Diversity

by David Meadows 13. April 2017 21:56

There's a big fuss in the media at the moment about diversity in Marvel comics. Apparently, Marvel editors believe that people aren't buying Marvel comics because we don't like the "diverse" (non-straight-white-male) casts they've introduced.

As a life-long Marvel reader who no longer reads them, let me set the record straight: I didn't stop buying their comics because they introduced black, female, or gay characters. I stopped reading them because they were consistently publishing bad comics. I'm talking about having storylines that were impossible to follow, making beloved characters act completely out of character, and randomly cancelling and restarting titles just to make it as hard as possibly to know what to buy. I stopped buying Marvel comics because their editors no longer knew how to put out good comics, not because they had gay heroes. Every lapsed Marvel reader I've spoken to has said the same.

Soooo....... how does my universe score on diversity? Probably pretty poorly. It was simply never a consideration when I started the Game. So the vast majority of characters are straight, white males. In later years I (and I think my players too, though we never discussed it) put more thought into having a greater variety of character backgrounds. So I think you'll find the Heroes cast more diverse than the Strikeforce cast. But the mix of main characters still isn't anywhere near representative of modern America.

I could retroactively make half the supporting cast black, but that would be the very epitome of "tokenism", making a change just so I could say I've done it, and I don't think it serves any useful purpose.

So I'm sorry, I've got a mostly non-diverse cast, and I'm stuck with it. It's just how it is.

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Don

by David Meadows 9. April 2017 10:14

Don wasn't supposed to be an important character. When I introduced the DICE organisation to the Game, the main and only important character was supposed to be Major Eastwood, its leader (a thinly disguised Nick Fury, as I'm sure everybody figured out). But I needed other agents, so Don started as a generic background extra, and then got a name probably around the time Scorpio saved his life

He could still have faded into the background, but now he had a reason to be remembered. Scorpio had saved his life, so there was a bond there, and when I needed more DICE agents to appear in a plot it just made sense to say it was Don. So now he needed a personality, and a background, and a skill set beyond being "generic secret agent #1".

Huey, Dewey and Luey were quickly added to DICE because Don needed a team and, well, I love names that are puns and/or have meta-textual meaning. Ed ("the duck") Mallard was also an inevitable addition by this point.

Don was never a major character, because the Game had to be exclusively about Strikeforce, and he didn't really appear very often, but his appearances were remembered. 

When I ended Strikeforce and moved the story "twenty years later", the main characters would be young super-humans on the run. I needed an older mentor for them, someone who could lead them into the stories I wanted to tell. From the moment I concieved the idea, there could only be one choice: Don.

When we started that next phase of the Game, I introduced Don and the players accepted it with a smile, because they knew it was exactly right. As players they knew and trusted Don, and so it made it easy for them to believe that their characters would trust and follow him. It wasn't something forced on them to make the story work, it was something that made sense within the world and felt right.

In the Strikeforce story, I introduced Don by name earlier than I did in the Game, and I gave him and his squad larger supporting roles. Whenever I've needed a generic DICE agent, I've made it Don or one of his team. Because it probably was, except I hadn't given them names at that point. And because I knew Scorpio had to be with Don at a certain point in order to save his life and for them to become friends, so why not begin the association a little sooner? I think it works.

Don went from un-named to cardboard character to trusted friend to key participant to one of my favourite characters over years of play, and I like to think it all grew organically. I hope it looks that way from the outside. But you've still got lots of his story to read ...

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Page count

by David Meadows 8. April 2017 12:37

I complied the Strikeforce chapters into a single, print-ready document, and it's 132 pages long. That's the length of a (short) novel.

More accurately, it's 57,000 words, which isn't quite novel length. But the Heroes scripts are 85,000 words in total (though slightly less useful measure, because of the nature of the comic script format). Together, that's a respectable length novel.

Now, bear in mind that I've only written up about six months' worth of a 30-year-long game.

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Update (week 33)

by David Meadows 7. April 2017 21:40

Remember back in Heroes issue 14 we had a cliffhanger showing Don in trouble?

Well it's time to look in and see how he's getting on [Spoiler: not good] in issue 17, cunningly titled Whatever Happened to Don?

