Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Living Planet, Part 1 

A lot of people have been talking about Larry Young's recent industry fable Planet of the Capes, and a lot of them have spoken more eloquently than I ever could. That's pretty much the reason I've avoided talking about the book myself,and up till now there's hardly been anything I could contribute to the general discussion.

Until the original outline of the story itself landed in my lap. (Mike Sterling's little bird dropped it there, specifically.) Given this outline and the benefit of hindsight granted by so many other reviews scattered all across the critical spectrum, I've got a little chance to do something different and work over the brain of Planet's mastermind.

I'll be taking this in four parts: First, the original character descriptions. The next three parts will be the three seperate acts in spec form and how similar (and different) they are from the finished product.


Four superheroes encounter our world.

No one learns anything. Everybody dies.

The four heroes are thus:

THE GRAND: Our Superman analogue. He’s the one who the reader will initially think is the most stable, because of the borrowed-interest we’ll get from Superman, but he’s the one who falls the farthest when the foundation of who-he-is and what-he-stands-for is knocked away. Without the checks and balances of epic fistfights and evil supervillains to vanquish, The Grand becomes as corrupted as any evil he’s ever faced before.

JUSTICE HALL: Evoking both the "Hall of Justice" and the phrase "…and Justice for all," this guy is our super-patriot. Picture if Nick Fury was Captain America, but had the spooky inner drive of Batman. We’re going for the driven sort that Batman is, by a guy with a nationalistic bent. This is the guy who won’t go through much of an arc, because he’s the best there is at what he does. He’s the symbol of his country, a proud black raven, and nothing shakes him from his course. While a superbly trained athlete, he’s just a man; yet even The Grand doesn’t fuck with him.

SCHAFF: Once the costumed adventurer The Red Fez, Schaff battled alongside the super-team The Feds on one of their most harrowing adventures. Staving off an alien invasion, The Red Fez foiled a last-ditch effort by the aliens to escape back to their home planet. The Fez leapt into the matter-transference beam activated by the aliens as a means to escape… but as his grasp tightened around the fleeing alien commander, the Red Fez’ momentum took them into and then out of the beam. Scrambling alien and superhuman DNA yielded a mindless rampaging monster, our Hulk analogue, who nonetheless is able to be mostly controlled by…

KASTRA: …the sexy teen daughter of the alien commander. She stayed behind to care for what’s left of her father, a brilliant military commander outmaneuvered by a lucky punch. We’re looking for an Adam Hughes-kinda thing with this character, all curves and sass. If her alien garb suggests an ancient Greek influence, that’s probably because she’ll be our Wonder Woman analogue.


Q: Surely you've had some pretty strong feelings about The State of the Industry for a long time. Lots of frustration, lots of anger, lots of amusement. What finally pushed you over the edge and got you to write PLANET?

Larry: Naw, it's not like that at all. Frustration and anger? No more than about anything else. Amusement? Sure, but I get my amusement from all over. I think at first it was just trying to justify my good pal Joe Casey's assertion that I could write a decent superhero story with the fact that I'm forty years old and honestly don't get much out of the superhero stories, anymore. But I figured if I dressed up an allegory in capes and tights, and used it to comment on certain aspects of the obviously-flawed comic book industry, I could have some laughs.

Q: 2) Marvel gets a lot of flack for its incoherent policies and willful ignorance of its fans, but DC's a sinner too: beyond DC's imprints, their regular titles are dangerously static. What puts DC in the ostensible "hero" role among the Big Two in PLANET, insofar as this story has a "hero"?

Larry: Amongst Marvel and DC, I think DC is closest to my own mindset. Slow and steady wins the race, you know? I think both companies are hamstrung by needing to service their own corporate masters, but what're ya gonna do? It's the nature of the beast.

I wanna emphasize that none of these analogues are direct-line stand-ins for companies or characters or what-have-you. You can figure out what I think about each, honestly, by just a careful reading of the dialogue.

Q: 3) The suggestion from the Grand's character description is that he needs some checks-and-balances to keep him stable and honest, or else he'll fall and fall hard. On the other hand, PLANET seems to suggest that the deadlock between DC and Marvel can only end badly for both. What's your ideal situation for the Big Two keeping each other in line without choking the industry?

Larry: I don't know enough about what those guys have planned to really comment very sharply on that. If anything, I hope observers of the scene see PLANET as a cautionary tale... that while everyone's working together, things go smoothly, but once one player takes his eye off the ball, it's game over. The only thing to watch is how and when it ends. Some retailer friends of mine think that that's already happened, and the Marvel-caused Heroes World distribution panic has killed the Direct Market and no one's realized it yet.

Q: 4) All of the "heroes" in PLANET seem to have a "great power/potential used irresponsibly" motif going on, except Kastra, the representation for indie publishers. Have you you gotten some flack for that, considering you yourself run an independent publishing label?

Larry: Not any more than usual! Schaff doesn't really use his power irresponsibly, does he? He just can't coordinate his dual nature. Justice Hall is pretty responsible, too, I think. His only flaw is not reacting fast enough to The Grand's mercurial change... but like I said, none of these things are one-to-one correlations to anything, really. Sure, Kastra is the daughter of Schaff, and you could make the argument that that through the sacrifices of early self-publishers like Dave Sim and Jack Katz and the Pinis, it'd have been harder for indy companies like First, Eclipse, Pacific, Comico, and all to gain a foothold. So one is related to another. If people throw our company in with that crowd, well, I'm flattered.

(More to come soon.)

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