Monday, January 25, 2010

Week of 01/25/2010

The Last Big Ultimate Mega-Crisis
– by David Matthews 2

It was a cloudy day in world of Directly Marvelous Comics. Even though the skies were blue and the sun was shining, storm clouds had been building all day for this once-great publishing empire.

“Thank you all for coming,” said the Editor-In-Chief. “As you all know, things have not been easy for our big DM brand ever since we were purchased by the mighty MegaGlom Incorporated. They set some pretty high bars for us to meet and unfortunately we’ve fallen short.”

The assembled employees began to mutter and groan. He wasn’t telling them anything they hadn’t already figured out themselves, but when he actually says it, it’s usually a prelude to some serious changes.

He started by turning to a group seated at the small table in front of him. “I’m sorry folks,” he said directly to them, “but I’m afraid we’re going to have to cancel Ican Dragon-Kid again.”

The team was shocked. “Ican Dragon-Kid” was a fan-favorite series. It had a steady following since the 1970’s. It wasn’t as popular as some of the big-brand titles, but it held its own through five different rewrites.

“I’m putting you in charge of our new brand title: Man-Demon Journals.”

They collectively groaned.

“Excuse me,” said the head writer at the table, “but how many titles must Man-Demon have anyway? Isn’t this the tenth title?”

“Eleventh,” the EIC said. “And besides this one will be special because it will tie in with the new Man-Demon movie that was green-lighted by MegaGlom.”

Another collective groan.

The EIC was surprised by the reaction. “What? What’s the matter with you people? This is BIG. This is HUGE!”

“This is also the fourth time we attempted to do a Man-Demon movie,” said the inker for Man-Demon New Beginnings. “The first one may have been a success but the last three sucked.”

“Yeah,” said the assistant writer for Man-Demon Crusades. “We actually had people suing to get their money back after the last movie.”

“Yeah, but this time is different,” insisted the EIC. “This time George will be directing.”

“That’s what they said the last time,” replied the illustrator for Man-Demon Infinity, “and we still ended up with that flake who treated it like it was a live-action Saturday morning cartoon.”

“And don’t forget the rubber chins!” someone else blurted from the back.

“And the cross-promotion for the breakfast cereal,” someone else blurted out.

“Enough!” said the EIC. “Listen, MegaGlom wants the Man-Demon movie, so that’s what we’re backing. I want to see cross-title promotions and references as soon as we get the final script.”

“It’s gonna suck!” said a voice in the far back.

“That’s enough!” the EIC said, obviously annoyed. “This isn’t some little publishing company anymore. This is the big leagues. This is a business, and we’re going to treat this as a business.”

He gave a sigh of frustration and then continued. “Speaking of the movie, MegaGlom has already decided they want to see Will Burt back as Man-Demon in time for the movie.”

That time he knew there would be protests about it.

“NO WAY!” “WHAT?” “You’ve gotta be kidding!”

“Look, I was just as surprised as you were about this,” said the EIC. “I know you all spent the past year getting the audience used to the idea that Will Burt was dead… again.”

“It’s more than that,” said the editor of Justa Lotta Infinity Heroes. “This is the third time we killed him off and we PROMISED the readers that this time would be the last one. We spent all this time getting them used to having Grey Dirtson as the new Man-Demon, and they’ve just accepted it, and now you’re saying…”

“I’m not saying this,” the EIC corrected. “MegaGlom wants this.”

“Now MEGAGLOM,” he continued, “is telling us to just scrap everything that we’ve done for the past year, go back on our word, and strip Grey of the horns and give them back to Will!”

“Look,” explained the EIC, “the VP in charge of our division has HUGE plans for Man-Demon. We’re not just talking movies; we’re talking direct-to-video productions. We’re talking video games. Online role-playing services. We’re talking children’s cartoon shows…”

That again drew groans and protests from the crowd.

“We spent the past two years getting Man-Demon out of the whole Saturday Morning Cartoon mindset!” exclaimed the inker of Man-Demon Infinity. “We lost a lot of readers with that tie-in with the fast food chain, not to mention the last two Man-Demon video games sucked!”

The EIC was not comfortable with how this was going. “Listen, can we just get back to the matter at hand? MegaGlom says Will Burt has to come back from the dead and be Man-Demon again. Our job is to make it happen. Any ideas?”

“Resurrection?” someone suggested.

“We did that in issue 500,” answered the editor for Man-Demon Adventures. “How about cloning?”

“We did that in our issue 200,” answered the writer for Man-Demon Legends. “You know, a hundred various clones of Man-Demon all thinking they were the original.”

“And we did the renegade clone idea in our issue 75,” said the artist for Justa Lotta Heroes Task Force. “Renegade clone was killed at the end of the story and then people found out he wasn’t the real Man-Demon.”

“Time travel?” someone else suggested. “Bring him back from the past.”

“I like it!” exclaimed the EIC. “Okay, how about… he didn’t really die the last time, he was abducted in the distant future the nanosecond before he died to fight some… future warlord dictator… and then he can come back and…”

Man-Demon Annual number five,” said someone in the back.

The EIC threw up his arms. “Well, okay, I guess we’re going to have to have another mega-crisis.”

