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Friday, May 21, 2004

The Living Planet, Part 4 

The fourth and final installment.

ACT III BEFORE - FROM THE NOTES OF LARRY YOUNG


The heroes are all briefly discombobulated and disoriented. Schaff is bent over the still and possibly lifeless form of Kastra, Justice Hall is hung suspended by his cape nearly ten feet off the ground in a tree branch... The Grand is face down in the dirt.

It is slowly revealed that this accident has brought them to OUR EARTH, where there are no superheroes. At first, they are the toast of the town. We'll show a few pages of crime-stopping montages; The Grand stopping a bank robbery; Kastra talking someone off a bridge; Schaff frantically digging out some trapped contruction workers.

We'll even show Justice Hall getting a cat out of a tree for a little girl. He might even look into "the camera" and give a little shrug and wink to the audience.

They are all revered here on our Earth, having inadvertently left The Planet of the Capes...

...but it soon all starts to go bad. The Grand starts showing some attitude. He sets up shop sunny Hollywood, which has the dual distinction of being a town all wrapped up in looks and power (which The Grand represents and exhibits, superficially), as well as being the, if you'll forgive me, the POLAR opposite of the Arctic, and the secret headquarters of Superman and his Fortress of Solitude. The Grand has gone the other way, not separating himself from humanity to pause and reflect on his deeds and responsibilities, but to swim in the wretched excesses of sex and drugs and rock-and-roll... and he is their king.

When this situation finally becomes overt, Hall contacts Kastra and Schaff, who have secreted themselves outside of society and now are living in a cabin on the shore of a tranquil pond deep in the hills of central Vermont. They are coaxed out of "retirement" by Justice Hall, who convinces them that they need to go and have an intervention with The Grand. They make it to Hollywood where they are finally granted an audience with The King, "for old times' sake," where Hall and The Grand show they're at opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum now.

The Grand is all about excess and might makes right and winner take all and is basically a superpowered version of Gordon Gecko from WALL STREET. Justice Hall is humanity's last champion, and is being run ragged.

"I need your help, like I did back home. I can't handle it all."

"You don't need me," says The Grand. "You need us all."

"Sure; yes, I need you all," admits Hall, not knowing where this is going.

"Well, if you don't have us all, you'll have to give up this silly plan to save these weaklings from themselves."

"The fact that we are more powerful, more resourceful, more intelligent, more savvy and more whatever means that we have to be more responsible, too. We all do."

"So, you can't do it without all of us?"

"No, I need you all."

So then The Grand snaps Kastra's neck, and looks at Justice Hall expectantly. As if to say, OK, well, you need us all to save these pathetic fools, so you can't do it, because I've killed one of us. Need us all? Give it up.

Of course, Schaff loses his mind in an unparalleled rage in the history of rages. He knows in one half of his body that his daughter has been murdered right in front of him, and in the other half of his body, he knows that a former comrade and present fighting partner has murdered another friend. No matter how you look at that one, Schaff is pissed.

He lunges at The Grand and blows the both of them out of the side of The Grand's Hollywood palace. Atop the Hollywood Hills, it no longer says "Hollywood" on top of the famous sign, but rather "Grandscape." He's been remaking the surroundings into a big lovefest for himself.

After a protracted battle, where Schaff just beats on The Grand with no effect, yelling his signature phrase, "Geed! Geed! GEED! GEED! geed." Over and over as he pummels away at The Grand... he eventually tires enough so that The Grand systematically dismembers him. Pulling off first one arm, then another, then ANOTHER... squishing legs and twisting protruberances until there is just a mass of quivering jelly on the ground. It's not possible that Schaff could still be alive under all that mess... but it still seems as though he's still struggling...

This battle has taken then into Death Valley, and Justice Hall has followed them in the quinjet. Now, on the page, all of the color, all of the features around them are blown out and overexposed, as if a photograph had been misdeveloped.

It is here we have the big philosophical debate between the two sides of this issue. The Grand, representing wretched excess and absolute power that has been corrupted absolutely can't possibly fear a guy dressed up as a raven. He's a regular Joe... sure; he's been trained to the gills, he's the Federated States' super-soldier... but he's got nothing to with which to go up against a strange visitor from another planet.

