Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Heroic Visions: My Early Comic Book Concepts




Growing up, I wasn't as into superheroes as I might otherwise have been, because of my grandmother. I've mentioned before, she didn't "approve" of many things, and one of them was comic books and superheroes. Oddly enough, there was a point in my childhood when I went as Spider-Man, and later Superman for Halloween, and was allowed to watch cartoons like He-Man and Thundercats. But in general, I didn't get exposure to superheroes a whole lot until I was about 11 or so years old. It was then that I got a tv in my own room, and was able to watch whatever I wanted, even if I had to make sure I didn't get "caught" watching it. One of those things was the X-Men Animated Series, circa 1992 or so, which will most certainly get an article all it's own at some point.

It was the X-Men cartoon, more than any other (even though I also dug the 90s Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Batman cartoons), that really ignited my love for comics and superheroes. I didn't actually get to own any comics, outside of a few Nintendo comics, until I was a bit older. But that didn't stop me from eating up those cartoons, and it ignited my own imagination like wildfire. I had a bonafide passion for the concept of superheroes, and I fostered it in whatever limited ways I could.



Trading Cards, a major 90s thing that should still be going strong.


One of those ways, was via collectible trading cards. A friend of mine had a bunch of spare/extra comic trading cards, like the one shown above, and gave them to me in a collector's binder. That alone, to me at the time, was heaven. Somehow I got away with keeping those things, though I'm certain my grandmother disapproved, and as such, even though I couldn't read the comics, I still felt like I was getting little pieces of them through those cards. For one thing, as you can see, they of course often featured some awesome original artwork, made just for the cards. That was part of what made them collectors items. But on the back of these cards, they often featured little bits of background info on the characters, or certain specific story arcs, etc., and it was because of this that I came to know little bits and pieces about various characters like the Punisher, or the Avengers, or Adam Warlock.

My main interest the entire time, of course, was the X-Men, and as such, given that I was prone to daydreaming, and have always had a vivid and powerful imagination, my mind started going wild, using this raw material afforded me by these cartoons and cards, to start forging my very own visions of superheroes, super villains, and various stories. I did this to entertain myself, but I also did it as a means of escapism. I've intimated before that my childhood was not a great one, and I often daydreamed about any manner of things, as a means of getting away from that. And superheroes were no different. Imagining fantastical situations and characters was cathartic to me, as much as it was fun. I won't ever deny, that there is a part of me that has always wanted superpowers, has always wanted the freedom they would provide. And a part of me as well has always wanted to be a hero, to make a difference, to save the world.

As the main crux of this article, I am about to share with you some of the artwork that I made as a kid and young teen, based on some of the creations I came up with. I have never considered myself a very good artist, but there's a few of these I'm still rather fond of.



Saturn, Mistress of Gravity.

I even did the back info, too.


So one of the first sets of hero characters I created, for what I once dubbed "Universe Comics" in my head, was a team of galactic space-based heroes called "The Planet People". As you might well imagine, this was a team based on the 9 (Pluto will always count to me) planets of our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth/Terra, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. And as you can plainly see above, I actually went out of my way to try and create my very own trading cards for these creations of mine. I cut out bits of card paper, as well as pieces of regular drawing paper, pasted those bits to the cards, and went to work drawing.




Pluto, cat-like Ice Goddess of the stars.


Fee-Line Prowlerr. You'll have to forgive me, I was like 12.


In short summary, the Planet People were a group of cosmic heroes, gathered together by an ancient woman from a forgotten race, to face the timeless menace of the self-styled savior of the universe, Sol, the Sun God. The woman who gathered these 9 heroes (9 including herself), would come to call herself Venus, and she was the last known member of her race, being wiped out eons ago by Sol. She put herself in hibernation, until Sol's own prison was broken, and he awoke in the modern universe, which caused her to awake as well. She possessed highly powerful psi-talents, such as telepathy, telekinesis and so on, her mighty mind making up for her small and frail body.

