Absolutely

CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? Virtual Panel: Meta-Might

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corruptsThis week, Ragnarok Publishing released the definitve version of my 2012 superhero anthology, CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? This new edition features brand-new cover art and design, as well as two new stories not included in the original release.

To celebrate, I’m dusting off several virtual panels I conducted with the authors to promote the anthology. Today, I have Tim Marquitz, Ani Fox, Jeremy Hepler and Kris Ashton, four of the anthology’s contributors, here to discuss what it might be like to have too much power.

Lincoln Crisler: What do you think draws readers to stories about people with uncanny power?

Tim Marquitz: For me, it’s the idea of being able to do something so far-fetched, so far out there in comparison to the rest of the world. The idea allows for a unique case of individuality and freedom. We’re all human: we can each do what the others do, at least to some degree, but slipping into the idea of superhuman abilities, suddenly a person isn’t defined as everyone else.

A.S. Fox: There’s a certain amount of wish fulfillment in any story about magic, mutation or other incredible powers. Mythology and religion abound with miracle stories because people want to believe power beyond human limits. It explains the chaotic and dangerous nature of life, it allows for an outlet to our hope and fear and when it crosses into fiction it allows catharsis through cathexis, which is a pompous way of saying, it lets us release our inner conflicts via a little obsessive suspension of disbelief.

My story, Ozymandias Revisited, covers two of my favorite ideas – the Christian Apocalypse and the enduring notion of Hubris from Greek Tragedy. In a way, great power exaggerates and amplifies the story much like opera intensifies the theatrical nature of song. It allows the reader to explore an idea taken to an extreme and if done well is almost Socratic in its inquiry into life, nature and whatever ethical dilemma the author decides to tackle. Done wrong it’s guys in tights smashing the Nazis while babes in titanium bikinis reaffirm every sexist trope they can stuff under fan service. That’s a different kind of catharsis.

Jeremy Hepler: I believe a majority of people are drawn because these stories typically operate under the naive principle that the person with uncanny abilities has an altruistic nature and will always intervene in domestic and global disputes with a benevolent, selfless intent. After decades of repeated themes and stereotypical characters, readers have been led to believe that any character given (or chosen to have) powers will embody what we believe to be the best in ourselves, and that these characters are static, permanent, stable—something which feels comforting to anyone living in a reality where they are confronted by the same worries, pressures, and dangers on a daily basis with little or no hope of change. I believe other people are drawn simply because the possibility that there is a magical plane hidden within our science-governed world that certain chosen people are allowed (or have been forced to) tap into is exciting and hopeful.

The reasons above and their general good-heartedness is exactly why Corrupts Absolutely? appealed to me so much as a writer and reader. Lincoln said let’s strip away these hopeful stereotypes and be honest this time. Let’s give the readers something different. Let’s read about how people would probably really use uncanny powers. I think that any superhero, meta-human, supernatural, sci-fi, or supernatural fan will find this concept extremely entertaining and insightful. It encourages people to look not at what they hope they would do if given unique power, but deep down inside, if they’re honest with themself, what they would do.

Kris Ashton:I think it’s because we so often feel powerless in our own lives. When we’re small children, our parents control our destiny. In school, bullies make us feel weak. Then, when we join the workforce, it only takes one bad boss to make us feel powerless. To my mind, the best stories about people with uncanny powers provide some sort of catharsis for these deep-seated feelings, which are often closely related to rage and desire for revenge. Would your boss dare to question your intelligence in front of your colleagues if you could make his head explode ala Scanners? Beyond all that, I think the human race has always been fascinated with beings that transcend mortal limitations. As soon as people could communicate, they started sharing stories about those who were faster, stronger and smarter than any human ever could be. You see it again and again in every culture all over the world.

LC: Do you think power, super- or otherwise, comes with strings attached?

