Have I told the one about Kid Sentry?

Around the beginning of the year, I started working up a few new pitches, as I’m apt to do every few months, and this week I’m going to display one of the results. Been a long while since Ambi. has been used for this, but as the column moves forward, the level of contact will likely see a noticeable increase. Features like In The Lab are meant to shed additional spotlight onto the overall creative process, and everything around and within it that holds influence, and this is a natural extension of that. Mastering the art of pitching is something I’ve been after for a long while, and though it’s safe to say, that the last thing I turned in (Post-Con Marvel Pitch 3) was significantly better than the one that preceded it, it’s only because I spent so much time pulling this particular one apart, before hitting up the summer batch. The point was to turn a sharp corner, and make this the last time I’d ever propose anything in the way I did here. It’s not the worst pitch I’ve ever done, but Kid Sentry just doesn’t work well enough, for a couple reasons, some of which are completely my fault, some not, but hopefully all highlighted in the little “commentary” section that follows the actual pitch.

Now, this is exactly what I sent in to my editor, back around March, after spending a good month putting the notes in order. My technique has undergone quite a bit of “evolution” since then, but we’ll touch on that later on. Right this minute, straight from the folder on my desktop labeled Secret Files, comes Kid Sentry, the forgotten story of the world’s greatest sidekick…

“Why doesn’t anyone remember,” a voice moans into the darkness, the question echoing throughout the large chamber, and becoming a deafening whimper. A response is offered, filtered through a strange alien tongue, speaking something very much like English. It says the same thing it always has, this same question often posed several times a day, for more than twenty years, “Your Earth is safe, so long as no one remembers.” As usual, the answer seems to calm the tortured soul, whose attention is soon shifted to other concerns. “What…what’s wrong with my eyes,” the voice quivers.

Something clicks in the back of an alien throat before the words come free, “I apologize young man…your eyes will not grow back for another four hours.”

5 issue mini-series

This proposed story uses the established mechanics of The Sentry’s original introduction to the Marvel Universe, and contributes a brand new character to the grand myth. It operates on the premise that if the entirety of the MU was once forced to forget even the very existence of The Sentry, what if there is something else out there that no one is capable of remembering? A secret so dangerous, that if revealed, could threaten all sentient life in the known galaxy? Despite the scale and spectacle, the emotional core of this tale rests within the heart of a teenage boy named Jeffery Tower, who was once the hero called Kid Sentry, and paid a terrible price to keep us all safe. And with all the boy has sacrificed, his life, his family, his home, we’re not even allowed to recall the boy’s name…

It begins, as these situations often do, completely by accident. While battling the newly renewed hordes of Hydra, the New Avengers inadvertently destroy a device, something that has been buried deep underground for over two decades, and slowly, almost in waves, the people of New York begin to remember. Finding it almost impossible to verbalize, they begin to see images of a boy with a blinding “S” on his chest all over the city. In reflective surfaces, they see his sad face, an obvious weight hanging over it that shouldn’t be there, the ghost of Kid Sentry haunting the people he once saved from annihilation. As day turns into night, the visions continue, and eventually reach The Sentry himself, in the home of the Avengers. Looking out a large window onto the city, he sees the boy, and a tear runs down his cheek, the memories suddenly drowning him. He crashes through the window, and is in space before we can even blink. If we were capable of hearing sound in the vacuum of deep space, we’d hear him say, “I’m coming son. I remember everything.”

As The Sentry speeds through space toward an unknown location, we flashback and fill in some relevant spaces, detailing the specifics of the final mission that the Sentry duo undertook, and naturally, it was a huge one. A massive sprawling, alien invasion, as if Galactus, Warworld, and the Skrulls were combined in frightening unison, is staged in NY, and The Sentry and his young partner lead the charge against them. When brute strength can’t win the day, an agreement is broached between the leader of the invasion force and The Sentry, one that sees the hero agreeing to become a “guest” of the aliens. They’ve never encountered a being like The Sentry is all their millennia of conquest and see a larger possibility, that mining the hero for genetic material, and turning him into a living weapon would better serve them than the subjugation of Earth. But no species has ever encountered their majesty and lived to tell the tale. No one can be permitted to remember their presence there. One problem though, seconds before The Sentry surrenders himself, his young partner knocks him on his back and takes his place among the invaders, saying that, “You’re too important to them. Tell my mother I’m sorry.”

The flashback ends as The Sentry rockets toward a massive cruiser, smashing through its hull and retrieving his young partner, and kicking in a couple of alien heads before he’s through. The rescue scene chronologically occurs seconds after the one that launched the series, so Jeff is still blinded, but he instantly recognizes his mentor’s voice. “You remembered,” he says before passing out.

