More to be revealed soon…
More to be revealed soon…
I wasn’t the only one who dressed up for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, right? I was? Really. Huh. Well, maybe if you had a TARDIS outfit this cool, you might have dressed up, too.
While I loved the 50th Anniversary special (and the web prequel, and the docudrama about the show’s beginning, and the spoof with the old Doctors), enough has been written about it. I want to talk about something else, something that Mike Rugnetta talks about in this episode of The Idea Channel:
For those who don’t have time to watch Mike up there—though you should—he basically expounds on the idea that the Doctor is more a collection of signifiers than a character. Since he has been portrayed by 12 actors (soon to be 13, 15 if you count Peter Cushing and Richard E. Grant’s animated appearance) and countless writers and directors, the nature of the Doctor has gone through so many human minds that what there is not one Doctor character. Rather, there elements that when brought together around a character makes that character the Doctor. Signifiers. An eccentric man* comes out of a blue police box with a sense of adventure and compassion so big he needs two hearts, bringing along a human for the ride. That’s it. Everything else is set dressing.
Naturally, this makes me think of Batman.
Like Batman, the Doctor is infinitely elastic. You can put either of them in any story, whether it be about dealing with the loss of someone’s father or an epic battle through time and space. Like the Doctor, Batman has been reduced (or, perhaps elevated) to a series of signifiers. You need a person** in a mask with pointy ears, a cape, a utility belt***, and a distaste for guns. The rest of it, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, the Batmobile, Alfred, even the secret identity, is not necessary for a story to be a Batman story. For a Batman story to work, the amount of specific details necessary is staggeringly small.
The similarities between the two characters’ body of work makes it easy, then to see why both characters are so elastic. Like the Doctor, the complete canon of Batman is extensive and often contradictory. While it is possible to conceive of someone who has watched every DOCTOR WHO ever made, perhaps catching all of the lost episodes when they were children, just as it is possible to imagine of a die-hard Batman fan having read every Batman comic, most of us haven’t. Beyond that, such a devotion to canon is not only not necessary, its not even recommended. While both the Doctor and Batman have a beginning, where the signifiers we have come to think of as characters got their start, experiencing them will not deepen your understanding of the character. It’s just another incarnation, equal to importance to any of the others.
These early stories were seen as literally disposable, so it is no wonder they are not held up as something to revere and draw from.
This lack of an all-important source document, an urtext, is the cornerstone of a character’s elasticity. With nothing to refer back to, to evoke and homage, there is incredible freedom to allow the character to wander in any situation possible. Similarly long-lived characters—James Bond, Spider-Man, Sherlock Holmes—cannot be as elastic as the Doctor & Batman, because of the fidelity to the source material. Superman is the same boat; one just has look at the recent MAN OF STEEL movie which had to have the Daily Planet staff involved even though Clark Kent hadn’t started working there yet. Fidelity to the urtext is important. But without it, you can do anything.
Which brings me to perhaps the most successful character to lack an urtext in all of English literature: King Arthur. As I have said before, the beginning of Arthur has been lost long ago. And even if it wasn’t, we have a rich tradition of stories that have little to do with the urtext at all. These stories were fashioned for the times they were written, with little concern for what came before. As such, King Arthur is character that can be picked up and placed in any story, from a classic adventure to an existential horror to a tale about teenagers flirting online.
It is even possible to create a character as elastic as the Doctor and Batman without making an disposable urtext? Bram Stoker managed to do it DRACULA. An epistolary novel, Stoker reveals his title character through the lens of others, each person having a different opinion of the King of All Vampires. Indeed, with the variety of Draculas presented, the only signifier that remains is that Dracula is a powerful vampire, the King of the Undead. His power is all the links the many representations. By creating a urtext with a kaleidoscopic view of the main character, Stoker created a character that exists not as a person, but as a collection of signifiers. Even within its own urtext.
The Dracula mythos is noteworthy for having given birth to another elastic character, Blade. Blade a cool black person**** who fights monsters. He appeared as a supporting character in the comic TOMB OF DRACULA, and as such, has no urtext to call his own. But he clearly doesn’t need one. Blade can fight vampires in the streets of Detroit or bug-eyed aliens on the moon. Like the other examples in this essay, Blade needs so little to support himself as a character, that any setting will do.