Hey, it's only a squad of shape-shifting, super-human killing machines. Not a problem for Don, right?

Well, all that is so exciting that to calm you down there's a couple of very minor background articles, one on the Stone Circle seen in Strikeforce #14 and one on Casey's Bar seen in Strikeforce #8. Not terribly important places, you might think, but they still need to be documented (and the story will feature both of them again).

No update is scheduled for next week due to other stuff, so come back on the 21st and hopefully I'll have something then.

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Update (week 32)

by David Meadows 24. March 2017 20:46
This week I proudly present chapter 16 of Strikeforce: The Hill, Part II.
 
Last time, we saw Strikeforce finally discover the hidden Anarchist base. And now...
 
     ‘The important thing is, we know where it is and we can storm it,’ said Nightflyer. ‘Let’s go now while it’s dark.’
     ‘Hold on,’ cautioned Electron. ‘I’m as keen as anyone, but as we’re pretty sure they have hostages in there ...’
     ‘He’s right,’ said Eastwood. ‘They’ve been there a long time, they’re not going anywhere now. So nobody goes blundering in until we have a plan. That’s an order. Understood?’ He glared around at Strikeforce, daring them to object.
     ‘I’m all about the plans,’ said Nightflyer cheerfully. Electron snorted and Nightflyer gave him an innocent look.
 
What could possibly go wrong?
 
On top of that I've done some work on the history pages, added short entries for 1829 and 1849 and tidied up some other bits of the timeline. And I'm afraid that's your lot for this update.

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Update (week 31)

by David Meadows 17. March 2017 20:51

The HEROES story this week is part two of the story started in A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, so if you can't remember how that went, go back and read it now. Then you can read this weeks chapter, AFTER THE FALL, when the secret of the crazy people in the haunted house is revealed:

"Years passed. Superheroes were forgotten, relegated to sensationalistic pieces on the late-night kook channels.

But bank robbers are never forgotten. Somewhere, in some dusty FBI file, our crimes waited to catch up with us.

So we hid. In the middle of nowhere. For twenty years.

Perhaps Firebrand was the lucky one.

And the rest of us were still in purgatory."

And James fights another old man!

Close-up on JAMES squatting on top of the branch. He's completely coated in mud.

JAMES: All right. He's starting to tick me off.

 

Two background essays this week, both in the Who's Who department. Marc Carter tidies up a minor character from Heroes #4, while Harry Eastwood is a major (excuse the pun) character from the Strikeforce story.

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Annotations: Strikeforce Chapter 1

by David Meadows 16. March 2017 23:17

Some general insights into how my mind works when I plot a Game and when I turn that game into the purple prose of the Strikeforce story. You might want to read the first chapter of Strikeforce again, so you know what this is all talking about...

 

 

STRIKEFORCE CHAPTER ONE: TIME IS

The titles of the first three chapters are quotes from the story of Friar Bacon and the head of brass (an Elizabethan-era play by Robert Greene, though I'm pretty sure I must have read a modern retelling (possibly James Baldwin's, I'm not sure, it was a long time ago). The story itself pre-dates Greene's version. The head of brass says three things to Bacon's witless apprentice:

"Time is,"

"Time was,"

"Time is past"

The moral of the story is about not having the wit to see something before it's too late. I'm not saying the moral applies to Strikeforce, I just like the story and the quote, and it fitted these chapters.

 

MODEL GM-1

This name is a bit of conceit: GM, or "Games Master" is what I'm called when I run the Game. So the narrator here is me. In the Game, I play the Computer as a "non-player character". It gives me a useful in-game voice to answer player's questions.

The decision to make the Computer both a character and an omniscient narrator seemed like a good one when I started writing out the story, but became hard to sustain in the writing, so as times goes on the narrator tends to say less and less.

 

CHARACTERS

When I started the Game, I planned to run short "solo" adventures for each player individually, to get them used to their characters and the rules. Electron's was the only one I did in the end, and that one's reproduced here pretty much verbatim. The others are made up for the sake of the story, but I think are reasonably close to what we would have done.

