I had this idea a few years back.
It came on the heels of a marathon plotting session for my Crucible (then Ministry of Defense) property that featured a team of publicly elected heroes. Whenever ‘storming’ through a fresh concept, regardless if the thing ends up scripted in any form, I’m prone to throwing loose plot descriptions and relevant character bits into the notebook for two reasons. One, chances are that in a few weeks’ time I’ll be onto something else that’s enjoying pole position, and two, it’s a safeguard against biting my own style and recycling the same basic plot across three different concepts. Though the specific interaction of distinctive characters makes even an identical plot shift into unique directions, taking extra steps to ensure I’m not copying myself keeps me honest. Makes me think.
So I’m nearing the end of the first year, which chronologically isn’t a bad way to pace things, because re-interpreting one’s mission statement keeps your characters fluid, while permitting them to glide throughout their respective sub-plots to eventual conclusions. Otherwise you get people that don’t change because they don’t understand what they’re doing half the time and that’s too much like real life for my taste. Being able to manipulate the emotional responses of a fictional character, while maintaining a degree of reality that makes things visceral, is the magic bullet that a writer fires at your kneecaps. And every shot must be accounted for.
Over the course of year one, I laid groundwork that propelled a sequence of bullets at the main cast, only I never alerted them to the fact that they were being struck by them. By the final arc beginning on issue nine or thereabouts, our heroes (term used loosely as possible) find themselves up against one of those juicy adversaries that takes four issues to beat up…and it’s been there the whole time. One of those rogue artificial intelligence types that creep their way into modern science fiction and escapist fare with alarming frequency, and only allowed here because of an amplified scale. Something so eminently dangerous that the world’s governments agreed to concede the entire continent of Antarctica to the presence that comes to be known as the Dominion. It was either this or make the machine very angry. So the Dominion promised to leave us alone, and we’d leave them alone in their wonderland of sentient toasters and living toothbrushes. Since then, both sides have been preparing counter-measures in case the tenuous cease-fire was ever broken.
The Dominion gets there first, setting the stage for what was to become…the real-time comic.
This was to serve as a graphic narrative that used time as a weapon and storytelling device, amplifying the reader’s tension to an unbelievable height. A story that grabs you in that uncomfortable place, threatens to maintain the pressure for a specified period, and then refuses to release. An exercise in controlling the delicate instrument that is the Writer Mind to deliver a result that shouldn’t be possible.
Because it shouldn’t be possible.
The logistics of a “real-time” comic are numerous enough to fully discourage one from even attempting it, but I believed that with some careful scripting and an inventive plotline it could be done. The main hurdle is quite simply that every reader digests their information at differing speeds, with some being driven through their graphic literature with the script as their main guide, and others taking additional time to consider the intricacies of the panel work. Controlling and influencing this pre-established disposition was the initial Jedi mind trick that could make the whole thing work.
The story had to be so tense, so urgent, that the audience would be almost ignore the illustrations, so intent on reaching the conclusion of the book. Only after being completely floored by my heartbreakingly clever notion, could you take a second glance at the work, completely embarrassed that simple slight of hand caused you to miss all the pretty pictures.
And I was going to use weird science to do it.
Apparently, during one of the class periods that I didn’t completely lose to disinterest or my story notebook involved extensive study of the inner workings of the human brain, the world’s greatest information processor. The unconscious CPU we’re all carrying with the electrical activity that accompanies our thoughts. Surprisingly, the brain can survive roughly (and please don’t test this theory) four to six minutes without oxygen before incurring almost certain permanent damage. Using this little nugget of information as a starting part for extrapolation, the path became certain.
As part of a final assault, the Dominion, at the conclusion of the eleventh issue, would relay a signal worldwide that convinced the human body to stop breathing oxygen, causing the human race to unceremoniously stop whatever they were doing to gasp for air that the mind no longer believed was there. Is that possible? Probably not, but considering that I was dealing with a central intelligence unit that was the sole resident of an entire continent, I thought I could get away with it. Trapped like deer in the headlights, augmented with alien technology that spared them from suffocation, are The Crucible with six minutes to convince the world it was permissible to breathe.
For approximately six minutes, I wanted to strap you into a race against time with human survival growing more and more into question with each passing second. Probably would’ve proved interesting, if not a serious headache to write, drafting the script with a stop watch, and running it by several readers to ensure the time was being approximated correctly. The climax did include one of the coolest lines of dialogue that I’d ever written when the Cimmerian confronts the central intelligence unit of the Dominion in the prerequisite underground control center.
“That tickle in the back of your circuits, that stifled sneeze, that’s us lowering the temperature of your main components until they lose the ability to conduct electricity. We’re sliding a cold hand up your skirt…hold on to something.”
Unfortunate that I never got to use this line with ten seconds remaining on the clock and the world ending. Perhaps the “real-time” comic will materialize at some point during the future, otherwise…I’ll have to write a real-time column to prove to myself it might work.
Enjoy The New Hotness for this week, and maybe Rob Liefeld’s interview questions will show up in time for next week’s edition…
The Resistance #2 (Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray/Juan Santacruz)
Now this…this is more like it. Few weeks back, legend-in-the making J Hues and I performed a spirited dissection of this book’s inaugural issue and found glittering potential nearly overshadowed by a somewhat flawed execution and an over-abundance of cliché. That was last month. This month, Palmiotti and Gray hit their stylistic mark, as overly verbose dialogue and inconsistencies flake off like dead skin. The sensation that they are driving the story, and the story isn’t driving them is evident as they introduce a pair of fascinating characters, while clarifying the roles of their leads. And the cover’s gorgeous. And the interior art’s gorgeous. And the damn thing glitters as I knew it should. Join The Resistance.
Agent X #4 (Gail Simone/UDON)
Agent X is versatility personified. Since grasping the reins, writer Gail Simone has excelled at channeling the strengths of a variety of genres and depositing them into this book. There’s humor. With action. Dashed with espionage. Sprinkled with romance. Anchored by strong characters. And this month, every cylinder is firing, with the boys at UDON turning in an artistic performance that makes even the dinner scene visually interesting, complementing Gail’s tight script that forces the story to work for her, despite the differing flavors threatening to overwhelm the whole mix. That takes skill. Lucky for you Gail’s got it.
Ultimates #7 (Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch)
Best meets best. Pairing Mark Millar with Bryan Hitch and setting them loose within the Ultimate universe was literally the biggest no-brainer in comics. With industry spotlight and retailer confidence assured, you’d think maybe the duo would be content to rest on their laurels. Let the Ultimate tag move the units. Instead, the duo have violated the conventions on what makes a successful superhero title month after month. The costumed antics are kept to an absolute minimum, as licensing and public relations take precedent. The “heroes” are flawed and dysfunctional, possessed by self-interest and ego, probably hoping that nothing tries to crack the world in half because they might get hurt stopping it. And what else can you say about Hitch? Just call him ‘The Man’ and let things rest.
Is it on time? No. Is it worth the wait? Damn right.