Not all characters need to be elastic to be great—most great characters aren’t. And a disposable urtext is not necessarily the mark of a character that will live on through the ages. But if a character has strong enough signifiers, that lack of a defined time and place to ground the character gives him the freedom to walk in all times and all places, and to be many things to many people. Dracula and Blade continue to be reinvented and remain same as they always have. King Arthur lives in the hearts of men as clearly as on the page. We all have our own Batman.
And your favorite Doctor will always be the one who comes out of that blue box, with a sense of adventure and compassion so big he needs two hearts, bringing along a surrogate you throughout time and space.
*I don’t think the Doctor being male is a necessary signifier, but some people do.
**Batman has distaff versions of himself, four different Batgirls (so far) and two Batwomen. These just prove how elastic the concept is.
***Like the TARDIS, the utility belt doesn’t have to be used in the story, but it has to be there
****Unlike the Doctor or Batman, Blade’s skin color is an important signifier. But, like the Doctor and Batman, I don’t think a female Blade would violate the core of the character (though I imagine some people would disagree with me on both points).
Welcome. We have sriracha here. I hope you enjoy your stay.
- Awhile back, I wrote a story about queer intimacy and gender identity called Hold Me Like A Girl, which I read on Nobilis Erotica. I’ve always loved that story, but I haven’t given it much thought until yesterday. Yesterday, I received an letter from someone who that story touched very deeply at a time when they needed it. Now, five years later, she has achieved her dream of being held like girl like she always wanted to be.
Which is why Hold Me Like A Girl like is now my favorite thing that I have ever written, ever.
- I’ve written a graphic novel, THE BATTLE OF BLOOD AND INK, and it is drawn by the inestimable Steve Walker. It’s been published by Tor, and you can buy it now, if you like. I understand the need to try before you buy, and thankfully, Tor has put up the first 2o pages free online. Steve and I have also done some mini-comics. The graphic novel is like them, only more pages. Feel free to snag a copy.
-The world of THE BATTLE OF BLOOD AND INK is futher explored in the the 2 prequel podcast novellas over at FABLES OF THE FLYING CITY, ASHE OF THE AIR and MOUTHS OF THE DEAD. You don’t need to listen to the podcast to understand the graphic novel, but it does provide some background as to why the main character, Ashe is the woman she is.
-Fans of Captain Chubbs, my 3-foot-tall space-bear puppet, will be pleased to know that he is the lead in A Fist Full of Urseminites, a story I wrote for HAVE BLASTER WILL TRAVEL, Galileo Games‘s BULDOGS! fiction anthology, which is available in ebook and paperback. Here’s a preview.
- I’ve got a fantastic story titled The Trouble With Phoenixes, in the steampunk anthology Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurences. Tee & Pip, authors of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, had put a character named after me in their delightful world, so when the offer came to contribute a slice of fiction, I couldn’t resist taking their irascible inventor Agent Axelrod. It’s a screwball comedy of a story, involving a horrendous date, bare-knuckle boxing, and a top hat filled with rocket fuel. You should read it
- I started a webcomic about an advice-giving supervillian, ASK COMRADE COCKROACH who offered his thoughts on the inevitable darkness of the future and the murderous appeal of Gordon Ramsay. I wrote a short story about Comrade Cockroach, sand had a wildly successful Kickstarter for an ebook, an audio version, a second short story and a bunch of narrative comics, including Comrade Cockroach’s secret origin and details about his relationship with J.R. Blackwell’s popular supervillian character, Dr. Mercury. If you backed the Kickstarter, you should already have the ebook, and you’ll get the rest in the coming weeks. If you didn’t, you’re gonna have to wait until next October. Should’ve backed, is all I’m saying.
Born Of An Atom Bomb is my Tumblr/dumping ground for internet references for various projects.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Con Harassment
I Am Queer And I Am Married
I’m Not Going To Wear The Tight Gold Dress
Bucking Traditional Business Models
Your Guide To The Nefariverse
Five Questions For Every Lead Character
How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Folk-Literature
Nothing Can Stop You
Have We Lived And Fought In Vain?
Rayguns In The Time Of Slavery
Your Batman Does Not Invalidate My Batman
Appropriate Questions To Ask Oneself While Writing
Further Evidence of My Credentials
The Superhero Films of Raja Loreddex
If I Knew Then What I Know Now…
Rayguns In The Time Of Cholera
The 10 Rules of Quality Superhero Fiction
The life of every Venusian Cowgirl is circular. Moxie was told this repeatedly when she signed up. To drive the point home, a silk-screened sampler saying as much was set on the opposite wall of the entrance portal to her new apartment. Moxie put down the boxes of clothes she was carrying, hooked her thumbs into the loops of her jeans, and stared at the imitation cross-stitch. It entranced her so much that she didn’t even notice her brother coming in until he started yelling.
