A Christmas Superhero Story…

I recently wrote a collection of short stories called Masques & Capes: An Imaginary History — adventure-mystery stories about superheroes. The idea was to imagine a Canadian superhero comic book universe, a multi-generational continuum stretching from the mid-20th Century to today. And so, as part of the collection, I decided to write a Christmas-themed story. And in the spirit of the season, I figure I might as well post it on-line for any as would be interested. Now the point of my collection was to write mostly self-contained tales (after all, they take place years, even decades apart) but some characters bled over into more than one story. In this case, the characters here had appeared in a couple of earlier tales in the book — but I think it’s easy enough to pick up on the threads and the inherent nostalgia of two old friends reuniting after many years. There are usually two ways of writing Christmas tales in the context of an adventure series — sentimental or silly. I decided to try a bit of both with a tale that is both low-key and bittersweet and larger-than-life and, well, comic book-y.

Happy Holidays!

‘TWAS IN THE MOON OF WINTER TIME
or: A Last Christmas for The Loyalist

by D.K. Latta

December, 1982

The vintage silver-grey sedan with the custom-modified bulbous hood pulled up to the curb, the snow beneath the winter tires squeaking slightly as it eased to a stop. It settled there for a moment, the engine clicking quietly to itself as it cooled in the late December air. Then the driver’s door opened and a tall man stepped out, his breath forming fleeting white clouds around his head. Garbed in a heavy long coat, he was handsome with regular, even features and mouse-brown hair.

He stared up at the house before which he had parked. A pine tree on the front lawn was draped with Christmas lights, as were the eaves of the two-storey home. Two plastic reindeer guarded the steps leading to the porch, one listing crookedly from the previous night’s wind.

A gentle dusting of snow drifted down from the afternoon sky, adding to the layers already carpeting the distinctive red Prince Edward Island soil.

“You looking for Santa Claus, mister?”

The tall man turned to see a child of about eight looking stiff as a statue in his heavy blue parka, a striped scarf cinched tightly around his head by a conscientious parent.

“Bit early, isn’t it?” the tall man asked. “He won’t come around till tonight.”

“Nyah,” said the child. “I seen him a few times already. I even wrote to the paper. I figger you were maybe a reporter come to see.”

“Sorry. Not me.”

“Christopher Jeremy Winger!” shouted a voice from down the street. “How many times have I told you to pick up your sled?!?”

The child tried to look toward the voice but was unable to turn his head. So he swivelled his whole body and obediently waddled off in the direction of the shouts.

The tall man chuckled, then looked back toward the house. He was not a man normally prone to nerves, but he felt a fluttering in his stomach. Steeling himself, he strode up the walkway — stopping only momentarily to right the tilted reindeer — and rang the doorbell. After a moment he felt the subliminal tremor of an approaching occupant. And then the door opened.

A plump, middle-aged white woman with hair cut short stood in the vestibule. She was dressed in a turquoise sweater over green pants. Her eyes widened. “Oh. My. Goodness. Michael!”

He smiled. “Hello, Red Ensign.”

~

They embraced, briefly, then she hastily ushered him in and closed the door, tut-tutting as she did. “Don’t want to heat the whole out doors,” she said as if just for the sake of something to say. “And I’m no longer the Red Ensign. Just plain old Margerie Ciccone.”

“You look good,” he said.

“Liar,” she chided.

He shrugged. “You look good for your age, then.”

“I’ll buy that,” she said with a grin on her round face. She had been barely a teenager when they had fought Nazis decades ago, he as The Loyalist, she as the irrepressible Red Ensign. “You barely look a day older.” A slight exaggeration, she realized, but he certainly didn’t look decades older. “I guess I’m not surprised — not knowing you’ve remained active while the rest of the so-called Daring Dominions long since surrendered to age and hung up our fighting togs. You always were stronger, able to recover from injuries faster. Me, I had no ‘super’ powers, just my gymnastics and my chain mail tunic.” Then she squinted up at him. “Mind you, the sideburns are new. Very hip.”

He self-consciously touched the side of his face. “You don’t like?”

“Just promise me you won’t grow a Tom Selleck ‘stache. I think that’d be too weird. Come on in,” she said suddenly remembering her duties as a host. “I’ve got some hot chocolate simmering.”

Kicking off his snow capped boots he followed her down a narrow hall lined with smiling family photographs. They emerged into a living room decked with garlands, snow globes on the mantel over the fire place. The Christmas tree stood before the picture window, only half dressed.

Michael paused by a bookshelf and picked out a hardcover which he turned over to see a picture of his host staring at him from the back. She appeared younger than she was now. He looked at the front, the title: “The Girl in the Red Shirt: The Autobiography of The Red Ensign.” There were other books next to it on the shelf, also with Margerie’s name on them. “You’ve done all right,” he said.

“Can’t complain,” she agreed. Then spying what he was holding, she added, “Though the writing doesn’t pay as much as you might think. My agent never could find me a U.S. publisher, which is where the big money is. The memoirs of a Canadian Masque lacks a certain cachet down there. And it was the sale of the memoirs that opened the door for the rest of my writings. The European sales remain pretty steady, though — especially in Holland. I was in real estate which is what paid for most of this,” she gestured around her at the house.

“Your family?” he asked, realizing the place was quiet.

“The kids and grandkids will be arriving tomorrow — though some of them are coming in from out of town and won’t get here till Boxing Day. And I’m divorced these days so it’s just me for today. How about yourself? Any plans for the holidays?”

“This and that.” He shrugged non-committally — the universal fiction offered by those spending Christmas alone.

“You hear from any of the old gang?”

“I still talk to Double Whammy from time to time, when I can.”

“Well, of course you would,” she agreed. “And Claude?”

He shook his head with a certain ruefulness.

“Sweetgrass?”

He looked away. “No.”

Her eyes twinkled sadly. “I guess I always hoped you two — well, it was just the school girl in me, still holding out for a fairy tale ending.” Realizing things were turning maudlin she patted his arm and said, “Let me grab that hot chocolate, then we can get down to business. I wasn’t sure if any of my old contacts could get hold of you, but I’m glad you came in answer to my call. Because I think I stumbled upon some trouble — of the old kind…”

`

“That house was empty for many months,” said Margerie as the two stood next to the Christmas tree peering at the house next door. “I think the owners over-priced it given the market and its condition. Uh, sorry,” she grinned, “professional reflex. Anyway, about a month ago a new owner moved in. The first thing that struck me as odd was one day I just noticed the For Sale sign was gone — no “Sold” sticker left out for a few weeks. Like it was a snap purchase. Then the moving vans arrived — including an ambulance.”

“Ambulance?”

“The new owner seemed to be an old man, chronically ill. That itself seemed odd. People usually sell their homes when they get old. They don’t buy a new one. And then there were lights at night. As if people were working into the wee hours. But, as I say: the owner’s bed ridden.”

“Odd,” said The Loyalist neutrally. “But odd doesn’t mean dangerous.”

“I’m retired from the real estate game but I still have some friends, so I made a few calls. The owner’s name is John Bland Smith.”

The Loyalist raised an eye brow.

“I know — right?” she said. “That still didn’t take me anywhere though. But I do a lot of volunteering — must be a carryover from my costumed days. I even walked in the first Terry Fox Run last year. As such I spend a lot of time at the local hospital,” she tapped her finger to her nose, “and I know my way around the offices there. I figured a guy that sick has got to have records, equipment and medicine requisitions on file. I did a bit of snooping.”

“Margerie,” he cautioned, “you could get into a lot of trouble doing-”

“He’s Zorgon.”

The tall man paused. “What?”

“Mr. John Bland Smith is actually Professor Emile Zorgon.”

The Loyalist looked out the window at the silent house as snow flakes danced and drifted about like figure skaters on an invisible rink. “I haven’t heard from Zorgon in years. I assumed he was dead.”

“Apparently not. The quintessential mad scientist is still holding on, albeit by the proverbial thread. But you’re right — it’s been so long I’m guessing that’s why he could use his real name on medical records and no one’s picked up on it.”

“Still — why not just call the police?”

“Well, we know what he used to be up to, but I don’t know if there’s any active police jacket on him. Besides, I figured you’d want a crack at him. He was one of your arch foes as I recall. Besides — I’m a bit nervous.”

He looked at her.

“Him buying a house on his death bed and moving in next door to the former Red Ensign? I’m supposed to be believe that’s just a coincidence?”

`

Night draped a soft cloak over the outskirts of Charlottetown, perforated with little holes to allow tiny flakes to spiral to earth. The freshly fallen snow boldly reflected the moonlight, giving the evening a crisp luminescence. It made it an ideal, cheery vista for a Christmas Eve stroll for lovers to wander the streets, catching faint strains of carols wafting from unknown origins.

It was not ideal weather for the man known as The Loyalist to secretively investigate the possible demesne of a notorious villain from decades past. The Loyalist had donned his traditional garb. Not just his long coat, but also a face concealing hood and the powdered wig with a pony tail that enhanced the period motif that accompanied his Masque identity.

He crunched furtively through the snow about the three story house, the lower windows dark. The only glow emanated from a third floor window.

It was entirely possible this was all a mistake or a misunderstanding, he reasoned. Possibly there was simply another Emile Zorgon. Or perhaps Margerie had muddled the files. It was possible that she was too eager to find a mystery to solve, nostalgic for the days when she lived the life of an adventurer. After all, she had mentioned she had retired from her job. He thought she seemed young to be doing that. Perhaps she was experiencing a mid-life crisis.

However he owed it to her to check out her concerns. But not at the expense of a possibly innocent old man’s peace of mind.

There was a convenient three legged TV antenna trestle that formed an impromptu ladder running up the side of the house past the glowing window. Instead of seeking a ground floor entrance, and breaking into the house, he thought he might be able to assess the situation without disturbing anyone inside. He tested the sturdiness of the metal trestle, the cross staves still tangled with brittle, dead vines. Then he started climbing, snow shaking free as he did and raining down behind him almost like sugar from a cake decorating shaker.

The old antenna groaned at one point and he paused. But it held, so he resumed his ascent.

Within moments he had successfully clambered up to a level with the lit window. Holding to the trestle with one hand he leaned over and peered through the window. Using his sleeve he brushed aside snow from the pane.

Inside was a bedroom. A king-size bed was in the centre of the room and under a layer of quilts and blankets rested an old man. Briefly The Loyalist recalled that Mi’kmaq legend said when the creator, Glooscap, slept he used Prince Edward Island to rest his head. They called the country’s smallest province the “cradle on the waves.”

Not that the wizened figure was in any danger of being mistaken for a deity.

His head was bald save for a few lonely strings of dry hair and his features were gaunt. His nose and mouth were covered by a clear plastic breathing mask and an assortment of tubes and wires ran out from under the blankets and linked to various machines that monitored his life signs. A shaded lamp was in one corner of the room, casting a soft glow over the sleeping man.

It had been years since he had seen Emile Zorgon. The memory he had of him was of a robust man with a shock of red hair bursting from his scalp in full mad scientist coiffure. But there was no doubt that, accounting for the years, and the obviously terminal health of the man in the bed, that he could very well be looking at his old enemy. It was enough to make him pursue his investigation to the next level.

He cocked his head, detecting a murmuring voice inside. But the old man appeared asleep and he had thought the room otherwise deserted. There was a steady rhythm to the delivery, indicative of a monologue rather than a conversation. After a moment he relaxed and smiled beneath his mask, recognizing the tones. Someone had left the radio on, perhaps to provide the old man some sense of companionship, and the CBC was doing its annual Christmas broadcast of Allan Maitland reading “The Shepherd.”

He was sorry he was missing it.

He grabbed the window latch and with a flick of his wrist snapped the lock. If he was wrong, he would make reparations. Swinging open the window on its hinges, he flung a leg over to the sill, pushed off from the trestle, and slipped inside the room. He hastily closed the widow, though the drop in temperature would be easily detected.
As he turned toward the sleeping man, he saw that it had been — for he slept no more.

The whites of his eyes had a yellowing tinge and the lids glimmered wetly. The old man breathed laboriously as he stared at the cowled man, the radio murmuring quietly to itself. The old man’s breathing took on a hiccuping aspect that, for a moment, made The Loyalist think he was having a heart attack. Then he realized it was something else.
Chuckling.

“Hello, Emile,” he said levelly.

“Loyalist,” hissed the old man, his voice muffled through his mask, and hushed by the hum of his surrounding machines.

“I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to find you like this.”

“Alive?” croaked the old man. “Or dying?”

