Sign of the Hammer!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Martillo: The Spanish Composition, Part Two:

As I type, 2017 draws to a close, meaning it's time to do likewise with my commentary on 'Martillo'. This post deals with the second half of the story - and the future for the characters. (The first part is here.)

Cuatro: The Sharp and the Dull. I really like the telephone conversation that opens this chapter. It reveals a lot about the characters involved and suggests a more complicated relationship than at first seemed apparent between Martillo and Gallo - they clearly are, on some weird level, friends. This is definitely the point in the story at which I'd  decided to  do a bit more with Gallo, and I particularly enjoy his reaction to Martillo's request for a weather update. (Of course, Gallo's completely wrong to say a thunderstorm comes with low pressure - it's the opposite. I always get these things confused.) However, the best thing about this chapter is the notion that the Toledo priests have a rota for riding the bicycle, in order to keep the Sharpener trapped. When I visited Madrid, hearing the distinctive trilling whistle of real sharpeners was something that really stayed with me, hence I knew I had to include a reference to it in 'Martillo'. (You can hear it here.) As for Nuberu - though he ended up looking a little more of a classical mythology-style muscle-man than I expected (I was imagining something slightly more abstract), he turned out to be a surprise survivor of 'Martillo' - he's present in the first chapter of 'Gallo', though never directly referred to in dialogue, only visually.

Cinco: The Good Workman. The truth of Martillo's supernatural talent - that any workman's tool becomes a holy instrument in his hands - came out of an idea I once had for a non-player character in a Marvel Superheroes RPG campaign, set in the UK, focusing on distinctly British archetypes. The character was going to be called 'Hammer Horror' - his superpower was what the rules referred to as 'Ultimate Skill - Blunt Weapons'. (I have a note somewhere of an idea for Martillo having an adventure at sea, where he uses a hammerhead shark as a weapon - swinging it around by the tail, presumably.)

This revelation out of the way, time to throw in as many Spanish monsters as possible in a cavalcade of the grotesque. Time also to fry David Broughton's brain by casually requesting he draw a giant winged serpent in a photo-accurate Plaza Mayor, fighting historically on-model tanks. Oh, and all this in a page with five other panels! When David says I made him work hard drawing Martillo, I sometimes suspect this page (and the bank on the next) may be the perfect example.

Speaking of the bank, the Ramidreju are, I believe, much less 'An American Werewolf in London' in actual mythology, but the idea of bad weasels on the rampage was irresistible. Martillo's cry of "Weasels!" is a recycling of a war-cry uttered by a particularly infamous AD&D character I played in my teenage years, whereas Martillo's mad drilling antics are halfway between 'Driller Killer' and 'Bad Taste'. But the real triumph of this chapter is the 'Home Del Nassos' - the Man of Noses. He's based on a Catalan legend which suggests he has as many noses as there are days of the year remaining - children are encouraged to look for him on December 31st, when he has only one nose left (and could therefore be anyone.)  Inevitably, I wanted to know what he looked like when he had lots of noses - utterly horrific and disgustingly Freudian, as it turned out. As such, David and I took a jolly folk tale and turned its star into an absolutely horrible bogeyman, adding the idea that he also has nostrils in the palm of his hand. I wish I'd done much more with him - he could have carried a whole story himself, rather than receiving the short shrift we gave him.

As for the over-riding plot of 'Martillo' - a fascist scheme to engender terror in the populace, fear being the very root of fascism - I've always been fascinated by the idea that the shadow of a hawk triggers an instinctive fear in mice, even if they've never actually encountered said bird. Where does it come from? Ancestral memory? Might there be creatures whose spiritual shadow is so terrible that human beings subconsciously know it is upon them? For the purposes of this story, the answer is a resounding "Si!"

ABC #2: The second ABC page is all tentacled-up, so two of the stories can't be properly read. Until now, that is!

Bank of Madrid Closed For Refurbishment
The Bank of Madrid has announced the temporary closure of its central branch, in order to complete a full redecoration. Whilst apologising for the inconvenience this would cause the general public, a spokesman for the bank told ABC that the refurbishment was necessary to improve the experience of customers. “We feel it’s best to briefly shut the branch, as an extensive job of this nature is not the kind of thing that can be accomplished weasily otherwise. I’d hate it if, for instance, customers got paint on their stoat. I mean, coat. Coat.”

Swift Arm of the Law
A member of the Higher Police Corps was involved in a high-speed road-chase yesterday with a thief who had attempted to rob a local grocer. Detective Andres Moles, 30, who was off-duty at the time and visiting a local churro stand, was somehow able to close a significant gap between himself and the thief, Alberto Garcia, 28, in order to get his man. When asked whether Detective Moles was afraid of driving at such high speeds, he replied: “There’s not much that frightens me, except the possibility of criminals getting away. It’s just a case of focus and shutting out distractions. I like to think I’m the sort who can keep it together when all around are going to pieces. Unless there are churros involved, obviously. I can’t control myself around those!”

