Sign of the Hammer!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Running Rings

So, as work on Paragon #12 proceeds apace (see James Corcoran's gorgeous blog for some mind-blowing artistic previews of the forthcoming 'Spencer Nero Goes South'), time to document #11's episode, 'Spencer Nero and the Hidden Olympics', with pencils by Mike Kennedy, lovely inks by Davey Candlish, and lurid lettering by John Caliber.

Here's the thing. I decided to set the first Nero story in 1936 fairly arbitrarily - the 1930s is the natural epoch for pulp adventure, but I picked '36 on the basis that the sixth year of a decade showcases said decade's defining characteristics. (I had read somewhere that the 90s, for example, really became what we recognise as the 90s in 1996.) Fortunately, however, it turned out that 1936 was a pretty fertile year in terms of stories. Ascents of the Eiger, international turmoil, abdications (ssh! Keep reading your Paragons for that one) - and of course, the Berlin Olympics. (The story wasn't inspired by the London Olympics - it was written quite a bit before, but was fortuitiously published just after.)

Like many comic fans, I'm not much of a sports fan: I have neither interest, talent nor ability, and I'm not remotely competitive. (I'll watch the odd game of Highland League football and the odd game of darts - that's about it.) But what did interest me was the idea of using the '36 Olympics as the backdrop for a secret war of hex, counter-hex and mystical shenanigans with Spencer as the pawn. As such, it was a chance to make Mr. Alabaster more central to the series: this is by far and away the most on-panel time he gets in any Nero story, though he'll be allowed to narrate a short one sometime soon. So, let's pick out a few panels and explain the thinking:

Trackside: I originally planned to have Nero's trackside rival be Dr. Von Zero, and have Alabaster duel with his Nazi opposite, who was going to be a Mr. Marmor (Marble) from the Department of Möglichkeit (Possibility.) I changed my mind, letting Marmor vanish into the ether (maybe I will get him into print one day) and instead reshaped Von Zero into a behind-the-scenes manipulator, with a golem as his representative: Anton Klumpen, whose surname is German for 'lump'. As for Von Zero's unlikely survival - well, I don't know how clear I made it. When he discusses 'Atlantean throat techniques', my thinking was that he used his Thule Society talents to magically command the swordfish to cut him free, but frankly, it sounds like he did something obscene to it instead.

Lumps and Bumps: On page two, the guy next to Klumpen is US athlete Glenn Morris. Historically, this all-American, square-jawed young athlete won the Decathlon - he does in this version of reality too. I quite enjoyed bringing out Spencer's more bullying streak as he tries to psyche Klumpen out, a streak that will reach its apex in about two strips time. Though Spencer does much more terribly violent things in the first story, he seems a lot nicer in that one - by this story I had settled into writing him as a bit more of an arse (albeit a charismatic one.)

Runes vs. Tarot: I don't think I ever want characters to be firing lightning bolts at each other in the 'Spencer Nero' universe, or otherwise engaging in D&D-style magic. I'd prefer to give it some kind of grounding in real-world mythology or mysticism and have the effects generally be more subtle. (Subtle? 'Spencer Nero'?! I know, I know.) As such, the implication is that ceremony and specially-attuned artefacts are important. Davey Candlish astutely described the weird duel that dominates the story as oddly reminiscent of Bill & Ted vs. De Nomolos at the end of 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'.

The Super, Soaraway Sun: I love this image of Mr. Alabaster as tarot card XIX: Endearing and eccentric. Elsewhere in the panel, Spencer is drinking ass's milk (in the script there's a little milk carton with a donkey on it, but there was no room in the panel.)
Rogue Discus: You know, I did stop and think "Is it too obvious to have Hitler K.O.-ed here? Should I use Himmler or some other senior Nazi, to give Spencer a more individual rivalry with a less 'A-List' fascist?" And then I thought "No. Sometimes the most obvious target is the most satisfying. You can't pass up the chance to demean the Fuhrer yet again."  (See Dr WTF?!2012.) I'm not sure I'll ever get bored of this pursuit.
Bashmite Ethan: Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I could never quite get this pun to completely work, largely because the first word doesn't mean anything. Trust me, there's a bit of paper somewhere with all sorts of variants written down - "Smazhmi Phasin", "Kikkmi Hedin" - that sort of thing. (Actually, Kikkmi Hedin's better, isn't it? Sounds like a 'Sinister / Dexter' character.) I think this came out of a running gag from when I was a student about a made-up British martial art called 'B'oot-in'.  It was a lot funnier after you'd been drinking White Lightning, I'll tell you that.

The Golem: I will freely admit there is nothing original in the whole 'change a letter on the golem's parchment' conclusion - this is very much taken from traditional Jewish tales. I don't think any of them change it with a javelin though.
Jesse Owens: African-American super-athlete Owens was, of course, the hero of the games, with gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump. He apparently didn't regard Hitler particularly badly - as he says at the end of the story, in Germany he could stay in the same hotel as a white man, and Hitler apparently waved hello to him, even if he didn't shake his hand (he only actually shook the hands of German victors anyway.) Indeed, US president FDR didn't even send Owens a congratulatory telegram for his astonishing performance, whereas Hitler sent a signed photo (!) In private, however, the Fuhrer was apparently as foul when speaking of black athletes as you might expect.

So that's the Hidden Olympics, after which Spencer does a runner... all the way to the South Pole. Thanks once more to my collaborators on this one: Mike has a distinctive style that combined with Dave's inks puts me in mind of the work of Alex Maleev. Gold medals all round, lads - and the wooden spoon for me for the 'Bashmite Ethan' bit.

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