The team she brought together, consisted of: Terra (Earth), a somewhat immortal male human, who has mastery over the earth element, manipulating stone, soil, metals and minerals. Mercury, a being whose body is made of a liquid metal type substance, which he can transform from liquid to harder than steel. Mars, a sort of advanced android, made as a living weapon, who can focus energy into his fists and feet, as well as shoot heat beams from his eyes. Jupiter, a being of living energy, who keeps a humanoid form via a sort of containment harness, and can absorb and project outside energy sources. Saturn, the red-haired woman pictured above, who has the power to manipulate gravitational fields. Neptune, a cross-breed between an Earth-based aquatic "mer-man", and a metamorphic alien race. Uranus, a towering powerhouse from a warrior race, who actually hates war and has a poet's soul. And lastly, the cosmic cat-girl shown above, Pluto, who was blessed/cursed with vast cold and ice powers by an unknown cosmic phenomenon.

This many heroes were gathered together, because the threat they faced in Sol, a being with the power of a living star, was so great that even together they can barely face him. And granted, I didn't come up with ALL of those details on the spot. I gradually filled in more and more over the years, and honestly, imagining the lives and stories of these characters and their universe has been one of the many things I've spent my time imagining, even into my adult years, as a way to pass time, entertain myself, or even now, still a means of escapism. I eventually decided to rename the team "The Celestials", because somehow it sounded cooler, or fancier, or whatever. But I'll also readily admit that part of me still thinks that "Planet People" has a very nice Silver Age DC Comics type of charm to it.



My original, very Apocalypse looking design for the Sun God.



I definitely had some heavy inspirations for some of my earliest kid superhero ideas, like the Planet People. For example, when I first thought of the villain Sol, I was so enamored by the seemingly unstoppable X-Men villain, Apocalypse, that I basically styled him likewise. I would later amend that design, in my head at least, and make him look more different. He's not actually the bulky Apocalypse/Thanos/Darkseid type of guy....he's certainly taller than humans, but I'd say he's leaner, from a warrior race himself, that was one of the oldest in the universe. He's a bit of a fanatic, as his race basically wiped themselves out with technology and war, but he was spared by some cosmic force, given new life and the "power of a living star", and tasked with keeping what happened to his people from ever happening again. On paper, doesn't sound so bad. Unfortunately, the way he went about that, for millennia, was offering an ultimatum to civilizations he would encounter: accept his rule, and lay down their weapons and agree to regulate their technology, or be utterly destroyed by his ultimate weapon, the "Nova Burst". So he's definitely one of those complex villains who thinks he's doing the right, just thing.

Unfortunately, I only ever made those two cards I've shown in this article, even though I had fully intended to make a bunch more, a whole set really. I don't even remember why I stopped, but I did, and while I've somehow managed to hold on to those two cards, two of the few things I did hold on to from my childhood (I could kick myself for not keeping a LOT of shit I wish I had now), it sucks that there isn't more to show off. I did draw and doodle a lot, but not enough to have a whole set. It was ultimately only a fraction of the characters I actually dreamt up, that I bothered to draw on paper, with my limited drawing talents.




Two of "The Amazing Mutants".



It goes without saying, loving the X-Men as much as I did, that I also made up my own mutant type team. In this case, I literally decided to just name them "The Mutants", or at least that was the comic title, though the actual team name was always something like "Alpha Team" or "Team Alpha" (and later Beta, and Omega iterations). These X-Men wannabes, as I'm sure many would label them, were my own homage to the idea of a clandestine band of mutant heroes. I later filled in more blanks, in my teens, and decided that these youngsters were originally gathered together and trained by a mysterious group of people called "The Trust", who basically existed from the shadows, and kept a watch on super-powered people, believing if they got to them early enough, and trained them to use their powers for good, they could make a positive difference in how these people affected the world. In another somewhat "trying to be original" twist on the mutant mythos, when it came to THESE mutants, instead of treating this as some kind of genetic mutation phenomenon that just happened to give people super-powers, it was instead treated more like an almost supernatural phenomenon, with those in the know referring to these people born with powers as "The Gifted". And the phenomenon itself being explained as more of a mysterious spiritual type of thing, connected to something unique in these individuals' energy fields/makeup, not so much a genetic quirk. The term "Mutant" is, if anything, in their universe, more of a common derogatory term.

