Sharing The Love: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

If you’re looking for something to do this New Year’s Day and you’ve not already seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse correct this horrible oversight RIGHT NOW.

For my last movie of 2018 I ended with a bang and sneaked a matinee in yesterday, and it took me five minutes to complete fall in love with this movie. Visually it’s the most arresting and imaginative animated film I’ve seen in ages. The characters are engaging and likable. The tone is fun overall but offers moments of sincerely affecting emotion and drama. It’s both a love letter to and a gentle parody of comic books in general and the Spider-Man character in particular.

I don’t want to say much more because you need to experience this film cold to get the full effect — and you should do that as soon as possible.

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Fast Five With Matt Adams

Happy Friday Jr., everyone! Here we are with the next in a series of quickie interviews with the authors of the Indie Superhero StoryBundle, and today the spotlight shines on Matt Adams. Yoiks! And away!

Crimsonstreak 1) It’s high-concept pitch time. In 20 words or fewer, what is your book about?

Super-speedster escapes prison to find supervillain father in control, enlists help of superhero-to-be and snarky butler to set things right.

2) Why did you decide to tackle a superhero story as a prose novel rather than as a traditional comic book/graphic novel?

When I read comics, I tend to read collected editions because I like to have the full story. In a sense, I, Crimsonstreak is a collected edition in novel form. I’ve always loved comic art and style, but I wanted to dig a little more into a superhero’s mind. A novel, I thought, gave me the best chance to do that.

The book is told entirely in first-person through Crimsonstreak’s perspective. Since he’s a super- speedster, his mind is always going. He can take the time to make an observation and can’t stop relating circumstances to something he saw in a movie or TV show.

You make a tradeoff when you go the prose route for a superhero story: you lose the art and the dynamic visuals. On the other hand, you give readers the opportunity to get a little closer to your heroes and villains, something you don’t always get in the comic book format.

Author Matt Adams.
Author Matt Adams.

3) One of the notable earmarks of our current Indie Superhero StoryBundle is that “indie” part. Are you an independent author by choice? And what are the big pros and cons of life as an indie author?

My book was released from a small press called Candlemark & Gleam. I always saw I, Crimsonstreak as kind of a “starter” novel for me. The main novel is relatively short compared to some of my other books and special appendices in the back flesh out the rest of the story and the world.

I didn’t know if a major publisher would be interested in the novel given that Soon I Will Be Invincible had been released some years before. I considered going “full indie” and self-publishing the book, but I didn’t feel like I was quite ready to go that route.

Crimsonstreak needed some editing and guidance, and I feel like my small publisher really helped me craft it into a better novel.

Obviously, when you go small press, you’re kind of in that “nether realm” between indie and traditional publishing. You do a lot of your own marketing and spend time setting up book signings and that type of thing. You split revenue with your publisher, although print royalties are higher than what you’d get with a larger publisher. Ebook royalties are higher than traditional pub, but lower than self-pub.

You get some of the benefits of going “full indie” in that you help forge the direction of the book design and that sort of thing. You get a little bit of the traditional publisher world in that you don’t pay for cover design or editing.

Small press really is a balance between self-publishing and working with more traditional publishing.

4) Superheroes are well-established archetypes, and their stories have their own sensibilities and internal logic. How did you play with or subvert the tropes of superhero fiction in your story?

Generally speaking, every superhero story owes a debt to Marvel or DC. I mean, you can’t wrap your head around superhero comics without thinking about Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. At the same time, the genre is really flexible. You can have a Batman comic that’s more of a detective story. A revenge fantasy with the Punisher. A supernatural tale with Ghost Rider. Allegorical social commentary with the X-Men. Cosmic sci-fi with Green Lantern. Spy thrillers with the Black Widow. It’s not all just POW-BIFF-BANG!

So, yeah, my book has Batman-type character called the Crusading Comet. He’s a rich guy with gadgets and gizmos—the real “professional” crimefighter with ridiculous acronyms on his signature tech and a snarky butler named Mortimer P. Willoughby, who’s a smart-aleck version of Alfred Pennyworth. The hero also pays tribute to The Phantom in that there have been several Crusading Comets, with the mantle passed down from father to son over the years.

