Friday, November 27, 2009

Eddie "Iron Man" March Meets Luke Cage -- Retaliator

I went to my first comic book convention in 1973 when I was eight years old. The event took place in the Grand Ballroom at the Statler Hotel in downtown Cleveland. My dad took me. Although not a huge comic book fan, he loved nostalgia from his youth, and amid the boxes of “funny books” he found a treasure trove of souvenirs from old radio shows and movie serials.

Surrounded by what seemed like millions of comic books, I clutched the $10 bill my dad had placed in my hand. Today, $10 wouldn’t buy squat at a comic book convention. In 1973, however, $10 purchased me so many comics I actually struggled with my goody bag on the way out of the hotel. The fact that my dad gave me $10 -- which would be roughly $50 today -- wasn’t lost on me. I knew I had to spend my money wisely.

With half my funds, I purchased some virtually mint Adventure Comics (featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes), Flash, and Justice League of America issues. At that time bagged issues in excellent condition ranged from 50¢ - 60¢. With the rest of my funds I bought 100 assorted coverless comics for 5¢ a piece.

For a kid who just loved comic books, it didn’t matter that “collectors” considered coverless comics as worthless junk. My grab-bag of goodies provided a treasure trove of rapturous reading. The majority of titles were DC, and I spent hours poring over pages of Hawkman, thrilling to the exploits of Adam Strange and Green Lantern. By this time, I’d begun reading the more challenging Marvel comics my brother collected, and I was very excited that almost a third of the books were already-familiar titles like Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

In this cornucopia of comics, I first discovered my favorite series from that era, Captain Mar-Vell. I was also introduced to Iron Man and Marvel’s predominant black superhero at the time, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. The lone Iron Man issue happened to be the classic Invincible Iron Man #21. In it, Shellhead “retires” from the super biz and hires a successor to be Iron Man, veteran boxer Eddie “Iron Man” March, who also happens to be African American. At the end of the story, Eddie almost makes the ultimate sacrifice, and Tony Stark realizes he must never forsake the responsibility of being Iron Man again. To this day, Iron Man #21 still ranks as one of the most influential comics in my life.

By contrast, the Luke Cage offering in my grab bag (#5: “Don’t Mess With Black Mariah”) didn’t quite suit my eight-year-old tastes. The villain of the story, Black Mariah, was a huge, obese black woman with no super-powers. The whole tale seemed ridiculous. A superhero like Cage should be able to punch a fat lady through a wall. Story over. Still, I found something fascinating about Cage’s “for hire” mentality.

Looking back on that first comic book convention, I truly believe my $5/100-comic grab-bag might be the most important and significant monetary investment of my life. A short time after losing myself in all those stories, I began imagining the heroes that would later populate the Trademark Universe. One of my first creations owed his very identity to both Iron Man #21 and Luke Cage #5.


In fourth grade social studies, we read about the Haitian Slave Revolt of 1791. I remember the historical account intrigued me. If Haiti’s slaves were able to revolt, why weren’t U.S. slaves able to do the same? Needless to say, I admired the Haitian slaves who had been able to break the chains of slavery themselves.


Several weeks after creating the Trademark Universe in 1975, my ten-year-old self experienced the vague notion that something was missing. Although I didn’t know the word back then, I surmise now that I was experiencing a lack of “diversity” in my characters. Fabricated upon the three-dimensional “realistic” concept of Marvel Comics, the Trademark Universe seemed more like the two-dimensional monochromatic world of DC Comics in its inception. Skater (later Silver Streak), Hangman, Beachcomber, Son of Liberty, the Optimist, Vendetta -- my league of extraordinary white gentlemen exposed a certain paucity in my creative powers, not to mention my social consciousness.

The solution came to me immediately. The Trademark Universe needed a black superhero. I recalled Iron Man #21 and the character of Eddie March, a black prize fighter who became the first substitute Iron Man. I also mulled over the origin and character of Luke Cage, an innocent convict who loans his body out to a corrupt government in exchange for parole. Comingling these two influences with my fascination with the Haitian Slave Revolt of 1791, I created the Trademark Universe’s first “black” superhero: Brigade, a.k.a. Timothy LaPierre, a.k.a. the Retaliator.

For a short while, Brigade, who quickly took the name Retaliator (see below), sufficed as the TU’s sole superhero of color. However, as I gradually realized, my first black American hero really wasn’t a BLACK hero because no one could see the color of his skin beneath his helmet. In other words, I’d somehow created a black hero that no one knew was black.