When the third issue opens, young Tower awakens in a facility, hooked to futuristic medical equipment. The Sentry is there and time is spent catching up, the hero’s guilt coming off the pages as he realizes just what Jeff was forced to endure in his place. The Sentry eventually reveals that the boy has been comatose for a couple weeks, and in that time, Marvel’s heroes and the city of New York are fortifying themselves for an impending attack. The aliens will be returning, and they want Kid Sentry. Naturally, his partner wants him out of it, and reveals that when he departs, the entire building will be sealed within an impenetrable force field that should keep him safe. Jeff protests of course, but The Sentry ultimately leaves him to join the coming battle. After a while, watching the explosions from a distance becomes unbearable for the young hero, so he breaks free in a daring display and speeds onto the scene, catching The Sentry, as an enemy flings him down the street. Setting him down among the New Avengers, Spidey asks, “Who’s that?” As Jeff vectors toward the largest battle cruiser he can find, The Sentry answers back, smiling, “I’m surprised you don’t recognize him…that’s Kid Sentry.”

For the next issue and a half, the enemy is engaged, and we witness just what the combined efforts of The Sentry and his junior partner can accomplish, and realize that the Kid’s heroism is something to behold, and that it’s hopelessly tragic that the memory of him was once purged from the world he helped save. He delivers the final blow and warns the invaders to never again return to his planet.

The aftermath allows the story space to decompress, as the New Avengers rebuild things and Kid Sentry silently patrols the city, taking stock of all the changes the world has undergone. Physically, he’s still the same 14-year-old boy, but emotionally he realizes just what he’s lost, and this is the first time when the adrenaline comes down enough for it to truly hit him. The story closes with him hovering over the city, emitting a tortured roar that echoes throughout the streets, and is heard by a city of people that owe their lives then and now to his sacrifice, and the terrible cost he paid…

Hindsight Bias-

We’ll start this public autopsy with what is probably a fairly obvious conclusion…I’m very detail oriented, and that often comes through in the writing. It’s not really what I’m writing, but more how I’m writing it, because even if my scripts go on for a couple pages with simple two line panel descriptions, it’s not gonna be too long before I hit that shot, requiring that more thorough two paragraph rundown. When I get really excited or focused on something, I tend to write more, and this is the only explanation I have for shattering the one-page mark, and barely keeping the thing at two. And even that was pretty hard to manage. Seriously, I used every single line I could, without the paragraphs smashing into each other.

It’s unfortunate, because for me, the details make it worth doing in the first place. The money shots, the strands of dialogue, and the raw imagery propels me through it, cause that’s where the heart is, those spots where you know that either through the words or the pictures, or maybe even both, you’re going to affect people the most. Give ’em that burst of adrenaline, show off some of that flash and flair, to ensure they return to your work, cause they know you’re serious about delivering that real. That’s what I personally respond to, so that’s how I try to sell a series to anybody, on the strength of its wonderful details.

The flipside is that with all of the intricate walkthroughs, it’s easier for the actual story to get overshadowed, the narrative tissue that connects point A to point B. You can become so concerned with the beat-by-beat description of an opening sequence, that it eats away a lot of space, from other, possibly more important, bits. Think that’s one of the major problems here, lot of coverage devoted to individual moments, at the expense of the overall themes that hold the thing together. What is here can roughly be translated to “Kid Sentry returns to the Marvel Universe,” and while yes, that’s the main thrust, there are more visceral emotional elements I should’ve made sure to amplify, probably in place of the flashback details. So mechanically, there’s a couple problems, the pitch is too long, keys in on the wrong things, and though it was kinda fun to do some prose there at the beginning (which is how I started, back in grade school) I’d probably cut it altogether, and get right to business. Looks like wasted lines there, that could’ve been used in a different way, without sacrificing effectiveness.

Another major issue, though it’s completely external, is the latest New Avengers arc. Pretty sure that had been announced when I started, but the follow-up Sentry mini wasn’t, and some of the developments in the arc make a few story elements in the pitch a bit redundant. I was already hesitant in using the old “we were all made to forget his existence” thread, but considering the very specific way in which The Sentry was made to forget his place within the MU, revealing that he has a lost partner out there, who someone else had caused him to forget, is a bit of plot twist overkill. But that’s a real small thing in the grand scheme, because there’s no way to predict or control stuff like that. For me, after this one didn’t get very far through editorial, I attacked the structure of my pitches, trying to create a smoother blend of narrative and big moments, while gettin’ it to fit on a single page.

There’s also a closer eye on the “selling” aspect of things, a little hype thrown in for good measure, why this needs to be published, who the audience is, what the mission statement is. End of the day, I used it to get better, like I try to do with everything, and without the Kid Sentry proposal, the pitches that came out of the summer sessions would be a hell of a lot weaker. And who knows, it might really clash with the recent Sentry stuff, but there might be a seam in here to make it work within a new status quo. Or I could just leave it in the file until I figure a good creator-owned application for it, which wouldn’t be the first time. There’s a lot of really cool material I’d planned within this frame, and good scenes remains good scenes, so I’ll likely find a greater practical use out of it. For now, I’m perfectly happy with it standing as a valuable learning tool.