The Loyalist shrugged. “Both, I suppose. Or that we’d meet again on Christmas Eve of all times.”

“It’s my Christmas present to myself. I was afraid I’d die before you came.” Sensing the tall man’s confusion, the old man laughed again — though his chortling degenerated into a series of wet coughs. After a moment he said: “Surely you suspected a trap? I couldn’t find you — even after all these years you remain a man behind a mask. But the Red Ensign — she went public long ago, long after she gave up crime fighting. Her I could find. And though her — you.”

Slowly the Loyalist nodded, realizing it made sense. Moving in next door to Margerie Ciccone, employing the deliberately conspicuous pseudonym of John Bland Smith just to arouse her suspicions. Margerie had suspected Emile was up to something — that’s why she had summoned him. She just didn’t realize she was supposed to suspect that. And she had been wrong about who the actual target was.

“To be a trap, you need something to spring it. With all due respect, Emile — you don’t look in much shape to pose a danger to me, or to anyone. I assume you have caregivers — let me guess: ex-cons? Former Nazis?”

The old man shook his head, though even that seemed too much effort for him. “Legitimate nurses. I gave them the night off when my video cameras recorded your car pulling up outside Red Ensign’s house earlier. I told them an old friend would be coming by to look in on me. I knew tonight would be the night.”

“So what do you hope to accomplish with just you and me?”

Again there was the strained half laugh, half cough. “You forget — it’s Christmas Eve. That means there’s always…St. Nick.”

The Loyalist stiffened, hearing a weird clanking behind him. From the dark shadows of the room emerged a bulky shape that moved stiffly, issuing wheezing, rattling noises like an engine. As it moved into the pool of light cast by the lamp he could make out the flash of red velvet, then a bushy white beard.

Above the beard: a face plate of metal with gleaming glass lenses for eyes.

“My robot designs were never very human-like,” admitted the old man. “But the advantage to the Christmas season is if you wrap anything in a Santa Claus suit, people tend not to look too closely even if they glimpse it through the windows puttering about the house.”

“Ho-Ho-hick-Ho-Ho!” echoed the robot mechanically. And then gas spewed from the white beard.

The Loyalist, taken off balance, inhaled involuntarily. Immediately he felt his knees grow spongy beneath him. As he pitched over, his last thought was a wry one: “Well — this was unexpected.”

`

Icy wind whistling in his ears awoke The Loyalist.

If being gassed by a simulacrum of Santa Claus had taken him by surprise, what he awoke to was equally perplexing. He was strapped to some sort of flying sleigh, small rocket nodules along the sides firing jets of flame through the night air as the bizarre vehicle raced across the sky. He twisted and strained against the bonds that held each hand and foot, then craned his head around to see the robot in the Santa suit sitting at the front of the sled, steering.

It worried him that he was no longer surprised by the bizarreness of the situation.

Ruefully he recalled the little boy outside Margerie’s house mentioning having seen Santa Claus in the neighbourhood. He’d have to remember to pay more attention to children in the future. Assuming he had a future.

“Where are you taking me?” he shouted over the wind and the roar of the rockets.

“To-your-death,” rattled the robot, as though the words meant nothing to him. Which they probably didn’t. The Santa robot was just a tool, not a sentient being. “Death-by-immolation-will-occur-upon-impact.”

Presumably that meant the sled was heading for some collision — perhaps with a building, or to crash into the ground once its fuel was expended. Emile Zorgon was definitely Old School, dreaming up ridiculously extravagant, insanely fussy schemes for such rudimentary purposes. How much would building the robot have cost? The sled? How many hours working out the technical details, plotting trajectories? Just so he could crash it in a mad revenge scheme to kill a man he hadn’t seen in years.

The Loyalist cast his eyes about him, briefly hoping this really was outfitted like Santa’s sleigh and he might find a sack of presents that he could raid for something to effect an escape. But no. It was possible Emile had not actually intended the death sled as part of any Yuletide motif.

He studied what was available. One of the rocket nodules was just close enough that, if he could free his foot, he might be able to kick it, either knocking it off or at least twisting its angle. Unfortunately, that would simply bring the sleigh down all the quicker — which wasn’t advisable while he was still bound. What he needed was something sharp or hard that he could use on his straps. But the only thing that wasn’t bolted to the sleigh, he realized, was the robot itself.

Then it occurred to him that, given Zorgon’s poor health, the man couldn’t really have been doing too much hands on work. It must have been the robot who had built the sled, Zorgon directing it with verbal commands; the mad scientist was in no shape to pull levers or even to use a keyboard. So perhaps the robot had been programmed to take orders, at least regarding maintenance of the sleigh. It was a slim chance, but the only one he had.
“Robot!” he barked. “The rear left leg strap is frayed. Replace it immediately.”

There was a whir, a click, and the robot rose from its perch and strode jerkily toward the rear of the sled. Unthinkingly it loosened the strap about his left foot and immediately pulled a spare from a pouch on the side of the sled that The Loyalist hadn’t even noticed. Without giving the robot the opportunity, he lashed out with his free leg. The robot pitched half over the side of the sled, leaning into the backblast from the rocket. The sleeve of its Santa suit burst into flames. Then it reeled about, attempting to gain its footing. The Loyalist, seeing an opportunity, savagely kicked its metal shin, sending the robot pitching over next to him — the flaming sleeve landing across his arm. The Loyalist screamed as the heat singed him, but was rewarded by a loosening of the binding as it burned. With a wrench, he tore his arm free.

He now had one arm and one leg free.

Even as the robot struggled to regain its footing, its defensive protocol kicking in, he used his free hand to unfasten his other arm. Then he employed both hands to wrench the remaining strap off his final leg. He struggled to his feet against the wind and the turbulence. Simultaneously the robot reared up before him, looking like a grotesque effigy of Santa with its inhuman metal face and one arm scorched.

They were flying over downtown Charlottetown, directly over a department store’s roof. With only a couple of metres between sled and surface, now was as good a time as any to bring her down, he knew. He kicked out with all his might, tearing one of the rockets clear off the sled. The vehicle lurched and plunged. Its nose dove into the snow covered roof top, grinding across the surface, the back of the sleigh rearing up. The Loyalist went flying through the air, managing to tuck and roll as he went. He hit the roof hard, but successfully rolled end over end through the padding of fresh snow.

The roof spinning around him, he struggled to gain his feet — just as the Santa robot slammed into him, still operating on a program to kill him. As they stumbled back, wrestling with each other, he felt something crack beneath his boots. Too late he realized the snow was camouflaging a skylight window.

The glass shattered beneath their combined weight and they plunged into the building. He twisted in mid-air, riding the robot down, letting it take most of the impact even as snow and broken glass rained down on them.

The mechanical thing continued to sputter clicks and whirs, lashing out at him with its arms. The Loyalist punched it again and again, pounding its face and chest. “Enough!” he shouted, until finally his fists crashed through its casing, crushing its face. The machine hissed, burbled, and went still.

Shuddering with the exertion, The Loyalist slowly looked up.

He was in the midst of plywood buildings evoking a mock Alpine village with Teddy Bear citizenry propped about. A man in a Santa Claus suit was sitting in a plush, high backed red chair, his mouth agape, his eyes wide, with a child upon his lap wearing an identical expression of shock. Sitting back on his heels The Loyalist realized he was surrounded by mute children and gawking parents all lined up to see Santa Claus one last time on Christmas Eve. He glanced down at the mangled humanoid shape dressed in a scorched and torn Santa suit. Then he looked up at the crowd.

Struggling wearily to his feet, he said, “Remember, kids — don’t be naughty.” As he limped through the dumbfounded crowd he added, “And stay in school.”

~

It took him twenty minutes to get back to Emile Zorgon’s house. For ten long minutes he stood on the moonlit street, snow shyly piling up on his broad shoulders, and stared at the house and its single lit room.

Then he trudged up to Margerie’s door

“I don’t understand?” Margerie said, helping him to sit down on the couch. “You aren’t going to confront him? Let him know he failed?”

The Loyalist had dragged off his hood and the light from the hearth played across his even features. “He’s dying. Emile Zorgon, sad, sick little sociopath that he is, wanted to kill me — so much so that as death loomed for him, he devoted his last weeks or months to laying a trap for me. But all I want is to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone. I’ve accomplished that. I’m alive. His robot is destroyed. And if he’ll die a little easier thinking that he’s killed me — well, I guess I can give him that.”

“Well,” she said, sitting in a chair across from him, “that’s got to be the weirdest Christmas present anyone’s ever given.” Then a wistful expression crossed her round, plump face. “Though I can sympathize with him. I mean, not the wanting to kill people. But the wanting to reconnect with the past. The truth is, even I wasn’t entirely sure if summoning you was just a false alarm — but I really wanted to see you again, Michael. For one more Christmas.”

He smiled at her warmly. “I’ll try and keep in touch more. We can-”

“No, Michael,” she said softly. “This is the last Christmas we’ll have.”

He stared at her, his lips still turned in a slight smile even as a sadness crept into his eyes. “You don’t volunteer at the hospital — do you? You go there for another reason. And that’s why you’ve retired from your real estate job.”

“It was kind of ironic.” She smiled impishly, suddenly unmistakably reminding him of the girl in red chain mail he had known decades ago. “I participated in the first Terry Fox Run for cancer research last year — and eight months later I got my own diagnosis. Still, if it was good enough for Terry, I can’t complain.” She shrugged. “I’ve only got a few months.”

They sat in silence for a long moment, snow flakes gently tapping against the window while the radio softly played carols.

“It’s been an amazing few decades, though,” she said finally. “Back in the day — you were convinced that better things could happen, that Canada had it in itself to be better. I didn’t really understand what you meant then — but you were right. The country has grown, it has matured. I’ve lived to see it. But I feel bad…for you.”

“Me?”

“Because I have to leave you. We all seem to leave you. And you’re left to carry on, bearing the weight of it all.” She cocked her head, listening. “There — that’s you. In the song.”

He frowned, unsure what she meant. The radio was playing The Huron Carol.

“‘Wandering hunters heard the hymn,'” she quoted, a twinkle in her eyes. “You’re the wandering hunter, always out there somewhere in the dark night, always listening for our hymns.” She rose to her feet and held out a hand. “C’mon, Papa Bear, help me finish trimming the tree — I can never reach the top branches anyway.”

He hesitated, then took her hand.

She squeezed warmly and then, suddenly, laughed. “Oh my gosh — do you remember that Christmas? Was it ’40? ’41? You, me and Claude had been following this trail of bank robbers who dressed as Elves…”

Smiling as she reminisced, he let her guide him to the tree for one last Christmas…

THE END

Excerpted from the collection Masques & Capes: An Imaginary History by DK. Latta

Posted in Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on A Christmas Superhero Story…

Exploring Canadian Identity in Canadian TV

Just a link to my most recent Canadian film/TV rant at Huffington Post Canada — uh, I mean, considered opinion — on Canadian film & TV and cultural identity. Y’know, my usual bedbug. This time inspired by a tweet essay by Karen Burrows.

Posted in Canadian film and TV | Comments Off on Exploring Canadian Identity in Canadian TV

I Went to a Book Reading…and saw a bear.

(I don’t usually write these kind of autobiographical “day in the life” type pieces…so we’ll see how it turns out).

I have a short story in this year’s edition of the annual Tesseracts anthology — the theme, this time around, was superhero stories. And though the book was released earlier in the year, they held the official launch of Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe on July 20th. And in a nice bit of cosmic synergy, Library & Archives Canada in Ottawa is featuring an exhibition on Canadian comic books (and it continues to run until September). So the launch was hosted at the Library & Archives building.

Contributors to the anthology were invited to come and do brief readings of their stories, and to hobnob, etc.

Initially I hadn’t planned on attending: it was a work day; I’d hurt my back a few days before; and Ottawa is a good two hour drive from where I live.

But, equally, I’d never been to a book launch before (and might never be invited to one again!) and I tend to be rather unadventurous in a lot of ways, not one necessarily given to impulsive acts. So I thought — heck, maybe I should just do it, just once, just for fun. Much to my surprise, my boss okay’d the day off (even though I didn’t give him much notice), meaning I no longer had an official excuse not to go — so I decided to attend.