TM: Most definitely. Each case of power, each person wielding it, comes with a different set of responsibilities. You can’t do something without there being a reaction. While a person might not care that someone else is killed or hurt in the use of their power, someone else will, and eventually something will circle back around. We’re all interconnected as people and the misuse and abuse of any will ultimately create waves that affect everything. With my character in Retribution, he’s given the power to revenge himself upon the people who killed his family. For him, there are definitely strings. He finds himself part and parcel of the government and has to undergo a number of changes in order to reach the point where he can exact his revenge. In doing so, he inherits a number of masters and controls he didn’t have before the power.

AF: I have a teenage daughter and we try to teach her that power, responsibility and accountability should be equal and interlocking. That’s my ethical view. Historically that’s also rare and the idealized fantasy of power. Power comes in a lot of forms and extreme power should be the rare and idealized fantasy but does exist in our here and now life. Genocide, fascism, suppression of women, all sorts of really nasty forms of man’s inhumanity to man require super-powers to act upon a society and with ugly consequences. I’m a pessimist when it comes to cultures and power: I believe that while a person may be inherently good, power with its brass knuckle effectiveness, allows even the best of us to cut corners. From there it’s tempting and human to make your annoying neighbor’s Chihuahua disappear or get some much deserved revenge on that jerk that got you fired.

Power without accountable consequences creates an addictive thirst and unless you’ve been born with a will iron and the strength of ten pure souls, you will go down the deeply satisfying road towards gritty, smelly human evil. Now cook into that something like Superman’s powers and you have a recipe for terror. Why do we admire heroes? Because they can hurt others and choose for a variety of reasons to take responsibility and become accountable even though they don’t have to and are often penalized for doing so. There are strings attached if you believe in the soul, karma or a hereafter. If you’re existentialist then frankly let’s hope you are not the one bitten by a radioactive spider.

JH: Of course. Every form of power, whether it’s the power over your children as a parent, or over your co-workers as a boss, or the power to override the laws of nature with some supernatural ability, has strings attached. And the stronger the power, the larger the number of strings, and the harder they tug. In The Real Church, my story appearing in Corrupts Absolutely?, my protagonist Owen’s inner conflict is based on this exact issue. He is forced to decide whether or not the strings attached to his power are too horrific and immoral for him to continue using the power for his desired purpose. Initially unsure, he sets up several tests to see if the consequences of his strings are going to be too tough to endure, tests that could be catastrophic for those involved. He, like anyone given unique powers or power, struggles to find a balance between the pull of the strings attached to him and the benefit of the power. This is what makes the power powerful—the magnitude of the rewards and consequences that come with it.

KA: Always, and it has been one of the great themes in literature. Whether you’re team leader at McDonald’s, CEO of a company, or president of the United States, you have the ability to affect other people’s lives, perhaps even change them irrevocably. That’s fertile ground for drama and tragedy. No one ever said it better than Stan Lee in Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. Every story ever written about meta-humans has touched on this theme in some way. Even characters like Hellboy and the Punisher, who operate on the shady fringe between good and evil, are forced to confront the toll their actions have taken on others.

Actually, thinking about that theme helped me create my story ‘Threshold’. The concept of a pain-driven vigilante excited me, but for a long time I couldn’t figure out how to make it work in the context of a story. Trying to weave a surprising or suspenseful plotline around a largely fatalistic character is tough going, let me tell you. I’d just about given it up for dead when I was commissioned to edit a one-shot movie magazine called Celluloid Superheroes. It really got me into the headspace, and I started thinking, ‘What if the protagonist’s power somehow turned against him? How could it create drama?’ After that, the entire narrative fell into my head.

LC: What power would you have if you could choose one? Why? What would you do with it? TM: While my mentality has always been the “Hulk smash!” kind, and I would love to have the raw physicality of the classic brick, I think I would prefer a more subtle power. I would love to be able to manipulate people mentally and emotionally. As for what I would do with the power: I’d get in trouble. Lots and lots of it…or not, as no one would know. Then again, I’d probably only use the power to make my life less frustrating. I’ve always found interacting with people difficult (the general populace) as I’ve gone about my daily life, and it would be great to be able to circumvent that annoyance. I’d love to go to a bar and have a drink and enjoy the evening without getting into a fight. I’d love to drive down the road and not have some idiot try to kill me and my family because they need to shave two seconds off their trip. I would love to get my order correct at the drive-thru and not have to spend twenty minutes explaining basic math or the difference between BBQ sauce and sweet & sour.

