Chapter 5: Dress for Success
“Remember about six years ago? Some jackass dressed up in red spandex with a pair of goggles and called himself the…”
“The Masked Avenger?”
“Yeah, right, the Masked Avenger. Not the most original of names, but then again anyone who would do what that schmuck did doesn’t have too much going for him in the upstairs department, right? Anyway, he made the news because he stopped a bank robbery out in L.A. “
“Yeah, I remember hearing about that on the wire. I was overseas at the time. He kept them busy until the cops could get there or something, right?”
“Right. Unfortunately for him he also stopped three bullets with his chest and ended up eating nothing but soup and pudding for six months. Of course this was after he was charged with vigilantism and public endangerment. Apparently the judge felt sorry for him and figured his medical bills were punishment enough and let him off with a warning. I hear he’s the janitor for his old high school now. That’s really my biggest fear about this whole thing, Sam. I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of failing.”
– Excerpt from transcripts of the audio interview between Keith Green A.K.A. Justice and Sam Daylin on October 2nd, 2016.
Keith had already showered and changed clothes by the time we got to the apartment, and was still toweling off his hair as we walked in the door. “About time. What were you doing, forty the whole way?”
Jenn stuck a tongue out at him. “Not all of us can move at the speed of sound.” She gestured at the towel around his neck as she laid her purse down on the counter. “Though most of us do dry off before getting dressed.”
“Yeah, yeah. So we ready for this little pow-wow or what?”
I stayed quiet and took a seat on one of the bar stools as Jenn and Keith sat down on the sofa. I took out my trusty little recorder and hit the button as she began to tick off points.
“Okay, here’s what we know so far. One, your powers are telekinetic, like I suspected. Two, just like any muscle you’re going to have to practice and work up your endurance and concentration, especially when it comes to doing more than one thing at once.”
“Yeah, we found that out the hard way.” Keith glanced up in my direction but I didn’t detect any malice behind the look.
Jenn nodded. “Right, which brings me to my next point: I think we need to talk about your costume.”
Keith shook his head as he stood up and headed for the coffee pot. “I’m not wearing a costume. We’ve talked about this already. I refuse to look like some retard at a convention.”
Jenn draped her left arm over the back of the couch as she turned to face him. “I don’t mean a cape and spandex, but I do think we need to have some sort of body armor. Something that’ll protect you. Even with practice I don’t think it’d be safe for you to rely just on your abilities for protection. Besides, you told me you’ll need some sort of eye protection for when you’re flying anyway and I don’t think diving goggles is the fashion statement you want to make to strike fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere.”
I spoke up from my little place off to the side. “Not only that, but you’re going to want to wear something that’ll help conceal your identity. I mean, for legal reasons alone, you’re not going to want anyone to know who you are.”
Keith seemed to consider that a moment as he stirred his coffee, then nodded. “Okay, I can see what you mean. Any suggestions?”
I nodded. “I’ve got a guy I know- one of my informants. He’s something of a collector when it comes to guns and stuff like that. He’s like one of those militant rednecks you see on T.V. that’ll barricade themselves in compounds to keep out ‘the man’. The guy’s totally nuts, but mostly harmless. He may have some stuff we could look at that’d offer you some protection. Used military and police equipment, that sort of thing.”
Jenn smirked. “What happened to ‘I’m just an observer’?”
I shrugged. “There’s no story if wonder boy goes and gets killed his first time out.”
Keith held up his coffee mug like he was toasting. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Jenn got on her knees and leaned over the back of the sofa. “Speaking of which, what’s the plan? After you practice a bit and we find you a costume, what next?”
I hopped up from my stool and headed for my room. “I think I can help there, too. Just a sec.”
I emerged a minute later with a journalist’s best friend. Keith smirked and walked over to get a closer look as I laid it on the counter and plugged it in. “A police scanner. Nice.”
I grinned like a proud poppa. “A journalist’s bread and butter.”
Jenn walked over and joined us. She was biting at one of her finger nails, like she always did when she was anxious. “Isn’t monitoring the police band illegal?“
I snickered. “So’s vigilantism.”
She smirked and ran her hands along the top of the scanner, wiping away at the thin layer of dust. “Point. So what, we just listen to the police band then Keith jumps out the window and saves the day?”
