It’s finally here! Nine authors and their tireless editor answer your questions about the Masked superhero-themed anthology, comic books, and writing in general.
We’ve got quite a team here. One could go so far as to call them a “super team”. And it strikes me that members of this literary superteam have some pretty obvious comic book counterparts…
Lou Anders (Masked)…
Arlan writes: “For Lou Anders: What exactly do you do as editor? Besides arranging the authors and getting their submissions, how much are you involved in the actual stories? Do you give feedback or make changes to the stories while their in progress, or just wait for the final products and then just looks for typos?”
LA: Thanks for asking this Arlan, because very often I think people confuse what an editor does with what a copyeditor does. I’m not much when it comes to catching typos or checking grammar (although of course I catch a few), that’s the painstaking job of a copy editor, and an entirely different skill set. If I were comparing it to television, I’d say that the editor fills something more like a producer’s role and the copy editor probably maps onto the role of a line editor on set. In the case of anthologies, the theme of the anthology comes from the anthology editor, who then has to interest authors in the project, and then has to sell the theme plus wish list of authors to a publishing house. Then when the book is sold, you go back to the writers who have expressed interest or promised their participation, and you coach them on exactly what type of story you are looking for. I’m going to save talking about that process for a latter question that dovetails with this one. But in terms of structural changes, short stories are very tight animals, and the caliber of writer we had in Masked so high, that there weren’t too many major changes, just paragraph and sentence-level changes for clarity. In my other hat as Editorial Director of Pyr books though, I’ve suggested deep structural changes in some manuscripts and even gone so far as to suggest to authors what sort of manuscripts I’d like to see from them. Our forthcoming title, The Buntline Special, for example, exists because I called Mike Resnick up on the phone and said, “Hey Mike, have you ever thought about writing a weird western?”
AvidReader writes: “Lou Anders – How did you go about putting together the writers for this project? Which ones did you approach (and why?). Which ones approached you. And which ones came by way of recommendation? And why did you approach Joe about writing superhero fiction? Was it something he had mentioned being interested in?”
LA: Hi AvidReader! Once you have a theme in mind for an anthology, the anthologist puts together a wish list of authors they’d like to have for the project. In this case, the project was “prose stories of superheroes” and my intent was to make the table of contents comprised mostly of people who wrote both comics and books. However, Masked was originally sold to another publishing house, one that went through a change of ownership, and, worried about getting lost in that shuffle, I asked for the rights to revert to me. I then sold it to Pocket Books (who then decided to release it under their new imprint Gallery). But when it was originally set up at the aforementioned other publisher, that publisher was nervous about my intention to include only comic book professionals and asked that I include some heavy-hitting SF authors as well. Which is why I approached the magnificent Stephen Baxter and Ian McDonald, both of whom I’d worked with in the past, and both of whom had an interest in the genre. In terms of approaching comic book authors, I started with those I knew personally (which, it turns out, is quite a lot) and then a couple of them (most notably Paul Cornell) helped me get in touch with others. Now, as to when/how Joe was approached… I’m not actually sure, as it feels like an organic outgrowth of our association over several years now. It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a while that SF in particular is thriving in film, television and gaming but on the (apparent, disputable) decline in books, and I’m always looking for ways to encourage cross-pollination between SF narrative in different media. As a TV producer who actively reads in the genre and then turns around and generously and elegantly campaigns for literary SF&F, Joe is basically one of the great saints of the Lou Church of Speculative Fiction. Asking him to be involved was a no-brainer, the topic of the anthology in question (superheroes) is one that has already colonized multiple media formats and thus dovetails with his chosen field, and a short story is short enough that it affording Joe the opportunity to test the prose waters without committing to something longer. But we all need to harass him constantly for more, whilst showering him with praise for his magnificent contribution, to make sure this isn’t a one-off. He’s far too good at it not to write more prose fiction.
Ponytail writes: “Lou Anders – I know you are going to tell us how you choose the authors, but who picked YOU to do that and put this book together?
LA: Hi Ponytail! As I’ve said earlier, the anthologist comes up with the theme and then sells it to a publishing house. In this case, I sold Masked to the marvelous Jennifer Heddle, who works for Pocket books, but was also the editor who bought my very first professional anthology, Live without a Net, when she was at Roc a decade ago! Jen is tremendous to work with, and she is one of my favorite people in the business. She also has great taste in anthologists. (Cough, cough).
“What do you do if at the last minute an author can not meet your deadline?”
LA: I have a generic voodoo doll I keep in a file cabinet by my desk that can be adapted for just such occasions. But seriously, as long as the author is upfront and communicative about this, no problem. Often times some authors will say they would like to be involved but aren’t sure they can be, and you work around that. The only problem I have ever had was one author on another project, who said repeatedly that they were 100% absolutely in, and therefore whose story I was budgeting space for, who then went to complete radio silence the week stories were due, and didn’t contact me until one month afterward to say they never wrote it. I’ll never work with that author again in any capacity anywhere.
“When you screen the stories (by reading) what are you looking for?I have seen where you have been nominated for several book awards. Have you ever won? If not, prepare your acceptance speech!”
LA: Thank you. So far it’s been my privilege to lose four Hugo awards, one WFC award, and one PKD award. And I’m happy to go on losing awards year after year. The only award I’ve won thus far is the Chesley Award, not for editing, but for my other hat as Art Director, and I am deeply proud and humbled by it.