AF: I’d like to grant wishes. Of course it’s a corny thing and a bit altruistic to say so, but I’m being terribly selfish. Any power I get for myself I am responsible for and what happens when I lose my temper and fry the aforementioned dog next door? Warping reality would be awesome and having some control over who gets what allows me a certain buffer between the dehumanizing temptations of power and the reality of wanting cool stuff, good luck and a healthy happy life. It would let me help friends and family without unduly screwing up the universe. They make the wish, I get to decide if and how it gets fulfilled. Of course I implicitly trust my wife to ask for awesome things and this would allow us to work together to make positive changes in our life and the world. I was raised by hippies, believe in giving peace a chance and really would like to see every person on the planet eat 3 square meals a day, go to school and have basic human freedoms. I’m also pretty sure that given the chance I could screw up a two horse parade and should not be trusted with unlimited power – I think people are mildly horrible which is why I like writing about them. So I’d go with a superpower that in theory lets me evade the obvious pitfalls of being human. I’m also convinced I’d be the life of the party at any genie themed event.

JH: If I’m honest, like Lincoln asked authors to be with their characters in this anthology, I wouldn’t choose a power that demands great responsibility. I wouldn’t want that many strings attached. I’m a pretty introverted guy. If given a choice, I would choose the ability to fly. I would use the ability first and foremost for my own pleasure. I have struggled with addictions to various physical pleasures since a teen and this would be something that I could get thrills out of with the fewest strings attached (as long as I put forth the effort to keep the ability secret, which I think would become harder and harder due to my addictive nature). After enjoying the sensation of free flight for a while, I would then soar around the world to see all the places and things I’d probably never be able to afford to see otherwise. I would take my wife and five year old son on the rollercoaster rides of their lives. I would also use the ability to do household chores that I would otherwise have to pay someone to do, like trim the giant elm tree in the backyard, or paint the awkward eaves above the garage. I would help people in need if I came across them just like I would now, but I don’t think I would fly around searching for hero situations and notoriety.

KA: Ever since I was three or four years old, when I first watched The Incredible Hulk on TV, I have wanted to be him. It’s not just the super-strength thing – being Superman doesn’t interest me – it’s also the idea that the power has to be triggered. There’s a pervading sense of karmic justice around the Hulk: do something bad to David (or Bruce in the comics) Banner and something bad is going to happen to you. I also think it would be intoxicating to be seven feet of pure, invincible, irradiated muscle. And at a basic level, the Hulk speaks to the enraged child inside me, the one who just wants to SMASH everything when life takes a bad turn. Hmm, revenge, intoxication and smashing stuff. Looks like I’d make a very selfish superhero.

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CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? Virtual Panel: Meta-Mates

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corruptsThis week, Ragnarok Publishing released the definitve version of my 2012 superhero anthology, CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? This new edition features brand-new cover art and design, as well as two new stories not included in the original release.

To celebrate, I’m dusting off several virtual panels I conducted with the authors to promote the anthology. Our third panel gives us Malon Edwards, Wayne Helge and Anthony Laffan, here to discuss superhero partnerships.

Lincoln Crisler: What makes a good comics partnership, to you? A bad one?

Malon Edwards: I should first start by saying I don’t like the traditional superhero duo partnership. I know that doesn’t make much sense, considering my short story, “G-Child,” is pretty much that, but hear me out. The traditional comic book partnership never really did it for me, and the live-action Batman television series from the ‘60’s (probably unfairly) is to blame. It was just too silly, too campy and too overdone. But my brothers and I watched the hell out of it every day during the summer when we were growing up.