But then it sank in — a reading! Good lord! I’m not the most articulate of speakers (people sometimes ask me where I’m from — implying, I guess, that my diction isn’t the best). So I quickly tried to do a few rehearsals of reading from my story. And even quicker I realized how long it takes to read aloud, and that a five minute reading slot only allowed for a couple of pages (which is why audiobooks can run over multiple CDs). So what to do? Read the first couple of pages? Pick a particularly good section part way through? Or read bits and pieces? That raised the question: what’s the point of a reading? To be entertaining in and of itself? To give a flavour of the prose style? To hook the audience and make them want to read the full story? Or simply to just, you know, be present?

This was particularly tricky with my story since it’s a tale that’s meant to unfold. And it switches perspective multiple times, the story told in different “voices.” A couple of pages wouldn’t necessarily give much sense of either the plot or the style.

So I decided to go for a bit of a Reader’s Digest version (does that analogy mean anything anymore?) — editing the story, but in a way that, hopefully, still seemed coherent to the listener. Starting a page or so into the first scene, then reading a couple of later scenes, hopefully giving a sense of both where the plot was headed and how it was being told — without, of course, giving the whole thing away. I also realized that I didn’t have to read the passages in their entirety, either. It’s not like anyone was going to be reading along and notice if I skipped a sentence or dropped an adjective.

As I say, this was my first reading, so I didn’t know the “rules” or what was expected. Turned out, none of this was unusual. Some of the other authors that night also read starting a few pages into their story. One showed me her text which she had gone through with different coloured pens, cutting a line here or there, editing an extraneous word, all in an effort to preserve the narrative forest even if it required cutting a few verbose trees.

But all that was after I arrived. And the getting there was its own problem.

As I mentioned, I was coming from out of town, and not that familiar with Ottawa. But it was no big deal, I figured. According to my GPS The Library & Archives building was only about five minutes from the highway. It was pretty much just a straightforward, uncomplicated highway drive, then a couple of turns and I would be there. No problemo!

Well…except for the heavy construction you run into once you hit Ottawa — and this being rush hour to boot. It wasn’t just that it added to the time but of course when you’re in a strange city and not sure what’s going on up ahead, it can add to the stress. Am I in the right lane for the turn I’m supposed to make a few kilometres ahead? Should I move over now — or will that move me into the wrong turn-off? Is the road even open or will there be a detour? Still, I stuck to my guns, held the course, and eventually saw the street sign for the street I needed to turn onto.

The Library & Archives building was literally a minute away.

And then my GPS cut-out.

It’s old and doesn’t hold a charge for long — about two hours, I guess (if not for that construction slow down I’d have been fine). So just as I’m getting into a strange city, with multiple lanes and heavy traffic — my GPS is gone. Still, I assured myself, it was no biggy — just before it died it told me I was only a kilometre or so away. Easy peasy, as they say.

Only turned out (unsurprisingly) there were a number of big government buildings on that street, so the one I was looking for wasn’t easy to identify (not when you’re navigating multiple lanes of busy traffic). So I ended up going past it — and now I’m starting to worry a bit. Strange city, etc. So I took the first turn off I could, and pulled into the first public(ish) parking lot I could find, and turned around, intending to drive by again.

This time I did spot the building (thanks to the existing comic book exhibition, there was a big superhero-themed sign out front). But I wasn’t exactly sure how to get to the building itself. So I pulled into the first convenient parking lot — only to see signs announcing it was for those with permits! Wondering where the public parking was I stopped a lone pedestrian sauntering across the parking lot — who, as chance would have it, was actually the lot attendant; and he was done for the day so he said I was (probably) good where I was.

All in all, my five minutes from the city limits to the Library & Archives building had mutated into about 30 minutes (another writer got delayed about 45 minutes — and she was already in Ottawa!)

The book reading and mingling itself went smoothly. In attendance were fellow contributing scribes Leigh Wallace, Jason Sharp, and Alex C. Renwick (all of whom were based more locally and, coincidentally, comprised a gender-balanced roster of two women — Wallace and Renwick — and two men — Sharp and myself). As well there was Tesseracts Nineteen’s joint editors Claude Lalumière (who also co-edited a previous anthology in which I had a story, Masked Mosaic) and Mark Shainblum (co-creator of such Canadian comic book figures as Northguard and the satirical Angloman). Also in attendance were some representatives and curators of the Library & Archives exhibit (whose names escape me — to be honest, I’m bad with names and the only reason I can conjure up the names of the others is because I can look them up in my copy of Tesseracts Nineteen!) The public who attended were a small but interested group (including some with a connection to one or the other of the speakers — friends and/or family).

The contributors who attended were a good bunch, responsible for some strong stories in the collection: Wallace’s atmospheric and, to my mind, slightly Magic Realist “Bedtime for Superheroes” (though I’m probably applying that label incorrectly), Sharp’s realist noir (with a nifty super power) “Black Sheep,” and Renwick’s grittily melancholic “A Week in the Superlife.” Renwick has been writing (and getting published) for a while, but both Wallace and Sharp, I believe, are relatively newer scribes (I think Wallace suggested this was only her first or second published story) — but you’d never have guessed it.

They were all well written, literary-type tales. I fancy myself a bit more of a pulp writer. If others thoughtfully stitch together well crafted and delicately shaded pieces…my writing is kind of jammed together with duct tape and staples. Like a used car you bought cheap — it ain’t always pretty, and it may ride a bit rough, but it’ll get you where you’re going and, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the trip (and not be too distracted by that occasional smell of burning oil).

(Re-reading a few stories from Tesseracts Nineteen another story that sticks out for me is P.E. Bolivar‘s “The Rise and Fall of Captain Stupendous” — partly because it straddles playing around self-consciously with the superhero tropes while still, at its core, functioning as an adventure/suspense tale; keeping a boot in both camps).

I wrote about my story, “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” (or “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumor?” as it’s spelled in the book) in a previous post but, since this is my blog (like it or lump it), I’ll take a moment to talk about it some more. Claude Lalumière, when introducing my piece, remarked that with both this story, and the story of mine he had published in Masked Mosaic (“The Secret History of the Intrepids”), what I brought to the table (and I’m paraphrasing since I can’t remember the exact phrasing) was a deep understanding of the superhero genre mixed with a sense of Canadiana. And as someone who has been reading and writing about comic books and superheroes for most of my life, as well as (in a separate but parallel hobby) Canadian culture and identity…that’s about the best assessment I could ask for. While others often write prose superheroes tales as basically short stories that play around with themes and tropes associated with the superhero genre, I’m trying to capture the feel of a superhero/comic book — in prose.

(Actually Claude Lalumière once gave me the pithiest assessment of my style when, for my story in Masked Mosaic, he referred to my writing as having a “dry wryness” which I think kind of sums up what I do. And it’s probably a style I actually picked up from old comic books: no matter how serious my story, I’ll occasionally wink at the reader. In the case of “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” it’s essentially serious — but there’s also a bit of tongue-in-cheek).

Readers with an awareness of narrative provenance will recognize a bit of a nod to the old radio hero, The Shadow, in “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” And I’ll admit when writing the opening scene, set at the real life Toronto night club, The Palais Royale, and passing references are made to real life celebrities who supposedly frequent the place, I was thinking more than a little of a scene in the 1991 Hollywood movie, The Rocketeer. I often like to drop pop culture references into my stories as a matter of course — a gimmick I think I originally picked up from American comics, making it especially appropriate in this deliberately superhero-themed story. I toss in references to — among others — ’40s starlet Ella Raines, the comic strip Li’l Abner, vanished businessman, Ambrose Small, and even the 1940s Canadian comic book character, Drummy Young (the latter as an “in joke”). Pop references — a way of grounding the fantasy of superheroes in our reality — were perhaps first really emphasized by Stan Lee and then picked up on by later generations of comics scribes (and really made a signature of some, such as Roy Thomas — particularly as a way of rooting a story in a particular era).

A reason to use pop references is to establish a sense of place. My story is a period tale — but at no point is that actually said or a date actually cited. The reader is meant to infer the time period from the allusions peppered throughout. The story itself is told from the POV of various characters, most of whom don’t know the whole story themselves — so it falls to the reader to assemble the big picture from their little glimpses.

Even though I suggest my writing is “pulpy,” I will lay some claim to attempting subtlety. What I like to think of as an “obvious subtlety” or maybe a “subtle obviousness.” That is: attempting to write something where it’s obvious to the reader what’s going on — even as it’s a bit obliquely stated. It’s a tricky technique. If you’re too obvious it’s just heavy handed, but if you’re too subtle people can misunderstand the story (I came upon an on-line discussion once where someone claimed there was a “plot hole” in the Hollywood movie, The Reader…because the character was illiterate and so couldn’t have written the damning report! So for that viewer, the obvious was too subtle).

So, all in all, traffic and GPS issues aside, it was a fun little excursion. I got to chat with some talented writers, had the experience of reading before a crowd, wandered about the Library & Archives comic book exhibit. As mentioned: it’s running till September — and you can read some more detailed pieces about the exhibit and Canadian comic books here (there are a few different related blog posts, I’ve just linked to one, but you can check out the site for others — and you should). Co-editor Mark Shainblum even mentioned that another story I had submitted to Tesseracts Nineteen, “Rumours of Glory,” had been a tough call, with him and Claude arguing whether they liked it or “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” better. The latter won out, obviously — but it was nice to hear it was a close race. (“Rumours of Glory” is included in my own recently published anthology of superhero stories — just fyi).

Oh, and lest I forget — I saw a bear.

Seriously. I was driving back along the highway and it was a slightly surreal experience since it’s not something I was expecting. I saw a black head poking out of some tall grass, just watching the cars trundle by. At first I thought it was a dog — but there was something incongruous about its shape. I half wondered if it was a man — but it was too hot for someone to be wearing a fur coat with a hood. And then I realized it was a bear. Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely sure if a bear should be that close to urbanized areas, but I guess it’s easy to forget just how much flora there can be outside of cities. After all, there’s nothing strange about seeing a deer, or a coyote, so why not a bear? Hopefully he/she knew enough not to try and cross the highway.

I kind of wonder what animals think of highways and cars. Do they see them as animals, like an endless caribou herd stampeding by? Or as some sort of non-sentient phenomenon, like a river? Animals seem to understand the concept of roads, weirdly enough — hence why birds and deer and, I guess, bears don’t seem to worry the cars will veer off the macadam and come for them.

Yeah — thoughts like that bounce about in my head.

Anyway…that was my experience with a book reading. Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe is available from most book sellers. And, since I’m plugging myself, I’ve recently published my own, single author anthology of superhero stories — a project inspired by my writing pieces for Tesseracts Nineteen and it opening up a creative floodgate.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve long had an interest in superheroes, and equally have long written about and argued for Canadian identity in popular culture (when so many Canadian filmmakers and storytellers often deliberately expunge any Canadianness from their work). So this is me telling a bunch of superhero-themed adventure and mystery stories, imagining there had been a decades spanning Canadian comic book publisher and the sort of plots, and heroes, that might have been created. The stories themselves ranging from mid-20th Century to today. Who knows? — you might enjoy it as well.

Posted in Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on I Went to a Book Reading…and saw a bear.

Behind-the-Scenes: “Enter: Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!”

(Continuing my irregular series of posts delving into the creative thinking behind various stories in my superhero short story collection.)

The idea behind “Enter: Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!” was, as with many of the stories in this collection, multi-headed.

Part of the point of the collection was to come up with “Canadian” superhero stories — but not as a joke or as an ironic satire of American cliches. Rather I was literally trying to imagine superhero adventure tales that happened to occur in Canada. As the collection evolved in my head, it took on an added, slightly self-reflective air as I was also partly trying to imagine “what if…?” there had been a Canadian comic book publisher — and so what sort of stories might they have published?

So in trying to come up with some “Canadianism” I found myself thinking about the concept of “Multiculturalism.”

Multiculturalism has been around since, well, since the first Cro-Magnon Man wooed a Neanderthal woman with flowers and a woolly mammoth steak (yeah, if you’re not up on the latest scientific DNA studies, turns out the first Cro-Magnon Man didn’t brain the last Neanderthal Man as people used to believe). But my understanding is that Canada was the first country to actually label and set down as a core cultural principle Multiculturalism with capital “M”. Over the years other counties have followed Canada’s lead and, in many cases, reactionaries have denounced it as a failed philosophy as they see their countries descend into ethnic ghettos and race wars. But since Canada doesn’t appear to be heading down that path, the counter argument isn’t that “Multiculturalism” has failed…it’s that those countries failed to implement it correctly.

