Sign of the Hammer!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Paragon Paradox Part Three (Final Part, Honest!): Eliminate 'Er!

Welcome to the final part of my thoughts on 'The Paragon Paradox' - and rest assured, it is the final part. (First part here, second part here.) First, a few words on the artist currently known as Scott Twells - a remarkable talent. I first  encountered his work when he illustrated a yet-to-be-published story of mine for a yet-to-be-disclosed comic. Discussing his work with the editor, it struck me that though his style for that story was deliberately scratchy and cartoonish, it was also blessed with a remarkable sense of composition and some sublime posing. Oddly, Davey Candlish had also sent Scott a short Spencer Nero script to illustrate, which meant he ended up drawing two of my stories in quick succession - before being handed The Paragon Paradox on the strength of 'Spencer Nero Feels Your Pin'. The upshot is that only David Broughton has ever drawn more pages of my scripts* - a gent with whom he shares a similar talent for swiftness, without ever sacrificing quality.

Now for a few random observations:

Part One:

Lettering by Jim Campbell
  • The Dalmatian hanging out with Bulldog at the start is called Gooch - this is not a reference to any weird piercing (look it up! No, wait, don't!) but in fact a nod of the head to a book I enjoyed as a child, namely 'Mr. Gooch and the Penny-farthing', a story about some dogs that run a bicycle shop. The lead dog is a Dalmation in a boiler suit.

  • Mr. Twells notably places the number '18' on Bulldog's hangar - 'Hangar 18' is, of course, a key song on Megadeth's 'Rust In Peace', one of the greatest albums in the history of the human species. Ergo, I posit that Scott Twells is likely a thrasher of some description.

  • Ganesh's foe is a Promethean Eagle - the horrible thing that used to pull Prometheus's regenerating liver out on daily basis. At one point I was going to have Bulldog carried away by the eagle - until I remembered he'd just been carried off by a pterodactyl in his own series a couple of episodes ago!

Part Two:

Lettering by Dave Metcalfe-Carr
  • Jikan's arrival line is paraphrased from 'Shogun Assassin', in which Ogami Itto exclaims "They will pay... with rivers of blood!" On reflection this sounded a bit Enoch Powell, so I changed it. It wouldn't have been the most appropriate line for a story in which extradimensional immigrants threaten Britain...

  • Ekhidna's changed slightly from James Corcoran's depiction - she's a bit better looking (still got nice cheekbones) and actually closer to what I originally imagined she'd look like.

Part Three:

  • It struck me as I reached the end that this story is a Freudian nightmare - a gigantic archetypal mother-figure gets gang-banged mauled by a bunch of macho men. Someone had to articulate it (but not excuse it.)

Lettering by Ken Reynolds
  • Bulldog and the big hairy metaphor: Wait a minute - didn't I say in my last post that Bulldog was the most down to earth of the team? Why is he going all metaphorical here? Well, given his lineage and pre-eminent status as small-press icon, I decided he was the best person to articulate the subtext of the story - namely that it's all about the difference between small-press comics and the work of 'the big boys' (as Davey Candlish likes to call them) at Marvel and DC.  Ekhidna represents the latter - constantly repeating herself, squirting out debased copies of myths that once mattered, unable to do anything particularly original but always ready with a new #1. She's finally floored by the PARAGON characters, who of course represent the small-press: varied, versatile, hit-and-miss, off-the-wall and representing the true spirit of their creators. All done in the context of the crossover, that most quintessentially American of comics formats, filtered through PARAGON's 70s/80s Brit sensibility.

And that, as they say, is your lot!

*James Corcoran has drawn the same number as Scott.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Paragon Paradox Part Two: Tres Hombres (Plus One.)

Art on Paragon Paradox by Scott Twells - more on him in the next part!