I resolved this dilemma in two ways. I created a story arc where LaPierre’s identity (and thus his race) became public, and I created a second black superhero whose skin color and racial identity presented no ambiguity whatsoever: Wolf. (Much more on Wolf in my next blog entry.)

For more information regarding Retaliator’s origin and career, I will once again cite the Trademark Universe Handbook I provided to Tony Lewis when we originally decided to make Worlds Apart a reality.


Retaliator (Timothy LaPierre) A black American professional boxer of Haitian descent, Timothy LaPierre boasted not only a Golden Gloves championship but an Olympic gold medal by age 18. Known as “The Haitian Machine,” hard-hitting LaPierre had a penchant for putting down his opponents in the first round. Finally, after battling through dozens of professional fights, LaPierre got the title shot of his dreams against Heavyweight Champion Malcolm “Bruiser” Bruno. LaPierre’s dream, however, quickly turned into his worst nightmare.

Viciously race-baited by Bruno during the pre-fight weigh-in, LaPierre entered the ring determined not only to beat Bruno, but to punish him as well. As the fight started, Bruno’s racially-charged taunts enraged LaPierre, throwing the young challenger off his fight. Bruno even managed to land a hard uppercut that sent LaPierre to the canvas, something that had never happened to the young boxer before.

As a dazed LaPierre pulled himself together, Bruno stood over him, jeering and spitting down on him. Struggling to his feet, LaPierre found himself strengthened by a cold, merciless rage. As the fight resumed, LaPierre overwhelmed the champion, unleashing a flurry of punches that made the onlookers gasp. As the coup de grace, the Haitian Machine delivered a devastating knockout blow to Bruno, a punch so hard it broke Bruno’s neck, killing the champion instantly.

Needless to say, pandemonium broke loose inside and outside the ring. Amid the chaos, LaPierre found himself being drugged and hustled out of the ring by mysterious men in black suits, who then dumped him into a waiting black helicopter. Hours later, LaPierre regained consciousness and found himself being held in a top-secret underground research facility. During a relentless interrogation, LaPierre discovered where he was and who was holding him. The installation belonged to the U.S. government’s top-secret S-1 Operations Bureau.

S-1 Operations, LaPierre soon learned, constituted a top-secret agency entrusted with policing America’s super-powered citizens, heroes and villains. S-1’s primary objective at the time was the recovery of a valuable piece of re-engineered alien technology: a visor mask which enabled the wearer to view the world in slow motion, as well as see through walls and perceive surroundings with 360 degrees of peripheral vision. The visor had been stolen by a man named Matt Carpenter, a.k.a. the Optimist, an investigative reporter turned super-powered vigilante.

Faced with the prospect of criminal prosecution for the death of Bruno, LaPierre was offered a position with S-1 in order to pay his debt to society. To combat the Optimist, S-1 designed a suit of battle armor projected to be ten times more effective than the Optimist’s visor. However, they had been unsuccessful thus far finding a man with the reflexes and physical abilities required to control the armor. After studying LaPierre for months, S-1 believed they’d found their super-soldier.

Undergoing rigorous training with S-1’s battlesuit, LaPierre was given the codename Brigade and dispatched to retrieve the Optimist’s visor. After hunting down the Optimist for weeks, LaPierre slowly realized the truth behind Matt Carpenter’s actions. S-1 abused their authority while breaking countless laws, and Carpenter, as the Optimist, had only been fighting to expose S-1’s corruption. What finally turned LaPierre against S-1, however, was knowledge that S-1 operatives had actually been the ones to kill Bruno in the ring. S-1 had framed LaPierre for the slaying in order to secure his cooperation.

Disenchanted with his employers, LaPierre divulged the information to Silver Streak and the Protectors while bringing suit against S-1 and the federal government. For their part, the Protectors swore to protect LaPierre until his trial, and for a brief time he signed on with them, still under the name Brigade. S-1 tricked the Protectors into leaving Brigade alone at Protectors HQ, however, and with the team absent, S-1 moved in to silence their rogue agent once and for all.