But so — if you don’t know too much about Canada — “Multiculturalism” is part of the national myth, half-fact, half-fancy; the stories we tell ourselves about our countries’ identity (like American bucolic picket fences and British stiff upper lips). It was a watershed re-definition of who we are and aspire to be (many-a reactionary — and racist — Canadian quick to point to the 1970s, and Multiculturalism, as the point where Canada started to shape itself into something they no longer recognized).

Anyhoo… So in coming up with a collection of archetypical Canadian ideas for superheroes, I found myself latching onto the name Mosaic (Canada often referred to as a “Cultural Mosaic”) — and dubbing him The Multicultural Man. It was cheeky, even kitschy — but it was part of my intent to be as unapologetically Canadian as, say, American writers are American with characters like Captain America — “The Sentinel of Liberty!” (equally self-consciously hokey, yes?)

But though I had a name — I didn’t really have a power or identity yet.

Since my collection of stories was going to cover multiple decades, I had to decide when it would be set. Since Multiculturalism as a government initiative started in the 1970s, it made sense to locate the story in the 1970s, specifically Toronto, Canada’s biggest, most diverse city (certainly it has evolved into that today, arguably one of the most cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic cities on earth).

This also tied into my earlier point about imagining it as a comic book story. 1970s American comics seemed especially aware of, and keen to reflect, the zeitgeist in a way other decades haven’t been as much. The hippy and Flower Child movement inspired things like The Forever People and The Prez, while the Black Power movement inspired a new push for black heroes, and Blaxploitation cinema inspired comics like Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, and the Martial Arts fad in movies and TV obviously gave a boost to various Martial Arts comics. Women’s Lib inspired a brief flurry of female heroes. Plus there was just a greater (if still limited) ethnic diversity. While Watergate and the Vietnam War inspired various storylines.

So if a 1970s Canadian publisher had existed, and like the contemporaneous American publishers had tried to latch on to cultural trends or themes, it would seem inevitable someone would’ve written a comic called — Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!

I also decided to make it an “origin” tale — something I’d mostly avoided in the collection (because I didn’t want a repetitious collection of stories recycling origin cliches). And doubling down on this “imagine if this had been an actual comic” theme, I decided to make him a hard-luck teen in the mould of Spider-Man and others, with the obligatory love interest, bully, etc. — and an alliterative comic book name (Banning Bannister). Even the idea to slowly lay out the origin — and then rush through the action-adventure plot in the final third was kind of deliberate as that tends to be the pattern of origin stories in comics (and even pilot episodes on TV) since it’s hard to both tell an origin and work in a well developed adventure plot. This knowing nod to comic book staples was also why I called it “Enter: Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!” — as beginning a title with “Enter:” has graced more than a few story titles in comics.

Which was all well and fine — but I still need a power to go with the name Mosaic, didn’t I?

I tried to build on that name. So I came up with the idea of a hero who finds himself mentally linked with different people of different backgrounds, able to draw upon their skills and knowledge when needed. (An interesting sidebar, relating to many initial decision to embrace a sense of Canadiana, was that initially I had intended the hero to have a freak accident on a bus — providing a group of people with whom he becomes psychically linked. But then I thought, well, if I’m to make it more Canadian, Toronto is known for its streetcars (once ubiquitous but phased out in most municipalities in North America I believe). So I decided to put him on a streetcar — and then I recalled a signature feature of a streetcar is that it is powered by electricity…and having the streetcar become momentarily electrified provided an interesting idea for his origin, as brains run on electricity, so you could imagine the electric jolt momentarily linked the passengers. So the origin becomes more interesting and plausible (well…in the ludicrous, pseudo-science way of comic book origins) precisely because I chose to emphasize the Canadian setting).

Anyway…

This brings us to an interesting side point.

Because shortly after I had published my book I sat down to watch the American TV series, “Sense8” (created by J. Michael Straczynski and The Wachowski siblings which had premiered a few months before) — a series about people who find themselves linked with others, able to draw upon their skill and knowledge. I’m aware of how you can often see similar ideas crop up in movies, books, TV, comics, music, and it’s easy to assume a connection. And sometimes there is — and sometimes it’s just a weird coincidence (I’ve noticed thematic similarity between the two Canadian SF TV series, “Killjoys” and “Dark Matter”). Obviously the ideas of telepathically linked people having connections to others dates back decades (John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids comes to mind). And in comics, one-on-one links can be seen in Firestorm and the original Omac. Indeed, Firestorm was a character flitting about in my head when I was working on “Enter: Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!” what with it also being a 1970s series about a hardluck teen turned superhero. (As was, in a way, the original Nova — and I’ll confess that a scene in the first Nova issue where young Rich Rider suddenly finds himself able to answer a math quiz probably inspired, more than it should’ve, a similar scene in my story).

But a distinction I would make between my handling of the idea and “Sense8” might make for some interesting philosophical musing.

I would argue in “Sense8” the premise is how having this ability provides strength and comfort to the various characters — making them feel less isolated. The connection mostly manifested in simply the characters with fighting skills helping the characters without (though there were a couple of good scenes where the actor’s acting skill proves useful). And viewed as a metaphor for feeling different, especially in regards to homosexuality (a couple of the characters are gay or transgender) it’s a good message. The characters feeling more confident in who they are.

But equally it can seem like a narcissistic use of the concept.

It’s mostly about how this connection makes these characters feel stronger, more confident, more able to deal with the problems in their lives — but it is mostly about them. It’s less about how this connection might affect how they interact with others. They don’t necessarily become better people as a result of their power. The white cop is seen as a noble, altruistic, (*cough*white saviour*cough) figure from the beginning — it’s not like he learns to be a more tolerant, more selfless character over the course of the season after finding himself linked with women, gays, and non-white personas. The characters that seems to grow the most over the season is the gay Mexican actor — making for, arguably, one of the series’ stronger threads (thanks in no small part to the actor). But I’m not sure his character growth is especially attributable to his Sense8 connection. (This could also be linked to another issue I sometimes have with these stories — not just “Sense8,” but even the X-Men and dating back to the aforementioned Chrysalids — which is that even as a surface reading of the themes is one of battling intolerance and prejudice, it kind of encourages its own fascist theme of Master Races and ubermensches, with the characters identified as being “better” than normal people, and the next stage in evolution; are these stories rejecting ethnic hierarchies…or simply reorganizing who gets to be on top?).

Anyway, how this relates (or doesn’t) to my story, “Enter: Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!” was that I was interested in using the theme in a slightly different way — as a metaphor for interconnectedness, and how diversity is actually a strength. The hero Mosaic becoming, in a sense, a metaphor for Canada as a whole, becoming better, stronger, through multiculturalism. I’ll admit, I stopped short of beginning with the hero as an intolerant bigot who becomes tolerant — I wanted us to like him from the get go — and the story is mostly focused on the superhero/adventure ideas. But certainly that was my intended subtext: he becomes a force for good because of his new powers, drawn from the community. And to follow through on that theme, undercurrents of prejudice, racism, and reactionaryism provide a backdrop for his emergence as a hero.

Did the story work? Did the various themes (tying together comic book tropes, 1970s zeitgeist, and socio-political themes) come together? Find out by reading the collection.

I’ll write about another story next time.

Posted in Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on Behind-the-Scenes: “Enter: Mosaic, The Multicultural Man!”

Behind-the-Scenes Story: “The Sinister Affair of the Group of Eight”

In my desire to promote my short story collection of Canadian superhero stories that span from the 1930s to today, I’m going to post a few pieces delving into individual stories and some of the creative decisions I made (obviously in the hopes it will intrigue you to actually want to read the finished story — and the book itself).

So for this post let’s trip back to the groovy 1960s — The Silver Age — for the story called…”The Sinister Affair of the Group of Eight.”

In many ways “The Sinister Affair of the Group of Eight” is an odd man out in this collection. First and foremost, that’s because it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek whereas most of the stories are meant to be straight-faced, serious superhero stories (at least as straight-faced and serious as the average comic book or superhero movie or TV show — after all, the entire genre invites a certain twinkle in the eye).

But TSAOTGOE is definitely meant to be out-and-out silly. Except…the plot is still supposed to make a certain amount of sense; likewise the characters and their motivation. So even it isn’t necessarily kneeslappingly hilarious so much as it’s wryly quirky. As I say: tongue firmly in cheek.

This perhaps is represented by the title and central idea — the story involving a hunt for a painting by an obscure, eighth member of the famous real-life artist collective known as The Group of Seven. So either the idea of an eighth member of a group famous for being seven taps you lightly on the funny bone — or it don’t.

And because of my putting my tongue in my cheek, this story was arguably the most unapologetically, unashamedly “Canadian” story in the collection — I just was having fun with it.

The roots of the story started sprouting around 1999/2000 with the American comic book, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which — in a slightly quirky manner of its own — the conceit was to team up various Victorian-era literary figures (Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll, etc.) into a kind of prototype superhero team. The idea was so irresistible it instantly led to a big budget movie version (the movie was significantly different from the comic — and generally not well regarded by fans of the comic, but in some ways I actually preferred it to the comic; it had more humanity whereas the comic, written by comics legend Alan Moore, was rather cynical and nihilistic). But even though I’ll admit I wasn’t a big fan of the comic book — I too found the idea just irresistibly audacious. And, as is my wont, I immediately wondered if something similar could be done using Canadian characters.

And I quickly decided no.

There weren’t enough such characters who had lapsed into the public domain, and even including those that were still owned by their creators, none leant themselves obviously to a superhero romp, did they? Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables? Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz?

So then I turned my attention to a variation on the idea, realizing that what Canada lacked in literary characters we made up for in real life historical figures. Eventually this idea saw print as my story, “The Secret History of the Intrepids,” which was published in the 2013 anthology Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories. In it I imagine an alternate history where some famous Canadian historical figures have superpowers and fight Nazis. It was reasonably well regarded and I was quite happy with the result. (I blogged about it here).

But…my mind still kept coming back to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — almost like my own creative White Whale. I kept wondering if something could still be done using actual Canadian literary figures. Was there an angle I hadn’t considered that would make it do-able?

Then I thought: what if instead of just giving a wink at the reader as I had with “The Secret History of the Intrepids,” what if I went full out and made it humorous? And what if I sidled around the copyright thing by making some characters homages and allusions rather than being actual established characters as they had in League? And still stymied for likely characters, I decided to expand it to archetypes.

For instance, it seemed to me a recurring theme in Canadian literature is novels about some bitter old woman reflecting back on her miserable life (in novels like The Stone Angel and The Blind Assassin) which led to my creating “Bitter” Helga, an old woman who’s a “reverse empath” — able to instill depressing bitter memories into people. French-Canadian “classic” literature often seemed to lean toward rural and historical melodramas, which led to my adding The Trapper to the group (as well as acting as a nod to the Northerns of James Oliver Curwood and Jack London). They joined with the more obvious Fan of Emerald Eaves and Buddy Krevitz to comprise my team — plus a fifth, more outrageous figure just thrown in for fun.

But I still wasn’t sure what to do with them. I still wasn’t sure they worked as a team of heroes. So then I wondered about using them as villains. Y’know, like how superheroes like Batman have themed opponents. That then got me thinking of the campy 1960s Batman TV series and at one point I considered trying to write a campy adventure about a superhero battling a bank robbing gang called the Can-Lit gang (Can Lit being literary short hand for “Canadian literature”).

But now that my mind was settling into the 1960s and thinking in terms of TV and film kitsch, I started thinking about all those ’60s pop spy series like The Avengers and The Man from UNCLE (not to mention comic books like Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and the Secret Six). And suddenly it suggested a new tack. Borrowing as much from the spy idiom as superhero, the Can-Lit gang once more became the heroes, and their name an acronym as befitted the sub-genre (C.A.N.-L.I.T. Squad becoming Crimes Against the Nation: Locate, Investigate and Takedown Squad). And the story simultaneously played around with both Canadian literary archetypes and with 1960s kitsch (Fan of Emerald Eaves now in go-go boots and a mini-dress) and the team gained a newcomer (who could act as the audience’s “in” into the tale) in the form of a more conventional wisecracking spy/detective figure (although he too had a slightly Canadian inspiration — as I was sort of thinking a little of Stephen Young from the 1960s Canadian TV crime-drama, Seaway — though equally I was sort of picturing Marvel Comics SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo, too…though I never specify the character’s ethnicity, so you can picture him how you like).

So now I had a cast, a tone, and a genre. And because I was already making it pretty Canadian because of the literary in-jokes, I decided to go whole hog by wrapping the story around a search for a painting by an eighth member of the Group of Seven! Throw in some twists and turns, and a bit of Lovecraftian lore and — Bob’s your my mother’s brother.

