• Tag Archives supervillains
  • The Redsaw Origin and How I Write Supervillains

    Redsaw
    Redsaw – More powerful than Axiom-man.
    Note: This post was originally published on Jeffrey Allen Davis’s blog

    The Redsaw Origin and How I Write Supervillains
    by
    A.P. Fuchs

    Disclaimer: The following article is meant for those who have read some or all of The Axiom-man Saga. If you have not read the series, please stop now and consider checking out the series first (http://bit.ly/1oy9MJU) as this article contains spoilers, namely Redsaw’s secret identity, which is part of the mystery of the first book.

    Like Axiom-man, Redsaw has something of a muddled past. I’m talking about his real life origin, not his story one. However, Redsaw didn’t really come together until writing Axiom-man. Until that point, he was more an idea that never materialized in the mental fantasy I had going which eventually birthed The Axiom-man Saga we know today. All I knew about my overall fantasy was there were two cosmic beings at war. One that represented Good (known as the messenger in the saga), and one that represented Evil (known as the master). How these cosmic beings work is they each have champions on multiple planets throughout the universe, one guy stepping forward for them and duking it out on these planets while these two cosmic beings fight it out elsewhere. Usually, the messenger only puts his man in place once the master strikes an unsuspecting world. On Earth, the messenger’s champion is Axiom-man so, you guessed it, the master’s main man is Redsaw. What’s interesting to note is Axiom-man was put in place shortly before Redsaw’s arrival, a pre-emptive move on the messenger’s part and for reasons revealed in the series.

    Redsaw is the main supervillain of The Axiom-man Saga.

    That should bring you enough up to speed on who’s who in my superhero universe.

    When it came to creating Redsaw, other than knowing he had to be the bad guy, he needed to be more than just the bad guy. The first thing I decided was it was imperative he was more powerful than Axiom-man, first and foremost in his superpowers—which are similar but stronger—and secondly as his human alter ego.

    In costume, Redsaw can fly twice as fast, is twice as strong, and the energy beams he shoots from his hands do twice the damage.

    Out of costume, Oscar Owen is rich, well-known, and utterly confident, whereas Gabriel Garrison (Axiom-man) struggles with money, is a nobody, and has self-esteem issues.

    But that’s just the superficial stuff.

    Even the name “Redsaw” is superficial in that I needed a cool name for a villain and “red” typically represents evil and “saw” was named after a sawblade, a dangerous weapon if used to kill somebody. The jagged lines on Redsaw’s red and black costume represent his own jaggedness and danger—again, the sawblade thing.

    Going deeper, however, I didn’t want a bad guy who was the bad guy simply because he was the bad guy. In other words, I didn’t want a bad guy being bad for bad’s sake. There needed to be a reason, and the best reason for any villain in literature or film is the one that says they’re the bad guy because they don’t have any other choice. They have a strong motive that turned them down a dark path. A classic example is Darth Vader. He joined the dark side to save Padme. The dark side consumed him and we all know the rest of the story.

    Oscar Owen was chosen by the master because Oscar drove himself hard to rise from poverty and become a somebody and tried to be a good guy with his powerful position. Once joined with the black cloud that gave him his superpowers, even then, he strove to be a hero like Axiom-man. He just didn’t know joining with the black cloud came at a cost and the black cloud transformed him into someone he wasn’t: the reluctant villain. The villain you and I can relate to. The one that, if you or I were put in their shoes, would do what they do no matter how dark or despicable because, from their point-of-view, they’re doing the right thing even if the cause is evil.

    That’s the kind of main villain I was after for Axiom-man: someone like him. Someone who strove to do what they perceived was the right thing. Unfortunately, for Redsaw, his “right thing” is the wrong thing, but thankfully we have Axiom-man there to stop him.