Needless to say, Brigade survived the assault and lived to fight many more days. Tricked into believing that the Protectors betrayed him to S-1, Brigade left the group, relocated to Haiti and went into “business” for himself as the Retaliator, “a superhero who looks out for number one.” Retaliator works for anyone (except criminals) who pays his fee: $10,000 a day plus expenses -- in cash. Essentially given asylum by the Haitian government because of his super-powers and duel citizenship, Retaliator constantly flaunts his outlaw status in the States by crossing the border with impunity. During one such mission, Retaliator fell in with a ragtag bunch of marginalized superheroes led by another black superhero, Wolf. The resulting partnership led to the creation of the Irregulars.



Weapons -- Originally designed by S-1 from back-engineered alien technology, Retaliator’s suit is one giant weapon giving him super-strength, speed, and invulnerability, as well as the ability to fly, survive the vacuum of space, and fire high-intensity energy blasts. Years after first donning the armor, Retaliator’s suit received an upgrade with even more advanced alien technology during an off-world adventure. Presently, Retaliator is one of the Trademark Universe’s most powerful heroes.

Personal Items -- Retaliator’s pariah status in the superbiz makes establishing any close contacts nearly impossible. Quite simply, his motto of always “looking out for number one” means even his teammates don’t completely trust him. A year before the events of Worlds Apart, LaPierre met and married Somali supermodel Ayanna, and the two have a baby girl. LaPierre’s status as a family man governs his actions at the opening of Worlds Apart, where he very un-superheroically leaves the battle with Breakneck to save his own family. Such unpredictable and nonconforming self-interest is emblematic of Retaliator’s character and career.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Possibly the Vilest Trademark Villainess -- Mosquito

In my last blog, Running the Race, I offered my take on the topic of race in general terms. For the next three blog entries, I’m going to explore this topic in more specific terms, namely how my childhood views on race influenced the development of three very prominent characters in the Trademark Universe: Mosquito, Retaliator, and Wolf.

When I was a child, I spent quite a bit of time on Cleveland’s near west side. My father grew up on Trowbridge Avenue in a largely Czech neighborhood between Fulton Road and West 41st Street. While I was growing up in suburban North Olmsted, my grandmother and aunt still lived in that old house. When my parents took a vacation every year, my siblings and I spent a week in the old neighborhood familiarizing ourselves with the landscape of my dad’s youth.

One of the local landmarks in Cleveland’s Czech community was the Ceska Sin Sokol Hall on Clark Avenue. My grandmother took us there many times for weekly suppers featuring traditional Czech food. Coincidentally, right across from the Ceska Sin stood another Cleveland landmark, this one not so community friendly: the Cleveland headquarters for George Lincoln Rockwell’s National Socialist White People’s Party.

Whenever my grandmother took us to the Ceska Sin, I invariably turned a curious, horrified eye across the street towards the run-down storefront brazenly brandishing the swastika. Admittedly, the place held a sick fascination for me. Given my upbringing as the grandson of a prominent civil rights activist, I knew a lot more about racist ideology than your typical lily-white pre-teen suburbanite.

Even now, I remember being astounded how blatantly these American Nazis advertised. I couldn’t believe they operated so openly, and no one -- not cops, nor protestors, nor well-meaning vigilantes -- shut them down. I also noted, with a kind of smug satisfaction, that I never saw anyone entering or exiting the storefront. Perhaps these racists could operate legally in our country. But they still boasted no members.

I was disabused of this naïve notion on a warm spring afternoon when I was twelve years old. During one of those yearly sojourns in the old neighborhood, I found myself stopping at the Ceska Sin with my aunt and grandmother while they ran errands. As they talked inside the hall with friends, I ventured outside onto the street. Immediately, my eyes riveted to the ramshackle building across the street.

Something was different about the headquarters this day. Something very different.
Unlike the previous times I’d studied the dormant storefront, the headquarters that afternoon buzzed with people and activity. A small squad of uniformed men stood outside the large black swastika hand-painted across the boarded and barred windows. Sprinkled among these armbanded brownshirts, a handful of teenagers strutted up and down the sidewalk shouting slogans like “White Power” and “Send Them Back to Africa!” while passing out pamphlets.

I pause now because I’m about to make a confession in the next few paragraphs that I’ve never disclosed to anyone. So please, remember, I was twelve years old at the time. And go easy on me.

