Sunday, April 20, 2008

Script Frenzy: No Need For Romance?

I have mentioned, in my profile at least, that I consider my script to be not unlike a combination of Invincible and Tenchi Muyo. I hate that sort of thing, really, since it sells a work short by suggesting that it's simply the chopped up pieces of other scripts jammed into a blender, robbing it of any of the originality and creativity that it contains by being something unique on its own rights. But it's a little shorthand that makes sense to use - because it really isn't saying that my script is exactly like those two things, it's just using those pre-existing symbols, readily understood concepts that a listener can grab on to, to reduce its complexity down into something easier to transmit. Trading on the vocabulary of other works and the audience's expectations of them. It's just another way of saying "My script is about...".

If you know that my comic is about a young superhero struggling to adapt to college life then the reference to Invincible should become clear. It's a way of broadcasting that my character is new and inexperienced and he's on a journey to improve himself. It also speaks to the sort of tone I want to establish in my stories - a throwback to a time when comics were fun and didn't take themselves too seriously but without becoming a parody.

I like Incincible, it's a good book. And I don't think it takes anything away to call it a mix of Superman and Spider-Man.

But what about Tenchi? Well, I say that because, in the story, my hero is surrounded by a bunch of beautiful female leads. All of whom serve as romantic interests for that main and male character.

I'm sure there's a name for it out there somewhere, one much more japanafied than what I call it - which is a "harem show" where a central character is this powerful hero who becomes surrounded by a variety of attractive and quirky females - most of whom typically want nothing more out of life than to rip his clothes off and throw him to the floor. Basically, you have all these beautiful girls interested in the rather nondescript male lead who just happens to be super-powerful, the savior of the world, or otherwise bearing an incredible gift. The women follow him around, competing with one another for his favor while he fights off the opponent of the week (Or, occasionally, advances the overall storyline) and he never really manages to settle on one over any other.

It's the ultimate in wish-fulfillment. The reader, the viewer, is invited to compare themselves to that main character. To put themselves in their shows where they, too, being rather average but with something special that, maybe, hasn't been noticed yet, can be the focus of the universe. And the object of a lot of attractive girl's attention.

If it's a formula that sounds familiar, it's because it's not exactly a new one. Spider-Man was doing something pretty similar back in the 70s. Back when dorky Peter Parker was pinballing between Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane or ducking from Betty Brant or the Black Cat in-between fighting the Rhino or the Vulture with his hidden powers.

It's, I think, a good formula, one that's lasted through the years, not only for the prurient interests - there are after all a lot of male comic book readers who are, let's face it, big, huge dateless nerds like myself and, well, guys just like bewbs - but because it draws a reader into the story. It captures them with the soap opera - which girl is the guy going to wind up with? It allows them to identify, to invest - which girl would you pick, if it was you? Which one's your type?

And, above all, it's an easy vehicle for conflict. Whenever the story bogs down or there's a need for some tension, you can start up with the jealousy and misunderstandings and the general romantic angst.

In so many words, it's a solid base for a series that features a large cast of interesting characters with built-in sources of internal drama. The danger, though, is making the main character too bland by comparison to the vibrant cast around him. I'm not sure I've managed to do that myself although I hope my protagonist isn't just a bystander in his own story but I do think I've created a bunch of interesting women to surround him with.

At the heart of the series is a love triangle. Like the Gwen-Mary Jane dilemma, my main character has two girls in his life, both of which he'd be with in a heartbeat but both of whom he's kept from being with for various reasons.

In one corner, we have the girl known as Deidre. She and the main character grew up in the same town, blocks from one another, and have been friends since they were little children. Friends with more than a few benefits. In the storyline, the main character develops super-powers in high-school and Deidre is always there to help him out - and to record the proceedings. She's used the footage of him, in costume, to land herself a spot at a prestigious journalism school and an internship on an important news program. She wants to be a reporter, after all, but that means she's separated from the main hero who's going to a different school - not separated enough that she can't call or stop by for a visit every now and then, of course, but distant. But she's less Lois Lane than she is, say, Juno with a notepad. She's wry and sardonic but still a little awed by what she's found herself involved in. Knowing the hero's secret identity, she functions as a confidant, a comfort, and, romantically, she's that friend he's interested in (And vice versa) but afraid to take things to the next level with. She's either the girl he's always been meant to be with but he's never really realized or, perhaps, the baggage of his past that's holding him back that he should really move past to grow as a person.

