Monday, May 6, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 4

4: Other Sample PCs

One aspect of this style of game is that a certain amount of plotting has to be done in advance to better integrate the various comic book histories. As such each player should make up their core characters in advance, everyone should read them and there should be some further collaboration on world building amongst the group. Given that there has already been discussion on the (potentially) shared metaphor and the (definitely) shared origin type there should be hooks for linking everything together.

As discussed last time here’s a simple questionnaire for building your Core Hero’s publication history.
1) What were the core hero’s adventures in these eras:
·         Pulpy: 1930 to 1937
·         4-Color: 1938 to 1945.
·         Fallow: 1946 to 1955
·         Optimistic: 1956 to 1970.
·         ‘Realistic’: 1971 to 1985
·         ‘Modern’: 1986 to present.
2) What was his most important, influential story arc, the one that keeps being repeated by less talented authors
3) What was his dumbest era, the one that you cringe to remember the back issues of, or revisit for campy humor?
4) Where is he located? His home base should mirror the feel of the character and his general theme, the way Gotham is dark and brooding and Metropolis is bright and optimistic.
5) What’s his rogues gallery like? Is it one big nemeses and a bunch of also-rans, does it have a theme? 

Sample PC 2: Doc Toltec

Go read this
All done, OK moving forward.

Sample PC 3: Aeaea

The man we think of as Aeaea first appeared in 1973 in Zapf Comix #60. Zapf was one of the burgeoning underground commix movement in San Francisco in the 1960’s and first 6 years of its erratic publication tried to straddle the aesthetics of the head shops and the super-hero comics with the first Aeaea, the world’s only Hippie Super-hero.

His adventures were as psychedelic and socially weighted as you would expect from a publishing house unfettered by the comics code. They included battles with Greek gods, (The name, BTW, is Circe’s island from the Odyssey), strange demons who would invisibly ride on people’s shoulders, heads or backs that only mystics could see and would drive their hosts to criminal or perverse acts, entering strange dimensions and anything else that would let the artist loose with his psychedelica. There was a tension between Clive Herje (the artist) and Jaime Black (the artist) as Herje really wanted to draw the wacky stuff and Black really wanted to discuss social consciousness issues. The pair ultimately spit in 1972.

The book went on hiatus for a year until Black thought his artwork was good enough to carry the book on his own and he started over. This restart involved the previous Aeaea, now burned out and disillusioned, training his successor in the role of magical protector of San Francisco – this new Aeaea, Harvey Green, represented the new counter culture the bay area, that of the Castro area gay movement. He had the same powers as his predecessor – vast magical ability dimension hopping, mental powers etc. – but the book’s focus had changed. Black, himself a gay post-hippie looking for meaning, used the book as a roman a clef of the SF Gay culture. It was deeply realistic, revealing and personal, but also kept up the super-hero side of the equation.

That super-hero stuff included the idea that the post of San Francisco’s magical defender had existed for generations and is passed from one hero to another, each embodying the spirit of the city of their age: the current Aeaea epitomized the gay culture, the previous one was a hippie, who learned his trade from the 1950’s Beat Poet Aeaea, who took over from the 30’s and 40’s Yellow Peril spy smasher hippie and so on.

That last allowed Black to skewer an actual golden age magician-super hero comic “Aeon the Amazing”, who did indeed fight grossly caricatured Asian agents led by a long finger-nailed, bright yellow skinned alchemist plotter names “The Yellow Fang”. Aeon the Amazing had naturally switched to attacking the Japanese in WWII and then faded into obscurity in the post war comics market.

Black would occasionally pull that connection into the modern day as part of his general skewering of Cold War paranoia: Mao would appear in the book as a huge fan of ‘Papa’ Hemmingway – he travelled the world, learned to bullfight and so on – just to be able to have people break into “Oh Mao Mao Papa Oh Mao Mao”; One of his older villains was Mr. Alphabet who had language based powers; Black replaced him with a Chinese version except Mandarin lacked an alphabet; the Chinese invasion of America took place in 1421 and a Mandirnate existed in Chile, hidden in the Andes. In all of these the humor was pretty clearly against the people he saw as using the threat of the communism abroad to stifle rights back home. (He did similar things with the Red Menace, introducing the couple Potemkin Villager and Matryoshka, Soviet agents with self duplication, except Villager’s duplicates were all hollow with no backs and Matryoshka’s were of diminishing size.)

