Its author, Matthew Sturges, is no stranger to the world of comics, having worked alongside fellow Masked contributor Bill Willingham on the Eisnery-nominated Jack of Fables and House of Mystery for DC/Vertigo. He’s also lent his writing services to titles including Blue Beetle, Justice Society of America, Shadowpact, and the terrific six-issue Crisis Aftermath: Run! Fantasy Book Critic called his first novel, Midwinter, “the best pure genre debut of 09”. Its sequel, The Office of Shadow, was just released and, in its review, Publisher’s Weekly points out that “Sturges has an easy ear for dialogue and character”. And, having just re-read “Cleansed and Set in Gold”, I couldn’t agree more.
I asked Matt to offer up his thoughts on “Cleansed and Set in Gold”. He kindly obliged with the following…
When Lou Anders approached me with the concept of Masked I knew that I wanted in immediately. What appealed to me most was that Lou presented it as a book that would take the concept of superheroes seriously; no “wink, wink, aren’t we clever” stories whose intent was to deconstruct or condescend to the genre (Daryl Gregory’s story is, actually, fairly deconstructive, but it’s brilliant and done with love, so it gets a pass). Instead, these were to be actual superhero stories, and what’s more, he wanted people who’d actually written superhero comics to write as many of the stories as possible.
Having experienced superhero writers is key, I think, because it meant that the stories would be far more likely to avoid cliché. We who work in those particular trenches have seen the classic stories told and retold, and this was an opportunity to tell a kind of story that just couldn’t be told in the context of mainstream superhero comics. I think most superhero writers have a few stories in the dugout that are permanently benched because they can’t imagine who would dare publish them.
“Cleansed and Set in Gold,” for instance, is a story that could never have been printed by DC or Marvel for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the core subject matter of the tale. It’s pretty dark, and even the best artwork would have given a cast to the story that would have rendered the protagonist a difficult character to relate to. One of the great freedoms of prose is that it allows the writer to imply rather than to show. And there are certain instances where showing events gives them an unintended cast because of the viewer’s gut emotional reaction to images.
The genesis of the story was pretty straightforward, and started with a simple What If. What if a superhero had a power whose source was so distasteful and immoral that it was difficult for him to know if what he did with those powers outweighed what he did in order to get them? As I wrote it, it grew and turned into a story about friendship, and the extent to which we define ourselves in terms of those around us. The central premise of the story serendipitously became a metaphor for something universal, which is always a nice thing to happen, because it makes us writers seems smarter than we really are. At least, I hope it does.
And failing all that, it has numerous scenes of people in tights punching monsters. As one of my editors is fond of saying, “When in doubt, punch someone.”
Coincidentally, my grandmother used to have a saying that was not too dissimilar. And, before you start criticizing her, you should know that she was a tough old bird who lived to 112. Stories about my grandmother can be found by searching this blog. Stories about and by Matthew Sturges can be found over on his blog, here: http://matthewsturges.com/wordpress/
Okay, it’s time for another season 2 picture tease (in which I use a photo from a season 1 episode to hint at what’s to come). Oh, I have a feeling more than a few of you are going to go crazy for this one...