Friday, January 1, 2010

Unrepentant, Unrelenting Justice -- Hangman

I believe this will be the most difficult blog entry I’ve written to date. I’ve actually been putting this one off. In addition to being one of the original Trademark Universe creations, Hangman also stands as one of the most complex.

First, we have the vast array of influences that went into his conception. You can tell Hangman is the creation of a ten-year-old comic book geek because his myriad, disparate super-powers make him simultaneously invincible as a hero and unwieldy as a written character. With Professor X’s telepathic abilities and the Vision’s phasing powers, nothing can really defeat Hangman, and even at the tender age of ten I knew this.

So I fashioned weaknesses for him, disabilities borrowed from other favorites in the comic books I read. I always loved Matt Murdock’s blindness as a limitation for Daredevil. So I did DD one better, making Hangman not only blind, but deaf, dumb, and without the senses of smell, taste, or touch. He is, in essence, trapped inside his body. His only contact with the outside world occurs via mental telepathy.

At age ten, I had only a smattering of life experiences. So I really couldn’t wrap my mind around the kind of solitude, loneliness, and alienation a truly insensate human would bear. I tried, however, and my Hangman stories revolved around his isolation as much as his fight against super-villains.

As powerful as Hangman could be, he did possess some very obvious and exploitable weaknesses. Being a telepath with no other senses, he was entirely dependent upon the consciousness of his opponents and any other heroes or bystanders present. With no minds to read, Hangman’s only option was to render himself immaterial until the situation changed. Thus, in a mano-a-mano donnybrook versus robots or inanimate machines, Hangman was virtually worthless.

In the Trademark Universe, Hangman played a similar role as the Specter in DC comics. He occupied an almost godlike position among the pantheon of super-beings I’d created. He single-mindedly dispensed justice regardless of any complications arising from emotion, affection, or human compassion. Even at the tender age of ten I realized what kind of complications might arise from such omniscient vigilantism.

Telepaths and Thoughtcrimes

I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm at age nine. My older sister was reading the book for school, and I borrowed it when she was finished. Much of the brilliance of Animal Farm resides in its accessibility to readers of all ages. I read the allegory on its surface, a fantastical fable about rebellious farm animals. Kind of a twisted take on Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons.

When I find an author I like, I never stop at one work. I quickly discovered that Orwell had written another very popular classic, 1984. So I checked it out of the North Olmsted Public Library and tackled it with youthful naïveté.


I’d love to say I understood the novel completely at nine years of age. But that would be a lie. What I did take away from 1984 was the concept of Thoughtcrime or Crimethink. When I developed the character of Hangman, the concept of Thoughtcrime immediately occurred to me. As an almost omniscient telepath, Hangman would actually be able to detect criminal tendencies in perpetrators BEFORE they acted. He would in essence, then, be in the unique position to be a TRUE thoughtpoliceman.

I loved the concept and the conflict it presented. Here we have Hangman, a hero who KNOWS someone is innately bad PRIOR to the commission of any bad act. So what can he do? What should he do? What limits should be placed on such power? How would the rest of the world view a hero who punishes people BEFORE they do wrong?

I addressed these very same questions in the first several issues of the Hangman comics I wrote. In the first such story, Hangman simply appears in a dark alley just as a novice rapist is crouched in the shadows, sizing up his inaugural victim, a pretty oblivious young lady. Telepathically, Hangman tells the would-be rapist he knows the evil in his mind. He tells the sicko he has but two choices: turn himself in to the authorities for treatment or face punishment for his deviant proclivities. The terrified and rageful rapist does what comes naturally.

Knife slashing, the would-be rapist lashes out violently towards the ghostlike man in the creepy hood who has invaded his mind. The fight isn’t much of a fight at all. Being able to read the rapist’s mind and anticipate his every move, Hangman quickly and violently dispatches the miscreant. Ironically, the rapist’s intended victim hears the ruckus in the alley and rushes to the defense of the very man who sought to despoil her. This noir, neo-gothic scene is Hangman’s first taste of the bitter ironies of thoughtcrime-fighting.

With subsequent stories, I explored the early stages of Hangman’s career. I briefly detailed his origin (covered below), and crafted tales revolving around the practicality and morality of dispensing pre-emptive justice. Using his telepathic abilities to identify prospective criminals before they acted, Hangman first attempted to counsel future felons against crossing the line of the law. If these “bad seeds” refused -- or worse yet resisted his authority -- Hangman showed no compunction against rendering them catatonic with a telepathic lobotomy.

Needless to say, such extreme measures put Hangman’s vigilantism squarely at odds with the law, and it wasn’t long before he attracted the attention of S-1, the governmental agency entrusted with policing super-beings. Thus, the hunt began, and many early issues found S-1 protecting the very scum that Hangman pursued. It was during this time that Hangman first encountered Silver Streak, the hero who would later convince the telepath to give up his solitary existence and take up the mantle of a Protector.

Now that we’ve briefly explored the creative influences and thematic considerations behind the Hangman, let’s turn to the Titanic Trademark Handbook for a closer look at his character and origins:

The Hangman (Christopher Sword). Miles Sword was a billionaire with a dream. He wished to create a male heir with genetically-hardwired telepathic abilities which could be passed on to future generations. In this way, Sword believed, his descendents would be able to perpetuate indefinitely the vast business empire he had built.