As my gaze swept over the gaudy, unseemly spectacle of a mini Nazi rally, my eyes focused like the proverbial laser beam on one of the hate-spouting street urchins. She must have been about 14 or 15 years old. She had long black hair, pale white skin, wide doe eyes, a face like Pamela Sue Martin, and a pair of cantaloupe-sized breasts that strained against the black swastika emblazoned across her blood-red t-shirt. To say I was drawn to her would be like saying a fly is drawn to a pile of horse manure.

In what can only be described as a hormone-induced trance, I sauntered stiff-legged across the street, barely breathing as I approached the object of my early-adolescent adoration. As the old expression goes, she saw me coming from a mile away. She walked towards me with a big smile on her face, her out-stretched hand offering me a black-and-white illustrated pamphlet formatted like a small comic book. She then asked me a question for which she obviously knew the answer: “Hey, do you like comic books?”

“Uh... yeah...” I stammered, unable to talk through the arousal coursing through my dilated blood vessels. “I love comic books.”

“Do you love the white race?” she pressed as she pressed the comic book in my hand.

“Yeah...”

“Good. You’ll love this comic book. It’s all about what you can do to stand up for our race against all the niggers and kikes.”

“Okay, cool.” I just kept staring at her, stupefied by her face and breasts. “What’s your name?”

“Anne.” She wasn’t walking away, so I thought maybe something about me had impressed her.

“My name’s Mark.” I paused. “I hate niggers, too,” I suddenly blurted in a desperate attempt to convince her to be my girlfriend... FOREVER!

“It’s not just the niggers. Remember. It’s the Jews, too. They control the blacks and are using them to destroy our race. The Jews are the real problem. Without the Jews we could beat the niggers down no problem.” She smiled, and I knew she was about to leave me... FOREVER! “Remember, White Power!” she crowed before swiveling her impossibly perfect posterior back into the brownshirted phalanx.

I walked back to the Ceska Sin, flushed with shame and lust. I folded up the comic book and stuffed it into my back pocket only moments before my grandmother and aunt exited the hall. Unbelievably, they looked at me the same way they’d always looked at me. Obviously, the egregious nature of my hate crime branded me with the Mark of Cain. Without any discussion regarding what I’d been doing outside the hall, we drove back to their house. A short time later, in the privacy of their basement, I slid the comic book out of my back pocket and lost myself amid the poorly-drawn panels.

Through the haze of memory, I recall the short black & white comic being all about a white kid getting bullied by black students at school. As a victim of bullying myself, the tale drew me in on a purely guttural level. The comic recounted how the poor white kid fought back against his black oppressors until finally triumphing and becoming a hero for the white race. Many years later, while scanning the internet for a presentation on hate literature, I came across what I think must be the same comic, White Power Comes to Midvale.

Gazing upon those panels some thirty-odd years later, I can’t believe I once responded so viscerally to the amateurish script and mediocre artwork. For some reason inexplicable and unfathomable to my twelve-year-old self, I found the comic not only thrilling but stimulating (if you get my drift). Yes, I’m absolutely mortified to admit for the first time in my life that I not only proclaimed my hatred for the black race in order to impress a girl, I also... uh... pleasured myself while reading a race-baiting comic and thinking of Anne, the Teutonic Temptress.

So what does all this have to do with Trademark Comics in general and Worlds Apart in particular? Well, the experience with Anne and her racist comic book inspired the creation of perhaps the Trademark Universe’s most despicable villainess, the Mosquito. When I first created Maniac’s Götterdämmerung, one of my initial hybrid shock troopers was based explicitly (pun intended) on Aryan Anne.


Mosquito, as originally conceived, came to Maniac’s ranks through a neo-nazi skinhead gang. Transformed into an insectoid freak with wings, super strength & reflexes, and an organic exo-skeleton, Mosquito also possessed the power to drain blood from her victims, which in turn further amplified her own formidable prowess. Immediately, she became one of my “go-to” baddies, especially in racially-charged Silver Streak and Wolf stories where she provided the perfect bane for the ever-squabbling heroes.

Due, no doubt, to the pangs of guilt and self-loathing born from my shameful encounter with Anne, I instantly rendered Mosquito in terms of the grotesque. Her ghoulish outward appearance thoroughly complemented her abhorrent inner nature. Subconsciously, I guess, I was attempting to strip away any sense of the misplaced attraction I’d cast in the direction of Aryan Anne, her real-life inspiration. Even among Maniac’s über-evil yet racially-diversified Götterdämmerung, Mosquito’s virulent, uncompromising white supremacy cast her in the role of pariah. As Buckshot once commented, “You know you’re really a sicko when even Spree doesn’t hang with you.”