Keith smiled and clapped me on the back again. “I like it. Maybe you aren’t a complete pain in the ass after all.”
I grimaced but decided to hold back the wise-assed comment I had ready to fire. Instead I said, “Well, I’m heading to bed. I’ll swing by Gimpy’s place tomorrow and see what he’s got.”
Jenn looked up quizzically, barely restraining a laugh. “Gimpy?”
I waved it away. “Don’t ask. I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
I retired to my little closet of a room and did my best to try and sleep, but memories of a past I thought was long behind me flooded my mind and made that impossible. Instead, I tossed and turned, trying to occupy my mind with other thoughts but always coming back to the same thing: Jenn.
I had known as soon as Keith mentioned her name that if I got involved I’d have to face a lot of things I’d tried to bury with time and distance. At the time it had been easy for me to write it off as something that wouldn’t be that big a deal. Then I saw her and that all went out the window.
Now it was like I was twenty-three again, before I stepped on that plane and left the best thing I’d ever known behind. Like then, this had all started out about a job, but this time I was going to make the right choice. I made a silent promise that I would do anything I could to help Keith in his mission. Not because I believed in him and what he was trying to do, but because I believed in her and what was important to her. I knew I was being given a second chance and I wasn’t going to pass it up.
It wasn’t just a job anymore. I wasn’t just an observer. I’d become a participant.
I snorted into my pillow. “Well, so much for objectivity.”
I rolled over and closed my eyes. Sleep claimed me instantly.
It took me a few weeks but I was finally able to set up a time when I could meet up with Gimpy and see about a super suit. Richard “Gimpy” Melvin lived in a trailer park out in West Memphis. He was nicknamed Gimpy because of the bum knee he’d acquired running from the cops a few years back. He’d tried to jump a fence, only to discover as he was falling down the other side that there was a ten foot drop which ended in solid concrete. Pop went the weasel.
True to the stereotypical image that living in a trailer park brings to mind, Gimpy took pride in dressing like a complete hillbilly: long, dingy hair of an unquantifiable color; scruffy beard; straw cowboy hat; wife-beater complete with unidentifiable stains that had started out in life white but was now closer to grey; blue jeans covered in tears and oil spots with the ends of the legs worn down to strings of cloth, which only accentuated the SpongeBob flip flops he wore. Yep, Gimpy was all class.
He was also well connected.
In addition to his little black market for military and police surplus, Gimpy ran one of the biggest gambling rings in the south. As such, he was a veritable fountain of information. When you hear the phrase “word on the street,” they’re talking about Gimpy. He’d been an invaluable resource for me in the past, but this trip I was there to tap into his other talents.
“Body armor, huh? Ya going back out on the front lines, or did‘ja write an article that someone honoree out there might not like? Heheeee!”
His laugh was like a donkey braying on helium. I smiled and shook my head. “No, nothing like that. I thought I’d try my hand at fiction in my spare time. I’m writing a book about a S.W.A.T. team. Thought I’d pick up some gear as research props. You know, get dressed up, see how it feels, that sort of thing. I figured you’d be the man to see.”
He slapped me hard on the back and laughed again. “Heheee! Ya got that right, buddy! Step inna my office and we’ll see if we can’t set ya up proper.”
His “office” was a dilapidated barn that sat on the back of his property. It looked that way on the outside, anyway. On the inside it was like a Best Buy for the militant redneck circuit. The walls and ceiling had been reinforced and gleamed like new, and each section was neatly labeled and displayed. I half expected to hear muzak playing gently in the background. Guns, ammo, combat gear, if Rambo wanted it, he could find it at Gimpy’s. I let out a whistle.
“Heheeee! It’s a beut, ain’t it? My pride’n’joy, right here. Now ya said you wanted S.W.A.T. gear?”
He thought for a second, stroking absently at his ragged beard until he suddenly snapped his fingers, grinned like an idiot, and pointed a grease-stained finger in a general direction. “I got jus the thang! Came in last week. Wait here and I’ll fetch it fer ya.”
He sauntered off and disappeared in the forest of hardware, and I silently prayed that the place wouldn’t get raided while I waited. About five minutes later Gimpy came back into view pushing an old shopping cart filled with stuff. He smiled at me and I tried not to stare at the gaps in his grill. “Had an ex-cop come through here last week. Dropped twenty large at the tables and came up short. Used to be Memphis S.W.A.T. but was forced to go on disability when he got his hand blown off by a midget pimp. Heheeeee!”
