Sign of the Hammer!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Nero @ #13, Part 2: Bon's Caught

 Welcome to the second part of a two-part blog posting about my recent work for PARAGON #13. This bit’s about ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’, which reveals the ‘secret origin’ of Spencer Nero – or at the very least, fills in a key piece of his past. (The previous part, about the Ruthless Rhymer, is here.)

This story serves as the conclusion to the ‘original’ quartet of Spencer Nero stories – that is, the last of the first four full-length story ideas I had when I originally came up with the series. (The one and two-pagers were all written much later.) I have a bit of an obsession with the South Pole, particularly the Terra Nova expedition, and knew from the off that I wanted to set a Spencer Nero story there. My first idea indeed involved Robert Falcon Scott’s party, specifically the ghost of Captain Lawrence Oates, and was going to be called ‘Spencer Nero and the Gallant Gentleman’ after John Charles Dollman’s haunting painting of Oates ‘stepping outside’. The problem, of course, was that I’d already done a story about Spencer encountering the ghost of a dead explorer in ‘Spencer Nero and the White Spider’, so that idea was reluctantly set aside. Likewise, fond as I am of H.P. Lovecraft, I had absolutely no intention of regurgitating the similarly polar ‘At the Mountains of Madness’.

But I did want to pay tribute to Ray Harryhausen, the special effects model-master who sadly passed away not long after the story came out. If there’s an influence present in ‘...Goes South’, then Harryhausen is it, particularly the similarly polar ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger’. Ekhidna, for instance, is a fair amalgam of several of Harryhausen’s beautiful beasts (Medusa via the Kraken, principally – like a ‘Clash of the Titans’ greatest hits.) Plus – hydras, chimeras and great big pigs! What more do you want in a comic? (A decent script? Well, you’re not getting one of those, so just enjoy the beasts.) Let’s pick out a few comment-worthy moments to dwell on– though these are largely just an excuse to showcase the wonderful art of James Corcoran, making his hugely welcome return to the strip.

From the first panel, James shows us this is going to be something special, art-wise – I love the way the boat’s shadow, plus a few floating pieces of ice, create the image of the Janus Mask.
Here, Bonaventure Nero, Spencer’s uncle, makes his first flashback appearance – it won’t be his last. He and his nephew both derive their names from the actor Spencer Tracy – Bonaventure was Tracy’s middle name. Having Spencer brought up by an uncle whose subsequent fate he feels guilty for may be an unintentional nod to ‘Spider-Man’, although rather than breeding a sense of responsibility in Spencer, the exact opposite happens – it’s his cue to blame everything on someone else!
The Supra-Centurion’s been name-checked several times in the strip to date, but now we find out a little more about the Janus Cult’s master – it turns out he was a bloodthirsty lunatic who fantasised about slaying creatures that didn’t exist. This probably surprises no-one.
And speaking of creatures - I do like to see a great big pig in my comics. It is a motif of which I’m very fond. The idea of including frightening hogs in my scripts is a nod of the head to my favourite author, William Hope Hodgson, who seemed, as China Mieville put it, “to have had serious misgivings about pigs”. (Read ‘The House on the Borderland’ to see these misgivings in terrifying action.)

More fear with the exquisite Ekhidna – she’s a crowning triumph of James’s art. Going back to the Harryhausen connection, in one of his books, Harryhausen noted that his design for Medusa incorporated horrible features atop a beautiful bone structure – I wanted a bit of that for Ekhidna as well (it seems to have been made manifest in her cheekbones.) James has also given her an extra pair of arms, which just adds to the Dynamation potential of the character. Imagine seeing a stop-motion version of this creature crawling around the Antarctic! The ‘real’ Ekhidna is a genuine monster out of Greek mythology, who did indeed spawn a whole host of abominations – she certainly kept the Greek mythic heroes busy, as her multiple offspring bedevilled Hercules, Theseus, Bellerophon, Prometheus, Perseus, Jason and Odysseus. The father of most of these beasts was the monstrous Typhon –  for my version of Ekhidna, I’ve assumed she can give birth to creatures without needing a mate at all, but the results are less impressive than if they’re fathered by some unfortunate soul.

So, that was ‘Spencer Nero Goes South’ – probably my favourite episode of the strip to date, even if the script does turn into a big mad scramble to cram everything in at the end (let’s just call it an attempt to represent the chaos of battle.) Luckily for me, James’s art really sells the frenetic nature of the denouement, complimenting his cracking creature designs. Beautiful stuff.

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