“Goddamn! It is hot out there!” Apple said. He set down the bureau he was carrying and collapsed next to it all in one liquid motion. Moxie brought him a globe of water, closing the door with a swing of her hip as she walked past. Apple pulled the metal ring from the bottom of the globe, then put it to his forehead. The globe’s chemical reaction cooled the water it contained and Apple’s face simultaneously. “You’re sure I can’t change your mind?”
Moxie scooted down on the floor next to him. “Don’t tell me you only offered to help me move to Venus so you could talk me out of it. You’re thick, but you’re not that thick.” She pulled the ring on her own globe, drinking the content before it had adequately chilled.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“I can, too.”
“So this is what you want, huh?” Apple motioned around the apartment with his half-empty water globe. “A tiny apartment in a ranch complex, taking care of mutant cattle.”
“They’re not mutants, they’re genetically engineered. Six legs are better for the terrain here.”
“Any cow with six legs is a mutant, I don’t care what you say.”
“What about the pigs?”
“I have never been against science that give us more bacon.” Apple stood up and ambled to one of the apartment’s round windows. “This is what you want. It’s very…”
He turned to face her. “Yellow. Very yellow. And hot. And..it’s just so damn far away, Moxie! I mean, you wanna be a cowgirl in a hot place, fine. You can go to Buenos Aries, or Madrid or some place else close. Not here. Why do you have to move here?”
“It has to be here, Apple.” Moxie leaned against the circular doorway, regarding her brother from across the room. She absentmindedly rubbed her water globe against her vest, leaving dark tracks on the light tan suede. “I can’t be on Earth anymore than I can be a teacher.”
“Why can’t you be a teacher anymore? You were good! Those kids on Earth still need you.”
“No, Apple, they don’t.” She walked over to him, and turned him back toward the window. “Did you see this control panel? You can adjust how much heat and light comes in through the window. Check this out. This only half up, but feel that sun!”
“Moxieâ€¦,” Apple began, but she wouldn’t let him.
“Do you remember Kandie? Smallish girl? Always had ridiculous hair? I know I’ve talked about her.” Moxie wasn’t looking at her brother, but at the vast expanse of Venus that lay outside the window. “I had the whole class draw pictures of their families. She showed me hers, and pointed out her mother. Her mother’s face was all red. I asked her why, and you know what she said? Because her mother was shot in the face. That’s why. It’s getting worse. Every day more of Earth becomes more of a battlefield, and you can’t escape it. Not anywhere on the planet.”
“So you come here?” Apple reached out to Moxie’s shoulder, surprised at the intense warmth the suede kept.
“Where’s there’s not a soul but us Venusian Cowgirls.” Moxie turned to him, and gave a weak smile. “I can do things here, Apple. If a cow gets sick, I can fix it. I can save it. I can’t do any of that on Earth. This is what I want. This is what I need, to get my strength back.”
“And then you’ll come back.”
“And then I’ll come back.” Moxie didn’t want to say it, but she knew it was true. “You know what they say about the life of a Venusian Cowgirl.”
Uchenna watched his eight-year-old daughter Nat charge into the surf. She let out a piercing cry that was one part scream and three parts laugh as soon as the water hit her bare skin.
“It’s so cold!” she said, adjusting her bright red and yellow goggles. Nat grabbed her arms and gave herself and exaggerated shake. “Brrrr!”
“She shouldn’t be out in that,” Corrina said, and drew her shawl closer around her neck. “It isn’t good for her.”
“You lathered that gunk on her–what is that, SPF four-zillion? She’s got her goggles on, she’s fine.” Uchenna shifted on their shared towel. “She’s fine. It’s the beach.”
“She shouldn’t be in the water.”
“We haven’t been to the beach in years, Cor. Let the girl play.”
“Don’t you even! Just don’t. I am not the bad guy here. I’m surprised you’re not worried about our daughter’s safety.” Corrina turned her head suddenly, surprising Uchenna. The scars that edged her eye-sockets stood in sharp contrast from her white skin.