He pointed down at the cart. “Gave me all his old stuff fer credit. Yer welcome to whatever’s here.”
I reached down into the cart and started shifting through what I saw there. There was a jumpsuit and combat vest like you see on T.V.; a helmet complete with a full visor; combat boots; even built in comm gear. “Wow, this is great, Gimp. How much?”
“Fer you Sammy? Take it.”
I arched an eyebrow. “What?”
He shook his head. “You’ve been good to me over the years, boy. Helped me out when times were rough. Now I’m prosperin’ better than a grizzly in a fish market! Heheeee! I figger this is the least I can do fer ya. Just mention me in yer book and we’ll call it even.”
I smiled and offered him my hand, which he took. “Deal.”
Back at the apartment it was like Christmas in a militant compound as Keith and Jenn went through the box of swag I’d procured. Jenn giggled excitedly. “Wow, Sam. This is great!”
Keith grunted as he held up the tactical vest. “What’s with this on the back? Justice?”
Jenn walked over and looked. “It’s on the front too, see?”
I glanced over and shrugged. “Must’ve been the name of the cop that owned it last. Kind of an ironic name, isn’t it?”
Jenn chuckled. “Well, I’m sure I can take it off or cover it up.”
Keith stared at it for a second then shook his head. “No, it’s okay. Having a name on the back will help me to look more like a cop. I’ll be able to blend when I need to.”
I snorted. “Well, anywhere that’s gone to hell enough that S.W.A.T. gets called in, anyway.”
He nodded absently as he dug deeper into the pile. “Hey, you got the communication gear too?”
“Yep.” I reached down into my laptop bag and pulled out two tactical walkie-talkies. “Got these for me and Jenn, too. This way we can keep in contact while you’re out on missions. Gimp said we’ll just have to be careful about the frequency we use and what we say. Anyone with the right gear will be able to listen in if they find the right channel.”
Keith nodded and put the gear back down in the pile. “Right. Good thinking.”
Jenn pulled on the helmet and snapped down the visor. She looked like a little kid dressing up for Halloween. “This should work for when you’re flying!”
I laughed. “Wow, you’re really getting into this, aren’t you?”
She yanked off the helmet and had a horrendous case of hat hair. She ran her hands through it a few times in an attempt to get it under control, and was only half-successful. “Sure! This stuff is kinda cool. I mean, you see it on T.V. and in the movies all the time. It’s fun to be able to actually play around with it.”
Keith grabbed the helmet and stuck it on top of the pile, then hefted the box. “Well, I’m going to go try this stuff on. See how it fits. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Once he was gone Jenn walked over and gave me a hug. “I really appreciate you doing this. You’re being a huge help. I don’t know what he would’ve done without you.”
I pulled her back enough to where I could look her in the eye and lowered my voice to a sultry whisper. “I’m not doing it for him.”
I pulled her close and kissed her. She tried half-heartedly to pull away at first, but then she melted into my arms and started to kiss me back and it was as though time had never past. Cue sweeping music. After a few seconds we broke the embrace, breathing heavily, and she took a few steps back. “Sam, I-“
I held up a hand. “I know. I just wanted you to know how I feel. I should have let you know a long time ago.”
Just then Keith walked back out into the living room and struck a heroic pose, with both hands on his hips. Talk about being saved by the bell. “Well, how do I look?”
Jenn’s gaze lingered on mine for a second before she turned around and smiled at him. “You look great! Looks like everything really fits!”
I had to admit he did look impressive, like something straight out of an action movie, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear he was the real deal. In the last few years, due to the increase in gang violence and terrorist threats, police gear had been upgraded to improve protection and thus, the life expectancy of the officers. The outfit itself was all black, naturally, though rather than just having a bullet-proof vest all the material was made in a bullet resistant mesh. It was still relatively light-weight and had good mobility, but it’d also stop all but the most persistent debris and shrapnel and most small caliber bullets, even at close range. The vest itself was even more resistant: double reinforced so that even hollow-point bullets, commonly referred to on the streets as “cop killers,” wouldn’t penetrate. The gloves were made of a less resistant but more flexible version of the mesh, and the boots were steel tipped with an anti-slip grip on the bottom. The helmet was the most impressive, however. It was black and domed with a solid visor that not only protected the eyes but the whole face. The visor itself was mirrored, which was a bit disconcerting to anyone looking into it, which I assumed was the point. It was equipped with a H.U.D. that registered targets, helped with navigation, and, though I failed to mention it to Keith just yet, broadcasted a live data stream that was simultaneously recorded to a hard drive. Not all the innovations were for just police protection. Jenn and I would be able to see and hear everything that went on while Keith was in his masked persona.