Despite my best efforts to make Mosquito completely unappealing, I continually found myself drawn to her character as a means of exploring my own confusion, fear, and fascination with issues of race in American culture. As I filled notebook after notebook with Trademark tales, Mosquito stories became my darkest and most violent offerings. My multi-issue arc chronicling Mosquito’s involvement in the Rhodesian civil war shocked even myself as I reread my words. The things Mosquito said and did, her actions as well as her motivations, pushed the proverbial envelope well beyond the borderline between good and evil. Of all my super-villains, Mosquito singularly possessed the unique ability to bring out not only the worst but also the best in Trademark heroes and villains.

In the opening of Worlds Apart, we see Mosquito in all her racist rancor. Her confrontation with Silver Streak displays the essence of her evil. Gripping two pretty teenagers in her horrific clutches, she forces the ultra-moral hero to make a Sophie’s Choice, of sorts, between a pair of victims, one black and the other white. Tony Lewis’ artistic depiction of Silver Streak’s utter paralyzing horror is worth a hundred voice balloons.

Later on, as the plot of Worlds Apart develops, we will see other, even more horrifying instances of racial hatred and racial violence being perpetrated upon innocent victims. Such disturbing unexpurgated content found its way early into my Trademark stories. Even at the tender age of twelve and thirteen, I was tentatively exploring the limits of my own imagination and capacity to fictively deal with the evil I’d encountered within myself that warm spring afternoon on Clark Avenue.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Running the Race

In my previous blog concerning Silver Streak, I mentioned the character Wolf and how I created him as a kind of political and racial counterpoint to the ultra-conservative, pro-establishment, and very white Silver Streak. I’ve also discussed in another blog entry, Moral Clarity, my family’s involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1950s, ‘60s & ‘70s. The issue of race relations in America has always fascinated me, and that fascination, in turn, wove itself into the creation of the Trademark Universe as well as my other writing.

Over the years, I’ve been told my views on race are naive, provincial, and/or uninformed. I’m neither surprised nor angered by that assessment. I grew up in North Olmsted, Ohio during the 1970s. We could count the number of African American families living in our suburban community on one hand. Although I do recall going to school with a smattering of Asian and Hispanic Americans, only one distinctive color ran through my childhood and adolescence: white.

Some would say my lily-white past disqualifies me from writing anything substantive regarding race relations or racism in the United States. I can respect that. What follows may explore the most wrong-headed assessment of the white/nonwhite divide ever conceived. So please, let me apologize beforehand. I can only write from my own experiences. To do otherwise would simply be disingenuous.

I formed my seminal opinions concerning race relations and racism from a combination of complementary and often contradictory influences. In my entry Moral Clarity, I briefly explored my mother’s background as the daughter of a somewhat controversial minister strongly committed to the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement. I grew up, then, with an acute awareness of the evils of slavery and Jim Crow, as well as a fair amount of knowledge regarding the historical plight of Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, Japanese-American internees, migrant farm workers, and other disenfranchised and exploited minorities.

Coupled with my mother’s philosophical commitment to equality and social justice, I also learned a great deal about the practical, day-to-day aspects of race from my father. My dad is a professional jazz musician, and I grew up loving jazz and idolizing jazz icons the way most normal kids revered rock musicians and star athletes. Considering that jazz music was invented by black Americans and most of its pioneers and innovators were African Americans, any notion of white superiority among professionals is absurd.

More than a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Charlie Christian shattered similar barricades with Benny Goodman’s band in the mid-to-late 1930s. Whereas social commentators and historians still extol the cultural significance of Goodman’s actions, musicians take a much more pragmatic view of the decision. Being able to hire excellent black musicians simply meant band leaders were able to fill their chairs with the best talent they could find, black or white.

In other words, as socially just as Goodman might have been, he didn’t hire Teddy Wilson because he was black. Goodman hired Wilson, and later Hampton & Christian, because they could PLAY.

PERIOD.

During my youth, when my dad and I listened to recordings of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, or Frank Rosolino, the issue of their race wasn’t only irrelevant; considering it would have been inconceivable. Among musicians, all that matters is the music.

PERIOD.