Okay, here’s my book of the week. Familiar name to regular Ambi. readers, but it’s hardly my fault he continues to write good comics, just my job to point it out.

“You don’t get to question me. I have sold my sanity for the last ten years in defense of this country…I could turn your head into a pocket and the National Security Council would pay me a million dollars, because they know exactly what I’ve done to keep people like you safe at night.”

Jack Cross #2 (Warren Ellis/Gary Erskine)

Jack Cross is some kind of very compelling mixture of 24’s Jack Bauer, and Alias’ Sydney Bristow. The self-proclaimed “spook brat” continues to unravel the conspiracy within the halls of Homeland Security, willing to make the decisions that no one else can, in his search for the neurological derangement system, that’s fallen into terrorist hands. Told somebody the quality of this title would exponentially increase the longer it ran, and Ellis does effectively raises the stakes here, while deepening the characterization of his series lead. There’s also a great action piece in the center, which gives clear indication that Jack’s abilities extend far beyond his very unorthodox interrogation techniques. But Cross is a little more complicated than your typical action hero, as displayed in another outstanding scene where we see just what his name really means. It’s the contradictions that make this guy different from your usual Ellis protagonist, and even though I was only halfway through my stack when I read this one, I knew it would likely end up as my pick of the week, just from the vibe I got off it.

All things considered, it’s really nice being right…look for this one to get even better next month, and so on.

In The Lab-

Let me tell you about my calendar…

Forget when I started doing this exactly, probably going on two years now, but there’s this calendar that hangs on my wall. One of those huge desktop things with plenty of writing room for every single day of every month. Well, every night before I pass out, I jot whatever I wrote that day into the square, and if I’m on top of things, when it comes time to tear off the month, I’ll be able to feel pretty good about my recent progress. If I can’t do that, then next month I step it up, and take away one of my “off-days.” Usually I’m cool with taking four, maybe five days off, but sometimes things inevitably get in the way. Staying real close to that number is incredibly important though, because I need to be able to look back and know that I was working my ass off, despite everything. Especially when things aren’t turning my way, I have to account for all that time, because there’s a very strong compulsion to reconcile any sense of failure with the belief that not many other guys, at my level of development, are ever going to outwork me. They might have more books, more opportunities for whatever reason, but they still don’t take this as seriously, or look at the situation more urgently than I do. My pad and my pen are chasing you down, and eventually, we’re going to overtake you, and keep going.

But that’s what the whole calendar thing is about, and since we’re at the end of the month, I just did an accounting. Took a couple extra days off (for a total of 6) but overall not too bad. Slow week, but I still ended up writing four columns, starting No Outlet, turning in my third post-con Marvel pitch, worked on notes for two others, along with the impending crime novel proposal. Scripted out another sequence for Miranda Mercury, and “framed” another. Also, just started putting together notes for a DC pitch, which is interesting, cause they’re kinda like the “forbidden zone” to me recently, but more on that later. Overall, things aren’t too bad, but I haven’t sold a script in a couple months, so I’ll be continuing my push, in and throughout October, to get another assignment, something that’ll allow me to stretch out a little bit. We’ll see how it goes, and as always, I’ll keep you posted.

Background Noise-

Kanye West- Late Registration

Here’s something I love about my mother…one of the things anyway. Besides her very healthy appreciation for all things Buffy related, the love of Yoda, and a newfound relationship with LOST, this CD marks another thing we share an equal love for. Honestly, I tried to leave it alone, but after weeks of my praises, she finally got the time to give it a few spins, and she just MIGHT like the thing more than me. But we had a pretty long conversation about it mid-week, talking about its best bits, so it ended up back in the player. Swear that my goal now is to make We Major my personal theme song…

Firefly: The Complete Series

Ya’ll know what’s up. Serenity hit theatres on Friday, but this is where the movement truly began. Large parts of the week were devoted to re-watching all the episodes, commentaries and all, in mental preparation for the movie’s release, and again, I came away from everything with the utmost respect and admiration for Joss Whedon. There’s just something immensely charming and likeable about every single show he creates, his deep understanding of character dynamics forming the perfect blend of action, adventure humor, and heart. The material just connects, and like much of his fan base, I found it exciting that the short-lived series was gettin’ a chance to live on in another format. What I thought of the transition? Direct quote here, me and a couple co-workers leaving the movie, one of them a Firefly virgin, when I turn to him and say, “Man…that was pretty fuckin’ dope.”

Good job, Joss, hopefully we’ll get another one outta the deal…

All right ladies and gentlemen, my word count is going berserk, so I’m calling it a week. Hope you enjoyed the little peek behind the curtain, and maybe in another couple months, I’ll drop off one of the summer proposals, so you can see the very obvious differences. Go see Serenity if you’ve got even a moderate interest in sci-fi, cause I doubt it’ll disappoint, and even cats that didn’t catch it in its smaller form, seem to be feelin’ it.
Guess you just can’t stop the signal…

Take care. Peace.


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