Oh, and lest I forget — there’s yet another layer. Given the story’s placing in a book of superhero tales, I also decided it should reflect aspects of the comic book oeuvre, too. The 1960s was when superhero comics shook themselves up and let their hair down, with more bizarre “freaks” like The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Doom Patrol, so that’s also alluded to in the story, as a character remarks the CAN-LIT Squad represents a new, more eccentric breed of heroes, and they are called “Canada’s Strangest Heroes” — a deliberate wink at comics fans with long memories who will recall the Doom Patrol were called “the world’s strangest heroes” and the X-Men “the world’s strangest teens.”

So…the resulting story combines a nod to Canadian literary archetypes and icons, an homage to 1960s spy kitsch, and a wink at the transformation superhero comics were undergoing, while working in quirky Canadianisms (like the Group of Seven) — all while still functioning as a fast-paced adventure-mystery story building to a thrilling (if tongue-in-cheek) climax. It is both meant to be read as a silly romp — while equally engaging as an adventure (not unlike those 1960s TV series to which I was alluding).

That’s a lot of plates I was trying to keep spinning — just in that one story. Did I succeed? Find out by buying a copy and reading it for yourself.

Next time I’ll delve into another story from the book…

Posted in Canadian film and TV, Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on Behind-the-Scenes Story: “The Sinister Affair of the Group of Eight”

Blogging About Canadian Comics

I’ve been on a bit of a kick recently writing about superhero comics — and especially Canadian superhero comics. Traditionally this blog was mostly concerned with talking about Canadian film & TV. But my interests have always been broader, and Canadian superheroes is an off-shoot of my traditional theme of Canadian pop culture.

And, more specifically, I’ve just written a book — a short story collection — telling a bunch of Canadian superhero stories peppered through the last eighty or ninety years. A book called M*sques and C*pes: An Imaginary History (I’ve spelled it with the asterix because I don’t want to glut the search engines — I’m hoping, in time, other reviews might pop up).

But today I wanted to step to the side and draw attention to another blog — They Stand On Guard! It’s a blog I came upon a couple of years ago (admittedly because it posted a piece talking about a prose anthology in which I had a story — Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories — and in which my story, “The Secret History of the Intrepids,” was mentioned as a favourite in the collection!)

They Stand on Guard! basically tries to draw attention to various contemporary Canadian comic book/superhero endeavours — ranging from kickstarter campaigns, releases of volumes reprinting vintage comics, or simply noting appearances of Canadian characters in popular American comics. It’s a personal, privately run blog (I assume) the creator basically just taking this on as a hobby.

And as someone who has been that route myself (with everything from my Great Canadian Guide to the Movies & TV to my comic book focused, The Ultimate Captain Canuck Tribute Page) I tip my hat to the creator of They Stand on Guard!

Part of the importance of a site like that (and the reason I did my Canadian film site) is because so much of Canadian popular entertainment is basically “indie.” That is, while American popular culture is dominated by corporate engines like Hollywood Studios and comic book companies like Marvel and DC, with entire infrastructures built around them that exist simply to write and talk about what’s going on (from the IMDB to ComicBookResources) in Canada, much of what’s going on can feel like isolated oases where it’s often hard to even know what’s in the works unless you stumble upon it by accident.

It wasn’t until I saw They Stand on Guard! that I was even aware there were various comic book enterprises going on in Canadian. I knew about ChapterHouse Comics — a company that has arisen in the last couple of years and seems to be the first Canadian comic book company since WW II that is genuinely trying to be a “company,” with multiple titles and creators in its stable. But in general these efforts seem isolated — “indie.” So a site that draws them together, collecting them under a single umbrella, is important, just to create an illusion of community — and mayhap, in time, foster an actual community.

Admittedly, the problem with an endless parade of kickstarter and crowdfunding endeavours is you’re not sure how stable these things will prove (a number of times I’ll come upon a reference to a new title — only to discover it only published one issue). And like with the Canadian film biz, I suspect a lot of what fuels the creators is their own desire to be mavericks — the lack of community is precisely what inspires them.

They Stand on Guard! may write about these different projects — but I’m not sure how much the different projects themselves acknowledge each other. If you go to their Facebook pages and websites, do they mention (let alone link to) the others? (And, yes, one could level the same charge against me — but, as I say, I’ve already tried to do my part with my own websites).

I do think community is important. As I mentioned, part of America’s pop cultural success is the sense that film, TV, comics, music, etc. are communities and, yes, an industry.

Certainly years of writing about Canadian film & TV led me to the cynical conclusion that even a lot of people in the Canadian film & TV biz (actors, writers, directors, etc.) didn’t actually care out the “biz” — they just cared about their own individual projects (and the projects of their friends) and everyone else could go jump. OK, that may be a bit harsh — but it was an impression I developed.

But remember that old expression: if people don’t hang together — they’ll hang separately?

Of course part of this includes criticism, reviews, and opining.

To me that’s a necessary aspect of the artistic process — and a sign of a healthy industry. That it’s a big boy (or girl) and can withstand scrutiny. When I write about Canadian film & TV I’ve done so with (I hope) passion, commitment, enthusiasm — but that doesn’t mean my role is that of a sycophant or cheerleader. I’ve written critically about things I don’t like, and I opine (sometimes controversially) about issues (such as race, gender, etc.)

I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s why a lot of my writing over the years seems to have gone unremarked upon — even ignored — by people in the biz despite the fact that the common lament in Canadian film & TV is that no one writes about Canadian film & TV. But maybe they only want people to write nice things.

But my philosophy is that there are no “good” or “bad” reviews — only honest and dishonest ones. If a reviewer/critic has genuinely considered a work, and offers a thoughtful critique of it, largely untempered by malice or bias, then that’s a good review — even if they didn’t like the work. It at least shows they respected the work enough to think about it. As well, a thoughtful — constructive — critique can be helpful to the artist, either by pointing out flaws in their work or, at the least, pointing out where they failed to communicate their ideas to the audience (if the reviewer didn’t “get “it).

That doesn’t mean an artist should blindly accept the first negative opinion they see. Not at all. Maybe the reviewer just wasn’t the target audience. But sometimes a reviewer can articulate what the artist kind of knew all along but didn’t want to admit to themselves. And if seven out of ten reviewers say, for instance, the pacing is too slow — the creator should think seriously about tightening the pacing for their next work. (One of the things that depressed me most about Canadian film was seeing a filmmaker’s first film, and noting how reviewers might all point to the same flaws in the work — and then ten years later, seeing a later work by the same filmmaker…with all the same flaws, with no indication they had even tried to learn from those initial reviews).

At the writing of this I’ve only sold a handful of copies of my book (it’s a slow process, trying to even get people aware of the book — honestly, I’m amazed it’s sold any copies). With luck, a few reviews will start popping up about the book (either on Amazon, or the internet in general). And, yeah, doubtless some reviews will be negative — and I’ll storm, and sneer, and think those reviewers are idiots! But that’s just human nature. The reality is, as I say, even a bad review is good, if the reviewer is fair and honest. And maybe some won’t “get” what I was trying to do, or will object to my perspective, or philosophy — while others might offer some sage observations I was too willful to acknowledge.

And hey, maybe some will even say they loved every page of it!

But it’s part of a process. Any movie, book, comic — or collection of prose superhero tales — is a building block upon which the next one can be laid. And this gets back to my point about They Stand on Guard!

Part of the impetus for my writing this book was because of my long standing frustration with the lack of this kind of Canadian popular entertainment (and Canada’s history of well-intentioned, but generally ill-fated and short-lived superhero comics).

My book spans close to a decade and almost every province and territory, and it tries to imagine what it might have been like if there had been a major Canadian comic book publisher — if I had grown up with such a thing populating the comic racks at my local corner store, marrying the escapist adventure of superheroes with Canadian culture and themes. And even if my attempt is flawed, or fails to be the book I hope it is (honest — I think it’s pretty neat!) maybe it will inspire the next generation.

Because blogs like They Stand on Guard! help to show that there are more possibilities out there…

(Just as an aside, I also came upon a reference to my book on another blog: Superhero Novels — this one devoted to specifically writing about prose superhero fiction. So that’s pretty cool, too.)

Posted in Canadian film and TV, Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on Blogging About Canadian Comics

A Canadian Superhero Universe…in Prose

Today I’m continuing in an irregular series of posts about my new book — both in the hopes that these’ll be interesting posts and also, obviously, in the hope that maybe as I delve into it, it might intrigue you to actually buy the book (and then hopefully write about it yourself, either by posting a review on Amazon, or on a message board, or your own blog or website/webzine). One thing I’m going to do is refer to my book as M*sques and C*pes: An Imaginary History — with the “*” representing an “a” and the “and” standing in for “&.” Why? Because I don’t want to glut the search engines with my posts talking about my book — since, as mentioned, I’m hoping (eventually) other reviews and posts might crop up about it. One thing I’ve discovered as someone who has posted a lot on-line (and written a lot of pieces for Huffington Post Canada, for instance) is that if I google my name (narcissistically) to see if anyone is responding to or referencing something I wrote in their own blogs or message threads — that what mostly comes up on the first few pages are simply things I wrote, sporting my by-line.

Although, equally, part of the point of writing this blog is to promote my book (including if someone googles it) — so I’ll do it once: Masques & Capes: An Imaginary History by D.K. Latta. There! I’ve done it! (And for a webpage specifically devoted to it, including with links to where to buy it, go here — though equally you can just go to Amazon (.com or .ca or .whatever) or Createspace and find it there).

Anyway…on to talking about the book itself…

M*sques and C*pes is a collection of all-original prose superhero stories. Part of the gimmick was to imagine a decades-spanning Canadian comic book publisher ala Marvel Comics or DC Comics — something that has never existed in Canada.

And I think it’s fairly unique.

Aspects of my book have been done before, of course. I’m not saying they haven’t. What I am saying is I’m not sure anyone has put these ideas all together.

There have been the American Wild Card books (created by George R.R. Martin) — shared world anthologies where multiple authors have contributed tales about a world where people with super powers exist and at least the first volume deliberately placed the stories in different decades in America. There have been recent Canadian anthologies like Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories and Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe in which various authors contributed tales (myself included) — both books available at bookstores, on-line and off. There have also been prose novel and story collections featuring established comic book heroes like Spider-Man, Batman, etc. Nor am I pretending I’ve read, or even heard of, every example or contribution to the particular sub-genre of prose superhero fiction (though I’ve read quite a few).

So why am I saying my book is “different?” Why am I saying it’s a book I’d like to have read if somebody had written it first?

Here’s what I’ve done:

I decided to imagine a Canadian superhero universe — basically, asking “what if…?” there had been a Canadian publisher like Marvel or DC? Y’know, a comic book publisher that had begun at the beginning of the genre (late 1930s/early 1940s) and continued on until today? Because that’s something Canada has never had! Canadian comic book publishers have generally been short-lived and focused on limited titles. I think the actual number of post-WW II Canadian (superhero) comics probably numbers less than fifty — not fifty titles, I mean literally fifty issues (do the math: the original Captain Canuck ran 14 issues, Northguard 8, Orb 2 or 3, etc…). Even throwing in the American Alpha Flight and we’re still probably looking at less than 200 issues — whereas a single character like, say, Spider-Man has probably accounted for over three thousand comics in the same period!

So I thought it would be fun to imagine a decades-spanning pantheon of heroes. The stories themselves are mostly self-contained, set years apart, most featuring characters unique to that tale — but nonetheless set in the same continuity. As part of this concept, each of the stories is credited as though originating in some old comic (Terrific Tundra Tales #8, Leaf Girl #11, etc.). So, in a way, the stories are meant to be plays within plays, read with the awareness of them being comic book tales.

Except…then I mess with ya. Though the book is mainly a PG-rated affair, there are talks about social issues and even one or two post-coital conversations! Not something you were ever likely to see in an old comic. So you could view these as the “true” exploits that inspired the comic book adventures. And that’s not without precedent. I remember old Marvel Comics where the characters would sometimes refer to their own comic books (maybe complimenting how an artist captured their likeness, or complaining they got the tale wrong — very head-trippy and metatextual).

Some of the stories I wrote are meant to reflect different eras — both historically (The Cold War, hippies, etc.) and also the comic book eras (usually identified as The Golden Age, The Silver Age, etc.). Some stories lean more one way, others more the other, but it’s part of the theme of trying to imagine a decades-spanning comic book universe. In that vein, some of the superheroes are deliberately meant to evoke established archetypes — while others are fairly unique. And sometimes the periods (either the real decade, or the comic book era) are pivotal to a plot, other times it’s just acknowledged by a passing reference to a pop song or a politician.