    Regarding other supervillains I’ve created—Char, Bleaken, Battle Bruiser, and Lady Fire—they all have something in common and it all goes back to what I did with Redsaw: they’re more powerful than the hero. It might be their powers, it might be their intellect, but either way, my villains always have a leg up on Axiom-man so they’re a challenge to fight. It’s the only way to create true conflict in the novels otherwise, if they were weaker, Axiom-man would stomp them into the ground every time and the story would be over in a few pages. Sure, it’s fun to have a few purely-human bad guys for Axiom-man to quickly dispose of, but when it comes to his superpowered rogues gallery, I needed my bad guys to be stronger than the hero and make him really dig deep whether physically or mentally to put the villains away for good. And even then . . . they might not always stay put, but for what I mean by that, you’ll have to check out the books and see for yourself.

    A supervillain—breaking down the word—sure, the “villain” part is easy. It’s the “super” part that’s hard because that goes beyond their powers. They need to be above average in who they are as a person. They need to be motivated by something beyond what gets us normal people through our day. They need to be motivated by something “super.” It could be a tragedy, a misguidance, even a dark heart birthed out of something beyond their control in years past. There’s no such thing as a person who’s born bad. We all make choices. Some yield Good. Others yield Evil. Others take us down roads filled with both. Throw superpowers into the mix and you have the potential to create a superpowered problem that only a superhero can fight.

    As for Redsaw, well, like Axiom-man, he’s on a journey, too. One that can only lead to one place. As for where or what that is, you’ll just have to read and find out.


  • Reinventing the Horde: Problems in Zombie Fiction

    zombiefightnightdrivethruAuthor’s note: This essay originally aired on this blog prior to the file purge of 2014. It is now being rerun for your reading pleasure. Please note Zomtropolis is no longer available as a free on-line serial and will be released in paperback and eBook in the near future.

    Zombies are monsters. At least, that’s the standard definition. Someone dies, rises, has a taste of human flesh and so hunts down the living and, once the prey is caught, chows down and eats their guts. Oh, and they’re ugly, too, slowly rotting away with each passing day.

    That’s the standard version of the zombie and the one most are familiar with.

    It’s the one I knew of when I first discovered them, but as for their main backstory, I didn’t know what that wasy.

    See, I grew up in a household where horror and monsters where off limits. This was a good thing, in that I didn’t have to view creepy faces, see blood and guts, watch people get killed, or be subject to dark forests like other kids I knew. I was probably saved hundreds of hours of nightmares as a result. This absence of horror made for a happier childhood, in that regard. My dad always said, “If you want to watch horror, watch the news.” And he was right, and still is. We live in a sad world with villains in it that outmatch most of what we create in books or on screen.

    At the same time, being so sheltered was a detriment to a well-rounded upbringing because later on, I was naïve about a lot of things, including the darker side of life, both in terms of what humans were capable of and scary images.

    My first exposure to monsters was seeing a ripped-from-a-magazine picture of Freddy Krueger lying in the playground in elementary. The image of a disfigured man with bubbles on his skin was so foreign to me that I had occasional nightmares from that single image for years. I never saw an actual Freddy movie until I was eighteen and living on my own, but I got to tell you: going to the video store to rent one sent up all sorts of red flags and I was scared to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time.

    But zombies, werewolves or vampires growing up?

    At most I saw the Halloween episode of Highway to Heaven where Michael Landon was a werewolf for part of it. Scared me to death. Same with that other episode with the devil.

    Highway to Heaven. Good show, from what I remember, and it was allowed in the Christian household I grew up in for its message. It was also this growing up in a Christian household and the zero tolerance policy for horror and monsters that shaped my life, not only in terms of what I couldn’t see, but how I reacted when faced with the horrors that pop up in life now and then.

    In fact, I only got into horror because of something painful that happened to me. It was in this place of darkness that I found comfort in other dark things for a long time.

    Later, when I incorporated writing about zombies into my writing career, my view of the undead and fandom of them wasn’t your typical horror fan’s. It wasn’t the blood and guts that excited me or their spooky nature, the whole things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thing.

    Instead, it was rooted in my first love: superheroes.