The five players played Nightflyer, Scorpio, Avatar, Electron, and Black Swan. Everybody else in the story is "me".

 

NIGHTFLYER

I have nothing to say about Nightflyer that isn't already shown in the story. He was the simplest character in terms of what he could do and also of knowing what he wanted to be right from the start. While I'm not supposed to have favourites, Nightflyer is the character I would have wanted to play if I was a player rather than the GM.

 

SCORPIO

Probably the most problematic character. Scorpio's player decided almost from the start that he hadn't actually created the character he wanted to play, and almost immediately began changing it. He had a set of powers he very soon stopped using, and I have ignored some of these completely to make the story make more sense. He also started a deliberate change in the character's personality and motivations, which I have tried to reflect in the narrative.

 

AVATAR

The idea that Avatar's spells were spoken in Atlantean was a much later addition to the character. He just did "magic words". At the start, I hadn't fully worked out how and why magic worked in my universe, and I certainly had no thoughts about Atlantis and how it might be important. I'll get more into that as the story progresses, but I'm going to be assuming I had all these ideas right at the start in order to make the narrative more consistent. Also it makes it look more like I knew what I was doing.

 

ELECTRON

Electron's player wanted the character to be light-hearted, always ready with a pun. The problem is, the player wasn't very good at on-the-spot puns! So that aspect of the character sort of vanished. I've tried to keep it in the story, but it isn't always easy.

 

BLACK SWAN

I almost re-named this character to be just "Swan" for purposes of the narrative when somebody (years later) pointed out to me that it's a bit uncomfortable to have the team's sole black member have a name that includes the word "Black". But it's a comics tradition dating back at least to the 60s when writers were a lot less politically correct: Black Panther, Black Racer, Black Goliath ... all I'll say is that Black Swan's player was following a comics tradition, and leave it at that.

Black Swan's player missed the first Game session, which is why the character is absent from the fight with the villains. This sometimes happens in a game. If you're lucky, you can work the plot around the missing character (as here: because we were just staring out it was easy to just exclude her). If we stopped the last session at a point where the character has to be present, I can play the character, keeping it in the background as much as possible and hopefully being true to what the player would have wanted to do, but I really don't like doing that. Worst case scenario, we abandoned that week's Game and played Star Fleet Battles (or something) instead.

 

VILLAINS

The four villains weren't particularly well fleshed out, as they were really only there to introduce the players to the combat rules and I never expected to use them again (as I knew I would move the action to the 20th century). The most notable thing about them was the name "Killervolt", which I really liked. I have a thing about names that are puns.

 

CHIEF KADNEZ

This is a deliberate homage to Chief Zendak, the head of the Science Police in the Legion of Super-Heroes (DC Comics).

 

CARL ZOD

Confession time: Carl Zod, probably the most hated name in the whole Game, was a slip of the tongue. I wanted to call him "Professor Z" as a joke version of the X-men's "Professor X". But on the day of the Game, when I introduced him, for some unfathomable reason I said "Zod" instead of "Zed". I let it stick, and the rest is history. It had nothing to so with Superman's Zod, as some people have assumed.

 

1987

If you think about it, the whole plot of vanishing time is ridiculous. Going back in time to stop ... something nebulous that's erasing the timeline. I actually had a whole physics of time travel worked out, explaining how alternate and vanishing timelines worked, and why you have a week of "your time" before you need to go back 400 years to stop it. But even so, I still can't understand why nobody (no player) ever asked "What if it's our intervention which causes it?" Luckily, suspension of disbelief won, otherwise there may never have been a Game.

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Week 30

by David Meadows 10. March 2017 22:26

Yes, the hiatus is unforgivable, and I can only apologize and blame various real life stuff.

But finally, here's a new update!

The main story this week is chapter 15 of Strikeforce: The Hill. And Avatar's got a plan for locating the hidden Anarchist base:

‘Don’t you think DICE have tried something as simple as following them before?’ said Electron.

‘But DICE don’t have an insubstantial, invisible, super-fast demon,’ said Nightflyer.

‘That’s me,’ said Avatar, smugly. ‘In astral form.’

‘Eastwood will never go for it,’ said Scorpio.