The comic book partnerships that did it for me were the male-female ones—Peter Parker and Mary Jane; Havok and Polaris; Gambit and Rogue; Storm and Forge (I read a lot of Marvel). The appeal for me with these kinds of partnerships was simple: hormones. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by beautifully drawn women who were more than just a pretty face and a tiny waist. These women were strong, they could kick ass, and that was cool as hell. My fourteen-year-old-self wanted to be their boyfriend.

Wayne Helge: I really enjoy a partnership with some degree of emotional tension stemming from the relationship. And so the newest Robin has been great, whether paired with Bruce Wayne’s or Dick Grayson’s Batman. Damian Wayne wasn’t trained by someone who abides by Bruce Wayne’s pedagogy. The tension that results is great because Batman is not only concerned about solving the crime–he’s also concerned about Damian’s behavior. Will he stay in line? Will he act out and take a life? I love that aspect of the relationship, since Dick Grayson and Tim Drake always seemed to stick close enough to the spirit of Bruce Wayne’s instructions.

This aspect of a partnership isn’t just in comics. Ford Prefect became much more interesting once he wasn’t there just to escort Arthur Dent through the Universe. And Paul and John? Much more interesting after about 1965. Another great partnership in comics was Yorick Brown and 355, from Y: The Last Man, where the tension was a romantic one that built very slowly. I don’t want to say much more. I’m still in mourning over the outcome of that one. Peace out, indeed.

It’s hard to pinpoint a bad partnership, because there are so many ways to do it wrong. But a partnership without internal tension seems, to me, to be missing a great opportunity to make a story more intriguing.

Anthony Laffan:A good partnership in any medium needs to have some element of conflict in it, at least in the beginning. This conflict between the two partners allows for a different level of tension and drama to develop as the characters bicker and jockey for dominance with their personal viewpoints of the world and how it works. In comic books you can see this in many of the depictions of Batman and Superman where they don’t agree with the other’s methods and both strive to have it done their way. In Marvel the best analogue – sticking with popular characters anyhow – would be something like Spider-Man and Wolverine.

Obviously, over time the partners accept the differences and move forward as a truer team, but this can only happen because of those conflicts. The conflicts also enable the partners to make a stronger team because the different view points often show us different strengths and weaknesses with each character, and those strengths and weaknesses can be made to compliment or protect the duo as need be.

Sabre and Fox (from Laffan’s story in CORRUPTS? –Ed.) would be this kind of teamup. One that is beyond the point where the quirks and difference in views of the other is a regular problem or point of contention, and where the two – while possibly disagreeing on a point – can respect the other person and know that the methods are at least still viable.

On the other hand, most of the bad matchups I’ve seen have been ones where there isn’t this level of personal conflict between the two characters at any point. Imagine a pairing between Superman and Spider-Man. Where is the tension? They’re both, basically, boy scouts. There is no tension between the team, no conflict to overcome and thus make stronger bonds. It gets boring really fast.

LC: What made you want to tell a story about a metahuman partnership?

ME: I’ve never told anyone this (except my wife, and my oldest brother, the only person I showed my work back then), but when I first started writing—I mean really writing—I wrote young adult fiction. It was pure escapism. In middle and high school, I was quiet, shy and socially awkward, especially with girls. So my main male character, Kris Parker, was the opposite. I filled up legal pad after legal pad of stories about Kris Parker and his on-again off-again girl, Kim, and then one day I threw them all away and started writing science fiction.

A few years ago, I started writing a series of stories about teenaged metahumans whose mothers took an experimental prenatal drug while pregnant. Some of these children developed powers when they were teenagers, and were recruited by the government to be part of special ops teams. While that’s the basis of “G-Child,” I went back to my young adult roots for this story. But I shook it up a little. Instead of having a first-person narrative by a male character, Bliss is narrating the story. Her relationship with Rayge is strained, though, but the romance is still there. Subtle, but there.