This time everyone in the room protested.

“What?” he asked.

The editor for Busty Warrior stood up. “Sir, are you crazy? We just finished the LAST mega-crisis a month ago, and we’re halfway through the CURRENT mega-crisis, which was supposed to be THE big ultimate super-mega-big-crisis.”

The EIC was confused. “Wait… you mean we’re still doing the Big Ultimate?”

Everyone turned to the harried man sitting by the window with a five-day-old beard and drinking his twentieth cup of coffee.

“I’m… a little stuck on the story,” he said.

“But Big Ultimate was supposed to have been finished last month!” the EIC said. “What issue are you on?”


“FOUR?” he said. “We were supposed to have published the finale by now! What’s holding you up?”

“You had me do those splinter stories,” the artist said. “You said MegaGlom wanted cross-title splinter stories, and everyone kept on calling me up for those, and I haven’t been able to reconcile those with the Big Ultimate story. Plus you had me do that re-write after the original plot got leaked to the Internet.”

The EIC struggled to get some order back in this mess. “Okay, first, I want all priority to go on finishing Big Ultimate Mega-Crisis. We need that out of the way before we can start with the next mega-crisis. We have to have Will Burt back as Man-Demon in the next mega-crisis in time for the movie. So how do we do that?”

“Zombies!” one person suggested.

That was met with more groans.

“We did zombies last year,” said the EIC. “Besides, the competition has ten monthly titles featuring zombies.”

“Another universe,” another person suggested.

“That was the LAST mega-crisis story,” the EIC said, “and we blew all those up at the end.”

“How about time-travelling gender-bending zombie clone gorillas from another dimension?” came a voice from the far wall of the room.

The voice belonged to Jack Stan, the last of the original creators and founders of Directly Marvelous Comics. He was also the guy who helped create most of the iconic characters. He had remained quiet until that point, but he knew he had to speak up.

The EIC knew that Jack had something to say. “Mister Stan, care to share your thoughts?”

The frail man in his seventies stood up. His hands shook as he made his way to the head of the room.

“I just think that you’re spending way too much time trying to appease corporate marketing executives than in actually telling a story,” he said in his soft tone.

“Look, I understand that this is a business. Myself and all the other guys who made up Directly Marvelous fifty years ago always knew going into this that we had to make a profit in what we did, but we did it by actually telling a story, not in continual cross-titled mega-crisis events.”

“Yeah, but you helped to write the original mega-crisis,” pointed out the artist for Big Ultimate Mega-Crisis. “You started the trend twenty years ago.”

“I helped create the first one,” Jack pointed out, “but none of us want it to be a trend. We had to because we needed to clear up some of the confusion that we had created over the years with various telling and re-telling of origin stories. We wanted to bring the stories back to their core elements.”

“Take Supremely Iconic Man. By the time we wrote the original mega-crisis story, he had been married five times, divorced three times, had his memories wiped ten times, gone insane, gone evil, went to prison, and even though he was supposed to be the last of his kind, there was a whole star system of people just like him. He was neither ‘Supreme’ or ‘Iconic’ anymore. He was just a man with a whole bunch of powers and a lot of issues.”

“How many times was Busty Warrior married off? How many times was she enslaved by the Gorgons? How many times did we change her costume and change her powers? How many times did we destroy the Energy-Tool Squad and then rebuild them? You know, the Justa Lotta Heroes team was supposed to be where all the big crisis stories were told featuring all the major characters. Instead it became a warehouse for heroes that were forgotten.”

“We wrote that original mega-crisis story to clear up all of that confusion and bring the characters back to what made them great in the first place. But we didn’t want this to be a regular event. Now you’re intermingling mega-crisis events on a continual basis, tying them into whatever merchandising comes up. I mean, let’s get brutally honest here… you’re creating endless crisis situations that not even soap opera writers put their characters through.”

“But these are fictional characters with superpowers,” pointed out the editor of Man-Demon Legends. “Isn’t this just a reflection of what they do? And besides, big mega-crisis stories SELL!”

That was when the EIC started to stammer. “Actually… no, they haven’t. Not lately. That’s why MegaGlom wants the huge tie-ins with merchandising.”

“You know, we had merchandising in the early years too,” Jack said. “Lunchboxes and squirt guns and balsa-wood fliers. We had a cartoon series and those big eight-inch dolls with the cloth outfits and the plastic boots. But there was always a difference between the series and what was going on outside of it. Although there was that special issue we did for that computer system that nobody bought…anyway, the point is we didn’t need gimmicks or not-so-special events to win our readers in the first place. We just told stories.”

The old and legendary creator flexed his arthritic hands. “Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned… I’m just an old artist who can’t draw anymore… but maybe it would be better if you just lay off the mega-crisis events for a year and just work on stories. You may not make huge bucks, but you’ll at least bring in steady readers.”

Having said his peace, Jack gave his trademarked casual salute and slowly left the room, leaving the rest of the assembled writers and artists with something to seriously consider.