‘We won’t know until we ask him,’ Nightflyer pointed out.

‘Very well, let’s ask him,’ said Scorpio, standing and putting on his helmet.

‘Now? It’s after midnight.’

‘He’s the head of an international spy organisation. You think he sleeps?’ 

 

In the Who's Who, we tidy up a loose end by writing up Gemma Webster. And in the Gazetteer, there's an entry for Yucca Mountain.

Yucca Mountain is completely irrelevant to the on-going story, as it's an orphaned plot thread that we never followed up. I was seeding a lot of potential plots around the United States, to give the players some choices about where they wanted to go. They never got to Yucca Mountain, but as is usual for the way I plot, I worked out how the situation played out without them. So it's part of the story, even if it was never part of the Game.

I actually think I did do some indirect follow up years later, but I'm a bit hazy on how it connected without reviewing my notes, so that will have to wait until the Heroes story reaches that point.

 

There should be another update next week. I'm fairly confident of that.

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Annotations: Heroes #14

by David Meadows 28. January 2017 13:06

In the absence of a proper update this week, here's something I wrote a while ago and wasn't sure if I should use: "annotations" for an issue of Heroes. It's a page-by-page run-through of issue 14, which is fully of cryptic references and call-backs that won't mean much to most readers. While the story ought to be entertaining on its own merits, I thought giving a bit of context to some of the references might be interesting. Plus it's an insight into how I put the story together, which is what I originally intended this blog to be for. 

I'm not sure if I should do something similar for every issue. I could, but it would be a lot of work and I don't know how interesting it would actually be to anyone. So for possibly the only time, here is the Annotated Heroes.

 

Heroes 14: Meanwhile ...

 

PAGE 1

The Superiors was a superhero team we created as a break from using Strikeforce (we'll get to them around Strikeforce chapter 150). I wanted the group to be based in Toronto, Canada, and the geographically-challenged players decided (cleverly, we all thought) to call them "The Superiors", because of the lake.

The joke here is that Toronto is nowhere near Lake Superior.

So anyway, this opening scene features the three police officers from Heroes issue 12. They were never meant to be recurring characters, but here they made a convenient link to the on-going K-Men pursuit sub-plot.

PAGE 4

Not much happens to advance the plot here, this is really just foreshadowing future developments and revelations about the K-Men.

PAGE 5

This scene is really just an excuse to make some defining statements about Chi-Yun's powers. We've seen her shape-change into different clothes before, but I though the implication that she never actually *wears* clothes is pretty interesting. And much more logical than invoking "unstable molecules" that cause her clothes to change when she changes form.

PAGE 6

Back in Heroes issue 6 Fred and Faith (both with psychic powers) became aware of each other without being aware of each other. 

Trust me, there's a lot more of this sub-plot to play out.

When I plotted the Game, the players were meant to investigate the Temple in Winnipeg, and learn more about them (and hopefully rescue Todd Jasen from their clutches). For some reason I don't now recall, they skipped the pointers completely and left town without doing anything about it. This happened fairly often in the Game. I can't force the players to do any particular thing, and so I have numerous ideas plotted that had to be abandoned. 

But the Game isn't a sequence of fixed encounters that wait, frozen in place, for the players to interact with them. I plot it as an evolving story, and if the players miss out part of it then the non-player characters involved in that story line will still play it out (in my head). Sometimes it peters out and isn't worth recording, other times it snowballs into something that the players can't ignore. the Temple was one of the latter, a major plot element that's going to keep pursuing its own agendas until the players step in and stop it.

PAGE 7

And Parsifal, though barely seen in issue 7, was always intended to be a major character. I haven't given the players any opportunity to interact with him yet, but I'm constantly plotting what he's doing while put of sight. If the players don't eventually deal with the Temple (and thus get to Parsifal), he's going to become a significant problem for them.

I have a whole encyclopaedia entry to write on Black Zero, but I want to wait until I've revealed more in the story.

