Friday, May 3, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 3

3: First Sample PC, Part 1

This is our first sample PC for the Universal Comics movie line. The format for this is going to be unusual because right now I’m not concerned with the characters specific powers & mechanics so much as I am with their concepts and publication history.

Point 3 on my “differences between movies and comics” is that the movies extensively mine the character’s history to fit the themes and origin and then pepper the film with Easter Eggs for the fans. If we want to capture that concept it means we have to actually have a history that can be mined. Comic book histories are made up by the accretion of ideas: some great, some terrible, most OK. Each new creative team adds some as they re-use and rework some others. The characters slowly change personality and powers, some elements take precedence for a while and then fade into the background, events in real life or pop culture change the direction of the book. Obviously your newly created PC won’t have such a history, so we have to build one.

I map super hero history into these ages:
·   Pulpy: From 1930 to 1937 the heroes fight criminals, mobsters, murderers and evil geniuses. The heroes aren’t ‘superman’ style super but they increasingly adopt the skin tight outfits etc. that we think of as super-hero clich├ęs.
·   4-Color: From 1938 to 1945 the heroes get powers, get flashier and start fighting other flashy villains and then they go to war.
·   Fallow: From 1946 to 1955 super hero comics were waning in popularity, so the heroes become staid or satirized as Westerns,  SF, Crime and Horror comics took over. If your hero was published in this phase it might have been by aping one of those styles
·   Optimistic: from 1956 to 1970 or so heroes will filled with a can do optimism that tended to ignore real world issues, even if they also started to evidence more human failings, deal with more personal problems and bicker amongst themselves.
·   ‘Realistic’: from the 1971 to 1985 heroes started to face darker plot elements again, including the inclusion of more socially relevant and mature topics.
·   ‘Modern’: from 1986 on comics underwent several trends: deconstructive re-imagining of core characters either as part of a ‘reboot’ or in a non-canon story that nonetheless influences the main one, the increase of darker plot elements, the strengthening of continuity/history aspects and the idea of whole company crossovers. Core character arcs were also repeated, either post reboot or as echoes of the original.
After that the shrinking and fragmenting of the comics market makes it harder to track individual trends, but this is a good enough framework for our purposes.

For your hero figure out the time period in which he started appearing and think about how he might have changed over the ages. Then ask yourself the following:
·   What was his most important, influential story arc, the one that keeps being repeated by less talented authors
·   What was his dumbest era, the one that you cringe to remember the back issues of, or revisit for campy humor?
·   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.
·   What’s his rogues gallery like? Is it one big nemeses and a bunch of also-rans, does it have a theme? 

Captain Nostalgia

 Captain Nostalgia was one of the first costumed heroes, a time traveler operating out of North America during the 1930's and 40's. Claiming to be an agent insuring his utopian future, he's really a eugenically-bred 23rd century policeman. Renegade uberjager badge ident 4ST-AKM uses prototype time travel equipment and 23c gravity gear to prevent his future, saving the glorious, chaotic polyglot world of the present from Nazi domination. During his first visit to the past he befriended members of the Ad Astras, a club of Scientifiction fans, radio enthusiasts and general science geeks across Canada who act as his agents and helpers in his war against fifth columnists, saboteurs and Nazi super-science.


·   Eugenically Bred: increases physical attributes to higher than normal human but not superhuman levels
·   Uberjager: Uberjagers are trained in a variety of techniques to solve crimes, ferret out plots and maintain personal control.
·   Historian: 4ST was drawn to save the past due to his hobby as a historian. His history is sometimes our future, so his knowledge is a little iffy.
·   Time Travel Device: Captain Nostalgia has access to a time travel platform in the 23rd c, connected to a recall device on his wrist-band. This has a range of 400 years, can’t go further forward than the last use of the platform and can only target the immediate vicinity of his last return point or a hard target near Alberta.
·   Gravity Gear: Anti-gravity is common in the 23rd c, so Nostalgia is outfitted with an Uberjager’s anti-gravity flying harness (with speed boosted by rockets) and a grav-pistol.
·   Ad Astra Society: Captain Nostalgia’s allies in the 20th century. Nostalgia calls on the Ad Astrans for advice, support and resources.

Publication History:

Captain Nostalgia first appeared in 1931 in the Alberta Sentinel. The strip's creator, David Jamison, felt that world needed a hero that emphasized society's strengths in the face of the Depression, and provided a promise of brighter days ahead. Hence someone with a yearning for 'old fashioned values' while hearkening from a brighter future – Captain Nostalgia. The strip featured Nostalgia as a futuristic super-detective fighting crime with his jetpack, ray gun and a couple of plucky 20th century teens Jimmy "Buzz" Buzznek and Lee Grainger and a secret ID of "Forrest Grail", a Niagara Falls electrical engineer.

The strip was a success, and the Sentinel expanded his exploits into a comic book in 1934. Originally a collection of daily strips, in mid 1936 they hired Lee Sergeant and David Kronenburg to produce original, eight page stories. By January 1938 Sergeant and Lee were producing the entire monthly comic, often without consulting Jamison. The comic focused on the flashy aspects of over the detective work both to showcase Kronenburg's dynamic art and hide Sergeant's inability at plotting mysteries. Sergeant expanded Granger and Buzznek into the full Ad Astran society, whose interactions became a major part of the book. Nostalgia also became a world traveler, meeting the intelligent apes of the Congo and the Permafrostian aliens of the arctic tundra.