The Canadian aspect was also crucial. I mean, that was part of the point: to imagine a major Canadian comic book publisher like Marvel or DC and to posit the kind of tales — and perspective — that such a company might have brought to the genre. The whole “Canadian identity” thing has kind of been my pet cause for decades. As someone who has written, inparticular, about Canadian film and TV extensively, a recurring beef with me is how many Canadian storytellers hide their Canadianness, or even when they acknowledge the setting is Canadian, characters conspicuously don’t use Canadian terms or expressions, nor refer to Canadian places or events, the creators sometimes labelling these things as “Anytown, North America” or “Generica.” And this alternately annoys me — and bores the Bejeezus out of me.

To me setting is part of storytelling, and can be used to enrich and enhance the tale, suggesting plot twists or character nuances that wouldn’t arise if the story was just the millionth generic story about a cop in Los Angeles or wherever. Canada is just as good a place for stories — even pulp adventure stories about superheroes — as anywhere else. At least — that’s what I’m trying to prove with this collection. Not just by acknowledging the Canadian setting, but seeing how that influences the plots (such as a story during the Cold War told from the perspective of a middle power country). So, yeah — there’s a bit of a mission fuelling this book.

However…that doesn’t mean the Canadian aspect is always front and centre. Indeed the book is constantly being torn in multiple directions, serving different masters — the comic book idiom and the Canadian identity thing (as well as just being, hopefully, entertaining page turners). Are these mostly superhero stories that just happen to be set in Canada — or are these Canadian stories filtered through the superhero milieu? Answer: both and neither.

But what it means is I wasn’t hiding from the Canadian setting. I simply accepted it and then saw what emerged from that acceptance. In the same way that many American and British stories draw upon their settings in ways that can border on subliminal — but that Canadian storytellers are often discouraged from doing (many a Canadian writer/filmmaker/songwriter/etc. has bragged — literally bragged — that you can’t tell their work is set in Canada).

So in some stories the Canadian milieu might fuel the plot — in others it’s barely even alluded to. It just depended on what the tale needed.

With that said, I did deliberately create a lot of superheroes with distinctly Canadian monikers — but that was part of the game. To embrace the Canadianness — and see what emerged from that. Honestly? I think there are some pretty cool characters in this collection.

Another aspect that might be controversial is that I didn’t avoid letting the stories occasionally slide into socio-political areas — either literally, or as allegories. To me storytelling is partly about dealing with the real world — even if in a blatantly fantasy form of super beings in garish costumes. To me some of the best fantasy — from Star Trek to, yes, superhero comics — are ones that are willing to get their hands dirty grappling with issues. If you’ve actually read actual superhero comics — little in these stories should surprise you. But if your idea of superhero adventures remains the Super Friends or something than, yeah, you might be nonplussed at times. That doesn’t mean the stories are “preachy,” per se — they are first and foremost meant to be entertaining escapism. But the heroes are, in their way, meant to be real flesh and blood characters — and real flesh and blood characters sometimes grapple with real dilemmas.

But what I would argue makes this collection most different from many other superhero prose story anthologies (at least those I’ve read) — is that the stories are meant to be superhero stories; mystery-detective tales, action-adventure romps (while also touching on character and social issues). They’re trying to capture in prose what you’d expect to read in a comic book or see on the big screen. As part of the “game” of imagining a comic book line, I wanted the stories to feel like they really were individual adventures in a much vaster canon of stories.

A lot of prose superhero collections often eschew that, preferring to be ironic, or deconstructivist. Which is fine — there have been some great stories like that. But I’m also not sure why there’s a type of superhero story you expect to see in a comic/TV show/movie — and a different type in prose. I’ve read more than one superhero prose anthology and just longed for a few stories in it in which a hero solving a crime, or saving the day, actually was central to the plot.

After all, the impetus for this book was to make the case for a Canadian superhero universe, to argue that there could have been a major comic book company churning out just these sort of adventures for decades. That doesn’t mean some of the stories aren’t introspective or ironic or deconstructivist — or tongue-in-cheek. Some are! But equally they are meant to be read and enjoyed as exciting thrillers and pulpy adventures — set against an unaplogetically Canadian backdrop.

I enjoyed writing it. Hopefully you’ll give it a try and enjoy reading it.

Over the next few days and weeks I’ll blog more about it. I’m thinking maybe I’ll even post pieces exploring a few individual stories in the collection — what it’s about, what inspired the tale, what I hoped to accomplish with it. Now, admittedly, this can be problematic — an author waxing on about his/her creative process can maybe turn off readers, undercut the fun of the reader trying to work out the themes for themselves, or simply make the author seem like an ass. But, equally, I’m trying to promote the book and encourage people to buy it, and the best way to do that is to post about it. My hope is that over the ensuing weeks (or months) others will buy it and be inspired to write about it (for good or ill) but for now — if I don’t blog about it, no one else will. Besides, by focusing on individual tales and characters within the collection, maybe it’ll intrigue you in a way that the less specific description of the overall collection won’t…

So check back here from time to time, won’t ya? (Or better yet — just buy the darn book and form your own opinion and write or blog about it — for good or ill).

Posted in Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on A Canadian Superhero Universe…in Prose

I Published a Book — Here’s Why…

Okay — so I wrote a book. And published it. Well…self-published.

Now before we get too far, let me just add that I’ve had short stories (mostly SF and fantasy) published in various magazines, webzines, and book anthologies. Stories accepted for publication by real editors who paid me real money to publish my writing and which, on occasion, received nice notices from real readers. Whether I’m an “okay” writer, a “good” writer, or even — if less likely — a “great” writer, the reason I decided to embark on this self-publishing venture was simply because I was following a muse and had an idea for a book that I suspected would be a tough sell to an editor.

So today I’m gonna talk about the what n’ why (and hopefully it’ll be a little bit interesting and not overly navel gazing — stress on “not overly” as, let’s face it, there’ll be some navel gazing).

The book is called Masques & Capes: An Imaginary History and it’s a collection of adventure and mystery stories spanning most of a Century (hence: “history”) involving…superheroes. And it’s set in Canada, naturally — simply because where else would I set it? I had a lot of fun working on it over the last year or more — the most fun I’ve had in years, frankly — but it was also challenging in a lot of ways. That’s because I was, to use an analogy of which I’m fond, spinning a lot of plates at once; the whole book, and many of the individual stories, operating on multiple levels.

Now I’m old enough to remember when self-publishing — or “vanity press” as it used to be called — was the ultimate “no no.” Of course even then there were exceptions; mavericks who would self-publish and catch the eye of a legitimate publisher and land a book deal. Plus there was always the irony that in book publishing, to self-publish was seen as a creative failure, whereas in the comic book world, to self-publish was seen as the mark of the true artiste, not beholden to the corporate giants (part of that may have been because there were far fewer comic book publishers, so the business was more obviously controlled by a very small elite publishing a very limited type of stories).

Anyway — that’s changed a lot. Self-publishing is now quite common, in some cases almost seen as simply a dry run for a work before it gets picked up by a major publisher (Terry Fallis’ “The Best Laid Plans” was self-published — and subsequently was picked up a major publisher, won awards, and was even turned into a TV series). Gary Pearson, a successful TV writer, elected to self-publish his comic novels I suspect because, even with his resume, he was having trouble breaking into the prose field.

In some cases self-publishing might be the recourse of last resort for works that aren’t very good and have been turned down by every real publisher.

But, equally, a writer might have written a perfectly good, perfectly enjoyable work — that just didn’t stand out from the hundred other manuscripts an editor had to sift through that month. There are a lot of fantasy quest sagas and military SF series being self-published — genres already heavily represented in the mainstream publishing world.

Or maybe a writer just couldn’t get his/her foot in the door, flummoxed by the arcane rituals and obstacles (sometimes deliberately) put up to weed out would-be writers. They couldn’t find an appropriate publisher. They couldn’t locate the name of a good agent (I knew a writer who spent literally years just trying to land an agent!) Or the publisher for which they’d spent weeks prepping their pitch suddenly announces it’s closed to submissions for the next year while the editors sort through the accumulated slush pile. Perhaps they just didn’t have the patience of Job that’s sometimes needed, even if you have a good book (I believe Frank Herbert’s “Dune” — a classic work of SF — was supposed to have been rejected by over two dozen publishers; that’s a lot of perseverance on Herbert’s part, especially if you assume the turnaround at each publisher was a few months!) And so on.

Maybe the writer has a thing about “vision” and even if they could get their work accepted, didn’t want to compromise aspects they suspected an editor — with an eye on “marketability” — would demand they alter or remove.

And maybe…they just wanted to write something a little quirky, that they hoped would find a small, niche readership, but they suspected a lot publishers (with their eye on the commercial potential) wouldn’t want to roll on.

In my case it was a few of those things.

Since I was writing about Canadian superheroes, I set my sights on Canadian publishers (I think the book is perfectly accessible whether you’re Canadian, American, Japanese, etc. — but I just didn’t think an American publisher would be especially intrigued by a pitch that went: “A collection of Canadian superhero tales — cool, huh?”) Yet the Canadian publishing field is limited and I was having trouble finding any likely target, what with reading windows that might be months away, guidelines that didn’t seem especially encouraging toward the subject matter I was working on and, perhaps even more insurmountably, guidelines stating they weren’t interested in short story collections — period.

So in my case, this is not a book that was rejected by every editor of discerning taste — I was pretty much stymied trying to even find someone to look at it!

But the thing is — I liked my idea. I became excited about the possibilities, the concept. And it was me trying to make the case I’ve been making for years as a blogger — that you can use Canada to tell populist stories!

And, in short, I wanted to write a book that, I suspect, I would have loved to have read!

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I think this is an unusual book. Remember how I earlier mentioned that a lot of self-publishing can involve people simply writing in established genres? Tolkien-esque fantasy, Starship Troopers-esque military SF, Twilight-esque y/a romantic horror, hard-boiled crime dramas, etc. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure those others feel that they are bringing something to their genres, that they have a distinctive voice. But equally I think most of them would agree they are trying to add to an existing genre.

But I genuinely felt that I was trying to do something I had never seen before in print (or anywhere — comics, film, TV, etc.)

And I’ll explain why…next time…

Posted in Comic Books, My Superhero book, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on I Published a Book — Here’s Why…

What Makes a “Realistic” Superhero Story? – Stan Lee v. Alan Moore (and maybe Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is truer to the base than critics want to admit — whew, long title!)

I mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I’m kind of on a comic book kick at the moment — partly inspired by my own writing (I have a story in the prose anthology Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, as well I’m working on another, more audacious project to be unveiled shortly*) and partly just by a lot of the current buzz around superhero themes in pop culture (including the controversy over Batman vs. Superman). So this piece is a bit long and rambling and — at times — a bit contradictory. But, hopefully, if you’re interested in the topic at all, it will offer a few kernels of food-for-thought. So…onward:

(*first, though — that “audacious” project is now available: my months-in-the-works story collection, Masques & Capes — a collection of superhero prose stories; check out the webpage about it here — you might be intrigued).

A theme that can crop up in superhero stories — prose, comics, or film/TV — is the “realistic” superhero story. That is, the story trying to make the characters and the situations more real.

But what is realistic when considered in the context of the blatant unreality of a superhero? After all, even the less sci-fi/fantasy heroes are implausible (in real life Batman would have next to no impact on street crime and would probably be dead — or crippled, or in jail — within a week).

It sort of occurs to me that you could define the concept by two templates.

One is: what if superheroes were real people?

Two is: what if real people were superheroes?

The distinction, I would argue, is more than semantical. For the former we could point to the 1960s work of Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee — co-creator of Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and zillions of others. For the latter, we could reference Alan Moore, co-creator of the seminal Watchmen.

The distinction between the two approaches I would argue is this:

What if superheroes were real people starts from the conceit that superheroes, as we know them, exist, and so it simply seeks to flesh them out — embellishing upon their motives, giving them feet of clay and neuroses, fleshing out the normal aspects of their lives (work, school, relationships). But it accepts the convention that there are these fundamentally decent people who have wacky powers and dress in bizarre costumes to fight crimes. It simply seeks to give them more foundation and depth. It tries to take the superhero fantasy and lend it an aspect of reality (and soap opera).

