Friday Fun Facts

Today begins a two and-a-half day writing weekend — the “and-a-half” is because I’ll spend part of the weekend consuming meat and beer at a friend’s Fourth of July cookout — and it’ll be the last weekend I have for a while, because I’ll be working ConnectiCon next weekend with my wife. So, three fewer writing days, but I get to spend them cosplayer watching instead. Fair trade-off.

As I warm up for today’s writing, I thought I’d share some random nibbly-bits about Action Figures — little insights into my thought process, backstory material, scenes that’ll never make it into the series, stuff like that.

* The Buzzkill Joy character’s look is based on actress Bex Taylor-Klaus, who many people know from her stint on Arrow, and who is currently on MTV’s Scream series. I had just begun rough-plotting Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect when I first saw her on Arrow. I was immediately struck by her look and thought, That’s Buzzkill Joy.

I sent Tricia, my cover artist, a couple of photos of Bex and told her to use them as inspiration. Actually I think I said something to the effect of, “I want Joy to look like Bex Taylor-Klaus, if Bex were a bloodthirsty lunatic.”

rt by Tricia Lupien.
rt by Tricia Lupien.

I think she nailed it pretty well. I hasten to add that I think Bex herself is not a bloodthirsty maniac, and would be a lot of fun (and completely safe) to hang out with.

Olivia Wilde as Quorra.

* Joy is not the only character whose looks are inspired by an actress. Natalie “Nina Nitro” Guerrero’s hairstyle, in real life and in the story, are inspired by Olivia Wilde’s Quorra character from Tron: Legacy.

PS: Natalie loves Olivia Wilde but didn’t like Tron: Legacy.

* Like Carrie, Matt inherited his musical tastes — as well as his tastes in movies — from his father. Stuart’s love of hard rock and heavy metal comes from Gerry Yannick, back when Gerry, Stuart, and Matt were friends. Stuart passed along his tastes in part to Missy.

* Stuart’s grandmother is a retired police officer. She rose to the rank of sergeant but declined further promotions because she enjoyed working the streets. She impressed upon Stuart the importance of helping people and defending those who can’t defend themselves.

* Missy learned to speak rudimentary Japanese watching anime. Her uncle Seiji helped her fine-tune her fluency during secret Skype sessions (because, at the time, Missy’s dad was still actively denying his Japanese heritage and didn’t speak Japanese in the home). Also: Missy is a hardcore Hayao Miazaki fan.

* Gwendolyn “Doc Quantum” Quentin — back when she was simply Gwendolyn Green — met Tisha “TranzSister” Greene at MIT. The two were roommates who became such good friends, classmates referred to them as the Green(e) Sisters.

* Matt bought his original black trench coat after watching The Matrix for the first time.

* Matt’s love of The Matrix led to Kingsport High School banning students from wearing Halloween costumes — but it wasn’t entirely his fault. The year before Carrie’s arrival in Kingsport, Matt went to school dressed as Neo, which prompted Angus Parr to make a remark about Matt shooting up the school. A teacher overheard this and sent both of them to see vice-principal Dent. Matt was told to take off the costume, and costumes were banned from that point on. Angus was briefly suspended, which only fueled his longstanding hatred toward Matt.

Kunoichi. Art and copyright Adam Warren.
Kunoichi. Art and copyright Adam Warren.

* Before she was Kunoichi, Missy’s superhero name was Ninjette, but I had to scrap that after Adam Warren released Empowered, which features a character named Ninjette. I made a joke about it in Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins. I can’t be too mad about it, because I’m a longtime fan of Warren’s work, and of Empowered. Bonus fun fact: both Adam and I are former students of the Kubert School. Obviously, Adam has had more success in the comics industry than I have. Extra bonus fun fact: the late Joe Kubert, the school’s founder, was the man who told me, with kindness but total honesty, I had no future in art and should pursue this writing thing I seem to be interested in.

* Matt and Stuart first bonded during a school talent show. They were paired together and instructed to come up with a skit to perform. They reenacted several scenes from The Blues Brothers, which Matt had watched weeks earlier with his father. A parent-teacher conference followed soon thereafter.

* Edison “Concorde” Bose never went to college. He wanted to attend MIT, but was thrust into the corporate world following the death of his surrogate father. He managed to sneak in business classes here and there, but never received any formal higher education in any scientific field.

* Nina Nitro and Dr. Enigma originally played different roles within the series. Originally, Astrid filled the role of the kids’ friend/contemporary, but as I plotted out the series, I realized Nina would work much better, so I flipped the characters’ relationships with the Hero Squad.