The two shown above, again more or less the only two I ever actually bothered to draw (that I remember), are basically the team leaders, "Sunblast" (Whom I later renamed Daybreak, good choice on my part I think), and Andromeda. Daybreak is a living solar battery, and adsorbs solar energy, which he mainly puts to use projecting it in intense offensive blasts. Andromeda, while I had trouble defining her powers at first, in my teens I decided she actually is able to manipulate energy fields in general, which can tax her greatly, but also makes her one of the most powerful beings on Earth. Their teammates over time consisted of: Cinder the original youngest member and a party girl, who has the power to transform her body into, basically, her namesake, and is able to generate heat and flame. Changeling (originally named "Horror"), a Mexican mutant with an adaptive metamorphic power, which gives him many different abilities and traits of wildlife (mammals, fish, birds, etc.), but typically only as his circumstances  and environment demand. There was Feral, a ferocious fighter with peak human physical ability, and superhuman senses, who also possess a kind of "6th Sense" that gives him brief glimpses of what is just about to happen (sometimes, not always), giving him seemingly superhuman reaction. Tremor, a Japanese orphan who is raising his kid sister, who has the power to generate powerful force waves. There was also Greywolf, a German aristocrat of sorts with the power to transform into a werewolf type state, and his partner Blurr, a red-skinned British woman with superhuman speed.

Other teammates that came and went in my imagination for this "Mutants" team over the years, included Static, an African-American female who started out in a rival semi-villainous group known as "The Mutant Rebellion", who as her name implies, has the ability to generate electro-static energy (I came up with this character years before I was aware of a similar male Milestone/DC Comics character). There was Songbird, a Canadian teen girl who has the power to manipulate sound waves, giving her abilities including amplifying/muting localized sounds, or even creating powerful "Sonic Boom" shock-waves. She would later retire from the team to return to her home country and become a solo hero in her own right, the premier superhero of Canada. There was even later a second generation, of sorts, that included the likes of Chrome, a big black dude who could transform his body into various types of solid metal, making him both heavy/durable and strong. There was Panthris, a mysterious woman who had been the victim of secret experiments on the "Gifted", transforming her into a cat-like state, giving her cat-like physical abilities and senses. There was the couple of Gargoyle and Eco (alternatively "Echo"), a winged man with stone-hard skin, hair and claws, and a green-haired girl who has the power to commune with nature and manipulate flora (plant-life). Later still there was even a guy called Twilight (completely unrelated to the trashy vampire novels), a man who can't even speak, because his body has a "nullification field" that absorbs not only all kinetic impact, making him hard to hurt, but also absorbs sound and light immediately around him, making him always appear in the shadows (and functionally invisible in the dark), as well as making him dead silent (as in zero sound). His field even renders him scentless. He's basically the perfect spy/assassin, but luckily prefers to fight on the "side of the angels", though he has a murky, unknown past.



Here's Ragnarok, a largely abandoned very early villain concept.



I also came up with many villains, of course, because it's no fun coming up with superheroes if you don't also conjure bad guys for them to fight. I've certainly imagined/created my share, in this comic universe that has continually evolved in my head over the decades. One of the very first, outside of Sol of course, was one of the "Mutants" primary enemies, an Irish "terrorist" type called Firestorm. I came up with the concept and name for Firestorm long before I was really aware that the DC comics hero existed. Though I'd also like to point out that while THAT Firestorm is cool, and unique, I think this guy is far more complicated, and earns his namesake better (of course I'm biased). While Ronnie Raymond (DC), has weird nuclear-related powers that basically let him transform stuff, among other things, the villainous "mutant" Firestorm, my brainchild, is someone who popped up on the radar back in the early 60s or so, in a turbulent Ireland, in a small community where he was attacked and ostracized for his natural flame-manipulating talents, and labelled (of course) a spawn of the "devil", etc. Because he suffered greatly at the hands of human ignorance, he lashed out in kind, burning his entire home village to the ground. He was presumably also killed as the final outcome, but as comic book fate would have it, he disappeared from history, only to reappear over a decade later, still young and more full of rage and pain than ever. A villain who wants to see the world burn, to make others feel the pain he feels. No great pretense at benevolence, like the X-Men's Magneto. Instead, just a tragic figure, who commits heinous acts, quite irrationally, because he is too broken inside by hurt and hate. Pretty dark stuff, to be sure, and while Magneto is a master of magnetic fields, Firestorm is a master of the fire element itself, as he more or less has control over heat and flame, even able to sometimes manipulate magma underneath the Earth's surface (or as it were, cause volcanoes to erupt, one of his past nefarious deeds.)