    And they still are.

    I’ve never viewed zombies as “horror monsters” in terms of how I create and write them. To me, they’ve always been supervillains, and I think it’s this definition of them that is more accurate: they are “super” because they can’t die via conventional means—only by the removal of the head—and are certainly not part of our everyday lives, and they are “villains” because of the evil act of eating others they commit.

    When I set out to write my first zombie book, Blood of the Dead (book one of the Undead World Trilogy,) I didn’t want to write a standard zombie novel about a virus, people dying, people coming back, people surviving. I’ve never been one for formulas in my fiction and have always tried to do something new with each tale. Once the story was done, it immediately birthed unusual plans for the sequel, Possession of the Dead: angels, demons, giant zombies some fifteen stories high, shamblers and sprinters, shape shifting zombies and the consequences of the time travel ending of the first book. The third, Redemption of the Dead, incorporated all these unusual elements, while neatly dealing with the time travel issue and ensuring it was paradox-free, which, as a major time travel fan, was something important to me. But all along, as these books were written, the zombies were supervillains to me, with my main cast—Joe, Billy, August, Des, Tracy—being superheroes in their own right, especially Joe and Tracy. While Joe was an excellent shot with the gun, tough as nails and grim, Tracy was a highly-skilled marksmen and fighter. Likewise, they had the tendency to rescue people versus just letting people die.

    The story certainly would not have been what it was without my love of the superhero genre and my sheltered upbringing. Doing zombie stories this way also enabled me to tackle Zombie Fight Night: Battles of the Dead, with a kind of comic book sensibility, that is, classic characters—ninjas, samurai, robots, Vikings, and more—and pit them up against the undead in Bloodsport-like battles, each fight with a purpose that served the overall story being told between each bout.

    The supervillain angle—I like it. I grew up with it, being a huge fan of Super Friends, the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks, the Tim Burton Batman movies, even the Spider-Man TV show. To be honest, I can’t imagine writing monsters any other way other than as supervillains because that’s what they are to me.

    Any monster is, actually, and I explored this idea in the series of anthologies I edit called Metahumans vs. The first two are Metahumans vs the Undead and Metahumans vs Werewolves. For the uninitiated, metahumans are superheroes are the same thing. The idea with this series was not only to showcase independent superheroes, but also put them up against a new kind of supervillain that isn’t used that often in comics or cartoons: monsters.

    Before you accuse me of this article being a giant commercial for my undead work—for free serial zombie fiction, see my on-line novel, Zomtropolis at www.canisterx.com, wink wink, nudge nudge—there’s a point to all these examples, and that is this: not to let stereotypes and archetypes be a guide for your fiction, in this, we’re talking about undead fiction.

    Why do zombies have to monsters via the standard definition? Why can’t there be something more to them?

    I fully realize we live in a very commercialistic society, where most of what’s produced is made because it’ll make the most money. For me, this is a shallow way of approaching storytelling. It’s selfish, it’s limiting, it’s, frankly, wrong. Art—which includes writing—should be about honest expression, about pushing boundaries and trying something new. Will this new thing always be popular? No, but the fact that it is new is important and shows the artist behind it has put thought into it and expressed something from within versus simply a formula of what would sell.

    Let’s look at the typical zombie formula.

    1) a virus sweeps the world, killing people

    2) these people rise from the dead as flesh-eating machines

    3) a group of people were somehow not infected—which may or may not be explained

    4) this group must survive in a half-destroyed world with limited resources—are our armies really that incompetent that the surviving military couldn’t defeat creatures who are stupid and slow?—and battle amongst themselves and against shambling zombies

    Did I miss anything?

    While this is fine for the skeleton of a story, it doesn’t make much for the meat of it. There needs to be more. Reasons for things need to be given. A new spin on these four main ideas needs to be taken otherwise it’s just the same story being told over and over again, the only difference being the people’s names and locales.

    “Well, that’s what the audience expects?” you say. They expect that because that’s what we’ve been giving them.