In the other is the vivacious Susie (Who, just to let you know where she's coming from is called Susie Creamcheesecake in my notes) who lives just down the hall in the main character's co-ed dorm. She's on the track team, bringing along a whole cast of characters into the story. And she's sort of energetic and confident and anything but a damsel to be put in distress - if a bad guy grabs her he's going to be getting kneed in the crotch. Susie is an ass-kicker who's not going to let her lack of super-powers keep her from being involved. Which she'd really like to be since she has something of a fascination with all the super-heroing going on and more than a bit of a crush on the alter-ego of my main character. But it's his activities as a costumed crime-fighter that keep getting in the way of a relationship with her. Unlike Deidre who's sort of a feminist model of the modern, independent, self-actualized woman, Susie operates on a post-feminist level where she'd be surprised that there'd be any consideration of her not being equal to a man. She represents temptation - she's always urging the main character to head out and party, to forget about his troubles, to cut corners and otherwise compromise his heroic ideals. Not because she's a bad person herself but because she's a young woman out to have some fun. The main character is taken with her at first sight and while she might be just a fun ride while she lasts there might also be some hidden depths to her as well.

But it doesn't stop there because while those might be the two that the story - at the moment - focuses on competing for the hero's affections, there are plenty of others he could wind up with as well.

There's also Lana, the main character's high school sweetheart. She's followed him to the same school and he keeps bumping into her in unexpected places or getting help from her just when he needs it the most. In the backstory, she and Deidre formed a triangle of their own back in high school so, in many ways, Lana is set up in contrast to Deidre. Whereas Deidre is brash and alternative, Lana is demure and retro. She dresses like Jackie-O, she's always polite, and while she's not exactly a shrinking violet - there are some hidden depths to her - I will say that in a lot of the back-up strips - which take place during the character's high school days - she winds up being kidnapped and tied to the train tracks a lot. But what she is, romantically, is the good girl. The kind of girl that your mother would want you to wind up with, helpful, nurturing, and supportive. And the idea is that the story makes it seem like the two are fated to be together.

Then, there are some of the main characters super-powered companions. Like, for example, the girl known as Cerulean. In terms of the story, she's the older, more experienced, more powerful hero who teams up with my hero from time to time. There's a bit of complicated backstory to her as well that I won't go into - suffice to say that she's not all that she seems, at first - but, well, when she's in costume she's a bit of a wild woman. If this were a movie, I'd be casting Cameron Diaz in her role, in so many words because she's manic and flirtatious and more than a little crazy - sometimes in a cute, charming way, sometimes in a "uh....she does have a nuclear reactor strapped to her back and she's now flying off the deep end" kind of way. She's unpredictable, in other words. She represents inhibition. Freedom. Letting go of consequences and living for the moment - grabbing that chance for romance when you have it.

And there's the woman known as the Remnant. She doesn't appear much in the issues I'm writing now - they're pretty much leading to her first appearance - but once she does, she quickly becomes a fixture in the hero's life and, really, a counterpoint to Cerulean. Where Cerulean is all manic energy and thrill-crazed excitement, where Cerulean is light, Remnant is shadow, dark depression and quiet suffering. She's kinda my token goth chick. But with swords. The story goes that Remnant isn't really herself, she's the ghost of a murdered woman possessing the corpse of another victim. And, as you can imagine, that makes her a bit of a downer at parties. She's time-displaced and out of place and the only thing she has left is her revenge. It's what she's been living for and when she gets it she doesn't know what to do. So she broods and she snarls and everything else someone does when they're hurt and angry. Romantically, she's there to be the character for my hero to support. The love that he has to help before it's returned, because she's in a bad place and doesn't want anything to do with anything like feeling good about - even though she knows it's the best thing for her. Sometimes, being in a relationship means you go the extra mile for the other person, because they'll eventually do so for you so she's there to be the wounded character the protagonist has to help prop back up.

In a similar vein is the cast's bad girl, the Rider. A character I'm introducing into the text now and who will just hang around for now before eventually becoming important. She's a mercenary - one of those "code of honor" villains - who crosses paths with the hero from time to time. She's a major player, big time powers, and he's nothing but an annoyance to her. But rather than seeing him as a pest, she thinks his persistance is rather cute - he just needs to learn how to play the cape and tights game, that's all, and so she starts offering him some tips. Eventually, as the story progresses past what I'm writing now she'll reform - although other characters, especially the other women are always going to think her motives are suspect - and take up a place in the supporting cast as yet another love interest. She there to represent the unexpected love - the one you find when you're looking for anything but.

That six beauties already. Each with their own stories to tell, their own arcs to follow, and many complete with a supporting cast to further extend the text into new areas - which, really, is the point of the exercise. And I haven't even mentioned some of the more peripheral characters and red herrings like the Captain America analog by way of the ROTC. Susie's brainy, bleeding heart roommate. Or the morals twisting cat burglar. And there are more in the wings who don't even show up until after the issues I'm writing.

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