Of course, not to get TOO into one character, nor to get too "spoiler-y", but while this is not the case for ALL villains I've come up with over time, I think one major theme that recurs with many villains I've created in this little comic-verse of mine, Firestorm is someone who, as hard as it could be to imagine only hearing that little bit, does later somehow find a road to partial redemption, and much later fights on the side of the good guys (more or less). And again not to get TOO deep into it, but for anyone who was paying attention, just for fun, there most certainly is a connection (and no coincidence) in the similarity of Firestorm's powers, to that of "Alpha Team's" own Cinder, who would later suffer trauma and slight transformation of her own, and become known as Brimstone.

 Yet another "Mutants" related villain, has far greater personal history with the team, that being a mysterious would-be assassin that shows up calling herself The Hornet. At first of course, they have no idea who she is, but it is later revealed that it is in fact former "Alpha Team" member Tremor's little sister, Izumi, who herself had not yet really developed her "gift", and who had been a teenage ward of the team, as well as the "Trust" folks who facilitated them. See, spoilers, but poor Tremor was, in my comic mythos, the first major hero I came up with to suffer a tragic death, dying in battle trying to save his team-mates. His kid sister, naturally, was deeply affected by this loss, and ran away, disappearing from the team's radar in spite of their efforts to find her. Then this Hornet character shows up, complete with techno-organic hornet-like wings, a suit that allows her to cling to surfaces ala Spider-Man, and perhaps her most dangerous attribute, wrist gauntlets that contain deadly "stinger" blades, which she puts to lethal use. As it turns out, Izumi went somewhat mad with grief, and blamed the team for letting her brother, her whole world, die. So in her grief, she was approached by one of the more nefarious of my comic villain sorts, one Dr. Ramos, the kind of man who doesn't do any fighting himself, but is glad to send his various robots or experiments, etc. out into the world. He offered to transform her, and give her real power (though it turns out she already possessed hyper-keen senses, as well as a superhuman tracking/homing ability, which she also develops to deadly use), so that she can take her revenge. Of course, he does this because those damn "Mutants" have gotten in his way once too often. So the poor girl falls for his schemes, gets techno-wings permanently grafted to her back, and allows the Doc to turn her into a trained (even conditioned) killer, before she finally strikes out at her former caretakers. Long story short, while she never does (thankfully) succeed in killing them, she DOES eventually become disgusted with what she has become, realizing she is dishonoring her brother's memory, and is just being manipulated by Ramos. So she ultimately turns against him, and later goes on to become something of an anti-hero herself. See? Again, redemption.



A crappy drawing of an awesome character.


Speaking of dark and tragic pasts, before I start wrapping this up, there are a few more characters I should tell you about, starting with this guy pictured above. His name is Donovan Crestmore, a man who would go on to become the hero Supernova. Now I seriously doubt that his dark origin story was something I originally envisioned, when I first concocted some preliminary form of the character around age 12 or 13. But a bit later in my teens, I filled in his backstory, and it's a doozy. The short version is, as is often the case with some of these super-types, he has a hard life and a tragic past, a loner, a former orphan, etc., whose life never quite seemed to go right. Until, of course, he met this girl....that one RIGHT girl, the kind who can suddenly seem to set everything right. Except then they got caught, quite by accident, in the crossfire of some gang-land or otherwise criminal enterprise. Donovan escaped with a couple bullet wounds. His girl on the other hand, the person who meant more to him than anything in the universe, tragically died of her wounds. Having lost everything, in his mind, and having nothing left to live for, he actually straight up tries to commit suicide, throwing himself form the very top of a very tall building. But as comic book fate would have it, his deathly decent was halted, as before he hit the ground, he found himself in a dark and mysterious "Other World", and was approached by mostly unseen, certainly unknown entities, who offered him a second chance at life. And why the hell would he want that? Because they offered him a chance at Justice. Not Vengeance, mind you, Justice, and that would be an important sticking point.