WH: I’m very interested in the tension between a sidekick who grows into a full-fledged hero and the mentor who refuses to acknowledge (or decides to ignore) the sidekick’s new role. This is the tension that I tried to emphasize in Gone Rogue, where the sidekick is beginning to display some proficiency in handling the bad guys on his own. Once that happens, how long will the sidekick be content in working under the mentor’s shadow? When does the sidekick earn equal billing? With only two people in the relationship, the answer depends greatly on the individual personalities. What is the sidekick’s tolerance for b.s.? How much does the mentor relish in the role of teacher? And what are the perks associated with being the mentor? The various Robins have always had a disadvantage because Batman never seemed to want to give up his patrol of Gotham. But what about the mentor who wants a night off? Or two nights off? Or a week’s vacation?

The other aspect I wanted to explore was how a sidekick develops his own rogue’s gallery. I believe Gone Rogue takes this element to its logical conclusion. A close relationship handled incorrectly could easily lead to hard feelings.

AL: I’d say it was less an issue of wanting to write about a partnership and more about the need for the story itself. The story I wanted to tell with Sabre was about how I see a character like Tony Stark really working out. Sabre’s ploy isn’t something that she alone can pull off, which means that she needs someone else to pull weight in those areas where she can’t. Fox provides all of this, and a bit more, which also allowed me to show more of Sabre and just how she works.

This goes back to the previous question, but when you only have a short space of time to show a lot about a character you need to delve into the bag of tricks. One of the best tricks for showing a person is to show a partner, what the partner does, and how the two work together. With every light brush you give to define the partner, you also define the main character which effectively gives each line twice the work.

LC: What’s your favorite team-up, comic or literary?

ME: The first that comes to mind is Johnny Mnemonic and Molly, and I’m not talking about the movie version. Johnny is just enough street for me to like him, and Molly is just badass. Cayce and Bigend in Pattern Recognition (I read a lot of William Gibson) might be an odd choice as another favourite, but something about their partnership just does it for me, even though it’s not romantic. Cayce is quirky as hell and Bigend is an asshole and crazy rich, and together they’re so interesting.

My hands down favourite, though is Gambit and Rogue. I thought they had such a complex relationship in the beginning, despite the annoying and persistent mystery surrounding Gambit. I liked that Rogue was tough as hell, could kick some major ass, but then was so fragile mentally and emotionally at the same time. She was more than just a pretty face and a small waist.

Bliss in “G-Child” is very similar that way. She can hold her own and go toe-to-toe with the best in the business, but take a peek into her mind, and you won’t like what you see. And then she’ll make sure you never see anything ever again.

WH: I grew up with and always loved Tim Drake, who was a detective before he was a sidekick. But my favorite Robin stories were usually with him alone, trying to prove his skills to his mentor. Of course, a sidekick detective who could outthink the mentor is an asset… or a potential threat. I’d love to see if somebody takes advantage of that aspect of Damian Wayne in the next few years (or did we already see the result of that in issue 666? Does issue 666 still matter? Does anyone out there follow me?). I’d love to see a Simon & Garfunkel-level hate spin out of that Batman/Robin relationship. Last, I don’t want to miss a chance to rave about the greatest team-ups – my favorite writer/artist teams: Hill/Rodriguez, Vaughan/Harris, and Aaron/Guera have been the core of my comics habit for the last 5+ years.

AL: I’m going to have to cop out here and say I don’t have one in particular. My favorite team-ups though are the ones where you get the “hero” and the “villain” working together towards some greater goal. Sure, this means that the stakes have to be higher – why else would established villain A be working with the hero who keeps putting him/her in jail? – but it also gives you a lot of awesome tension between the characters as well as a chance to see at least one of the characters – usually the villain – in a new light.

When you have these team ups though, your head is always running with questions. I mean, you know that the partnership can’t last, so the question is how long will it last? When will one of them betray the other? What if the villain plays it straight? Usually not, true, but sometimes they do. These stories also give the writer a lot of different ways to mess with the audience. Subtle innuendo can be wildly misconstrued just because of what we know about the characters and how shaky the partnership they have actually is.