For example, Buddy Rich was, by many accounts, a tyrant, bully, and four-star jerk. (Just listen to this if you don’t believe me.) He also happened to be one of history’s greatest drummers and bandleaders. The thought that any musician would discount Buddy Rich because of his personality is ludicrous.

Similarly, Charlie Mingus had a reputation for bi-polar meltdowns and punching out his sidemen. When musicians talk about Mingus’ bad temper, they never discuss his race. They just talk about what an asshole he could be. In the same breath, they’ll also talk about what a great bassist, composer, and bandleader he was. Who Mingus or Rich were had NOTHING to do with their music. Anyone who judges any musician by anything other than the music isn’t a musician, and frankly not worth considering.

Growing up, I heard lots of stories from my dad regarding race in the music business. He told me how his father, a brilliant piano player, took him to see pianist Art Tatum when my dad was still a young boy. Tatum was performing in the upstairs living room of a black family living in one of the racially-segregated neighborhoods in Cleveland. Although my father and grandfather were the only whites in attendance, they were welcomed warmly into the home without any attention paid to race. Among musicians, all that matters is the music.

As a teenager, my dad regularly ventured to jazz clubs that were deemed “colored.” He sat and listened to the music, struck up professional friendships, and never experienced any discomfort whatsoever. Among musicians, all that matters is the music.

Trumpeter Red Rodney travelled with Charlie Parker’s band in the ‘50s and was forced to pass as an albino black man because of white racial prejudice and strict segregation in the South. Although Benny Goodman had broken the color barrier north of the Mason-Dixon Line years earlier, Jim Crow still dominated the southern US until the 1960s. Musicians still laugh at the ignorant “white power structure” represented by this story.

My point citing these anecdotes is not to say that prejudice doesn’t exist among musicians. Of course it does. Prejudice exists everywhere. However, among true professional musicians, prejudice doesn’t factor into who gets hired or who is admired. Among musicians, all that matters is the music.

I was raised, then, by a combination of influences. From my mother, I acquired a philosophical belief in racial equality, and from my father a practical sense that someone’s race should never be a factor in determining their worth. Needless to say, all these high-minded ideals remained fairly easy to maintain considering I didn’t really know any black Americans in real life.

Like many white suburban kids from my era, the only African Americans I encountered appeared in movies, television, and comic books. Luke Cage, the Falcon, Black Panther, Mal Duncan -- these were the “black” friends of my childhood. Other forays into Black popular culture included blaxploitation movies, TV characters like Terry Webster from The Rookies, and myriad professional athletes. As grounded as I may have been in the ideals of racial equality, my young mind still couldn’t help gravitating to the stereotypes presented by Superfly, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Spearchucker Jones, and Christie Love.



Needless to say, my creations in the Trademark Universe reflected these stereotypes. Before Wolf, I created Retaliator, my first African American hero, who was actually more an anti-heroic cross-pollination between Luke Cage and boxer-turned-substitute-Iron-Man Eddie March (Iron Man #21). With his face hidden behind a helmet, however, Retaliator wasn’t in-your-face black, and most in the Trademark Universe never even knew his race.

A short time later, I wrote a Silver Streak story featuring an openly black hero I dubbed “Black Wolf.” Based primarily on Falcon & Black Panther, Black Wolf owed much of his personality to the street-smart “Black Superman” archetype promulgated by movies such as Shaft, Super Fly, and Hammer. Black Wolf spoke like these blaxploitation bad-asses, and during his down time he surrounded himself with a bevy of Christie Love & Foxy Brown lookalikes.

I loved the character immediately. I actually found him easier and more fun to write than Silver Streak, the star of the book. Without explanation, I quickly dropped the “Black” from his name, and simply referred to him as Wolf. He came to co-star in the book just as Falcon co-starred with Captain America. Unlike Cap & Falc, however, Wolf and Silver Streak were never partners or friends. They fought crime in the same city, and thus continued crossing paths and butting heads. It was a blast to write, and I’ll be talking about Wolf himself in greater detail with a later installment.

Over the years, as I grew to know and befriend Americans of every race, my take on Wolf and other minority Trademark characters grew slightly more complex. But, truth be told, Wolf, Retaliator, Slice, et al have remained pretty much as I created them, stereotypical warts and all.