Enter a dark and mysterious stranger, a man who simply refered to himself as Mr. Cain. Cain promised Sword he could fashion such a child from a frozen embryo. When completed, the embryo was implanted inside Tilda Sword, Miles’ blushing young trophy wife, and the proud parents waited for the birth of their wonder child. As Tilda blossomed with her pregnancy, the baby’s telepathic abilities became apparent. Mother and father could sense his every incubating thought and feeling. Cain had delivered upon his promise. Their child would be everything they dreamed and more.

But alas, when baby Christopher Sword was delivered, a gruesome discovery was made -- he was a deformed mutant. He possessed no exterior senses via his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or skin. In addition, baby Christopher continually altered his density without warning, transforming from solid flesh and blood into an immaterial, ghostlike state.

The Swords were horrified. Cain promised them he would be able to fix baby Christopher, and he began creating a series of mentally-integrated mechanical devices that eventually allowed Christopher to move his limbs freely, control his density, and interact at least somewhat with the world outside his insensate body.

From the moment of his birth, baby Christopher could only truly sense the world through his unparalleled psychic abilities. As an infant, he instinctively learned to eat by phasing food into his digestive tract. As he grew older, he was able to move and grasp objects with the assistance of the special gloves and boots designed for him by Cain, and then later modified and perfected by his brilliant older half-sister, Kristin. These devices, coupled with his own mutant physiology, gave him super-strength and unparalleled physical coordination and stamina. While growing up, Christopher Sword telepathically taught himself every conceivable fighting technique, mastering these martial arts by reading the minds of the world’s greatest practitioners.

Thus, in a fight, the Hangman is virtually unbeatable. He enters his opponents’ minds and knows their every move before they make it. He has trained himself to control his body while viewing it from the outside, much like a video game player operates a computer-generated character. His psychic abilities also allow him to enter the mind of any bystander, human or animal, which subsequently provides him strategic perspectives from myriad angles.

Being dependent upon telepathy in a fight, Hangman does not fare well against robotic or non-sentient opponents, a weakness duly noted and exploited by his enemies. When this happens, Hangman typically renders himself into an immaterial state, where he is virtually untouchable. Even in his phase state, though, he is still susceptible to electric shock, radiation, and other EM wavelengths.

Hangman spends his off-time strapped into his psi-filter, probing minds all over the planet in search of evil-doers. When he encounters super-baddies, he gets a lock on their location and then heads off in pursuit. Once he enters the outside world, he phases himself completely and travels directly towards the source of the evil, oblivious to everything else.

Weapons -- Hangman is armed with a high-tech hangman’s noose constructed of virtually indestructible cable. The Hangman also operates out of a secret lair lined with a special alloy which shields him from the random thoughts of the universe. Amid the vast array of sophisticated computer equipment at his disposal, Hangman’s psi-filter allows him to psychically probe the outside world in search of evil-doers. His entire crimefighting arsenal is the handiwork of his older half-sister, Kristin, one of the Trademark Universe’s ranking technological wizards.

Personal Items -- Most if not all of Hangman’s early childhood memories are repressed due to savage physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by his father and mother. The extreme depravity he experienced as an infant and young man conditioned Christopher Sword to be unrelenting and unforgiving in the face of any and all evil. One of Hangman’s first acts as a vigilante saw him punishing his abusive parents, rendering them catatonic with a fierce mental assault.

Hangman can be exposed to the outside world for only limited amounts of time before becoming exhausted by the telepathic background noise. Thus, he avoids human contact at all costs. In his early career, he confided only in his sister, Kristin. She herself is resentful of her brother’s dependency on her, and the situation has caused tension between them in recent years.

Since forming the Protectors with Silver Streak, Hangman has been forced to adjust his personality and his perspective to a more social and sympathetic outlook. His ability to read the minds, and hence the darker thoughts, of his teammates puts him somewhat at odds with Buckshot’s aggression, Clarion’s lust, Airfoil’s immaturity, and Achilles’ arrogance. Although loyal to his Protector teammates, Hangman reserves real friendship for Silver Streak and Flurry, the only members he truly respects.

Several years prior to the events of Worlds Apart, while fighting the super-villain Mandroid, Hangman peered into the villain’s brain and discovered images of his wife, Doreen. The images were so strong and Hangman so exhausted that he began to meld minds with the criminal and fall in love with his wife. Beating Mandroid to a pulp until the villain was brain-dead, Hangman then entered the Mandroid’s lifeless shell, in effect possessing the villain’s body. Hangman then left his own body in his secret lair and assumed Mandroid’s life: wife, kids, the works.

This ruse lasted for several months until the Protectors launched a search for the missing Hangman at Kristin’s insistence. Finding Hangman’s comatose body inside his lair, the super-team tracked down “Mandroid” to Hangman’s adopted suburban home. Obviously, Hangman had great difficulty convincing his teammates he was actually Christopher Sword and NOT the Mandroid. Only when his “wife” Doreen intervened did the Protectors finally believe Hangman’s story. Although he’d never confessed the truth to Doreen, both she and the children had known from the outset that something was different about the head of their family.

Suddenly realizing the horrific fraud he’d perpetrated, Hangman gave up his retirement with Doreen and resumed living inside his atrophied body. With physical and mental therapy provided by his teammates, Hangman built himself back to peak strength, and returned to the super-biz a wiser yet even more emotionally-isolated man.