Saturday, May 6, 2023

Convergence Event

I had a whole bunch of random superhero ideas at 5 in the morning, and then my subconscious worked on them as I slept for another hour or so, and then I got up and blogged about them after half a leftover donut and coffee... take this as you will:

I was thinking about the 2023 Annual I'm working on, and iconic versions of characters, and the messy real history of comics, and it lead down some strange rabbit trails. It reminded me of an interview with Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie where he said that fans of bands have favorite 'eras' of the band, and that artists have to keep evolving, even though fans pick a point in time that is their favorite. For many superheroes, we end up with the same dilemma, although it is often easier to see which version of a character is most 'iconic'. Spiderman works best as an insecure teenager who is a little ignorant of what's happening around him, is trying to manage all of this, and fails more often than he succeeds. However, after a while we get impatient with Peter - dude, you've learned this lesson ten times already. How many times do we have to tell you that with great power comes great responsibility? Grow UP already. But then he does, and we miss the iconic version of that character, and then we find a way to do a hard reset. The Spiderman movies just did that - they realized that we'd taken Peter through this solid character arc, but now there's nowhere to go - blip him back to being a lonely teenager with no friends. With MAGIC. Maybe they'll even find a way to bring in a new Aunt May, because he kind of needs her, too. Unfortunately (as I think they will soon discover, if they haven't already), you can only tell that story with that character. The reason it's the most iconic story is because it's the best one. Spiderman should have had a happy ending, and then we all accept that he's now a background character who pops into other character's movies from time to time, but he's no longer on the big character journey. He's now something of a 'fixed' character. Captain America and Iron Man (and to a point Black Widow, although hers was not as carefully crafted) had those arcs. We want back the iconic versions of those characters from when we first met them in Avengers 1 because we saw how much they changed, and we liked watching that so much we want to watch it again (at least I do), but the story's been told. Leave them retired. No good comes of bringing them back. It's easy for me to say, since I'm sitting here just caring about the best story and not figuring out how to make another billion dollars, so I get that these are cross purposes. There is money to be made, so at some point Robert Downey Jr. is going to play Iron Man again. That billion dollars isn't going to print itself, story be damned.

As I was working, I was thinking about which 'version' of a character for my own game to put in. Do I put in Monument II, or Monument III? Is this Mikah before he learns that he's the next Chronicle, or after? I realized that throughout the 1980s, as I was hardcore collecting these things (especially on the Marvel side), there were constant updates with changes. You had the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but within a year or two, they had to release updates, because Thor now had some new powers, and Galactus had a new herald, and the Hulk was no longer green and had lost of lot of his mojo. My world so far has layered in the messiness of the real business of comics into some of its narrative reality; maybe I should work this kind of stuff in as well. Rather than trying to minimize the messiness of it, lean into it.

This lead to another thing - I have some characters and setting material in Sentinels of Echo City that I like, but which I had projected as 'twenty years later' (or something) for Stalwart Age. In effect, Sentinels of Echo City was published first, and I decided to update those rules, but also back the world up a generation into the 1980s. I took a few characters and just re-used them, but I also intentionally backed some characters up into their younger forms... or just decided that they haven't been born yet. I wanted to use those characters, but it's kind of awkward since there are parallels that exist, and some that don't, and I wasn't sure how to fix that.

Then I realized that problem one and problem two sort of go together. What if Sentinel Press had published comics for a bit and then folded, and New Stalwart Press purchased the rights to those characters? And what if this took place in 1986? And what if Byron John was asked to write a 12-part storyline that would bring many of the old Sentinel Press characters into the world of Doc Stalwart? And what if Byron John had met at a convention with Romita Johns Jr. (the son of the artist who had created the Sentinel Press characters), and they had sat up at three in the morning plotting a story that would pull the two universes together... AND since Romita Johns Jr. was between contracts with two major companies, he'd spend the next six months drawing this, and they pitched the idea to New Stalwart Press, who was all in? So, in 1986, New Stalwart Press published the 12-part Convergence of Two Worlds limited series that saw Doc Stalwart undertake a mission to merge two worlds together, and bring several new characters into his world from another?

This solves my first problem. The core rules for the Stalwart Age are as of the publication of Doc Stalwart #250. I might create the first Annual to then add more characters to this 'fixed point' in history. The next annual might be set after the end of issue 260, the non-graphic, mini-novel of Doc's adventures that I published last year. Then, the third annual (1986) would cover things that happened in Doc's comics through the 260s (which would be the search for his daughter Skye), but also during the Convergence of Two Worlds series. My annuals would not be for our timeline, but for Doc's. 

It also creates a whole bunch of wonderful opportunities for cool storytelling stuff that is both messy and kind of neat. I've already got the mechanism to make this work - parallel worlds exist, and the only true 'commonality' is the presence of Twilight Archer and Vesper. Vesper's growth determines the fate of that world - so in one world (the Sentinels of Echo City one), she went bad, bad goddess Vesper, and is on the verge of throwing the entire universe into the Shadow Lands. She's already killed their Chronicle, but he managed to send a folder across the boundaries between worlds, and it ends up with Mikah. This folder contains the identities of heroes who are, for one reason or another, vital to the future, and Doc goes on a mission to save these characters. I'm thinking that Dominic Wallace (who I introduced as a background character in the Doc stories, but who I know 'grows up' to be become Lord Null) would meet his 'future' self, and the two would work together in some way. And Null the Vanquisher would throw down with Ro the Ravager in a cosmic steel cage match.  And I could introduce Synchronos the Time Lord, who I have had notes for for years but have not had a way to use yet (Spoiler Alert: He's the final Chronicle).

It also solves one more problem - I have two versions of Skye Stalwart I am working on. One is a supergirl character, and one is a non-powered version that gets sent 800 years into the future and to the other side of the universe. I like them both. I was going to 'Legion of Superheroes' her and have the version that jetted to the future, and then eventually came back and got superpowers and 'grew up' in Doc Stalwart's world, but then I realized that these could be two Skyes from two worlds. I'm thinking that there has to be some kind of rule that only one version of a person can exist at a time... Lord Null is going to solve this through manipulating the Null Zone so that two versions of himself exist, but there is always one in the Null Zone, and the other is here... but Doc could never let any version of his daughter die. He'd use all of his smarts to realize he could keep one here with him, but could send the other one far enough beyond time and space that she survives, but also that she is far enough 'outside' of this reality's story that she could no longer impact it, and therefore gets around the rules of two versions of a character existing simultaneously. Convergence event would set up the 'thing' that causes the events leading into the Skye Stalwart novel I'm writing set in the world of Shards of Tomorrow. And maybe Doc doesn't even know which version of his daughter stays here - is it the one from his world, or the one from the Convergence world? Maybe he doesn't want to know... because they are both his daughter, right? Not sure on this, but I like it.

I'm ALSO thinking that Convergence allows Doc to meet his father, the original Sky Stalwart from the comic strips, which brings this character into the fold as well. Because why not? It would be messy as all get out, but that's part of what I always loved about comics. They have always been very, very messy from a narrative perspective. Just when you solved one narrative thread, you had a play whack a mole with the ten new ones that started to come undone as a result.

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