“Nat’s fine,” Uchenna said. He scratched at the tattoo of a gleaming rocket ship on his bicep and turned away from his wife. “She’s got her goggles on. The water’s only bad for your eyes.” Corrina scrunched her face up, but said nothing.
“You used to liked the beach, Cor. We got married here.”
Corrina exhaled. “It was different then.”
“Not so different. Wasn’t that long ago. Remember? There was that bagpiper…”
“We did not have a piper. We had a violinist, and my sister sang.”
“No, no. There was a piper on the beach. He was just walking along the edge.”
“That was a different beach.” Corrina pulled her giant-brimmed hat closer to her ears. “I worry about Nat. She shouldn’t be in the waves like that.”
“I’ll go down their with her. We’ll walk down the surf,” Unchenna said, in response to Corrina’s expression that might have been called a glare, once.
“Be sure to take your goggles,” she said, handing him his green and black pair. Even without eyes, Corrina knew exactly where Uchenna’s hands were. “Just in case you have to go in, or something.”
Uchenna felt a bit like alien, detachedly staring at the other denizens of the beach through his goggles’ tinted lenses. But he couldn’t help it. He watched his daughter dodging the incoming surf. There was a small boy intently digging a hole for not other reason to dig a hole. There were a handful of people bundled up, like Corrina, afraid of the sun and the water. Teenagers, afraid of only each other, nervously beginning a dance that would go on for the rest of their lives. And there were the hardcore swimmers, easily identified by their chalk-white ocean-damaged skin and hair. Some of them had scars like Corrin;, red lines like tears from when their eyes, turned liquid by the water, a seared their way down their cheeks. But still they charged the surf.
Uchenna was surprised to see a wedding party further down the beach, and ran with Nat to catch up to it. The bride and groom were wearing matching neoprene wetsuits, and as they kissed a reggae band struck up and he infectious rhythm wafted along the sands.
Uchenna watched as his daughter danced to someone else’s love song, backed by horizon split evenly between a sky that would burn her flesh and a sea that would melt the rest away. He watched her splash and laugh.
And then he joined in. Because he didn’t know when they’d be back.
Thought I’d put all of last year’s Comrade Cockroach Halloween story, Two Corpses in one post, for easy reading.
Two Corpses is based on a Russian folk tale of the same name, which involves the dead rising and threatening to devour the living and all the stuff that makes these grizzly old ghost stories worth re-telling. Don’t worry if you’ve heard it before; putting the Bad Comrade into such a tale alters it quite a bit.
Naturally, doing a comic where an brightly-colored hulk interacts with the monsters from folklore–not mention having “corpse” in the title–invokes Mike Mignola’s brilliant Hellboy, whether I like it or not. So I decided to whole-hog with it, turning the story into a Mignola homage, of a sorts. Which was way more fun than I was expecting
As a lover of giant-monster cinema, I adored PACIFIC RIM. So I am very, very pleased with how this year’s Halloween costume, Aleksis Kaidonovsky of Cherno Alpha came out:
Damn if I don’t look ready to slam some kaiju with a pneumatic fist. Here’s some progress shots, for the curious.
Carmina Claypool didn’t look much like a madam. She looked more like a fishmonger, which, Allie had to admit, was awfully appropriate. She was a powerfully large woman – soft and muscular simultaneously – and her clothing seemed to make her even larger. The gargantuan galoshes, the voluminous apron, the immense rubber gloves, all of these increased her already imposing stature. She seemed almost out of place in the lobby of the hotel, what with it’s gilded detail work and red velvet trim. Almost, but not quite.
“Haven’t seen your face around here before, have we?” Carmina bent at the waist to bring her eyes closer to Allie’s level. Though the gesture was meant to make her feel more comfortable, it only succeed in making Allie feel smaller.
“No…I…I haven’t been…it’s my first time here…”
Carmina smiled. “A virgin, then?” The word wasn’t said with any malice, but it stung just the same.
“No, I’ve…I’ve done it, I’ve had…you know.” Allie found herself unable to make eye contact.
“Not like this, you haven’t. Trust me, deary, this is like nothing you’ve ever had before, But then, you already knew that, didn’t ya? Otherwise you would have come. Well, step in the parlor and we’ll see if we can’t find a companion for you.” Carmina waddled off, leaving deep indentions in the rich red carpet.