As Worlds Apart develops, please pay attention to my portrayal of race, race relations, racism, and racial stereotypes. These themes play a prevalent role in the coming pages, just as they have throughout my life. Although you may disagree with my ultimate conclusions, I hope you respect my honesty. For me to write Worlds Apart any other way would be, as I said before, disingenuous.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Flash Meets Captain America – Silver Streak

When I first started reading comic books, I immediately decided my favorite superhero was the Flash. Not only did he have the best super-power -- super-speed IS the ultimate power, bar none! -- he also had the coolest costume: red bodysuit with yellow lightning bolts -- and I just loved those wings on the side of his head.

Whenever my dad brought home comic books for me, I always prayed the stack would include a Flash comic. My favorite adventures involved Kid Flash and/or Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash from Earth-2. I also loved when Flash would race Superman.

Even at the tender age of five, I admired how DC editors navigated between the horns of the “Who’s Faster?” dilemma. Flash was actually a microsecond faster than Supes, but Flash didn’t have Kal-El’s limitless endurance. In other words, Flash beats Supes in a dash; Supes beats Flash in a marathon. That made total sense to me.

Needless to say, when I first began creating prototypical superheroes based upon DC antetypes, my seminal “Adam” was a blatant Flash rip-off. He bore the appellation Blue Bolt. His costume? A navy blue bodysuit highlighted by white lightning bolts. His teenage partner called himself Blue Streak and wore a white bodysuit offset with blue lightning bolts.

As recounted before, my taste in comic books drifted from DC to Marvel a few years after I created my initial DC-esque characters. My favorite Marvel character was Captain Mar-Vell, originally because of his green and white costume, and then later because I dug the whole “hero who’s actually a villain” conflict. Alongside Mar-Vell, I also idolized Captain America, especially after reading a reprint of a Cap story that originally appeared in Tales of Suspense #59.

In this short feature, a gang of thugs breaks into Avengers Mansion because the only Avenger on duty is Captain America. Since Cap possesses no awesome super-powers, the crooks assume he’s a pushover. Naturally, Cap kicks all their butts in true Cap fashion. This single story made me a Cap fan forever. Shortly afterwards, as I followed his stint in the Avengers, I grew to admire his unflinching morality and staunch adherence to ethical behavior. Somewhere along the way, I also noticed that Cap, like the Flash, also had a pair of wings on his head mask.

Coincidence?

When I first began crafting the Trademark Universe, then, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that my initial creation came out as a combination of the Flash and Captain America, with a nod in costume design to Captain Mar-Vell. Originally deemed Skater, my first hero was a super-speedster who streaked about on a pair of “super skates.” In addition to super-speed, he also possessed a super sense of right and wrong. Unwavering in his pursuit of law and order, Skater became the Trademark Universe’s Captain America.

As originally conceived, Skater stood as your basic super-patriot. Recovering from a career-ending injury, Olympic speed-skating champion and hockey star Mark Hunter found himself recruited by the U.S. government to become its first Super Secret Agent. Repairing Hunter’s damaged legs with space-age surgical techniques, the government convinced him to lace up a pair of high-tech skates and a friction-resistant jumpsuit. The skates allowed Hunter to skate over any flat surface and defy gravity at near light speeds. Thus was born the Skater!

Okay, I know “Skater” is a stupid name. I knew it even when I created it. I just couldn’t think of anything better, so the name stuck. Years later, I tried new names -- Defender, Silver Skater, Blue Streak -- before settling on Silver Streak.

During his long and storied career, Silver Streak helped found S-1 Operations, a government agency policing superheroes, as well as the Protectors. Things weren’t always easy for Silver Streak, however. As my life and ideals changed, Mark Hunter’s initial backstory transformed over several retellings, while my original Trademark hero experienced many character-defining pitfalls and hardships.

Two years after first creating Silver Streak, I came to realize the potential for personal conflict posed by his unflinching law-and-order mentality. As a kind of moral counterweight to the lily-white Silver Streak, I created my first black superhero, Archibald Turrentine, b.k.a. Wolf. At the time, I didn’t know that I was juxtaposing SS’s conservatism versus Wolf’s liberalism. I just liked the idea of these two ultra-moral superdudes constantly arguing the issues of the day as they fought their own interpretations of evil.


Of course, I owed my original inspiration to DC’s revolutionary Green Lantern / Green Arrow series. However, truth be told, I actually think my take was even better because my heroes were divided by race in addition to politics.

