When I was about eight or nine
years old, the best thing in the whole wide world was Transformers and Voltron,
because an eight-year-old couldn't have just one best thing. I remember going
to flea markets with my mom and seeing every version imaginable of
fully-assembled Voltron robots with all five lions. They were expensive,
though: $65 easy. Wasn't no way no how my mom was going to pay that for a toy.
Eventually, I convinced her to
buy me the yellow lion, though, and Hunk and Lance action figures the size of G.I.
Joes. My version of the yellow lion was plastic, but Hunk could sit in it. I thought
that was the coolest thing in the world.
Which brings me to
the virtual panel I'm on discussing themes for the dark superhero Corrupts Absolutely? anthology, which includes my short story, "G-Child." The
theme for this panel is meta-mates.
The best line from the panel
discussion just might be "It’s like assembling Voltron and going out to
kick some ass."
Find out why fellow Corrupts Absolutely? contributor Jason Gehlert
said that, and let me know what you think about the discussion.
This is the third of five virtual panels that I’ll host this month in support of CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? You can see the full schedule here. Today, I have Malon Edwards, Jason Gehlert, Wayne Helge and Anthony Laffan, four of the anthology’s contributors, here to discuss superhero partnerships.
Lincoln Crisler: What makes a good comics partnership, to you? A bad one?
Jason Gehlert: A good comic partnership is one where both teammates are in sync and communicate with each other. They need to be honest and have each others back, sacrifice, and fight side by side no matter what the situation demands. A partnership forged in unity, yet different Attitudes and character traits can benefit the team. However, a bad one, can swing it the other way. A dissolution of unity that comprises the team and delivers a staggering discontinuity amongst the team members. A team member who dissolves trust in favor for their own agenda, can fracture the team.
Malon Edwards: I should first start by saying I don’t like the traditional superhero duo partnership. I know that doesn’t make much sense, considering my short story, “G-Child,” is pretty much that, but hear me out. The traditional comic book partnership never really did it for me, and the live-action Batman television series from the ‘60’s (probably unfairly) is to blame. It was just too silly, too campy and too overdone. But my brothers and I watched the hell out of it every day during the summer when we were growing up.
The comic book partnerships that did it for me were the male-female ones—Peter Parker and Mary Jane; Havok and Polaris; Gambit and Rogue; Storm and Forge (I read a lot of Marvel). The appeal for me with these kinds of partnerships was simple: hormones. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by beautifully drawn women who were more than just a pretty face and a tiny waist. These women were strong, they could kick ass, and that was cool as hell. My fourteen-year-old-self wanted to be their boyfriend.
Wayne Helge: I really enjoy a partnership with some degree of emotional tension stemming from the relationship. And so the newest Robin has been great, whether paired with Bruce Wayne’s or Dick Grayson’s Batman. Damian Wayne wasn’t trained by someone who abides by Bruce Wayne’s pedagogy. The tension that results is great because Batman is not only concerned about solving the crime–he’s also concerned about Damian’s behavior. Will he stay in line? Will he act out and take a life? I love that aspect of the relationship, since Dick Grayson and Tim Drake always seemed to stick close enough to the spirit of Bruce Wayne’s instructions.
This aspect of a partnership isn’t just in comics. Ford Prefect became much more interesting once he wasn’t there just to escort Arthur Dent through the Universe. And Paul and John? Much more interesting after about 1965. Another great partnership in comics was Yorick Brown and 355, from Y: The Last Man, where the tension was a romantic one that built very slowly. I don’t want to say much more. I’m still in mourning over the outcome of that one. Peace out, indeed.
It’s hard to pinpoint a bad partnership, because there are so many ways to do it wrong. But a partnership without internal tension seems, to me, to be missing a great opportunity to make a story more intriguing.
Anthony Laffan: A good partnership in any medium needs to have some element of conflict in it, at least in the beginning. This conflict between the two partners allows for a different level of tension and drama to develop as the characters bicker and jockey for dominance with their personal viewpoints of the world and how it works. In comic books you can see this in many of the depictions of Batman and Superman where they don’t agree with the other’s methods and both strive to have it done their way. In Marvel the best analogue – sticking with popular characters anyhow – would be something like Spider-Man and Wolverine.
Obviously, over time the partners accept the differences and move forward as a truer team, but this can only happen because of those conflicts. The conflicts also enable the partners to make a stronger team because the different view points often show us different strengths and weaknesses with each character, and those strengths and weaknesses can be made to compliment or protect the duo as need be.
Sabre and Fox (from Laffan’s story in CORRUPTS? –Ed.) would be this kind of teamup. One that is beyond the point where the quirks and difference in views of the other is a regular problem or point of contention, and where the two – while possibly disagreeing on a point – can respect the other person and know that the methods are at least still viable.
On the other hand, most of the bad matchups I’ve seen have been ones where there isn’t this level of personal conflict between the two characters at any point. Imagine a pairing between Superman and Spider-Man. Where is the tension? They’re both, basically, boy scouts. There is no tension between the team, no conflict to overcome and thus make stronger bonds. It gets boring really fast.
LC: What made you want to tell a story about a metahuman partnership?
JG: The Ferrymen, my supernatural cop series, is now available from Damnation Books. The origin stories of Officers Lincoln Carter and Joe Buchanan are in Ghost Prints through Black Bed Sheet books. This new platform offers me the versatility to expand on the meta human genre. I’ve always been drawn to regular people with special abilities. Lincoln Carter, is a cop who can talk to dead spirits and uses the positive energy of those from beyond to gain added strength, clarity, and vision of this new world. His police skills, mixed with these new powers aids him in bringing the supernatural and spiritual criminals to justice, in both worlds. I enjoy the constant friction as Lincoln struggles to adapt at first, realizing his entire world will be altered. That consistent drama, adds character depth and fleshes out Lincoln in new directions. This is showcased in the short story “Static” features in the Corrupts antho, where a final battle on the bridge between Lincoln and the reputable aerial killer Skylar Branson will force Lincoln to summon all of his unique powers to finally bring an end to Skylar’s spiritual dominance.