Whereas what if real people were superheroes starts from a more negative, cynical space. It says human beings are fundamentally flawed, even ugly, creatures and, therefore, if they had powers and adopted costumes, these would simply exacerbate these flaws. It essentially asks us: if your neighbour/boss/in-law/kid-you-went-to-school-with developed super powers — would you really think they would instantly become a moral paragon of goodness? (I suppose a sidebar to this is characters who are physically ineffective and so the story isn’t so much questioning the character’s ethics, as his efficaciousness, like my point about “if Batman existed”). It takes the real world and tries to graft on superhero themes and tropes.

There’s nothing wrong with either approach, and both can — and have — led to great stories over the years (in comics, film, etc.) But I do think there has been too much intellectual weight and legitimacy given to the latter approach — the cynical, what if real people were superheroes idea. Because, ironically, it tends to give too much weight and gravitas to the fantasy aspects. Far from being “more” realistic, it tends to over-emphasize the fantasy by turning superheroes into a kind of world building fantasy exercise where fantasy issues and abstract dilemmas overwhelm real concerns.

As an example, when Stan Lee (and co) started to revolutionize comics with Spider-Man, it was by emphasizing and developing the mundane reality around the super heroics. I’d make the argument that Spider-Man was the first comic in which there was an actual supporting cast of friends and family and co-workers (earlier comics had supporting characters — but they were largely utilitarian, servicing aspects of the action/adventure plot: police commissioners who could provide the hero with clues; girlfriends who could be rescued or from whom they need to hide their identities, etc.) But Peter Parker and his life was as important to the comics as Spider-Man was. And Peter was a noble, heroic guy — but he had feet of clay. He could lose his temper, be rude or snarky, was certainly mercenary (he made a living selling photos of Spider-Man). People who know Spider-Man only through Toby Maguire or Andrew Garfield are only seeing shallow versions of the complex character in the (better issues of the) comics. And when he grappled with dilemmas — his aunt’s health problems, paying bills, or brooding over issues like the Vietnam War or campus unrest — these were issues that were not reliant upon the hero having super powers.

Whereas in Alan Moore’s “realistic” The Watchmen — the story and themes are almost entirely focused on being superheroes, despite the fact that superheroes don’t actually exist and, in all probability, never will. One of the problems I had with The Watchmen was there was very little in the way of a reality to surround and buffer the fantasy. The superheroes (or mostly ex-heroes) didn’t really seem to have friends, or jobs, and they spent most of their time brooding and reflecting upon what it meant to be a superhero. And Moore’s tendency to want to play up the darker, cynical side of “real people being superheroes” instead of presenting complex, well-rounded characters, tended to reduce them to being the sum of their neuroses, hang ups and perversions. As much caricatures as the archetypes Moore was trying to deconstruct. (One could even extend this to other themes in The Watchmen — namely the Cold War and nuclear war, which was definitely a “real world” issue…but even then, Moore tackles it in, arguably, a fantasy way with the climax drawing upon a fictional archetype, namely an old “Outer Limits” episode).

You could argue Moore’s approach was that of a man who grew up with superheroes, became jaded, but had so imbibed that world he still wanted to explore its seamy, “realistic” underside but now from an adult perspective (you could liken it, in a slightly facetious way, to people drawing erotic/porn using Disney characters — trying to hold onto their childhood icons while redefining them for their adult impulses). Whereas you could argue that Stan Lee’s approach was that of a man who knew superheroes didn’t exist, so he wanted to use superheroes as a way of exploring the real world.

Both styles had enormous influence on the next few generations.

Lee’s “what if superheroes were real people” became the new template — perhaps first picked up by Arnold Drake’s Doom Patrol (criminally neglected for many years) but became more of the norm for everyone. Consider the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run on Green Lantern (teamed with Green Arrow) in which the fantasy heroes were sent off on an array of adventures exploring real world issues of poverty, racism, environmentalism, etc. — sometimes as allegories, sometimes literally. And superheroes were generally presented as the basically decent heroes people thought of them as being — even as their real lives could be complicated and messy, dealing with work conflicts, romantic tribulations, and even alcoholism! Superman — often cited as an example of the most unrealistically Pollyanna of heroes — in the hands of writers like Cary Bates, Elliott S! Maggin, Gerry Conway and others remained a noble, squeaky clean paragon…but was fleshed out with undercurrents of melancholia (a twice-orphaned Kryptonian marooned on earth who had erected an entire secret hideout as a shrine to his lost homeworld) and wasn’t above getting embroiled in childish wars of pranks with his obnoxious co-worker, Steve Lombard.

But the “what if real people were superheroes” idea, ironically, led to the genre moving further away from the realism it purported to represent. Instead of superhero stories being used as a metaphor for real world issues, and the super heroes as substitutes for average Joes (like the readers) grappling with relatable dilemmas, there seemed more emphasis on superhero stories as stories about…superheroes. I suspect it’s more than a coincidence that the post-Watchmen era also coincided with the rise of the crossover epic trend — where Marvel and DC would unleash epic sagas involving the destruction of the multiverse, clones, or Hell erupting onto the streets of New York. The “smart” deconstructionist writers would deal seriously with the repercussions of Thor and the Hulk knocking buildings over in downtown New York, wagging their fingers at the readers and reminding them that if — IF — super powered beings like those existed, there would be collateral damage and, gosh darn it, that’s something we have to deal with! And stories where once superheroes served as a metaphor for real issues seemed to tilt over into stories where the real issues became metaphors for superheroes. I remember an X-Men prose novel (I think one of the Mutant Empire trilogy by Christopher Golden) where a character angrily laments that although politicians are willing to address issues of racial and sexual discrimination, they ignore anti-mutant prejudice! But surely anti-mutant prejudice is supposed to be a metaphor for real prejudice — not used to dismiss concerns over real prejudice.

And all the while the writers and their fans insisted these new versions were more sophisticated, more intelligent than earlier ones. In the TPB Supergirl: Many Happy Returns the theme is to contrast the supposed childishness of the classic Supergirl with the more sophisticated then-current Supergirl — whose stories involved Chaos Streams and otherworldly demons and, and…other weird stuff. While the revived Animal Man was given a real world political subtext involving animal rights — but fans and critics seemed far more impressed by the fantasy conceit of Animal Man discovering he’s a comic book character!

Now, obviously — the argument can be made these are still allegories and metaphors. When Marvel did its Inferno crossover saga in the late 1980s — where Hell literally erupts on earth — then-Daredevil writer, Ann Nocenti, used it as kind of the culmination of a theme she had been developing about the decay and corruption that already existed in New York.

And Marvel’s Civil War was supposed to be an allegory for the post 9/11 debates about civil liberties vs. security. But viewing it from a distance (as I haven’t read it — though I’ve read comics surrounding and referencing it) I would argue that, as an allegory, it was getting pretty far afield from the actual issues (if only because it was too specific to matters involving superheroes).

When I first read Mark Waid & Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come (set in a future where various established heroes, like Superman and Batman, find themselves ideologically opposed to each other) I really liked it — not the least for Ross’ photorealistic art. But, I’ll admit, after subsequent readings I find it falls into that trap of being pumped up on its own self-importance, as if it’s a philosophical tome for the ages — when it’s almost entirely a story about superheroes arguing about being superheroes. Kingdom Come is, in a sense, about the demigod-like superheroes realizing they have to learn to empathize with us normal human beings — lesser beings, we can infer.

The earlier generation of heroes (as exemplified by Lee) didn’t need to learn that because we understood that, fundamentally, they still were human beings. The super powers were just there to make the stories more fun.

Arguably a distinction between Mark Gruenwald’s seminal Squadron Supreme epic (also about heroes vs. heroes in an ideological battle) when contrasted with Kingdom Come is that Gruenwald’s story is still rooted in that earlier Stan Lee approach of rooting the characters in a kind of relatable humanity.

And maybe the fundamental difference between Stan Lee’s approach and Alan Moore’s approach (and the legions of writers each man inspired) is that Lee wanted us to relate to and empathize with the heroes. Peter Parker was us — albeit us with super powers and a sassy mouth. But Moore saw the heroes as something other — whether to be admired, despised, or deconstructed, they were characters we observed and analyzed from a distance. (To cite a passage from Moore’s 1980s Miracleman/Marvelman run: “They are Titans. And we will never understand the alien inferno that blazes in the furnace of their souls.” and “(we will) never know their pain. Their love. Their almost sexual hatred…”) And so, for instance, in Kurt Busiek’s Marvels (also illustrated by Alex Ross) the story is told entirely from the pont of view of an everyman observing the superheroic icons at a distance. While Busiek’s subsequent run writing The Avengers seemed to involve an inordinate amount of scenes of characters reflecting on how cool the Avengers are!

Now the funny thing is it might seem like I’ve wandered a bit — since I’m now conflating Alan Moore’s cynical deconstructionist “realism” with Kurt Busiek’s fannish idolatry (though Moore explored that side too with his “homage” comics like Tom Strong). And I probably have wandered, since I’m just writing this stream-of-consciousness style, and seeing where it takes me. But in a way, it’s because I think they both have their roots in a similar source — embracing the tropes and archetypes of the superhero genre almost too literally, rather than seeing superheroes as another way of simply telling a story about people.

It makes me wonder if all the controversy over filmmaker Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is misdirected. Critics — including long time comics fans — complain Snyder has fundamentally misread and misunderstood comic book heroes. But has he? Or is decrying Snyder (who, after all, is apparently a long time comics fan, even having adapted Moore’s The Watchmen to the big screen) tantamount to people complaining Donald Trump has hijacked the Republican Party…as opposed to recognizing that Trump is simply the ultimate realization of the last few years of right wing reactionaryism and propaganda: the Damian Devil-child incubated by the American right?

Because although people complain about Snyder’s approach to the heroes, and his cavalier attitude towards violence and brutality (and I should quickly mention I haven’t seen BvS:DoJ — but I have seen other Snyder films, including Man of Steel, and read reviews of BvS, both pro and con) isn’t the real issue that his approach isn’t about empathizing with the characters’ fundamental, universal humanity? Snyder’s films are about iconic demigods and explore the ramifications of such beings knocking over buildings in the downtown core. When people complain there is no humour in Snyder’s films (as there is in Marvel films), I would argue they don’t mean they simply want gags and one-liners — what they mean is they want some relaxed, human interaction (I can’t recall much dialogue from Snyder’s The Man of Steel — most of the lines/scenes seemed structured for their iconic posturing, rather than as simply exchanges between relateable human beings).

One could make a slightly tongue-in-cheek comparison between Trump and Snyder, with both men facing criticism from intellectuals about the underlining dark, fascistic message they promote, while their sometimes reactionary fans (paranoid Snyder fans accusing negative reviewers of being in the pocket of DC rival, Marvel Comics) see them as offering a vision missing from modern politics — and superhero movies.

But, as I say: Snyder’s approach isn’t really that out-of-step with the “great” comic book writers of the last couple of decades. Nor even the way some other cinematic versions have approached them.

Consider TV’s critically acclaimed Daredevil: in the second season of which much of it was wrapped around serious, adult discussions between two implausible vigilantes about the limits of vigilantism — and the rest of the season involved a lot of ninjas and how his ex-girlfriend was some dark being of prophecy.

But on the other spectrum, there was TV’s Jessica Jones, where a story about a villain with mind control powers was quite effectively a metaphor for sexual harassment and stalkers, and where the human emotions (though reacting to larger-than-life dilemmas) were clear, relatable human emotions.

As a kid, I remembered reading Superman comics (I’m talking Bronze Age/pre-Crisis) and assuming that, in amid the blatant escapism and fantasy, I was supposed to relate to and like Superman. But in later post-Crisis stories, I felt uncomfortable because it seemed more like I was being asked, not to like Superman, but to worship him. Other characters would constantly talk about how great he was, how inspiring, how noble, and how they were almost privileged to be in his presence. Off hand I don’t really recall a lot of scenes like that in the comics when I was a kid. Yes, it was all there, subtextually — we understood that Supes was a great guy — but without the deification (heck, sometimes other heroes used to chide Superman for his “establishment twang”). Likewise, even Batman these days is presented as intimidating and striking awe even in his fellow JLA members — as opposed to a guy in a bat-suit who probably keeps his low-fat lunch in the JLA fridge with the label “Batman’s — don’t touch” taped to it.