The twist, if you will, in the character and original powers of my Supernova, is that these cosmic-god-whatever beings who gift him incredible power, a mysterious purple energy source that only he can tap into in all the universe, he can only use this power source for what he knows in his heart to be good, and right. Meaning he has to fight for Justice, not Vengeance. So he can draw on this purple energy, which gives him many abilities, such as flight at up to (or beyond) super-sonic speeds, varying (unknown upper limit) superhuman strength, the power to create a nearly impenetrable force field around himself (and others, with effort), even the power to fire potentially devastating energy blasts. In other words he is one of the most powerful beings on earth, perhaps potentially even the universe. But the catch is, if he ever steps out of line, if he ever uses his powers for what he knows is wrong, or for some kind of personal gain, these cosmic beings will renege on their gift to him, both of his power source, but also the other side-effect that power gave him: a second chance at life. Not only will he lose his power, but he'll die as he was originally going to before they intervened. Now I don't mind saying, not to pat one's self on the back, but that is some serious shit. So it goes without saying, that ol' Donnie was a bit of a reluctant superhero, in many ways, for the good first while of his career as Supernova. He even eschewed superhero conventions, for a good while just wearing street clothes and a black leather jacket, instead of a costume (though he would later don one).

In fact, to give a brief glimpse into the future before moving along, later in my imaginary comic timeline, while spending many years acting the part of a hero, Donovan does eventually encounter a scenario that causes him to break. More tragic, pointless death at the hands of evil, and he finally does what he had privately wished to do all along: he kind of goes berserk, and uses his power to take human, albeit villainous lives. He also recklessly blows up a city block or so in the process, causing major damage and harming innocents.  It should then go without saying that those ol' mysterious cosmic entities were pissed, and made good on their promise. He got a measure of Vengeance, and also almost immediately lost his powers, and his life. But hold on a sec, that wasn't "The End". Just like last time, instead of crossing over for good, Donnie finds himself confronted by another ethereal power, this time a darker, colder one, a being calling itself "The Void", which offered him a new power source, no strings attached (so it claimed), in the from of a kind of "Cosmic Cloak", a cape that looks like a starry night sky. This cloak gave him many strange powers, transforming seemingly to match his will at times, giving him great strength, deadly weapons, even the ability to traverse the stars easily. Little known to him, not unlike Peter Parker's black symbiotic suit of the 80s, Donovan was unaware that the more he used this power, the more it started to take him over, and nearly too late, it was revealed that this "Void" being, was an ancient force of destruction that had been sealed away, and was using him as an avatar, a vessel to return and more or less destroy the known universe (eventually). The combined might of many Earth and cosmic heroes teamed up to fight him, including a couple of his friends, but it was ultimately Donovan himself, who in a final moment of clarity, took back control long enough to once again kill himself, breaking the vessel for the "Void", and thus sending it back to Exile.

Deep, dark, even depressing stuff, right? Well don't worry. As a consequence of his final, selfless sacrifice, Mr. Crestmore was one again confronted by those mysterious cosmic beings, this time bringing him better news: his actions had proven to them that he finally understood what true Justice and Balance were, and that he had finally proven himself worthy of the power they gave him. So this time, they were going to let him off the hook, return his life to him, and his old purple Supernova powers, but this time without the catch. This time, he was going to be entrusted with this power because they thought he deserved it, so he would now be able to use it as he saw fit, being trusted that he would do what was right. He finally learned what it really meant to be a hero, actually accepted and internalized himself as being a hero, and came to don a more super-heroic costume (as crudely represented in that sketch back up there a ways). Not a bad bit of growth and character arc, if I do say so myself.