In July of 1938 the Sentinel (chief editor Tracey Armbruster) licensed the rights to the CBC, making him the star of a radio show. The show focused on mysteries solved by Nostalgia and the Ad Astrans, with the tech elements pushed into the background. The stalwart voice of Harry Badecker brought Nostalgia to life; while Jamison never enjoyed the comic he worked closely with script writers Lisa Todd & Michael Riley to captured the good Captain. Plus, the mysteries worked.

When Canada entered the war in 1939 Sergeant and Kronenburg revealed that Nostalgia's future was actually a Nazi dominated world that 4ST was trying to prevent. Kronenburg had relatives that had died in Germany, and Sergeant had relatives in Britain who were under direct attack. Jamison threw a fit at the damage to his utopian future. Armbruster, knowing the comics made more money than the dailies, mollified Jamison and downplayed the changes in the radio show. Jamison stayed on the newspaper strip until 1941, when a lackluster writer/artist named Kevin King took over the daily.

Canadian reticence towards the war and the slow growth of their army made the new direction a gamble, but with Jamison out of the way Sergeant spiced the comic up with the flashy costumed villains that Jamison had abhorred, and started making use of the time travel device as a plot point to draw in new readers. During the war era Nostalgia fought a lot of Nazi villains, including UberCommando Omega, a physically perfect human who was actually the start of the eugenics programs that would eventually make 4ST. Many Ad Astras were drafted and Captain Nostalgia led a small unit of them through the war as a Special Science Unit designed to stop high-tech Nazis. This, plus stories finding fifth columnists on the homefront, kept Nostalgia busy.

By 1947 the comic book and radio show had closed out and the daily was still limping along. That's when Jamison brought the Sentinel syndicate to court for control of his creation. The court battle took eight years, but eventually the Canadian courts invalidated the Sentinel's original Work Made for Hire contract and awarded Jamison full control of Captain Nostalgia. Unfortunately, without the Sentinel he had nowhere to publish.

Fate took a hand: Buck Carlson, the president of the Universal Comics Line, had been a fan of the radio show. The Nazi future was included as something that Nostalgia had beaten, turning his world into Jamison's originally conceived utopia. Jamison included a pocket Nazi timeline to be kept at bay to protect the future. The book was solid, family-oriented fun from 1956-1971, once again featuring mysteries solved via detective work, old-fashioned values and Ad Astran science. As the Silver Age marched on the book’s sales declined as it straddled the gap between other super hero books and "Archie" or "Glenda, Fairy Princess." The book was finally cancelled in 1971.

In 1978 Jamison's grandson, Scott, pitched a big budget, SF spectacular about the ray-gun toting futuristic detective fighting time-travelling Nazis, hoping to capitalize on the SF trend. He got a TV show starring Blake Rockwell and Yves St Cyr as 6E- ANE, or Annie, his leggy sidekick from the future. The show was a hit with the kids, but insanely expensive due to the flying, ray guns and so on. To save money the show shifted gears in the second season, opening with an episode where the Nazis were defeated, but where Captain Nostalgia is trapped in the past.

From then on each episode consisted of an Ad Astran radioing Nostalgia about an injustice – sometimes a science fiction one, sometimes a Nazi agent, but most often some local crime lord or "social ill of the week". Nostalgia then flew in (using stock footage from season one) and helped the injured parties find justice via science, detective work and old fashioned values. It became a prime time staple, lasting 6 seasons. Ms. St. Cyr can still be found at SF cons in her "the future has no shame" skirts.

Universal resumed publication, sticking to the show’s formula until 1985, when the new managing editor merged Universal's acquisitions into a shared universe. Captain Nostalgia’s power and history of parallel dimension made him a key player. The book returned to the feel of the 1940’s comics. The new writer made strong use of the time travel device: Nostalgia's time tricks with ‘Gemini event’ duplication, laying traps or storing gear in the past, leaping to the future to rest before returning to the fight and so on  come from this era of the book. Fans of the last 25 years hated it, but the facelift brought him in tune with the times.

Since the larger cast (including 2 versions of 6E-ANE different timelines) drew in readers, and the parallel universe continuity hooked them, those started to grow. Eventually the multiple timelines and sprawling Ad Astra cast made the book insanely complicated. Trying to pick up a new issue in 1993 was an exercise in frustration. By '97 it induced madness.

In 1998 a new creative team burned down everything by taking the book retro: they abandoned all current plots and set the action back in 1931: murder mysteries, Nazis and pulp era SF with no time travel and limited used of the gravity gear. It was a welcome change, but after 5 years they had run out of stories.

A new creative team came on board in 2003 and firmly set the character in the modern era with a smaller core cast, a broad worldwide Ad Astra community to allow international travel and more focus on the Gravity Gear as Nostalgia’s main power rather than his Time Travel device. In many ways he’s a much more traditional super hero these days – flight, blaster pistol, detective, and a good right cross – with the occasional mystery.

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