Keith spread out his hands and did a slow turn as though he were a fashion model. His voice came out a bit distorted behind the visor. “Not bad, huh? This helmet is freakin’ sweet!”
Jenn grimaced. “It’s a little scary. You look like a bad guy from a sci-fi movie.”
Keith shrugged, but the gesture was muted a bit by the suit. “I don’t think that’s really a bad thing. Strike fear into the hearts of criminals and all that. Besides, this’ll be great for when I’m flying! It’s got a zoom function, digital readouts and targeting. Hell, I even see a little icon for gas and smoke protection!”
I nodded. “Gimpy said it has a built in filter, so it’ll give you some protection during fires or with some gasses, but it’s not a license to thrill. It’s not like you have your own oxygen supply or anything so don’t go Superman on us and think you can walk into anything and be okay. “
He waved a hand at me dismissively. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. Don’t be such a kill joy. I can’t wait to go flying with this thing on.”
Jenn threw an arm over his shoulder. “Well, you’ll get your chance tonight, flyboy. Now that you’ve got your costume we’re going to have to hit the practicing hard.”
Keith gave a little mock-salute. “Aye aye, cap’n. Hey Sammy, how am I supposed to talk to you guys with this thing?”
“Stick out your tongue. There should be a little switch you can click on and off… though I’d wait and sanitize the thing first before you try.”
Keith reached up and pulled the helmet off. “Yeah, good point.”
He glanced inside and pointed. “There it is. That’s gonna be a little weird.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
He nodded and shifted the helmet under his arm. “Well, I’m going to go take this stuff off. No sense in getting it all gunked up before tonight. You guys up for getting some pizza?”
“Fine with me. Jenn?”
She shot me a devilish smirk. “I’ve got some stuff I’ve got to do at the office, so you boys can go and have fun. Get in a little bonding time.”
I tried to keep the sarcasm from my voice. “Great. Guys night out.”
Keith didn’t look any happier. “Yeah, I’ll go get dressed.”
Jenn walked over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “It won’t be that bad. I bet you two will find out you’ve got a lot in common. It’ll be good for you.”
I reached in my pocket for a cigarette and gave her my best reassuring smile as I resisted rolling my eyes. “Yeah. Great.”
Tag Archives: comics
The following is a preview for our new novel, Just Super, which we hope to have out in early April. Hope you like it!
Chapter 1: First Impressions
“Comics are bullshit. In every superhero comic ever written the hero finds out they have powers and most of the time they instantly decide that it means they have to dress up in some pansy-assed outfit and fight crime. Like it’s a given: ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ and all that. Well, in real life it doesn’t work that way. In real life there are consequences. If you dress up in some colorful tights with a towel around your neck and decide to fight crime, you either end up in the morgue or on the six o’clock news being hauled away in a pair of handcuffs while people at home laugh their asses off at you.
You won’t see my name plastered all over lunch boxes. You won’t see me with my own T.V. series or movie deal. And you sure as hell won’t catch me dressing up like some cosplayer at an anime convention.Nope, I’m just your average, everyday working stiff who happens to have superpowers; but soon you’ll all know my name.”
– Excerpt from transcripts of the audio interview between Keith Green A.K.A. Justice and Sam Daylin on October 2nd, 2016.
Keith Green was a construction worker who hauled crap around for a living. He lived alone, had no friends and no family. As far as the world was concerned he was completely ordinary- completely anonymous.
So imagine my surprise when this nobody walks up to me as I was leaving my office and tells me the craziest, most amazing thing I’ve ever heard- something that not only ended up changing my life, but changed the world.
“Mr. Daylin? Sam Daylin of the Commercial Appeal?”
“That’s right. How can I help you?”