    Ever read a book or see a movie and go, “Now that’s a new way to do it?” I have. It’s an amazing realization and elevates the work in question to a whole new level upon seeing it.

    Some possible fixes to the aforementioned zombie formula, off the top of my head:

    1) Why is it always a virus? Why not something supernatural? Or something from space? Something from Earth? Something mechanical that gives the illusion of people back from the dead? I edited an anthology called Dead Science, which challenged the authors to create unique science-gone-wrong-based origins for the undead. The stories they came up with were fun and original.

    2) Shamblers and sprinters seem to be the order of the day. Some have ventured into smart zombie territory. What if they had super strength? What if to kill them it wasn’t cutting off their heads but it was their guts—source of hunger—that needed to be removed? What if they were giants? What if part of the cause of them dying also shrank them and you had zombies so small they were like bugs and could get all over you so quickly like ants that you had no hope of survival?

    3) Seldom is it explained why the group of survivors were immune to the zombie virus. An explanation for their survival needs to be included? Was a vicinity thing? Did the cause of the undead only affect people indoors? Outdoors? Is the whole world taken out or just a part of it?

    4) How come the world is always destroyed within a few weeks of the outbreak? Have you noticed this or is it just me? While I realize people act like animals under panic—we’ve all seen riots on the news—all these cities with broken everything, over-turned cars, bodies everywhere, graffiti, everyone suddenly in torn clothes, etc.—I just don’t get it. What about our military? Wouldn’t the countries’ forces combine to eradicate a common threat like a zombie outbreak? How could even a horde of zombies take out a guy with a machine gun unless they’re oh-so-slow moving bodies somehow got in a sneak attack? What about planes and bombs?

    I won’t admit to having read every zombie book or seen every zombie movie, but it seems to me the element of realism has been taken out. It’s always been my view that a book or comic or movie—whatever—needs to be grounded in reality somehow, the whole “what if this happened tomorrow for real” thing. To add such an element to a book—regardless of how out-of-this-world the circumstance is—suddenly brings that fantastic circumstance into our world and puts the reader right in the middle of the tale because he/she can completely understand why things happen a certain way. Life isn’t full of conveniences, tidy plotlines and clichéd ideas. It’s a mess with tons of twists and turns.

    Shouldn’t our stories reflect life?

    The argument is people want to escape. For me, that’s just an excuse to get out of a life that isn’t the one you wanted. How about turning that on its head and reading stories about lives like yours, that aren’t the way the characters wanted, and you draw strength and encouragement from that? There’s lots to be said about relatability and seeing people in the same boat as you, whether they’re real or not, whether the world they inhabit is yours or not.

    But I realize that trying new things and going against the grain is countercultural, especially in the West. I realize that to propose writing zombie fiction as something other than zombie fiction flies in the face of decades of tradition.

    It just seems, though, that these standard ideas have become so ingrained in us that we’re afraid to move or operate outside them. Afraid to grow. Afraid to step off the beaten path and blaze a new trail.

    Seems we all just go with the flow.

    Just like a pack of zombies.


  • Canister X Movie Review #81: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
    Written by Stan Berkowitz
    Directed by Sam Liu
    Runtime 67 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    The Man of Steel has been framed for the murder of Metallo.

    Now on the public’s radar as a wanted man, Superman must team up with his greatest ally—and closest friend—Batman, to clear his name and show the public what really happened the night Metallo died. But before he can do that, he must survive an onslaught of superheroes and supervillains alike, all of whom have come to cash in on the bounty for his capture.

    Meanwhile, a giant kryptonite meteor is on a collision course for Earth, making things even worse for the Man of Steel who has no way to stop it, especially since the President of the United States, Lex Luthor, wants to destroy it himself with nuclear missiles.

    Will the Earth survive and will Superman restore his good name?