When the AIDS crisis started in the late 1970’s there was no way for Black’s semi-autobiographical book to ignore it. Eventually he drew the concept of a specific disease demon from Asian myth in the HIV Demon. This extra-dimensional entity was the cause of the plague and was one who Aeaea was ultimately able to defeat and expel from this dimension, but in so doing his lover was also trapped on the other side, and Aeaea dare not open the dimensional locks lest the HIV Demon escape. This tragic tale is a key part of the Aeaea story arc, and in later years it has been replayed several times.

Eventually Black revealed that he had been fighting AIDS himself and died a few months after that story was completed. This is where things get strange – while Black did have a long time life partner he didn’t have anyone who could legally inherit the Aeaea property. Universal Comics filed for a claim of the character as compensation for Black’s violation of their copyright of the Aeon the Amazing character, whom they had inadvertently acquired in their purchasing of smaller, older comics companies. This gave them sufficient standing to make good the claim, though to his credit Buck Carlson, former Ad Astran that he was, saw that Black’s partner received some compensation for the rights. At that point Aeaea became part of the Universal Comics universe and part of their grand 1985 plan to integrate everything into one universe.

Post 1985 Aeaea became more typical super hero fare. Aeaea’s powers were standardized (Force Projection of the flight power blast force field variety, astral projection, dimensional travel, transmutation and size changing), he got a small supporting cast for the usual comic book soap opera and his sexuality was NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN, or at least not until 1998 or so. Yes, he lived in San Francisco and lost his best friend to the HIV demon but they just excised the romantic subplots, and much of the slice of life stuff. Despite that Glenda Fairy Princess, another UC character with homosexual leanings (she’s a girl who gains powers from her mother’s magic shoes) became the book’s back up story and occasional supporting cast member.

The book also lost its caustically leftist edge, and the joke cold war villains became more serious and more dangerous. The Chinese Mr. Alphabet has much of the Mandarin language tattooed on his body and can manifest physical effects by touching them. He is an enemy of the Chilean Mandrinate who are a godawful scary high tech/magical nightmare with serious plans to rule the world. Potemkin Villager went from strange to downright creepy and scary, able to trap people inside his shell duplicates and consume their memories and eventually joining a Russian mob after the USSR collapsed. And of course the HIV demon story isn’t allowed to rest, being pulled out every few years by new creative teams putting their spin on the events.

The other major change was the inclusion in the 1990’s of Aeaea’s apprentice, the future new spirit of San Francisco. The next Aeaea is a computer programmer who embodies the city’s high tech start up culture. Aldebaran Brody (the Hippie Aeaea) – now an off screen mentor type who haunted Haight Ashbury - was written out shortly before that and the new Jack Lapin IT tech Aeaea filled his place. After a 5 year ‘mentoring’ story arc ending in 2002 Harvey handed over the title to Jack. Unfortunately for the book’s long term continuity a small vocal group of Harvey Green fans refused to accept this; eventually one of them started writing the book and reversed it (in the Tech Bust story arc), restoring Harvey to the title role.

Fitting These into the Framework

I have one more sample PC but not enough space to fit her in today, so I’m going to use this remaining word count to discuss how these two heroes fit into the movie framework.

Captain Nostalgia obviously gets his powers from being part of a possible future – his physical and mental gifts from advanced eugenics and hypnotic science and his high tech from, well, being in the future. He fits the Powers are like being Nostalgic because, well, c’mon, he’s freakin’ Captain Nostalgia. To make this more explicit he acts as a hero because he knows with absolutely certainty that the world was once a better place, and his tools help him convince others that our present is actually a pretty cool place.

Doc Toltec is a Theosophical Atlantean, falling into the idea of “the elves are better than you.” As part of theoretical past his powers also come from dimensional/time travel, both in his personal powers and his access to Atlantean hyper-tech. He fits the metaphor because, like Captain Nostalgia, he knows that the past was a better place in terms of cultural and technological advancement and he’s doing his best to protect humanity until they too can reach that exalted level. If Captain Nostalgia wants to make sure humanity doesn’t get any worse Doc Toltec wants to make sure humanity gets better.

Aeaea’s magical powers are all drawn from dimensional energy – most obviously in his dimensional travel, but in all of his magic he makes incantations to potent extra-dimensional entitles who he has either bound to his will or promised to advance their interests (Ygthurp the Ygthurply provides him with his oft used size change spells, for example). He fits the metaphor as a member of a generations-old lineage of city defenders, as well as the reality that he has outlived his own era – for all that it is still gay friendly the San Francisco of his origin has faded as much as Aldebaron’s Haight Ashbury – and that his greatest victory is also his greatest loss.