I have to admit, I didn’t think much of Keith Green when I first met him. Physically, he was a bit imposing I guess. He was 6’2 and well-built compared to my 5’10 and lanky frame. In my defense, the heaviest thing I lifted day to day was a computer mouse while he spent most of his adult life slinging around cement blocks and wooden beams.
Do the math.
Keith had shoulder-length, greasy black hair, with soot and grime smeared over his face and clothes. The white t-shirt and ragged jeans he wore were almost black from it. He didn’t look like much more than the blue collared jerks that I grew up around; the ones that spent more time in bars harassing waitresses and screwing around than doing much else.
Still, there was this…fierceness in his eyes. They were just striking. You hear people say that, but this was the first time I’d ever met someone that literally made me flinch a bit when I met their eyes. They were a bright blue, brighter than I’d ever seen, and when he talked I found it hard to not pay attention to what he said. Then again, what he said was pretty unforgettable anyway.
He offered me his hand, which I took. His grip was like steel, but sweaty. I tried my best to wipe my hands off on my pants without looking obvious about it when he let go.
“My name is Keith Green. Jennifer Chase is my best friend. We grew up together.”
I smiled and nodded as a flood of memories assaulted my brain, bringing with them a small stab of pain. “Yeah, sure. She used to talk about you all the time. How is she? I haven’t heard from her since graduation and I’ve been meaning to look her up since I moved into town. She doing okay?”
He nodded and looked a bit agitated, like he was in a hurry and these pleasantries of normal conversation were a waste of his time. “Yeah, Jenn is fine. A doctor now. Has her own practice on Poplar Avenue, down the street from the mall. She told me I should look you up.”
His voice dropped to a whisper and his gaze grew intense as he leaned a bit closer. “That you were someone I could trust.”
I felt a little alarm bell go off inside my head and the journalist in me took over. I instantly switched gears from casual conversation to cool professional. “Okay, how do you think I can help you, Mr. Green?”
He looked around as though he were afraid someone was watching, listening. “Well, I wanted to offer you a story. The biggest story anyone’s ever heard.”
I relaxed. I get yahoos selling me this same line of crap twice a day before lunch. Everyone thinks their story is special. More often than not it’s not even obituary-worthy. I started to move past him. “Sure, okay. I’ll tell you what: why don’t you shoot me an e-mail about your story and if I think it’s something I’d be interested in I’ll give you a call. Right now I’m on my way home. Tell Jenn I said hi.”
His hand snatched out and clamped down on my right shoulder. “Wait.”
I spun around, knocking his hand away and half tempted to deck him. I don’t do well with people putting their hands on me, especially those I don’t know. He held up his hands defensively. “Look, I know you probably hear people say that kind of thing all the time, but this time it’s true. All I ask is you give me five minutes to prove it to you. That’s all.”
I clinched my jaw and regarded him for a second as I let myself cool down. I thought about agreeing then going inside and siccing security on his ass, but something inside told me to hear him out. “Jenn sent you?”
He nodded then held up his right hand, his fingers spread to emphasize “five”.
“You have five minutes.” I set down my laptop bag and folded my arms. “Go ahead.”
He shook his head.
“Not here.” He glanced up for a second and then pointed. “Meet me up on the roof.”
I snatched up my bag again. “Forget it pal. I don’t have time for this crap.”
He held up a hand. “Look, this’ll be easier if I show you, but I can’t show you down here. Meet me on the roof. Give me five minutes. If you still aren’t convinced I’ll go away and you’ll never see me again.”
I almost told him to take a hike. I had a cold beer and a hot T.V. dinner waiting for me at home. Still, that little voice inside said to give him his five minutes, no matter how stupid it all seemed. I breathed out heavily through my nose, a short burst of released frustration, as I started to turn back to the building door. “Fine, let’s go to the roof.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
I looked back at him for a second and then shrugged. “Whatever.”
I went through the door and headed for the elevators. I glanced back once and he was still standing where I left him, watching me. When he saw me looking he pointed up again and smiled. I hit the call button and muttered, “Freak.”
The elevator dinged and I got inside and pressed the button for the roof. The whole trip up I kept asking myself, “Why the hell am I doing this? This is so stupid.”
It took me a minute to find the rooftop access and by the time I emerged out into the fall night air the sun had already begun to set. Wind kicked up my beige trench coat and I had to reach up and hold my hat down to keep it from flying off of my head. I looked around and, to my complete and utter shock, Keith was already standing there on the ledge behind me, waiting.
