilton’s work, these new authors forced me to encounter more complicated versions of the characters I’d loved since early childhood.

For the first time, I learned that Gilgamesh was hated by his subjects for being a tyrant who raped the brides of his male subjects before their wedding days. Similarly, I discovered that Sir Lancelot’s intentions towards Guinevere were anything but pure. King Arthur didn’t misunderstand their relationship. Lancelot stole his best friend’s girl, and then openly committed adultery with her. No wonder he was unworthy of the Holy Grail.

Every adult retelling, it seemed, revealed hitherto unknown details of deceit and treachery committed by heroes, many during their wayward younger days. The more I read, the more disillusioned I became with the heroes I’d once idolized. Then something happened in my own life, which forced me to reconsider my harsh, unwavering judgment.

Character is shaped by failure, not success.

Right around the time I was digesting the warts-and-all presentations of my favorite legendary heroes, I attended an art exhibit with my family. Given that I was only nine years old, it should come as no surprise that I and my brother Mike (he of Sad Sack comic fame) were bored out of our pre-adolescent minds. As we trudged among the displays, one eventually caught my eye. The piece, Four Wedges, resembled four small triangular ramps arranged in an alternating pattern along the floor. Finally seeing something worthy of interaction, I asked one of the adult attendees if I could walk up the ramps.

She answered, “Absolutely...”

My foot stepped on the ramp --

“... NOT!”

I pulled my foot away immediately. A frigid cavern opened at the juncture of my stomach and my bowels. My eyes locked like lasers on the Four Wedges. A large crease resembling the bottom of my Thom McAnn’s dress shoe imprinted on the stretched canvas.

Immediately, the room exploded with horrified indignation. My father offered grave apologies to the artist and the people running the show. I heard obscene dollar figures being furtively bandied about. My mortified mother dragged me from the gallery in tears, and by the time we arrived home her embarrassment had boiled over into scalding rage. Never before had my parents been so angry at me, and never again did I want to feel the agonizing shame of such sheer, wholly justified disappointment.

Character is shaped by failure, not success.

I certainly don’t want to exaggerate, but deep down I know this one inauspicious childhood moment has since dictated every succeeding decision in my life. To this day, I am terrified of making wrong judgments that will subsequently hurt innocent others. Combine this phobia with my impatience and incessant need to do something, and you can only imagine the self-flagellation that ensues when I inevitably do make a mistake.

The coincidental timing of my art show debacle with my disillusionment concerning childhood heroes forced me to reconsider my harsh judgment of Heracles and company. Suddenly, without being able to put my revelation into words, I had come to realize a great truth of the human condition.

We all commit regrettable acts. We make decisions and mistakes that harm other people. Some of these are errors of judgment rooted in carelessness, impaired cognition, or just plain apathy. Others are conscious decisions based upon selfishness, sadism, or other base desires. Whereas these bad acts may undoubtedly shape us, we must do our utmost every day to make sure they never define who we are. We must somehow blot out the black stain of our previous crimes and redeem ourselves in our own eyes.

We see this struggle played out in the legendary careers of Heracles (a murderer), Gilgamesh (a rapist), and Lancelot (a treacherous adulterer). In light of their inglorious pasts, each of these heroes is driven by an urge -- no, make that an obsession for redemption. Yes, these heroes are products of supernatural nativity, and yes they possess great powers that allow them to accomplish mighty deeds. But we aren’t inspired by their successes. Rather, we are drawn to their narratives because they accomplish their mighty deeds while overcoming personal failings and failures.

In other words, heroic character is shaped by failure, not success. As a youth still reeling from my monumental misstep at the art exhibit, I drew comfort and consolation in the stories of men who became heroes despite grave errors or even evil acts committed in their youth. Like Heracles himself, I vowed to overcome my own careless crime by erasing the look of shame, anger, and disappointment in my parents’ eyes.