“Okay…” said the Editor-In-Chief after a long and uneasy pause. “Any ideas on how to bring Will Burt back as Man-Demon in time for the next movie?”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Week of 01/18/2010

Harry’s Ugly Date
– by David Matthews 2

Once upon a time on the campus of America University… there was a college student name Harry.

Harry was the president of the Alpha Delta Ka-Ch’ing fraternity. It wasn’t exactly a position that he earned, though. Like most things in his life, Harry sort of “fell into” this position. It gave him something to do, and it wasn’t like his frat brothers were too eager to shoulder the burdens anyway.

One day, Harry told his fraternity brothers that the Homecoming Dance was coming up, and Harry didn’t have a date. Harry really wasn’t that good in this department anyway. These things are usually just… handed to him.

This caused some concern for his frat brothers, because Alpha Delta Ka-Ch’ing always prided itself in making sure that EVERY fraternity brother was there… and there with a date! And this year, more than any other, they REALLY wanted to rub that detail into the faces of their rival fraternity, Gamma Omega Krappa, especially after they were caught in some compromising positions… including a few involving farm animals.

But BMOC Max reassured Harry and the other frat brothers that he’s got them covered on this. He’ll find Harry THE BEST date for the Homecoming Dance. Harry was relieved, and so were the other frat brothers. But it was Max and his friends that were the ones that were now worried. They certainly didn’t want to set Harry up with a looker, and at the same time they knew that nobody in their circle of friends were willing to be seen with Harry. He wasn’t really the “entertaining” kind of guy. Harry was the kind of guy that only his family could love.

Time goes by, and Harry starts to get a little worried. The Homecoming Dance WAS getting closer and closer. And the Gamma Omega Krappa boys were taking great pride in taunting and jeering Harry for his social awkwardness. They even began to spread nasty rumors about Harry and his shortcomings. Anything to make it less and less likely that Harry would have a date for the dance.

And that WOULD be a shame for the Alpha Beta Ka-Ch’ing fraternity, wouldn’t it? After all, the GOKs may be rude, crude, obnoxious, irredeemable, dishonorable, disrespectful, and guilty of taking too many liberties with people, places… and a few farm animals… but at least THEY all had no problems getting dates to the Homecoming Dance!

Well after so much hassle and hand-wringing, Max and his buddies managed to pull through and present Harry with his date to the Homecoming Dance. And they were so happy about pulling off that little coup! They were busy giving themselves high-fives and patting themselves on the back. They couldn’t WAIT to introduce Harry to his date.

So that night, at the Homecoming Dance, all eyes were waiting for the Fraternity President of Alpha Beta Ka-Ch’ing to show up, and they didn’t have to wait very long.

In walks Harry along with his date, and there is an absolute glow about Harry as he’s there with his date, which makes the situation even more surreal when you consider the woman that was hooked on his arm.

She was clearly an older woman. Nobody could ever mistake her for being under-21. She was also clearly on the heavy side, a detail that was only magnified by her choice of attire, which was a black tube top with bare midriff and a black miniskirt that was just a little bit too short. She had a hard ruddy face, with heavy makeup, ratty hair, and an overabundance of perfume. When she spoke, she had a gravely voice like she smoked fifty cigarettes a day. And it was clear when she spoke that she had very little education.

And yet Harry acted as though this woman, who resembled more of a veteran street walker than any hint of a college student, was the most beautiful woman in the world. He couldn’t help but crow about the fact that Max and his fellow frat brothers REALLY came through like they said they would.

Max, of course, was laughing in the other side of the dance hall with his frat brothers. They knew that Harry would make the best of anything he was given, and they couldn’t help but see it proven by getting someone at the last minute off-the-street.

But then later that night, Harry did something that even Max didn’t expect. Harry got up on stage before the announcement of the Homecoming King and Queen election. It seems that Harry, in his anticipation of having a date to the Homecoming Dance, had nominated himself and his date - listed as “to be named later” - for Homecoming King and Queen. But they weren’t listed on the ballots. To Harry, that was inexcusable.

So Harry took to the stage and demanded that he and his lovely date, Hope Faith Charity, be listed on the ballots before any voting took place. He also used the opportunity to speak out against all of the snickering and back-talking that he had been hearing during the dance about his date. Hope is a BEAUTIFUL woman, he declared, and she supposedly didn’t deserve the kind of treatment that these “enlightened students” of America University have been giving her.

Unfortunately the more he protested, the more he was ridiculed amongst the students, and his “lovely” date Hope certainly didn’t appreciate the kind of added attention being foisted on her. The GOK’s certainly were milking this self-destruction up for all that it was worth. And BMOC Max and his fellow Alpha Delta Ka-Ch’ing frat brother were suddenly regretting their choice.

It was certainly not a good evening for Alpha Delta Ka-Ch’ing, or for anyone associated with the fraternity. And although he would never admit to it… it wasn’t a good evening for Harry either.

The story, of course, parallels certain current events in Washington, but the overall message is the same no matter how you tell the tale.

Harry may choose to treat his ugly date as a godsend, but let’s get brutally honest here… that doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to equally swallow our pride and act as though his ugly date is the most beautiful woman in the world. In fact the more that Harry and his friends doth protest, the more that we will being to suspect that the real joke… is on us.