I have a lot of fun with the Comet (and Mortimer). They don’t really think much of Crimsonstreak, whose superspeed was genetically inherited and not really “earned” in their estimation. And it’s often Mortimer, the prim and proper butler, who gets the team out of jams most of the time.

We’re used to seeing traditional comic book heroes make all the right decisions and save the day on their own, but Crimsonstreak makes plenty of mistakes. In fact, he often makes things worse and digs himself a deeper and deeper hole. He’s imperfect.

Also, much of the action in the book takes place in the Midwest, an alternate version of Indianapolis, Indiana, to be precise. Most of your big-time superhero stories take place in much larger cities (especially New York, the nexus of 95% of all superhero shenanigans), so placing the action in the Midwest, where we live life at a slower pace, was a way to subvert that.

5) Beginnings, middles, and ends. What is your favorite/the easiest part of a story to write and which is the hardest/least favorite?

Let’s just say The Dreaded Middle and I aren’t on really good terms. I start each novel I write with a “road map” that includes a clearly defined start and end with a few key “beats” and subplots ironed out as well.

Still, I get bogged down in the middle, which becomes a poorly paced, cluttered mess no matter how much I try to outline things. However, we all know first drafts absolutely stink, and I manage to fix this mess during revisions.

I’m much more confident in where I start the story and where I end it. It’s just that gooey middle that traps me. I will say this has gotten better over the years as I’ve written more books, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

Odds And Ends

With the manuscript for Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women out to my editor, it’s time to move on to the cover, which is proving something of a challenge.

Coming up with a concept for the cover of book one was remarkably simple; it was one of those “it just popped into my head” moments, and even after giving the concept some cooling-off time, to see if it was still a good idea once the thrill that comes with the act of artistic creation died down, it held up. I threw the idea over to my cover artist Tricia Lupien, and she nailed it right away.AF Cover

The cover achieved what I wanted it to achieve: it hinted at the nature of the story without spelling it out. It also avoided the trap I see on so many other novel covers: it wasn’t such an abstract image that it told you absolutely nothing about the story.

It further avoided another trap common to self-published novels, in that it wasn’t absolutely wretched (like these regrettable entries).

Book one was such a cakewalk, I assumed I’d have similar luck with book two, but no. I wanted to utilize the same approach and present a cover that teased the story, but every concept I came up with didn’t stand up to the cooling-off test — mostly because the end result would have been a crowded image. I’m not a great artist, but I grasp composition well enough (thanks in large part to my time at the Kubert School) to know when an image is too cluttered.

While it pains me to do so, I asked Tricia to play with something more general, that drew inspiration from some of the more familiar comic cover tropes (i.e., the hero walking away, as if in defeat, a la “Spider-Man No More!”; or the anguished hero cradling the body of a dead comrade, a la “I love my dead Dark Phoenix!”). The back cover will now serve the intended original purpose of the front.

***

In case you missed it, which you may have because I didn’t post anything here, the print edition of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins is now available at Barnes & Noble’s website!

AF on BandNLast month I submitted the novel to B&N hoping to have it added to their catalog of in-store items, but apparently its sales need to be better for that. However, they added the book to their website, so I’ll take that as a minor victory.

***

To tweet or not to tweet is the question I’m asking myself.

Full disclosure, I hate Twitter. I simply don’t get it. It’s like Facebook for the ADD crowd, with the self-absorption factor cranked up to 11. I’m as guilty as anyone for posting trivial fluff on my personal Facebook page, but Twitter, to me, always seems to encourage people to report on their every little activity (“Just peed in nastiest restroom ever #employeesmustbleachself”).

Yet, like any social media outlet, it has a lot of potential as a marketing tool, which is why I encouraged my wife to set up a Twitter account for Storied Threads.

Apparently, a lot of indie writers are turning to Twitter, sometimes in favor of Facebook, to promote their work, mainly because Twitter feeds every post to every follower, unlike Facebook, which decided to monetize news feeds by limiting what people see from pages they’ve liked, thus encouraging people to drop money to expand their posts’ visibility.

The question is, do I take advantage of a viable marketing tool, or cling to my distaste for the Twitter platform?

