Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I, Crimsonstreak: Why Superheroes?

I've always loved superheroes and comic books characters. Although I've read my fair share of comics, I am not a dedicated weekly reader. I mostly read collected trades and/or novelizations. For me, it's just an easier time commitment. Perhaps one day I'll have the time to follow multiple comics and read multiple issues a week. At this point, I don't have that time. I wish I did.

Now to the point of this post. Why superheroes? Why superhero prose?

Because they can be complex.

They can be real.

They can be flawed.

Superheroes reflect ideals. Your super-duper-good vigilante represents the American Dream (Superman). Your masked, shadow-stalking vigilante represents the gray areas of life (Batman). A guy like Captain America stands for liberty and freedom. Captain Marvel symbolizes the latent power of youth and good intentions.

Even the villains have their place. The Joker is an agent of chaos, Lex Luthor stands tall for big business, and Red Skull represents Nazis. Nazis are bad.

I, Crimsonstreak plays on these archetypes. Chris Fairborne is the son of heroes and takes it upon himself to live up to those ideals. He isn't always the most successful of the lot, but he's dedicated and sees the world in stark terms of black and white.

Superheroes give us something to aspire to. The real world is full of heroes, but sometimes it doesn't feel like it. In broad terms, superheroes clearly define themselves. The guy in the cape is there to save the day...and you know it because he's wearing a friggin' cape. If we were all so selfless, just imagine how much we could accomplish.

My book is full of heroes, although sometimes they don't play well together. The Heroic Legion, for example, tends to get caught up in bureaucratic nonsense. Still, there's a sense that people do try to do what's right and set an example for others to follow suit.

They're just like us...except, you know, they can fly and stuff. Ye Olde Spider-Man is probably the best example here. Poor Peter Parker can't do anything right, gets paid peanuts for taking pictures, and saves the day on the side. Sure, some multi-billionaires are hard to relate to (*cough* Bruce Wayne *cough*), but a great superhero story has a character in there who's relatable. Many have families to protect.

In I, Crimsonstreak, our main hero has plenty of problems, although I'm not sure they're all relatable (having a father who's taken over the world, for instance). Still, Crimsonstreak has to come to terms with a broken father/son relationship, reunite with an old flame, mentor a young hero, and deal with the absence of his mother. These are all very human issues, and things people can relate to.

From a storytelling perspective, they're flexible. This is a wide-open genre full of diverse opportunities. You can go supernatural (Ghost Rider), humorous and nigh-invulnerable (The Tick), dark and brooding (I'm not even going to mention his name), intergalactic (Silver Surfer), high-tech (Iron Man), vampiric (Blade), paramilitary (The Punisher), godlike (Thor), and much, much more.

My novel is pretty straightforward in being a tights and flights, capes and cowls type of story. I do dabble in some science fiction and fantasy elements, but you won't encounter things like "paramilitary" or "vampiric." That said, we do have some godlike characters, tech guys, and that sort of thing.

There's lot of "in between." Not every hero dons red, white, and blue. Sometimes they don't wear the white hat...sometimes the hat is gray. Maybe the "hero" kills people. Maybe he/she has to make an impossible choice to prevent some terrible catastrophe. Maybe they have to choose the lesser of two evils. Maybe they have to make a deal with the bad guy. Maybe they are the bad guy.

In I, Crimsonstreak, it's hard to know what to make of Crimsonstreak's father, Colonel Chaos. He started out as evil, became a hero, and then took over the world. Crimsonstreak comes to realize that not everything is as black and white as he originally thought, something our good Mortimer P. Willoughby points out in the novel.

We can paint in broad strokes. Superheroes certainly have their own shorthand. We know who the guy with the huge biceps and chin that doubles as a nutcracker is supposed to be. We understand the multi-trillionaire with the cowl has all the gadgets. The genre definitely has its tropes...and those easily-accessible ones help set up a world...and then allow authors to flip it upside down.

Yeah, I took advantage of this one. Many of the supporting heroes and villains are very easily explained simply by their names (Crossworld, Exponential the Amazing Multiplying Man, Zeus Caesar, Mimicry).

Grandeur and wonder already included. People can fly, run faster than sound, move things with their minds, and walk through walls. These are not normal abilities (except in comics, of course). Sure, these things can become mundane, but writers who step back and awe at these superhuman acts can share the experience with their readers.

In I, Crimsonstreak, superpowers are widely accepted. Yet there's a point in the book where Crimsonstreak flies with another hero...and it leaves him awed. Despite his ability to run faster than fast (and even faster), the thrill of flight manages to capture his imagination.

You want stakes? I got your stakes right here, and the villain just raised 'em. Every story needs high stakes, something big on the line. The stakes don't get any "higher" than superhero stories. I mean, come on, the world's going to blow up. An alien invasion is imminent. A mad scientist plans to unleash a super ray turning everyone into Christopher Walken ( sounds like the perfect world...but when everyone is Walken, there is no Walken).

In the book, the world, as is usually the case, is at risk. Freedom, justice, personal liberty...also on the line. Crimsonstreak's very reality is threatened, along with the lives of his family and friends. Stakes don't get any higher than that.

What do you think? What draws you to the genre? What pushes you away? Is this just "kid stuff?"