I dropped my bag and held out a hand. “Look, if you’re going to jump that’s not the kind of story I’m looking for, okay? So why don’t you come down off of the ledge and we can talk things out.”
He smirked at me, shook his head, and then stepped backwards off of the ledge.
“Son of a bitch!”
I almost slipped on the black gravel crap that was scattered over the roof in my mad dash to the ledge. My cell phone was already in my hand and I was trying frantically to remember how to dial 9-1-1 when I got to the ledge and looked over, fully expecting to see Keith as a red smudge on the concrete below. Instead, I almost had a heart attack as he looked up at me from a few inches down and said, “Boo.”
The phone hit the roof with a crack about a second before I did. Sharp pain shot through me as my backside hit hard, but I ignored it as I scrambled frantically backwards away from the ledge while Keith, who up until a few seconds ago I thought was a complete whack-job, slowly hovered up over the ledge to land on the ground in front of me. The setting sun glistened behind him like a red-orange halo.
“Holy shit! Holy SHIT! HOLY SHIT!”
I hauled myself off the ground, turned, and ran for the door as fast as I could- only to run face-first into his chest. I bounced off him and ended up back on my ass. He held up his hands in what I’m sure he thought was a reassuring gesture, but it’s hard to be reassuring when your feet are hovering several inches off the ground. “Calm down. I’m not going to hurt you. I can explain everything.”
He smirked as he folded his arms across his chest and settled down to the ground again. “For a writer you have a pretty limited vocabulary.”
I was trying hard to keep from hyperventilating. “You just…you just…you just…”
“Flew? Yeah. And that last bit was touch of super speed. Figured a demonstration was in order if you were going to believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“What the hell are you?”
He smiled again and that wasn’t very reassuring either. “Mr. Daylin, I’m the man that’s going to make you famous.” He glanced down at his watch. “And I still have four minutes. Interested in hearing the rest?”
Of course I was.
Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2009-2013
All rights reserved
Just Super Description: There is something very different and very special about Keith Green- he has “super powers.” Keith Green also has only six months to live because those powers are slowly killing him. This is the story that reporter Sam Daylin is hired to chronicle, as Keith spends the last six months of his life trying to use his powers to help people and change the world as the its first “superhero”. However, the more that his illness begins to affect him, the more erratic Keith begins to act. The world’s first superhero could become the world’s greatest threat, and Sam Daylin may be the only person who is in a position to stop him.
There’s something to be said about the magic and wonder of childhood.
When I was really little there were certain things I gravitated toward, some of which my mom has the credit of opening my eyes to like Superman, Spider-Man and Star Wars. Then there’s other things you discover for yourself. Masters of the Universe was one of those things for me. While I don’t remember every detail about my geekdom for MOTU, I do remember that He-Man was one of the first toys my mom let me get because I asked. I remember the packaging, the logo, the figures themselves being something to spark my imagination. I’d stare at the artwork on packages like Castle Grayskull, Battle Cat and Point Dread and think of the world of Eternia, the battles fought there, the mysteries laying in wait just behind the drawbridge of Castle Grayskull, and the way that science and sorcery went hand in hand to aid in these epic dreams and imaginings.
I do remember when the Filmation cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, hit in the early 80s. I was in kindergarten and when my mom picked me up that afternoon, I ran home so quickly because I didn’t want to miss a second of my favorite fantasy action hero in full color glory on the family TV. From the opening moments of the title card showing up on the screen to that awe inspiring transformation of Prince Adam into He-Man, to say I was hooked would be a grave understatement. To this day I still love the theme song (and honestly if I’m doing something that’s a challenge I still hear the song in the back of my mind, ask my neighbor the day he was moving out of his old apartment and I was the one manhandling his couch into the dumpster) but the moment that brings me back to being a child again is the moment when Prince Adam needs to raise the power sword to become He-Man. Yes, I’m aware that that moment is very similar to Captain Marvel’s SHAZAM! transformation. But never did Captain Marvel have that badass theme song, nor did he transform a fraidy cat into Battle Cat to ride into the fray and take care of business.