Of course I’m going to swallow my contempt in order to pimp myself. Duh. Go follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MCBaileyWriter

The Secret Origin Of Secret Origins

I recently heard a gripe about the upcoming film The Amazing Spider-Man, but it wasn’t the gripe I was expecting.

Me, I’m irked at Hollywood for rebooting the Spider-Man franchise all of a decade after Sam Raimi’s perfectly awesome 2002 film, but I heard someone crab that yet another super-hero movie was adapting a character’s origin story.

I’ve heard this complaint before, usually from film critics who were tired of Hollywood doing origin stories instead of all-new adventures, but from a writing perspective, it’s an extremely logical choice.

My first argument is that not everyone knows a particular character’s backstory and, from a business perspective, studios need to capture a wide audience, not just the fanboys, to make their money. To do that, they need to introduce the character to the masses, and what better way than by telling the story that made the hero a hero?

Sure, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American who doesn’t know that Superman is the sole survivor of the exploding planet Krypton or that Bruce Wayne launched his crime-fighting crusade after his parents were gunned down by a mugger, but I dare you to find anyone outside the comic-reading community who can give you the origin of, say, the Flash or Dr. Strange off the top of his head.

Second, and more importantly, by doing an origin story the movie gets to easily honor one of the most important rules of storytelling: characters should come out of the story different than how they went in.

To use Spider-Man as an easy example, the character of Peter Parker starts his story as a shy, withdrawn nerd with no friends and little going for him beyond a talent for science and a loving family in Uncle Ben and Aunt May. After he gets bitten by a radioactive (or genetically engineered, depending on which interpretation you’re presenting) spider, he gains super-powers that also grant him a new sense of confidence…a sense of confidence that quickly becomes self-centered arrogance, and that ego balloon is popped in a huge way when his selfishness winds up costing him his uncle.

That’s a great character arc, filled with drama, tragedy, and self-discovery, and Peter is definitely a changed man by the end of the story. Why wouldn’t you use it? It’s infinitely more interesting than your standard “good guy fights the bad guy” action plot.

Stand Up, Comics

Ahoy-hoy! Spoilers abound in this post, so proceed at your own risk.

Years ago, during my ill-advised and ultimately unsuccessful time at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art — an excellent institution, by the way — one of my instructors compared writing for comics to writing for sitcoms, in that the characters are constantly undergoing false growth.

One of the major tenets of fiction is that the characters should come out of the story differently than how they went in. They should learn from and be changed by their experiences, but sitcoms and comics alike defy this principle constantly. Classic sitcoms would in any given episode present the illusion that a character had grown and changed, when in fact nothing had changed — so much so that when a similar situation rolled along later, characters apparently suffered amnesia…

FONZIE: Yo, Cunningham, I’m sacred I’m losing my cool.

(FONZIE illustrates this by striking the jukebox. Nothing happens.)

FONZIE: See? Nothing! …amundo.

RICHIE: Gee whiz, Fonz, what are you going to do?

(POTSIE enters.)

POTSIE: Hey guys! I won some free tickets to the circus! Who wants to go? They have clowns and tightrope walkers and a cage filled with man-eating lions…

FONZIE: That’s it! Potsie, you’re a genius!

RICHIE: What are you going to do, Fonzie?

FONZIE: I’m going to prove to everyone I’ve still got it by jumping my motorcycle over the lions’ cage!

RICHIE: But Fonz, you kind of did that already.

FONZIE: What are you talkin’ about, Cunningham?

RICHIE: The time we were at the beach and you jumped a shark on water-skis?

POTSIE: Oh, yeah, that was cool! A little silly, but…

RICHIE: And there was the time you jumped a bunch of cars in the parking lot.

FONZIE: When did I do that?

RICHIE: Long time ago, back when Mr. Miyagi owned Arnold’s.

FONZIE: Who?

POTSIE: Hey, whatever happened to Arnold? Or your brother Chuck for that matter?

RICHIE: My what who?

FONZIE: Ayyyyyyy!

(Audience applauds.)