And they both know it.

Of course, after their verbal battle degenerates, Hall takes a swing at him. Useless blow after unfeeling blow rains on the laughing, maniacally twisted face of The Grand. Go ahead, beat yourself silly, until I kill you as I killed poor Schaff. I let him beat his rage out against me until he couldn't swing another punch. You do the same, old friend, It's the least I can do for you, Beat me until you break every bone in your
hands.

Of course, The Grand doesn't fear Justice Hall, although he should... as The Grand is is parrying every blow with "lovetaps" of his own, gradually whittling away at the strength of Justicve Hall.

And Hall knows it. He's weakening... The Grand is just toying with him like a cat before finally killing the mouse.

"I'm going to play with you until you're just not fun anymore," The Grand says.

In one last defiant gesture, Hall activates his personal phasing tech with the bloody stumps of what's left of his fingers. He stands up, shakily at first, then confidently, finally proudly erect as all of the patriots and ancestors and signers of the Declaration of the Independence all are summoned up in one last defiant act against the
symbolic spectre of all oppressors everywhere...

...as Hall puts his phased hand right through a monumentally startled chest of The Grand.

There's one panel where the two of each other look into each other's eyes: one of those suspended-in-time moments that you can only really get in comics. One panel of both of them in profile, with Justice Hall looking up at The Grand with a bit of self-satisfaction. It's all over here, he seems to say. The Grand comes to that conclusion, too, and in impotent rage, backhands Justice Hall across the face, ripping the front of his face off.

Now, The Grand has a dead superhero affixed to his front, he's slowly dying, as even a strange visitor from another planet can't survive having a superhero's arm occupy the same space as his own vital organs without having some adverse effect...

In fact, The Grand is dying... he going to die in seconds... we pull out, and away from these two forms in the desert... One a dead hero and the other dying... Justice Hall hangs limply from the front of The Grand... The Grand sags under the weight of his friend literally impalement of him... we pull back, and back, and back until there is
nothing but white... nothingness on the last page, and on the inside back cover.

THE END

ACT III AFTER - STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH


Q: I'm pretty sad to see that this Hollywood sequence didn't make it into the final product. Apparently you've got a thing or two to say about comics going to Hollywood?

Larry: Well, it was just an example of wretched excess. I'd worked in LA for a few months and it wasn't my kinda town. I suppose if I'd spent in any time in Las Vegas, I would have set that bit there.

Q: But setting the Grand up in friggin' HOLLYWOOD seems... Serendipitous, at the least.

Larry: Hollywood versions of comics are usually pretty good, to my eyes. I always like seeing the adaptations to film. . More of the what-I-would-do of that part of the story, I think. You know LIVE FROM THE MOON isn't about Ishmael Hayes, rich guy? It's about Larry Young, rich guy?

Q: Let's make sure you never hit the lottery, then. All right. Oh yeah? Got a favorite?

Larry: I think it's safe to say the 1978 SUPERMAN is the best translation.

Q: In the original outline you've got the Grand actively killing off both self-publishers and indie publishers. Final product they die trying to stem off the flood. That's a considerably softer take on what exactly could be the demise of the Selfs and the Indies. Any reason you changed the tone of that?

Larry: That part of the plot was written at the height of Marvel's Heroes World debacle.

Q: Give me some elaboration on the Heroes World thing. I'm not too familiar with it.

Larry: Marvel bought its own distributor and caused everyone to choose upsides. With Marvel trying to self-distribute, DC arranged with Diamond to be 'exclusive'... All the other major publishers signed up with Diamond, leaving Diamond’s only other competitor, Capital City, with smaller-volume publishers and eventually going out of business. This is just my understanding as a guy who reads the Comics Journal of the time... and not as a comics historian. But when people talk about the "Death of the Direct Market," that's what they're talking about.

Q: In the first interview you said there are friends of yours who think this has already killed the DM, and the DM's just not aware of it yet.

Larry: Yeah, a lot of my retailer buddies point to that as the circling of the drain.

Q: Think the DM's days are numbered yourself?

Larry: Not as such, no.