PAGE 8

Ahh... Spirit. She's another of the links back to the Strikeforce era, she clearly knows a lot about what's going on, she's best pals with Don, and yet the players are still not directly aware of her existence. I had big plans for her in the Game, but I could never find a way to make her and the players' paths cross. So I give her the occasional scene in the story to remind readers she's there, but you're probably all wondering why. By rights she should have her own on-going story, but there's no way I could ever find the time to write it.

There are three vitally important non-player characters that run through the Strikeforce and/or Heroes stories, and Spirit is one of them (and you've actually met all of them).

PAGE 9 - 10

This may seem random, but it has a pay-off in a few pages. Read on ...

PAGE 11

There's meant to be a big mystery over who James's father actually was, so it's gong to be bubbling along as a sub-plot until it's finally all out in the open. Again, if you're reading Strikeforce, you'll be coming to understand the origins of the costume and shield. 

PAGE 12-13

This is mainly me self-indulgently addressing a peculiarity in the the group being a "super-hero team" without actually adopting any of the trappings of a super-hero team (except for James, who half did, making it even more peculiar). This was the players' choice of approach, and it caused some problems for me as a GM trying to rationalise things. It cropped up in conversation occasionally as the players thought about changing the approach, but I think most of them struggled to see how any change would make sense for their characters. Attempts at adding "code names" always seemed artificial. (This may be a commentary on modern comics.)

PAGE 14-15

So we pick up the K-Men sub-plot again. This is laying seeds of a plot that never actually played out in the game (whoops, I've given that away now...) and the Canadian cops will now fade from our story. 

But there's also a nod to the past buried here -- not that it will mean anything to any readers yet. Twenty years ago a younger Miller and LaRoque's father worked "in the forest". And they had an encounter with the team already mentioned, The Superiors. They were very minor guest stars, but I always liked them and wanted to use them more. So, when I needed some Canadian cops to use in issue #12, I remembered Miller and updated his history to put him Vancouver with the daughter of his old partner "Rocky" LaRoque.

I'm sure the players had completely forgotten Millar and Rocky, and never made the connection. But that's how I plot things.

PAGE 16

Makepeace was a member of the Superiors. I don't think I'm giving any spoilers by saying that. But if you want Spoilers: unlike Miller, Makepeace will reappear soon.

PAGE 17

Major foreshadowing alert! Elliot's "inter-departmental committee to study ways to contain superhumans" will be become very important, eventually.

This whole conversation (pages 9-10 and here) is an example of a scene that the players knew nothing about at the time, as their characters had no part to play in it. But I knew that these characters were meeting and why, as the committee thing was a major plot point. So this was part of the Game's story, even if not actually seen in a Game session. Again, this is how I plot. Everybody has a story, even if the players don't see it.

I could have ignored this scene in this narrative and just presented the committee plot as a fait accompli when the characters encountered it, but it fitted in this issue so here it is. And really, I just wanted to look at a couple of favourite characters (of mine), and show where they are now. If you're reading Strikeforce, you'll already know about the Defense League of America, of course. The "Event" (which has been mentioned numerous times though never really explained...yet) affected every super-human, including all the ones you've met (and will meet) in Strikeforce. The Defender (for it is he) obviously came out of it ok. We'll soon be looking at some people who didn't come off quite so well.

PAGE 19

We know Sylvia, of course: Sara's mother and (in Sara's words) a gangster. We talked about Jacques as her rival in a different city. And now here's the Leopard, with "his own city". About now, I was starting to get the idea that there was a cartel of mob bosses each based in a different city around the US. I didn't flesh them all out, but the framework of the idea gave me a lot of hooks to base future plots on in different places.

Have I mentioned the name Sylph before in the story? I honestly can't remember. I think this is the first reference, and a deliberately cryptic one. Don't forget it, it's vitally important.

PAGE 20

Paul Chant is another one that got away. He was meant to be a major player, and I'd worked out his whole shtick and backstory, but I just couldn't get his path to cross with the players'. So he's here in a fairly pointless, orphaned appearance, and will now fade away. 

Trivia: there's a very small mention of Paul Chant in one of the "LA Globe" news pages

 

END OF ANNOTATIONS FOR #14

 

 

 

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Do Not Adjust Your Sets

by David Meadows 28. January 2017 11:33

There has been no update this week. This is because of things.

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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