(Of course there’s another aspect, vis a vis the Superman I grew up with contrasted with the re-booted Superman that established the contemporary template in the mid-1980s. Namely — I’m Canadian. And the Superman I grew up with seemed very much an alien Kryptonian living on earth. But the re-booted Superman was explicitly made to be American, and with subsequent writers (both in the comics and pundits commenting on the comics) making the point that Superman’s innate nobility and greatness stemmed directly from his midwestern American upbringing. So the Superman I grew up with, being alien, I perceived as representing “universal” values — while the re-booted Superman seemed to represent American “exceptionalism.” But, y’know, that’s probably a whole ‘nother essay).

I started out contrasting the “what if superheroes were real people” idea with the “what if real people were superheroes” but, in a way, as my musings have rambled over the last few paragraphs, I suppose you could say we’ve ended up somewhere else (though still related). Of saying when we read superhero stories (or when someone writes a superhero story) do we want to relate to the hero, and identify with him/her (despite the wild powers and garish longjohns) — or do we want to observe them from a distance, either by cynically deconstructing them, or admiring them as almost god-like superior beings?

And which is healthier? I know people who would sneer at the idea of “identifying” with superheroes, seeing in it weird, arrested adolescent power fantasies. But surely we are identifying with the character — the powers and adventures are just the fun sideshow. But the observing from a distance is, in its way, even more problematic, particularly as — as I’ve suggested throughout — it sets up a literal world of “super” beings vs. “normal” beings, where we are constantly expected to identify certain people as innately “better” than others or, in the case of cynical deconstructions, where we readers are supposed to identify as superior to the characters we’re reading about. In other words, does it demand less, rather than more, empathy and humanity from the reader?

I mean, when you look at some of the current crop of superhero movies — especially Batman vs. Superman — but even others, such as the Chris Nolan Batman movies (which were commercial and critical successes) do people empathize with the heroes? Whether you’re a fan or a detractor, do you come away identifying with the heroes and their dilemmas — or are you simply observing them, either from the point of view of worshippers or of iconoclasts? (I’ll be honest, as with Snyder’s Man of Steel, I have a hard time remembering a single line of dialogue — a single “human” scene — Christian Bale had in any of the Batman movies).

So this ended up rambling about, and is obviously prone to the fallacies and simplification that occur any time you try to draw some bigger meaning or theme from something like superheroes which encompass decades of comics, movies, TV shows, and hundreds — even thousands — of creators. I’ve cherry picked examples and probably contradicted myself a few times.

In the past when I’ve written opinion pieces, people who disagree with me then rebut me by saying I’m an “idiot” and I “don’t know” what I’m talking about (even when, as here, I’m citing multiple examples, so clearly I know something) — even as their counter arguments are even more Swiss Cheese-hole-y. But the point I try to stress is I’m not arguing right/wrong — nor am I trying to convince others I’m right. What I’m interested in doing is essentially musing out loud, pointing out perspectives I haven’t necessarily seen expressed too much in other pieces. I’m grappling with ideas, attempting to articulate my view of them, and then tossing them out there. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s 60/40 or 40/60.

I’m mostly just trying to offer up some food for thought.

(Another reminder — well, plug — for my superhero book, Masques & Capes!)

Posted in Comic Books, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on What Makes a “Realistic” Superhero Story? – Stan Lee v. Alan Moore (and maybe Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is truer to the base than critics want to admit — whew, long title!)

EXCITING FICTION! in Tesseracts Nineteen & Perihelion Magazine!

I tend not to use my blogging and internet “presence” (such as it is) for too much self-promotion — which is kind of stupid since that’s kind of what 80% of it is used for by people! But I’ve just felt self-conscious and preferred to write about things outside myself (reflecting on Canadian film & TV, comic books, etc.) But every now and them I realize I’m shooting myself in the foot (commercially-speaking) and a little narcissism can be healthy.

So today I’m going to draw attention to a couple of stories I’ve recently had published. One is in the latest annual Tesseracts science fiction anthology (Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe) and the other is in the science fiction webzine Perihelion Magazine. Basically I’m hoping to draw any random reader’s attention to them, steering some to Perihelion (where the story can be read for free) or to actually buy a copy of Tesseracts Nineteen. And to provide — for those as are interested in the creative process — a bit of a “writer’s commentary.”

(I’m also adding this extra plug for my story collection, Masques & Capes — a collection of superhero prose stories; check out the webpage about it here — you might be intrigued).

The Perihelion story — published title is “Run Program” — has a bit of a sentimental aspect, because if you check it out you’ll see it’s credited to D.K Latta (which is moi) and Jeffrey Blair Latta. Blair was my brother who passed away a few years ago.

You see, the core idea for the story started with him. He had this idea for an elegant, minimalist little sci-fi nail-biter about a man in some sort of vehicle on a deserted moon who finds himself in trouble when he gets locked out of the vehicle’s control systems and it starts running wild. He had been sort of inspired by the Harlan Ellison story, “Life Hutch,” which was a single character thriller about a lone man trapped in a small room, trying to out-think a murderous robot.

So my brother had mulled this idea over for a number of years, but it had never full come together enough in his head for him to actually start writing it. Finally, at a point when I was doing some more writing than he was, he tossed it to me and suggested I see if I could do anything with it — whether a fresh perspective might find the “in” into the concept.

Because we both shared “pulp” sensibilities, I too found the deliberate minimalism a bit hard to wrestle with (though agreeing that it could make a great story) so when I took a run at it, I juiced it up a bit — still about a character trapped in a runaway vehicle, but embellished with a few other voices, and adding on extra plot complications to raise the stakes and, hopefully, heighten the suspense. I also decided to link it a bit with an older story I had written called “Swam” (which was first published in a magazine called Challenging Destiny and which is re-posted on-line here). “Swarm” was my attempt at an Old School “classic” sci-fi adventure story involving a character wearing a suit that was part environment suit and part body armour designated a Kel 427. I think it was my brother who suggested his idea of a man trapped in a rogue vehicle might link up nicely with the Kel suit idea, so I gave the character in “Run Program” a later generation Kel 600 (but otherwise, it should be mentioned, you don’t need to read one story to understand the other).

Once I was finished, I liked the result. So did my brother.

I then sent it out a couple of times but it was rejected. And then as happens, I got distracted by other things and the story kind of fell to the bottom of my list of things to submit (and the rejections instilling in me a lack of confidence in the story). Some time after that my brother passed away. Then a few months ago I looked the story up again, and decided — darn it! — I still thought it was a good like suspense tale. And so I decided to put it back into play and send it out for consideration again.

And, fortunately, the editor at Perihelion Magazine seemed to agree it was a nice little tale. And even more fortunately, agreed to giving my brother a posthumous credit as co-writer.

See what ya think of it.

As for my Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe story…

Each year there’s often some sort of unifying theme, and as that sub-title implies, this year’s theme was “superhero” stories in prose form.

It’s not exactly a common sub-genre in prose, but arguably appropriate given superheroes have never been more mainstream — not only are comics increasingly edging their way into the mainstream (the Twitter feeds of respected journalist will include analyses of the latest political issues — mixed in with unself-conscious pop references to comics and comments about the latest episode of TV’s The Flash) and superhero movies and TV series have never been bigger, or more respected.

According to an intro to the collection, co-editor Claude Lalumière (who assembled the aggregation with Mark Shainblum) had been pitching this idea to the Tesseracts anthology people for years — and just to prove his interest isn’t just a passing whim, he’d earlier co-edited (with Camille Alexa) another superhero anthology, Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (2013, Tyche Books).

And full disclosure: I have stories in both collections. In Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories my story was “The Secret History of the Intrepids” (which the blogger at They Stand on Guard referred to as his/her favourite story in the collection). My story in Tesseracts Nineteen is called “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” (or “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumor?” as it’s spelled in the published book).

Its evolution is kind of interesting (at least, I think so). I don’t want to give too much away about it, but the core idea was a concept that had been bouncing around in my head for, literally, years, involving a mysterious superhero/crimefighter whose origin is linked to a mishap that involves a mid-20th Century radio actor. The inspiration was the old Shadow radio series, in which an invisible crimefighter defined by his voice seemed a perfect use of the non-visual radio medium. I also have a fondness for the idea of superheroes with finite, even limited abilities — and then seeing how that could be developed into a crimefighting power (from The Flash, whose basic power is just that he moves fast, to even, say, Dazzler!) So I liked the idea of playing with a crimefighter whose ability might seem ineffectual — and then showing how effective it could be, if used right (and yes, I’m being vague — you’ll have to read the story).

If memory serves, I half thought the idea of a radio-actor-turned-crime-fighter might make an interesting pitch to CBC Radio back when they still did radio drama (and don’t get me started on their boneheaded decision to shut down the radio drama department, because I’m trying to keep my commentary PG). My idea — then — was to set it in modern times with a plucky female reporter who discovers an antique radio in a garage sale…

The other idea behind the story was another superhero concept I’d had for years (I’ve read a lot of comics and I do some fiction writing — trust me: I have a lot of ideas for superheroes!). This involved a hero who was a famous radio announcer in his alter ego, so he would whisper while in costume to disguise his voice, leading to him being called The Rumour. I just liked tipping the secret ID thing on its head by imagining a hero who was more likely to be “outted” by his voice than by his face.

So when I decided to try and put my original idea of a radio actor on paper and submit it to Tesseracts, I decided to appropriate the Rumour name from the other, unrelated character (don’t worry — I’ve come up with another name for him!) And I located the story back in the mid-20th Century (because of the radio drama connection) allowing me to pepper in a few cultural references to suggest the period,

I’d recently been trying a slightly different approach to writing — stemming out of my “pulp fiction” inclinations. And that was a kind of stream-of-consciousness writing. Instead of carefully blocking a story out in my head before typing the first word, I was deliberately pushing myself by kind of starting the story before I necessarily had everything nailed down in my head. My theory was the story might be fresher, more unexpected for the reader if even I didn’t know where it was headed! That’s a slight exaggeration, of course: most of the stories I wrote like this did still end up pretty much as I conceived them. But it allowed for a few twists and turns and unexpected characters along the way.

Anyway, so when I sat down to write “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” I had a basic idea of how it would begin, how it would end, the general thrust and themes of the story…but there were also a lot of vague things in the middle. I started writing it from the POV of a mobster relating how ill-fortune befell him thanks to the title character — largely because it was the easiest “in” into the story.

But a few paragraphs in I felt a bit like a hypocrite. And the reason was because I don’t generally like stories told from the POV of the bad guy! Don’t get me wrong — I’ve read great stories using that approach. And I have written stories like that, including ones I’m proud of. But in general, I regard it as problematic…despite being an enormously popular approach in horror and crime stories; the “scumbag gets his/her comeuppance” theme. It’s easy for the writer to do, and can be fun creating a “voice” for the personality, but the problem is it gives the reader no one to root for or to empathize with. It’s just a few thousand words (or half an hour in a TV or radio anthology) of an unpleasant person having unpleasant things happen to him.

And, as I say: it’s kind of lazy. And yet here I was doing it myself! What’s more, because of where I knew the story would end up, I figured I needed another person narrating the end.

And that’s when inspiration struck!

Why not switch narrators — repeatedly? Why not tell the tale through a variety of narrators?

So start with the mobster, as I was — then switch to another POV, then another.

And suddely the story started to take off in my mind. It would be creatively more fun, since I would have to craft different “voices” for each narrator (no point in switching narrators if everyone talks the same, right?) It also suggested an approach to the plot itself, since to justify switching narrators it made sense that they’d have different pieces of the puzzle to relate (rather than simply having them all be privy to the same information). So the story itself became a little more oblique. The characters only had their pieces of the puzzle, and it was the reader who would see the whole picture as it slowly formed.

And it actually made the name of the character — and the title of the story — far more clever. Since it meant the entire story is being presented as, essentially, a rumour — as different characters pass on bits and pieces of information, some of which even they only heard second hand.

I think the finished story became much more interesting, clever, and fun — both to write and, hopefully, to read — and just because a couple of paragraphs in I realized I didn’t want to write an entire story from the POV of a mobster!

As George Peppard used to say in “The A-Team”: “I love it when a plan comes together!”

Anyway, so that’s more than you probably wanted to know about the creative process behind “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumor?” (available now in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe) and “Run Program” (available for free at Perihelion Magazine). Plus…don’t forget “The Secret History of the Intrepids” (in Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories).

And just to tease those as might be interested…I’m working on my own, secret project involving superheroes and Canadiana, so check back to this blog from time to time for news!

Posted in Comic Books, Radio and Audio drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy | Comments Off on EXCITING FICTION! in Tesseracts Nineteen & Perihelion Magazine!