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“This is Usually the Part Where People Scream…”

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I’ve been torturing myself for the past week or so by re-watching season one of Heroes. If you’ve never watched it, Heroes was a great (in the beginning) live-action superhero show on NBC. The second season fell victim to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike and it never really recovered. There hasn’t been anything like it that I could really lose myself into–not Alphas, not even No Ordinary Family (which deserved better treatment than it could get on ABC Family, and which I would still love to write as a comic, if anyone connected is reading this!). I know that rewatching the show after season one is just going to disappoint me, but until the relaunch, I have nothing else.

Similarly, I’ve been re-reading 1980s issues of the Uncanny X-Men. I know that sometime around Onslaught (in 1997), if I keep reading in chronological order, like one does, I’m going to get disenchanted again, but I’ll probably do it anyhow. Eighties and nineties X-Men were the best, as far as I’m concerned. From about ’97 to at least 2007, I found precious little to enjoy, though the stuff that’s been coming out the past couple years isn’t too bad. At least there are those old issues to enjoy. One thing that I can’t get away from is how much more engrossing an old issue of the X-Men was, compared to a modern issue of any comic I read (even the great stuff from Image and IDW). You could literally take almost half an hour to read an issue of the 80s X-Men, due to page count and story, but even the best stuff I’m reading these days maybe lasts twenty minutes. Maybe.

One other thing in keeping with this post’s superhero theme is a great piece of news I’m very excited to share: before the end of the year, my 2012 anthology of dark superhuman fiction, CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? will be relaunched by Ragnarok Publishing, the same folks who’ll be bringing you my supernatural serial killer novel, SKINJUMPER, in October. This new treatment will be the definitive version of the book, as far as I’m concerned, with two brand-new stories that were unable to be included in the original version, and a brand-new cover!

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GEEKING COOL Reviews CORRUPTS?

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A few weeks ago, I came across a Twitter feed for a website called GEEKING COOL that reviews books, movies, comics, etc. They seem new, but their production looks great, so I sent them a complimentary copy of CORRUPTS? for review. They’re almost done reviewing each story in detail, one every few days or so.

You can read them all here. Also, show ‘em some love on Facebook and Twitter.

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A Few Words About Nice to Matter

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Nice to Matter, the secret origin of a superhero cop’s prostitute sidekick, was originally written for inclusion in CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? I’m not against editors including their own work in their anthologies, but I didn’t want to cut a great story from another author in order to make room, either. It was a giveaway for a month or so in advance of CORRUPTS’ publication and later, a standalone story for sale on Amazon. I could definitely see myself writing a comic about the Black Streak and her world in the future, a sentiment echoed by several of my readers.

You can get it for free today on Amazon, and for .99 anytime thereafter. Here’s a little taste:

James was more excited than I’d ever seen him. “This will put us on the map,” he said. “Get us national attention. Superheroes who’ve actually taken down a supervillain are a very exclusive group.” I was eager for the fight myself, to be completely honest. Putting Dom away had been the highlight of my career to date, and even that accomplishment was tempered by keeping my identity a secret. Dom didn’t know it was me, and Natasha Fox’s real victory belonged to the Black Streak. I threw myself into every task Top Cop assigned me. We studied the floor plan of the bank and the surrounding infrastructure for two straight nights. Another two were spent roaming the streets trying to uncover the Badger’s hiding place.

On the third night of the search, I found it. I’d seen a pattern in the locations of the Badger’s past crimes, and had been tracing and retracing particular beats each night, dressed in civilian clothes. Around midnight, I found him, smoking a cigar in a parking lot outside an abandoned warehouse. While I lurked in the shadows and watched from across the street, a large armored truck pulled up. A guy got out and talked to Farrell for a few minutes, then got back in and drove off. The Badger stubbed out his smoke and went back inside. I remember how cold I felt inside when it hit me what was going on. The heist was happening tonight! I crept into the parking lot, pulled my phone out of my purse and turned away from the building. James didn’t answer. I tried two more times without any response. He was handling something else. I was on my own. I’d no sooner realized that, than I felt movement behind me.

Who the hell are you?” the Badger asked.

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