When I was a child the planet of Eternia was a place for my imagination to run wild, which is why the adult version of me decided to take a little trip back there. As a child I couldn’t understand why adults lose track of what made them happy when they were kids. But once life’s tsunamis can crash into you as you grow up and your parents aren’t there to buffer the storms like when you were little, I started to see how it’s easy to lose track of those childhood favorites, focusing on reality, focusing on the task at hand. Even though I’m going to be becoming a husband and I’ve already become a father, I’ve got too much Peter Pan in me to make me not want to completely grow up no matter what. That’s why this trip to Eternia was important for me.
Working on this piece has inspired me to revisit a lot of my favorites from childhood and do my own take on them. So there might be some more He-Man images in the future. There’s also going to be Thundercats, Ghostbusters, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many others. The goal of this is just to have fun and reignite that passion that these various shows/toy lines ignited in me well over 25 years ago. Hopefully I’ll find some oldies but goodies, with a few surprises along the way. And feel free to throw a few other ideas out there for pieces that might be fun to do, as time allows. Until next time…
He-Man and Masters of the Universe are owned by Mattel. Authentic Productions Entertainment and Shawn Skvarna do NOT own these properties, though Shawn Skvarna wishes he did. All rights reserved. Shawn Skvarna is the cover artist for the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, and the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1- all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.
I’ve always been interested in comics and comic characters. Like any little boy who grew up in the 80’s I used to run around with towels tied around my neck and pretend to be Superman or Batman. I watched the Chris Reeve Superman movies; I begged my parents to take me to see Burton’s Batman. My room was covered with posters. I had all the toys and would act out my own stories with them. I waited with baited anticipation every time a new episode of Batman: The Animated Series would come on. I loved the idea of superheroes.
I never got the chance to really read many comics, because it was a habit that was just too expensive. I’d occasionally be able to read piles of my friend’s comics whenever I went over to their house, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I got the chance to really start a collection of my own. When I worked for a bookstore as a summer job I was able to pick up with my store discount Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and the incredibly awesome Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Like everyone else, I loved the Killing Joke, but it was Kingdom Come that really had an impact on me. I was a pastoral ministry major at the time, with the intent on going into the ministry after I graduated (which I did). The way that Waid and Ross weaved the book of Revelation from the Bible into the story about DC’s biggest heroes mesmerized me. I didn’t even know who half the characters were, and I had to constantly refer to the beautiful double spread character pages in the back of the book to know who was who, but that didn’t matter- I was in love.
A year later me and my two best friends were living together and running a summer camp for a local church in Chattanooga, a church I’d later go on to work for full time as a licensed minister. Matt was a huge comics nerd and had brought a large part of his comics collection with him from Memphis, so every night after work I’d spend a majority of my time (when I wasn’t playing Knights of the Old Republic) reading comics. Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, I devoured them all. At the end of the summer I spent nearly my entire paycheck on starting my own collection. Three years later and my library of trade paperbacks rivaled Matt’s.
Comics have been a passion of mine ever since, and it’s been a dream of both myself and Shawn to create comics for a living. I have a huge amount of respect for many of the creators working today, but I, like many fans, have grown increasingly concerned with the direction that both of the “Big Two” have been going the past few years. While the movie side of things, especially for Marvel, has become brilliant, the comics side feels more like it’s about short-termed planning rather than ensuring a legacy of quality for the long-term. I understand completely that it is a business. As an indie writer I know all too well how difficult it is to market and sell your creations.
I didn’t have a problem with the New 52 sorta-reboot of the DC universe. I was actually excited because I felt like it was something that has been needed for a long time. The problem is the relaunch, while financially successful, has felt incredibly “short sighted”. It’s become obvious over the past year that the reboot wasn’t completely thought through as much as it should have been. A reboot meant to correct continuity problems and start fresh caused more problems than it solved in many areas, mostly because DC failed to fully commit. The bat-family’s history is “mostly intact” but is instead crammed into 5 years, where some things have happened, some haven’t, and some just wasn’t thought through and has changed several times over the course of the last year *cough*Tim Drake*cough*. The same could be said for Green Lantern, though the problems there have been less substantial given that much of the GL universe has been pretty self contained away from Earth. Still, it leaves the long-time reader feeling as though the whole thing was more a short-term money grab than the long-term quality enhancer it was originally sold as. That’s not to say that good things haven’t come out of the reboot: Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run has been nothing short of amazing. Wonder Woman got a much needed shot in the arm. Animal Man and Swamp Thing were both surprisingly engaging, and they actually made Aquaman a legit hero again rather than a joke. But overall, the line-wide quality, constant shuffling of creative teams, inconsistent storytelling, continuity confusion, and creators very publicly breaking down have all tarnished the initiative.