     

    This movie, based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, is a comic book fan’s dream come true. Not only does it feature all of comicdom’s two most popular icons, but also a super supporting cast consisting of Power Girl, Captain Atom, Major Force, Black Lightning, Starfire, Katana and a host of other familiar faces, including, but not limited to, Captain Cold, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Lady Shiva and a ton of others.

    The story is solid, simple, but enough to really showcase each character: Superman as the one who doesn’t kill; Batman as the disgruntled detective; Lex Luthor as the glory-seeking, power-mad President—it totally works. The pacing was bang on and not once was I bored. Even the humor was in-step with the rest of the movie and didn’t come across like jokes from left field. Case in point, the giant robot in the end would’ve come across as goofy had not an explanation been given for the way it looked.

    There was a good give-and-take between Batman and Superman in this flick, too, both in their banter with one another, their approach to doing things, and also in saving each other’s bacon. Sometimes it seems that whenever the two team up, it’s always Batman that saves Superman. It was awesome a balance was finally struck between who helps who and when.

    I’m a huge fan of Ed McGuinness’s rendition of Superman and to see that they mimicked that art style in this feature made this fanboy happy. His Superman is big and strong and powerful. His Batman is top notch, too, same with the other characters.

    Of course, having Superman voiced by Tim Daly and Batman voiced by Kevin Conroy only adds to it as these guys were the voice talent behind these characters on their respective animated series. I really wish they would’ve been used for all the animated movies, but sadly that’s not the case and, of course, there’re different behind-the-scenes reasons as to why that is. Regardless, each actor captures each character perfectly, their tone, inflections and presentation reflecting the hero they’re supposed to portray.

    Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was one of the early feature-length DC animated movies and still holds up to this day as a classic.

    Highly Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #50: Justice League: Doom (2012)

    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Justice League: Doom (2012)
    Written by Dwayne McDuffie
    Directed by Lauren Montgomery
    Runtime 77 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    Assembled by Vandal Savage, the elite members of the Legion of Doom—Bane, Cheetah, Mirror Master, Star Sapphire, Ma’alefa’ak and Metallo—are shown how to beat each and every member of the Justice League of America. Using the specific weaknesses of each hero, the Legion heads out to destroy their counterparts and bring them to their knees so Vandal Savage could implement the next phase of his plan: annihilating the majority of the human race so he can bring about a new world order from its ashes.

    To make things worse, Vandal Savage didn’t discover how to destroy the Justice League on his own, and when the answer as to who was responsible is revealed, the JLA is rocked to its core with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

     

    Man, I love this movie. It features an all-star cast of all-star superheroes going up against an all-star roster of evil supervillains. Finally, we get to see the villains stick it to the heroes in a big way and not let up until the JLA is down. And I mean really down. It’s not often you see Superman on the brink of death, Batman humiliated and defeated, Flash completely screwed, Green Lantern a broken man, Martian Manhunter totally incapacitated, and Wonder Woman so messed up she doesn’t know what to do or which way to turn.

    This flick is based on the “Tower of Babel” Justice League story arc by Mark Waid, who is arguably one of the best comic book writers on the planet. I can’t comment on this flick’s faithfulness to that storyline because it’s been over ten years since I last read it, but I do remember the overall premise and this movie delivered on that.

    The heroes and villains look great in this movie, and it does well in showcasing their various powers and abilities.

    It’s also an exciting movie that is fast-paced, has a sense of atmosphere, a sense of taking place in the overall DC Universe—thanks to other heroes and villains not mentioned above showing up—and gives the JLA a threat that even they might not be able to handle. And that’s the thing with a JLA movie: the threat needs to be so huge and so dangerous that it takes them as a team to solve the issue, and considering each one of them is extremely powerful in their own right, that threat needs to be mega huge, not just physically but psychologically as well. Justice League: Doom has that and delivers it in spades.

    Also features the voice talent from the Justice League animated series so that totally adds to it as well, giving it a sense of familiarity.

    Out of all the superhero movies on the market, this is easily one of my favorites and is good viewing for kids and adults alike.

    Highly recommended.