*Picture does not accurately represent hero in question.



So, while I could honestly go on forever, and will in fact probably write additional articles about this stuff in the future, both because it's fun and because if I don't share it here, it's likely most of this comic-y stuff in my head may never see the light of day otherwise. Before I shut the hell up for NOW though, I'll talk about one last hero I created, one of the first I created, around age 11/12/13 or so, and that is a giant guy called Behemoth. A nice, mild-mannered Greek biologist and anthropologist, Dr. Gerald "Gerry" Janos, was deep in field-work in Africa, when he came afoul of a local superstition of sorts, that proved to be real. A supposedly ancient, malevolent witch-doctor called by many names, one of those being the "Mud Man", a masked old man who seemed to cause woe around him, and held many local tribes under his less-than-benevolent control. Gerry, not being the type to watch people suffer without trying to help, tried to expose and confront what he thought was simple superstition, a fraud of a witch-doctor who ruled people through fear. But he unfortunately got into some shit he didn't understand, and paid the price. Turns out, the shaman was legit, and used very ancient, very dark magicks to permanently transform a simple scientist and scholar, into a hulking, 12 foot tall (yes 12 feet) monstrosity.

Now, I shared the pic above, a trading card connected to the Monster in My Pocket toy line I loved so much at the time (early 90s), because that figure, of the mythical monster Behemoth, did in fact serve as the direct inspiration for this character, though my guy's final form would be quite a bit different. He was basically turned into this giant body, that is in some ways a composite of various animal life: he has a lion type tail, giant hoofed feet, clawed humanoid hands, a long dark main of hair, great ram style horns, and deep crimson scaly skin, that is highly invulnerable to damage, like a kind of armor. He has many beast-like abilities as well, along with his super-durable skin, such as incredible strength, great speed and agility for his enormous size, gills behind his ears to allow underwater breathing, incredible senses that can even see ethereal beings and see through most illusions, and a reptilian-like healing factor. Awesome powers, really. But the problem was, Dr. Janos also lost his life as a normal human, most people he had known and loved taking him for dead, and the world at large considering him a monster and a threat. Yet he still chose, because of his innate goodness, to be a hero, instead of the monster the world believed him to be. And unlike most iterations of the Hulk, he got to keep his rational, brilliant mind, at least after he came to grips with his new reality. That "Mud Man" chap would be his top villain, for understandable reasons, for years, with him repeatedly trying to find him and force him to change him back to normal. He even eventually gets a chance to finally return to being Gerald Janos, and leave the monster behind, what he's wanted more than anything for years. But he ultimately sacrifices that, realizing that as the monster, he can do good in the world and help protect people, which he couldn't as the man. Again, pretty deep stuff, more character growth.

AND, as a last note on those two characters, I'd like to point out that Supernova & Behemoth, two of my earliest creations, and both originally reluctant heroes in their own right, not only both eventually embrace being heroes, but also over time become more or less best friends.


Here is a completely unrelated, non-superhero pic of Scorpion I once drew. Misspelled even.





So THERE you have it. A peak inside my mind that is, I don't mind saying, overstuffed with a wide variety of such nonsense, things I've dreamt up or created in my head, the vast majority of it only EXISTING within my head, since childhood. Comic book ideas, book ideas, movie ideas, video games, you name it. In part I've come up with this stuff over the years as escapism and a means to entertain myself (growing up an only child, with an overprotective parental figure, it was a necessity for life). But I also happen to really like most of the things I've come up with, and continue to come up with, and would love to travel to a parallel Earth where all shit I've imagined actually exists (in their proper media forms, I mean).

I don't mind telling you that even just my private comic universe alone, is pretty well fleshed out. Tons of characters, histories, stories, etc. What I've shared here today, making for yet another sizable article in it's own right, only makes up a fraction of all the characters I've come up with over the years, and many of them also have just as detailed of histories. All filed away and archived somewhere in my head. So I'll shut up for now, but I'll be back soon, perhaps with some more totally imaginary comic book goodness!

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