For younger readers: See, there was once a show called Happy Days, and it starred the guy who directed The DaVinci Code the guy who played Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development

Point is, The Fonz was always losing and regaining his cool, Ricky was constantly letting Lucy perform at the club to disastrous results, Homer continues to overlook Lisa…the characters’ core remains constant and never changes. Even when something earth-shaking occurs like a marriage or a pregnancy or a death, the characters do not change. Their behaviors, quirks, flaws, they’re all firmly in place.

Sitcoms have since grown up a little, abandoning compartmentalized and extremely short-term character arcs for series-wide continuity and, yes, character growth. It’s usual incremental and almost invisible, but look closely and you’ll see it.

Comic books have yet to follow suit, which is ironic considering how, during the 1990s, the media was glutted with stories about how comic books have grown up (biff pow zok).

While classic sitcoms effectively hit the reset button with the start of each new episode, comics play the long con: a title will present a storyline that changes everything you know about (insert character here)! and then, after some time, backtracks to re-embrace the status quo.

Superman? Died, reborn; powers became energy based, got old powers back; revealed identity to and married Lois Lane, Clark Kent is single and Lois thinks Superman is a totally different guy.

Batman? Had his back broken by Bane, handled mantle of Batman to Azrael who later lost it to Dick “Nightwing” Grayson, got better and took it all back; got killed by Darkseid, Dick Grayson becomes Batman (again), Bruce Wayne returns from the dead and becomes Batman again.

Spider-Man? Got an alien black suit, went back to classic red-and-blue suit; Green Goblin dies in a fight, turns out he never really died; discovered he was a close, discovered no, he was the real Peter Parker all along; marries Mary Jane, never married Mary Jane.

Captain America, Green Lantern, Iron Man, The Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Phoenix, just to name a scant few, they’ve all died and/or given up their costumed identity to a successor and then returned.

The problem here is multi-leveled. Readers love these institutional characters just as they are and lose their shit whenever a major change is made. Couple that with the fact creative teams on corporate-owned characters — which said corporations want to keep recognizable to the masses and therefore marketable — are always looking to put their own fingerprints on a title, it’s inevitable characters will return to the status quo, no matter what kind of crazy crap happens to them.

The most unfortunate drawback of this is that there is an invisible, unspoken safety net beneath every story, giving readers a subconscious reassurance that in the end, everything and everyone will be okay and, given time, it will all go back to normal. As a lifelong comics fan, I just roll my eyes when I read mainstream news stories announcing that “Marvel Comics will kill off the Human Torch in an upcoming issue of The Fantastic Four” or the industry publications tease “A major change is coming for Superman” because I know damn well that in a year or two, all the changes will be undone.

In mainstream comics there are no stakes, there is no character growth, there is no such thing as a permanent condition. In other words: mainstream comics are dull and predictable.

There are exceptions all around, but they are few and far between in mainstream comics’ major players. Dick Grayson assumed the Nightwing identity in 1984 and never looked back. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman got married in 1965 and have remained husband and wife. Gwen Stacy? Still dead.

Both Marvel and DC are more willing to muck about with secondary and tertiary characters, but the  closest either of them have come to throwing all the conventional rules out the window is Marvel’s Ultimate Marvel line, where no one is safe. The Ultimate Universe has introduced — and killed off, permanently — its versions of Daredevil, Doctors Doom, Octopus, and Strange, Magneto, Spider-Man, and Wolverine — and even then, a few of these characters have made a return of sorts as others have assumed their identities.

If mainstream comics is going to continue to play it safe, they should at least abandon all pretenses that any given issue will offer readers something so monumental that it “will shake the Marvel/DC Universe to its very foundation,” because it won’t. Any comic reader worth his salt knows that.

Personally, I’d love to see Marvel and DC truly shake things up by throwing all the time-honored cliches out the window. Make death a permanent thing, for the big guns all the way down to the minor supporting characters so that it has meaning again. Let the characters develop and change, organically and realistically. Let their actions have permanent consequences, for themselves and the people and world around them.

I know that none of this will ever come to pass, but the thought that a storyline in The Amazing Spider-Man or Justice League of America could sucker-punch me with as much fearlessness and ferocity as a single issue of The Walking Dead or move me emotionally like the finest issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman — that comics could once again be as thrilling as they were when I was a kid — makes me tingle.