Q: The most drastic change... well, one of many... from the original outline of Act III and the final product is the inclusion of the Fantastic Four stand-ins, and their part in the self-destruction of the superheroes. What got you to bring them in?

Larry: They're the opposite numbers to the fanboy Alec in Act I. You need a bookend to how the superheroes are perceived. Since the Superman analogue was going bad, I figured it might be fun to write unpowered FF analogues. Sort of an extension of the Marvel/DC schism, and also commentary on the "real-world" aspect of it.

Q: And it was a fun fanboy moment to realize whom you were emulating there, I have to admit.

Larry: Thanks!

Q: Which could brand me of the crime of being unsophisticated.

Larry: The fun thing is that it works on both levels.

Q: The Grand at the end seems to have some awareness of the self-destructiveness of his actions. He even quotes the book's money line: "Nobody learns anything, everybody dies." This seems to suggest some awareness, on some upper level of the Big Two, that they're aware that what they're doing is wrong. Or could go horribly wrong. You believe that's the case?

Larry: The Big Two know what they're doing. I wouldn't necessarily say it's WRONG, as companies have to do what's right for them. Sure. Got to turn a profit.

Q: What compels them to keep going? Beyond the obvious green answer.

Larry: Money is the answer, man.

Q: And a certain amount of... selfishness? That seems to be the Grand's thing. "My way or no way."

Larry: Companies aren't selfish. But, yeah; what's best for them.

Q: I'm thinking along the lines of the Big Two, though. That they do what they want because dammit, they're the Big Two, and they founded this business, and yadda yadda.... Maybe "self-righteousness" is a better description.

Larry: I don't think that's fair. Companies are storehouses of properties. They need to maximize their holdings.

Q: Well that, to me, is what the Grand is signifying. Not necessarily what the case is NOW, but what it COULD be.

Larry: The Grand is just doing what he thinks is best for him.

Q: And having a bit of fun with it, too.

Larry: When there are no limits, why stay imposed in some self-limitation?

Q: And "the good of the people" is just way too abstract if you have that much physical power in your hands. Now, that last fight between JH and the Grand... I couldn't not think of the climactic Superman/Batman battle in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. The parallels seem... appropriate. Was this an intentional move?

Larry: Not a direct-line nod, but when two square-jaws are on opposite sides of a question, things happen.

Q: The results seem fairly symmetrical, too. You've got a supposedly dead Batman and an exposed Superman at the end of DKR. I guess your take is a bit more cynical in its result. Holy shit, Larry. You're more cynical than Frank Miller.

Larry: We both grew up in rural Vermont. Maybe those winters have something to do with it.

Q: That would explain Kastra and Schaff's hideout being in Vermont, then?

Larry: Yeah. I was just hoping people would slow down and READ the comic.

Q: Next up: Larry Young vs. Frank Miller in a Vermont brawl-for-it-all.

Larry: The one thing I'm a little dismayed with is that the people who don't get the analogue right way are the ones who admit they're reading too quickly. You’re paying 13 bucks for a graphic novel, yeah? Why not enjoy it?

Q: The pace of the story lends to a breakneck read. I know I had to read it fast one time and then go back through more slowly. And that's the beauty of OGNs: You can read them again and again. I just plain don't feel comfortable talking about something or reviewing something unless I've been through it a couple-few times.

Larry: OK, that's great! I was trying to do something that rewarded multiple reads.

Q: It gets more rewarding with each read. The light touches come into sharp focus. All right: You've given us the cautionary tale about the State of the Industry. Tell me, my man: who's got the juice to turn it all around?

Larry: Slow and steady wins the race.

Q: Here's the obligatory end question: what's next on the horizon for you? Got another book in the works?

Larry: Yep; I just wrote the first 19 pages of a big sprawling slam-bang and sent it off to the artist. Of course, we'll be announcing at San Diego. And then the PROOF OF CONCEPT book should be out around December.

Q: Anything you can tell me now? General subject matter, length, tentative release date? Or, say, who the artist might be?

Larry: Naw, it's too early. You guys are all the same.

Q: "Big sprawling slam-bang" it is, then. Good luck to you. I have a feeling PLANET's audience will grow with age.

Larry: Thanks very much. That'd be fine. Wouldn't mind that at all.

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