Happy new year, and welcome to the second instalment of my rambling commentary on 'The Paragon Paradox' from PARAGON Annual 2016. (First part here.) In choosing my Paragon Patrol, I had three characters in mind from the off. Obviously I'd use Spencer Nero - Ekhidna was his nemesis, after all, and I figured his tendency to jump to conclusions might cause a bit of friction with his peers. But although leaning heavily on Spencer Nero continuity with the story, I wanted Jikan to take a leading role. He's the comic's flagship character - PARAGON's equivalent of Judge Dredd -  and I deliberately held back his arrival till Part Two to give it more impact. Jikan subsequently galvanises the team and is pivotal to all that happens afterwards. I've never written Jikan before, and whilst he looks like Toshiro Mifune, I originally thought he should probably come across like Tomisaburo Wakayama  - Ogami Itto from the 'Lone Wolf and Cub' movies. (Yeah, I know they're based on some remarkable comics - I have the first couple of volumes - but I saw the movies first and they've had a lasting impact.)  That notion didn't really stick - Jikan seems more amiable than the gruff Lone Wolf - but he does carry out some theatrically over-the-top blood-letting that is hopefully in the spirit of the films.

Lettering by Jim Campbell

Next up was Ganesh: a mainstay of early issues of PARAGON, who these days only appears in his 'Li'l Ganesh' or 'Oor Ganesh' incarnations (both of whom also make cameos.) I wanted to bring him back in his full atomic-stomping glory. I wrote him as quite knowing and slightly fed-up - he really just wants to get back to his celestial garden, but the universe keeps conspiring against him, in ways whose outcome is all too clear to him. I also gave him a slightly pompous side - he's a god amongst mortals, after all.

Spencer Nero's role in the story is basically to screw things up. Everything that happens is his fault (dating right back to PARAGON #13) and he doesn't make things any better by picking fights with his team-mates, getting his uncle into difficulties, and breaking the entire multiverse.
It's a running theme that Spencer is often architect of his own troubles, or at least doesn't always make things easier for himself, and that plays out in spades here. But what's really significant is that this is the story that properly settles whether or not the Janus Mask does actually have mystic powers, or whether it's all in Spencer's head. It turns out it does indeed have remarkable, untapped powers - but Spencer's spent fifteen years using it on its most basic 'setting'! Might we now witness him trying to explore these powers in future stories? We shall see. There's something of same conceit here that Arnold Rimmer faced in Red Dwarf: Back to Reality - the suggestion that he was stuck playing the useless-gimp-cover-identity of a vastly more capable secret agent.

So, who would the fourth man be? Originally, I thought Icarus Dangerous might be good, not least since he actually hails from Ancient Greece, and would therefore be a logical fit with Ekhidna. I imagined Spencer Nero would look at him with the same kind of star-struck awe in which teenage girls view boy bands - a living, breathing person from classical mythology! But that didn't prove possible, so Davey Candlish suggested I use Bulldog. Bulldog was created by Jason Cobley, who very kindly agreed to let me write his character - for a brief history, have a look at Jason's blog here.

Bulldog I saw as working-class (even though he's an officer), effective and fairly blunt - the sort of chap who might prick the pomposity of the more flamboyant members of the team, and undercut their pretensions with a dry quip. Bulldog's role swiftly became the guy who gets things done - the reliable, sensible backbone of the squad. Compared to the other three, he seemed a much more straightforward, much less troubled character. In some strange way, it felt to me like having Bulldog in the story somehow 'legitimised' it, helping draw a clear line to some thirty years of small-press comics history (but more on that in the next post.)

So, this was the team, with a few others pencilled in as cameos, to show Ekhidna's impact on various parallel worlds. Except, in my original synopsis, Ekhidna was only the first villain the heroes would face - she'd swiftly be superseded by a related character (and, in even earlier drafts, his minions too), out for revenge. I'm not going to name these fellas here, as I still hope to bring them into 'Spencer Nero' in the future, but if you know your Greek mythology, you'll know that Ekhidna didn't create most of the monsters of antiquity on her own...

The problem was, of course, that this was wildly overambitious, and as usual, I was trying to squeeze too much in. At one stage, I even wanted some of the PARAGON heroes to end up stuck in the dimensions of the cameo characters - I had a plan that they'd have to escape from Oor Ganesh's Dudley Watkins dimension, in which Spencer Nero (secretly Scottish - see PARAGON Annual 2015) might end up going native. Actually, I still like that idea - might make for an interesting Nero two-or-three pager.

Oor Ganesh, by Davey Candlish

Anyway, that's quite enough for now. In the next and final part of this series of posts, I'll provide commentary on the finished strip itself, speculate on whether Scott Twells likes thrash metal, and explain what the story's really all about...