Allie began to wonder if perhaps this was a mistake, if she should leave, right then and there. She’d only just walked in; she could go out again, quick as you please. It wasn’t like she’d paid yet. Her inexperience shamed her. Allie had read stories of this sort of thing, erotica. She was now suddenly aware of the difference between reading about something and actually doing it.
Allie looked down at the scuff-marks her sneakers had made in the carpet, the only evidence of her presence. She then turned toward the room Carimina had gone to. The parlor. She could see an edge of back tarp covering the red capet just inside the doorway.
She had to see the parlor. She knew she couldn’t leave until she did.
The parlor was decorated much the same way the lobby was, with old Victorian woodwork and velvet curtains. There was no place to sit in the parlor, for it was filled with aquariums of various sizes. The Plexiglas tanks lined the walls, larger ones on the floor, smaller ones on bookcase. Inside each one could clearly be seen an octopus, each one different in size and color from the one next to it. It was the most beautiful room Allie had ever seen.
“Do I get…any one of these?” Allie was slightly dazed, allowing her fingers to drift across the clear tanks walls.
“That depends on how much money you’re willing to spend.” Carmina motioned to collection of small aquariums in a converted china cabinet. “We usually recommend these for the first timers. Rosa there is particularly easy-going, very giving. Wanda looks a bit stand-offish, but she’ll warm up as soon as you touch her. They all do, the lot of softies. Wanda just puts up a front. Now Bernie, here…”
Allie cut her off. “What’s in here? She was kneeling beside a tank nearly as big as herself, it’s cloudy water swirling ominously.
“That? That’s Leroy. Oh, no honey, you don’t want him. He mainly services our male clientele. Which is a shame; Leroy’s got a beak like satin. But he’s a bit more than most girls are willing to take on.”
Allie wasn’t sure why, but she placed her hand in Leroy’s tank. She felt his movement, first gently across the back of her hand (“His head,” she thought as her pulse quickened), and then more brusquely against her palm. She gasped a little as one powerful tentacle lashed out and wrapped itself around her arm, it’s slick tip sticking up out of the water.
Allie was not prepared for this. It was a muscle that was entwined around her. No, it was many muscles, pulsing and flexing. A symphony of pressure working in harmony up and down her arm. She could feel the grip of each suction cup, the creeping clammy calm of the arm itself.
She let out a low moan, barely aware she was doing it.
“This one,” Allie said, gazing lovingly into the murky water.
“Are you quite certain, honey? Leroy is…” Carmina was unable to speak, stopped fast by Allie’s hard look.
“The one I will be using,” Allie said. She flexed her forearm slightly, but it was enough of a signal that Leroy let go.
“Far be it from me to dissuade a customer.” Carmina removed a small phone from her apron pocket. “Juliet? Can I get an extra tarp in Room 14?” She smiled at Allie “I have a feeling the two of you are going to be a little messy.”
As a big fan of the movie Pacific Rim, I was overjoyed when my talented wife suggested we dress as Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky, the Cherno Alpha pilots. This would be a simple costume, I thought. Why, it’s mainly a coat. How detailed can a coat be?
Clearly, I forgot these were coats in a Guillermo del Toro film.
The coats themselves are olive wool and three-quarter-length. The have oversized brown fur collars with grey mottling. They’ve got oversized lapels with a slightly more brown wool lining, and cuffs with buttoned straps. The buttons themselves seem to be a collection of ornate brass and dark brown plastic. The have trench belts, though they are not trenchcoat length, and two large pockets below the waist. Each epaulet has a brass star near the seam.
Aleckis and Sasha both have red patched sewn underneath their left lapel. There is no clear shot of these patches in the film, but I imagine this patch from TooSmallMargin is pretty close (I’m also adding their skull logo patch, because it looks cool.)
The backs have two different patterns. Sasha’s coat is a two headed eagle, while Aleksis’s is a skull and cross. Both are made out of thousands of gold safety pins.
Seeing as how Robert Maillet, the actor who plays Aleksis, is a good foot taller than I am, there’s little point in screen accuracy. Instead, JR and I are going for emotional accuracy, nailing the the details we like and eschewing the ones we don’t. We are not, for example, trying to recreate that amazing saftey-pin art. But I am going to give Aleksis a proper medal instead of a slightly modified sheriff star.
Check out this amazing Comrade Cockroach piece by Ramon Villalobos. Ramon often puts a pro-wrestler spin on his superhero drawings, and did the same to Lenin, here.
I think it looks fantastic. Ramon really captured the character!