Wolf first appeared as a character in Skater stories. The more Wolf stories I wrote, the more I developed his backstory, thereby generating more ideas concerning Skater’s true origin. Unlike Archibald (Wolf) Turrentine, Mark Hunter -- the ultra-patriot -- never served in Vietnam. Hunter was too busy winning gold medals and serving the military in a PR capacity, making stateside speaking appearances and filming TV ads. After completing the terms of his enlistment, Hunter went into the world of professional sports while Turrentine slogged in the bush, finally being dishonorably discharged after refusing to obey orders in a massacre incident reminiscent of Mai Lai.

Needless to say, Skater and Wolf started off on the wrong foot, and their relationship never improved. Years later, when Skater, now calling himself Silver Streak, spoke out against the tactics used by “rogue” heroes like Wolf and Retaliator, Wolf retaliated by banding these like-minded heroes together and deeming them the Irregulars. The action at the onset of Worlds Apart clearly demonstrates the conflict between Silver Streaks’ “Law & Order” Protectors and Wolf’s “By Any Means Necessary” Irregulars. I’ll be delving deeper into the ramifications of the Silver Streak vs. Wolf conflict in a later blog dealing with Wolf.

For the remainder of this entry, I’ll refer to Silver Streak’s entry in the original Trademark Universe Handbook I drafted for Worlds Apart co-creator & artistic force, Tony Lewis:


Silver Streak (Mark Hunter) Highly skilled in all forms of hand-to-hand combat, Silver Streak excels in kickboxing. He is also a top-notch gymnast and acrobat both in and out of his skates.

A staunch patriot and the quintessential “good soldier,” Silver Streak remained oblivious to much of S-1’s “darker” shenanigans while acting as its titular head. During his tenure as S-1’s CEO, Silver Streak unwittingly functioned as the unit’s public face while other less reputable forces saw to the agency’s actual workload. Only later did Silver Streak learn of S-1’s “Black Ops” activities, at which point he resigned from the agency in every capacity.

Severely disillusioned, Hunter “retired” from the super biz, taking his skates with him and travelling the country “in search of the years he’d lost.” His self-imposed exile ended when confronting the threat that led to the founding of the Protectors. Since then, Silver Streak has served as the group’s leader on numerous occasions, generally splitting the duty with Flurry.

Weapons -- Silver Streak’s skates create ice-like surfaces over any flat, semi-smooth surface: concrete, brick, even grass. The skates allow him to defy gravity by skating at ninety-degree angles and upside down. At top speed, SS can approach light speed, thus allowing him to dodge high-energy and laser blasts. The laser-sharp blades of his skates can also be formidable weapons, seeing as Hunter is an expert kick-boxer.

Personal Items -- At times, especially in his earlier days, Mark Hunter’s boyscout-like faith in the “American Way” made him a little unrealistic when dealing with the super biz’s numerous shades of gray. His simple, straight-forward, unrelenting morality, however, has been a positive force in reshaping the lives of several former superbaddies, most namely Buckshot and Slice.

At one time romantically interested in Flurry, Silver Streak stepped aside without ever pronouncing his love when he learned that his old Cold War mentor and comrade, the Spring, loved the exotic elemental, too.

Despite their obvious differences, Silver Streak and Hangman have become close allies over the years. In fact, it was Silver Streak’s endorsement of Hangman that convinced the government to cease treating the hero as a threat, thereby allowing Hangman to be co-founder of the Protectors.

I'm Back

As some of you may already know, my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer earlier this summer. At first, the procedure to remove the tumor appeared to be relatively simple. However, when doctors did the first surgery, they discovered the tumor had grown larger than originally estimated. At this point, with the tumor more complex and dangerous, my father began seeing numerous specialists to determine the severity and spread of the cancer.

Over the course of two months, a consensus was finally reached. My father required major surgery to remove his bladder and other affected organs. From August through mid-October, my father grew quite sick as he underwent the numerous procedures and tests that typically precede such surgery. Finally, on Monday, October 19th, he had the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, and, weeks later, is recovering nicely at the family homestead.

During the period of my father’s illness, I took an extended leave of absence from work and ceased writing for this blog. Meanwhile, my partner Tony Lewis has managed to upload some fantastic pages for Worlds Apart. Now that things are kind of back to normal, I hope to make my regular posts and commentaries on this blog. So check back regularly if you'd like to know more about the characters and themes in Worlds Apart.