ME: I’ve never told anyone this (except my wife, and my oldest brother, the only person I showed my work back then), but when I first started writing—I mean really writing—I wrote young adult fiction. It was pure escapism. In middle and high school, I was quiet, shy and socially awkward, especially with girls. So my main male character, Kris Parker, was the opposite. I filled up legal pad after legal pad of stories about Kris Parker and his on-again off-again girl, Kim, and then one day I threw them all away and started writing science fiction.
A few years ago, I started writing a series of stories about teenaged metahumans whose mothers took an experimental prenatal drug while pregnant. Some of these children developed powers when they were teenagers, and were recruited by the government to be part of special ops teams. While that’s the basis of “G-Child,” I went back to my young adult roots for this story. But I shook it up a little. Instead of having a first-person narrative by a male character, Bliss is narrating the story. Her relationship with Rayge is strained, though, but the romance is still there. Subtle, but there.
WH: I’m very interested in the tension between a sidekick who grows into a full-fledged hero and the mentor who refuses to acknowledge (or decides to ignore) the sidekick’s new role. This is the tension that I tried to emphasize in Gone Rogue, where the sidekick is beginning to display some proficiency in handling the bad guys on his own. Once that happens, how long will the sidekick be content in working under the mentor’s shadow? When does the sidekick earn equal billing? With only two people in the relationship, the answer depends greatly on the individual personalities. What is the sidekick’s tolerance for b.s.? How much does the mentor relish in the role of teacher? And what are the perks associated with being the mentor? The various Robins have always had a disadvantage because Batman never seemed to want to give up his patrol of Gotham. But what about the mentor who wants a night off? Or two nights off? Or a week’s vacation?
The other aspect I wanted to explore was how a sidekick develops his own rogue’s gallery. I believe Gone Rogue takes this element to its logical conclusion. A close relationship handled incorrectly could easily lead to hard feelings.
AL: I’d say it was less an issue of wanting to write about a partnership and more about the need for the story itself. The story I wanted to tell with Sabre was about how I see a character like Tony Stark really working out. Sabre’s ploy isn’t something that she alone can pull off, which means that she needs someone else to pull weight in those areas where she can’t. Fox provides all of this, and a bit more, which also allowed me to show more of Sabre and just how she works.
This goes back to the previous question, but when you only have a short space of time to show a lot about a character you need to delve into the bag of tricks. One of the best tricks for showing a person is to show a partner, what the partner does, and how the two work together. With every light brush you give to define the partner, you also define the main character which effectively gives each line twice the work.
LC: What’s your favorite team-up, comic or literary?
JG: I enjoy Batman and the Joker’s constant battles. My favorite team up would be the cast of the Avengers, where everyone’s unique abilities are showcased and focused on the same task. It’s like assembling Voltron and going out to kick some ass. Literary, it’s the new tandem of Lincoln and Joe, the Ferrymen. Where a new breed of justice is enforced.
ME: The first that comes to mind is Johnny Mnemonic and Molly, and I’m not talking about the movie version. Johnny is just enough street for me to like him, and Molly is just badass. Cayce and Bigend in Pattern Recognition (I read a lot of William Gibson) might be an odd choice as another favourite, but something about their partnership just does it for me, even though it’s not romantic. Cayce is quirky as hell and Bigend is an asshole and crazy rich, and together they’re so interesting.
My hands down favourite, though is Gambit and Rogue. I thought they had such a complex relationship in the beginning, despite the annoying and persistent mystery surrounding Gambit. I liked that Rogue was tough as hell, could kick some major ass, but then was so fragile mentally and emotionally at the same time. She was more than just a pretty face and a small waist.
Bliss in “G-Child” is very similar that way. She can hold her own and go toe-to-toe with the best in the business, but take a peek into her mind, and you won’t like what you see. And then she’ll make sure you never see anything ever again.
WH: I grew up with and always loved Tim Drake, who was a detective before he was a sidekick. But my favorite Robin stories were usually with him alone, trying to prove his skills to his mentor. Of course, a sidekick detective who could outthink the mentor is an asset… or a potential threat. I’d love to see if somebody takes advantage of that aspect of Damian Wayne in the next few years (or did we already see the result of that in issue 666? Does issue 666 still matter? Does anyone out there follow me?). I’d love to see a Simon & Garfunkel-level hate spin out of that Batman/Robin relationship. Last, I don’t want to miss a chance to rave about the greatest team-ups – my favorite writer/artist teams: Hill/Rodriguez, Vaughan/Harris, and Aaron/Guera have been the core of my comics habit for the last 5+ years.
AL: I’m going to have to cop out here and say I don’t have one in particular. My favorite team-ups though are the ones where you get the “hero” and the “villain” working together towards some greater goal. Sure, this means that the stakes have to be higher – why else would established villain A be working with the hero who keeps putting him/her in jail? – but it also gives you a lot of awesome tension between the characters as well as a chance to see at least one of the characters – usually the villain – in a new light.
When you have these team ups though, your head is always running with questions. I mean, you know that the partnership can’t last, so the question is how long will it last? When will one of them betray the other? What if the villain plays it straight? Usually not, true, but sometimes they do. These stories also give the writer a lot of different ways to mess with the audience. Subtle innuendo can be wildly misconstrued just because of what we know about the characters and how shaky the partnership they have actually is.