As I explored the theme of redemption even more closely, I quickly realized its presence in the biographies of my favorite comic book heroes. Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Captain Mar-Vell, Hulk, Namor, Doctor Strange, Green Arrow & Speedy -- their heroism is forged in the shame and regret of past mistakes and prior bad acts. Given my own black stain and subsequent thirst for redemption, I found their origins more compelling than victims turned heroes such as Batman and Daredevil.

A year or so after the art exhibit debacle, when I began creating the Trademark Universe, the theme of redemption weighed heavily on the origins of heroes such as Wolf, Retaliator, and later Buckshot and Slice. In a previous blog entry, I outlined the theme of redemption and its relationship to the life of Todd Harper (Buckshot). Later blogs will deal with redemption in the development of the remaining Irregulars: Wolf, Retaliator, and Slice. In fact, the Irregulars themselves were founded upon the notion of redemption, much like their inspiration in the Marvel Universe, the Defenders.

As Worlds Apart progresses, we will also see redemption at work in other characters we have yet to meet. While reading Worlds Apart, then, it might be best to keep that old adage running in the back of your mind: Character is shaped by failure, not success. You never know where or to whom it may apply next.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

NOT a Dazzler Rip-Off AT ALL -- Clarion

I’ll address this right from the start. Clarion is a rock star turned superbabe. Dazzler is a rock star turned superbabe. I created Clarion circa 1976, at least three to four years before Dazzler first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #130 (1980). So Clarion is not in any way inspired by or even related to Dazzler. I’m not bragging, though.

To be frank, my original conception of Clarion stands as a blatant rip-off of DC’s fishnet-stockinged diva Black Canary. Of course, I lifted traits from other super-songstresses, too, namely Marvel’s Lorelei (1969) and Joan Collins’ portrayal of the villainess Siren (1966) on the old Batman TV series. I based Clarion’s not-so-secret identity as a gorgeous, glamorous rock star on youthful obsessions with Olivia Newton-John, Nancy Wilson, Stevie Nicks, and the Runaways. Later, when Madonna hit it big, I cribbed much of Mad’s personality and style for the developing storylines surrounding Clarion.

Ironically, the most overtly sexualized female character in the Trademark Universe owes her true birth to a missionary pamphlet I stumbled upon as a kid. The tract was entitled Clarion Call, and the illustrated logo was a striking female angel blowing a trumpet. Originally, I toyed with the idea of Clarion’s sonic powers emanating from a large mystical bugle of sorts. Wisely, I scrapped that idea and just went with voice-generated sonic abilities similar to those displayed by Marvel’s Banshee (1967).

Of course, when Marvel introduced Dazzler in the early 1980s, I grew extremely annoyed. Not knowing much about plagiarism laws at the time, I sincerely toyed with the idea of writing Stan Lee and informing him that I had come up with the idea of a rockbabe-turned-superbabe first. I must have thought better of this foray into the nebulous world of intellectual property because after a few months I simply accepted the fact that both myself and Marvel Comics had spontaneously generated identical creative concepts.

Clarion continued playing a major role in the events that shaped the Trademark Universe. As a member of the Protectors, she battled would-be world beaters by day while dating just about every available (and sometimes unavailable) superdude during her off hours. Often she juggled two or three super-suitors simultaneously. One such love triangle busted up the long-standing friendship of Airfoil and Beachcomber, while subsequently driving Beachcomber to adopt a life of super-villainy as Aquarius.

In keeping with her life as a rock star, Clarion also must regularly battle the temptations of drug and alcohol abuse. Combined with intimacy issues and a passionate, volatile temper, Clarion is one of the Trademark Universe’s most unpredictable and unstable heroes. As seen in the opening pages of Worlds Apart, she clashes immediately with Hangman over his handling of the Trishy Tanaka hostage situation. Her impulsive attack against Götterdämmerung’s Buzzcock actually sets in motion all the events to follow.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t dismiss Clarion as a knock-off of any past super-songstress. Thirty-five years after her creation, she deserves to be treated as her own woman, foibles, failings, and all.