On Marvel’s side they’re entering their own not-reboot, and many of the decisions thus far have left fans wondering if that same short-sighted decision making is in effect there as well. In my personal opinion the 616 Marvel universe as a whole has been in trouble for a couple of years now (with the exception of a few select titles like Waid’s run on Daredevil and Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man). Marvel’s done one “Event” after another to the point where in some cases they’re already promoting the next “big event” while the current one is still going on. Readers often haven’t had a chance to see the consequences of the larger story in the stand-alone titles before another “big thing” happens which often renders the previous stuff moot. Then the Avengers scored HUGE at the box office, and now we have 40 Avengers titles in the lineup of the new Now! initiative. Tell me, what’s so special about being an Avenger when EVERYONE is an Avenger? Do we need the same 3 characters in 15 different books? I’m exaggerating here, obviously, but it still feels like decisions are being made that are more about selling comics than about quality storytelling. Again, I understand it’s a business, but it doesn’t make sense to me to cater to supposed “new” fans that might pick up an issue or two because they like the movies only to alienate the long-time loyal readers that regularly buy multiple comics each week. Is there no real balance point there?
Then there’s digital comics. I’m a HUGE fan of digital. I love having direct, instant access to stuff. I’ve gone largely digital for both my comics and my novel collections. I still like having hard copy trades for my collection, but for singles digital is great for me. I’m very glad that the comics industry has finally embraced digital content in a big way. Where I have the problem is it is utterly ridiculous for us to have to pay full price for a digital copy of something that we, as a consumer, don’t even technically own. Again, I understand the reasoning behind it: they don’t want to scare retailers who are afraid that digital is going to put brick and mortar store out of business. I get it. Still, it’s incredibly unfair to the consumer at the prices we’re currently being charged. $4 for something that takes 5 minutes to read and we don’t even have a physical copy that we can claim ownership of? Horsecrap. Both DC and Marvel would find that those new readers they’re so interested in finding and keeping might be much more apt to check stuff out if they didn’t have to sell their children to be able to afford it. Hell, especially if those new readers are kids. How many parents can afford dropping $20+ a week in comics? I know MANY fans that would gladly buy dozens of titles a month for a cheaper price in digital and then would still buy the trade for their collections. You’d get them twice. Dolla dolla billz ya’ll.
Casual fans, parents buying for their kids, or fans of the movies who are interested in checking out the books are much more apt to make purchases digitally, even on a whim, than they are to actually hunt down a brick and mortar comic shop. Even ignoring that, it’s still a pile of crap for publishers to charge consumers the same price for a digital object they don’t own as they do for a hard copy of the same product- and that’s for ANY publisher, be it comics or traditional novels. It’s the reason why Shawn and I agreed that our digital products would ALWAYS be cheaper than the physical copies. In fact, the digital copies of the two books we currently have for sale are the lowest price point we could charge for our system of distribution, and it’ll continue to be that way for everything we do, be it a novel or a comic. Period.
I love the comic industry. I want to see it flourish, especially now that the movies have made comics less a “kids thing” or a “nerd thing”. Now is the time where the comic’s industry could really shine as a medium, but it feels like the two biggest companies are squandering away the opportunity with short-sighted cash grabs, rather than focusing on telling quality, engaging stories that will keep the new readers they may gain wanting to come back. There’s a balance there between quality and need. I really hope that they can find it, especially now that more and more creators have been jumping ship mostly due to frustration with many of the things I’ve been talking about. Fans can be jackasses and whiny b*tches. We can be very fickle, and they’ll never be able to please everyone. In the end, however, most of that passion, no matter how misdirected or inappropriately expressed it may be, is only because they love these characters. I love these characters, and I love many of the creative teams that are working on them. I’d just like to see things be more about the quality, and less about the quantity. When the quality is there I truly believe the rest will take care of itself eventually. I think the movies are proving that now- like with the Nolan Batman films and Avengers. I just hope that the people in charge of both companies will realize that soon. /endrant