Seis: Apocalipsis Madrid

2000AD artist Ben Willsher, who very generously drew us an illustration for the inside of the comic, asked why Martillo stays totally bald in prison, even though his beard grows. Complex answer: it's something to do with the shock his system received when he first discovered the existence of the supernatural in the form of the Knave of Thorns - on witnessing that being's horrible growth, Martillo's scalp elected to remain barren henceforth. Short answer: male pattern baldness.

But the real question - why did I decide to make the sum total of Spanish fears take the form of a big jellyfish (a Portuguese man o' war, no less)? I have no idea. The final foe of the piece was always going to be a gestalt entity - I love gestalt entities - but I'm not sure when it specifically became an 'aguamala'. (Don't you love the fact that in Spanish, a jellyfish is literally a "water baddie"?) The presence of Picasso's 'Guernica' as part of the aguamala is much more directly attributable to my seeing the original painting in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid - it is both huge and hugely powerful. Seeing a picture of it doesn't remotely compare to the impact of experiencing it in person - but I bet seeing elements of it incorporated into a Godzilla-sized jellyfish would have a greater impact still!

In this final chapter, I brought elements of every previous chapter together. This was planned from the outset, particularly El Coco's role in proceedings, though the precise details of how each chapter would contribute developed as I was writing them - the use of Nuberu in Gallo's car, for instance. I slightly regret killing off Detective Moles - I liked the character, and he'd evolved organically to become a fun foil to the other two - but I thought it appropriate that this more amiable, overtly comedic figure received a darker fate than the two surviving cynics, Gallo and Martillo. That said, Gallo nearly didn't make it out alive either - my original plan was that the duende got him! However, it occurred that someone needed to be left behind to know the full story - and besides, I always love stories that feature leftover / supporting characters taking on lead roles. There's a reason the Muir Island X-Men - #253-255 - are my favourite iteration of that team. (Besides, I got a chance to return to Moles in 'Gallo', and in the process explain why Gallo, given the choice, preferred an incompetent sidekick.)

And so, after the aguamala is dealt with, Martillo jacks it all in. History dictated I couldn't give General Franco what he deserved, and besides, I'd run out of book. Still, Franco getting away with it scot-free bothered me, and became an impetus to write 'Gallo', in which I finally dish out a lasting punishment to him. But why does a career as goat-herd beckon for Martillo? Well, there's nothing too untoward here. On some level, I think there's the weird influence of 2000AD's Tyranny Rex, who ends the story 'Soft Bodies' by randomly becoming a nun. On another, there's my own oft-stated exclamation "That's it! I'm going to go and work with goats!" whenever I get fed up of my own day-to-day job. But really, it was to bookend the whole collection with goats, and pose the reader a question. Is Martillo choosing to keep an eye on goats, because he still believes they're Satan's animals? Or does he regret lobbing them out of windows, and now wishes to repent? You decide.

My own overall assessment of the story? Well, it's a bit too long - some of the chapters are a bit similar - and it's too wordy (as usual) but it's also got the best art I'd seen David draw up until that point, and as a collaborator, he was tireless in his efforts. No ridiculous panel description was too much for him (though he did have to expand Part Seis by a couple of pages to properly fit in the El Coco vs. Aguamala scene.) But I do like both Gallo and Martillo as characters - I quickly found a 'voice' for both of them, which made them both very easy to write, and easy to return to. I feel 'Gallo' (the spin-off) is the better-written story though.

So, what is the future for these characters? Well, as I've said, Gallo stars in his own book, in which Martillo makes an appearance. Gallo also gains a new partner, Toro - together, their names mean 'Cock and Bull', which seems fitting. I would like to do a second Gallo story, but I do also have an idea concerning what Martillo gets up to in the countryside - the smiting never stops! However, David Broughton is a busy man, working on not only his popular Shaman Kane sci-fi / horror stories (one of David's preferred genres) but also a savage superhero saga, Slaughterhawk. So whether a gap will open up in his schedule, and whether he'd want to draw the continuing adventures of either Spaniard remains to be seen. (I'd keep the architecture to a minimum this time, David!) Anyway, if you bought a copy of 'Martillo', you have my thanks, and I hope you enjoyed it. And if you didn't buy one, well, we're probably going to do electronic copies eventually, so the possibility remains open.

And with that, happy new year! May it bring much comicsy goodness.

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