Hope you enjoyed this look inside the rattling, echoing cavern of my brain pan. If you have any questions about the series, please feel free to shoot ’em over!


Spoiler Theater: Scream 4

The original Scream was a case of a movie being the right tonic delivered at the right time.

Released in 1996, Scream hit theaters as the slasher genre was reaching its nadir. The Friday the 13th franchise had hit its lowest point three years earlier with Jason Goes to Hell, the Halloween franchise came to a stumbling conclusion two years previous with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, and two years earlier horror maven Wes Craven had what proved to be his final outing with Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

The slasher genre had been, pun intended, done to death by the time screenwriter Kevin Williamson came out of nowhere with his love letter/satirical critique of the horror films of his youth, a movie that embraced the genre’s well-worn and overly familiar tropes while simultaneously playing them against a jaded audience’s expectations. It was familiar but fresh, and Scream still boasts once of the best opening sequences of any movie, horror or otherwise.

In retrospect, Scream should have been a fond farewell for a sub-genre of horror that — like Schwarzeneggarian action films with their cartoonish violence, paper-thin characters, and witty kill lines — had overstayed its welcome. The day of scantily-clad teenagers getting massacred by unstoppable serial killers armed with an array of gardening tools was over.

What we got instead was a brief revival of sorts, wherein many of the same formulas and cliches remained in full effect, but were now ironic and self-referential. Even Scream fell into the trap, spawning two strained and progressively less effective sequels.

Fast forward through the 2000s, which heralded the arrival of “torture porn,” a sub-genre steeped in brutal and protracted violence against, in most instances, unlikable characters who spiral uncontrollably toward pessimistic endings; and then the remake explosion, when every classic horror movie was re-imagined as something slicker, bloodier, darker, louder, more cynical, and less fun.

The horror films of the past decade (not counting the handful of impressive low-budget first-person POV thrillers that have spawned their own sub-genre) are the thematic foundation of Scream 4, itself a re-invention of the original that tries — and fails — to be as relevant now as the first film was at its time.


Ten years have passed since the events of Scream 3, both in real time and in movie time. Heroine/survivor Sidney (Neve Campbell) has returned to her hometown, the site of the original murders, in time for the tenth anniversary of the original, as part of a promotional tour for her newly published biography.

Long story short, Ghostface resurfaces to hack his way through the cast, and Sidney and her fellow survivors from the first trilogy, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riler (Courteney Cox) must uncover the killer’s true identity to save their own lives, and the lives of the cast of secondary characters — a group of teens who bear some striking resemblances to the original characters.

Therein lies the movie’s problem: everything is familiar — too familiar for its own good.

Structurally, Scream 4 closely mirrors that of Scream — a fact that is pointed out by the characters after they realize the killer is “remaking” the original murders for the remake generation. In fact, the characters spend a great deal of time pointing out all the similarities, and how things might be skewed to reflect modern horror film sensibilities, and in doing so they rob the entire movie of any surprises.

Scream worked because it got the audience to look in one direction so they wouldn’t see the curve ball coming from the other direction — and the audience didn’t need to be reminded at every turn how the game was supposed to be played because they already knew, intimately and instinctively. Scream 4 didn’t work because it told us (repeatedly) how things happened in the past and how they were likely to happen differently in the present, then did exactly what it said it would do, all while echoing the first film — right down to the conceit of two characters swapping off the Ghostface identity to throw everyone off.

The final twist, that Sidney’s own cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) is the mastermind behind the new murders, lacks any serious punch because the audience has been so thoroughly coached to expect the unexpected (and it doesn’t help that Jill’s motive is lame: she resented growing up in her survivor cousin’s shadow, so she decided to stage a new massacre and cast herself as the sole survivor, this assuring wordwide fame in the age of Internet-born insta-fame).

Maybe the movie was a doomed effort because the “new rules of horror” are not as clear-cut and/or ingrained in movie audiences as the old rules were. Classic slasher movies had The Sin Factor (virtuous characters live, everyone else is fodder) and The I’ll Be Right Back Death Sentence (anyone who says “I’ll be right back”, won’t), among others, but nowadays, the only thing audiences can take for granted are that the protagonists are going to be brutalized and that there is an excellent chance that none of them will make it out alive.

(Guess which one of these new rules was utterly ignored? That’s right: once again, Sidney, Dewey, and Gale all survive.)

Nevertheless, the concept might have worked had Williamson and Craven approached the story with a lighter touch and not felt compelled to telegraph their every move. Or, to give you an appropriate contextual metaphor: they took a chainsaw to the audience’s head when they should have slit their throats with a scalpel.