“Lou Anders – you said after a particular rave review of Masked, some Hollywood producers called. What was that conversation about?”
LA: Producer: “I saw the io9 article on Masked. Can I get a copy?”
Me: (thinking privately) “Why yes you can. It’s $10.80 on Amazon, $9.99 on Kindle, and I’m sure it’s on the shelf now at the Barnes & Noble in that wonderful shopping center on 3rd Avenue in West Hollywood, right between the Farmer’s Market and CBS Studios. And since as I’m sure you are aware there are colossal orders of magnitude between what films make and what books make, perhaps you could support the arts and ask your assistant to pick it up?”
Me: (speaking aloud) “Certainly. I’ll get one sent out to you straight away.” (goes off to stuff envelope).
In all seriousness, it’s always a long shot, and we don’t honor every request from a production studio for books, but you do try and pick and choose a few promising inquiries because while a long shot, it’s nice when it pays off.
“You also said you would be interested in putting together a Masked 2. Would you call in a new group of writers and do you really think you can come close to or top the original Masked?”
LA: Oooo, that’s an interesting question. There are certainly some characters in Masked that it would be fun to see in a second outing. There are also some comic book authors who were approached for the first volume that weren’t able to be a part of it who might be available this time around. I think it would be nice to do a mix of previous and new contributors. I do think Masked would be hard to top, but as long as we keep the level of contributors equal to the high standard the authors of Masked set, we should be able to match it.
Michelle writes: “Questions for Lou Anders:
– What sort of ground rules did you give the contributors as far as the settings
of the stories, etc? – Did you have to ask for any changes because stories were too similar or didn’t fit your vision for some reason? – What considerations did you use to decide the order of the works?”
LA: Hi Michelle. As to ground rules, I sent the contributors a several-pages welcoming letter when the anthology was originally sold. In it, I reiterated what I had said to each of them individually. Here’s a quote from that: “… the idea is to ‘do comics in prose.’ We don’t want to be seen as poking fun from a distance. We’re not a McSweeney’s parody; we want to do work that will be recognized and appreciated by today’s readers of DC/Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image et al. Also, the idea is to do the superhero. While I’m very aware that comics encompass a good deal more than men and women in tights, Road to Perdition sans the art panels is just a (very good) gangster story. So we are dealing with the superhero (and/or supervillian) specifically. Someone like The Shadow might be as far to the edge of the table as I’d like to go, and might even fall off that edge, as he’s really proto-superhero pulp not comic book.”
As to changes – ironically we had several superhero names show up in more than one story. We had two “Captain Jerusalem”s for some reason! This didn’t bother me, as I thought it hinted at a big comic book multiversal continuity, but Gallery wanted it changed and so one of the authors kindly volunteered to let the other have it. But apart from that, the stories really did span the spectrum of superheroes and villians. We didn’t seem to end up top heavy with Superman and Batman analogs, as you might have expected. Also, interestingly enough, we did end up with one and only one Shadow character and one Doc Savage character, so we got our proto-superhero archetypes in while leaving the majority of the book to more contemporary style heroes.
Thornyrose writes: “So I’ll throw out a question or two to Mr. Anders. if it’s not too late. What prompted your choice of authors to solicit stories from? What restrictions or instructions were the authors given before taking on the task? And what are the chances of a sequel volume? thank you Mr. M. for the blog entries and author introductions. thanks to all the authors participating, and to Mr. Anders for bringing the idea to fruition.”
LA: Hi Thornyrose! I’ve touched on a lot of this already, but I’ll add that we really stressed how important it was to look at what comic books have grown into today. We really didn’t want to approach this from an angle of nostalgia or camp. You can see, I’m sure, how easily it would be for outsiders to fill a book with silly stories written out of imperfect memories of the 60s Batman TV show, etc… In fact, the working title of the book was Holy Super Anthology!, which was junked almost immediately because it invoked exactly the wrong tone. Likewise, early in-house mock-ups of the cover art looked too pop and too camp, and I pushed from the start to get an actual comic book illustrator on the project – in this case, the fantastic Trevor Hairsine (another who Paul Cornell put us in touch with). As to a sequel… I haven’t explored this possibility yet, but I’d say the chances are directly proportional to how many copies of the first book sells! Finally, as that’s my last question, a big thanks to Joe and all his readers for all their support for this and other projects over the past few years. Deeply appreciated.
Matthew Sturges (“Cleansed and Set in Gold”)…
Arlan writes: “For Matthew Sturges: Where did you come up with Wildcard’s power? It is definitely one of the most unique powers I’ve seen among superheroes (and one of the more disgusting).”
MS: The idea for Wildcard’s power came from a question I’d been playing with for a while: what if a hero’s power came from a source so horrible that he could never tell anyone what it was? It all kind of spiraled out of that.)
Quade writes: “Our “hero” was left in quite the predicament, I would love to see how it pans out. Will there be a follow-up to “Cleaned And Set In Gold”?”
MS: I don’t have any immediate plans to revisit Wildcard or that world, but I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novel around those characters. Not sure if anyone would buy it, though. If, however, Lou invites me back for Masked 2, you can bet that we’ll see more of him.)
AvidReader writes: “Matthew Sturges – Gripping story but I had one big question. If Wildcard had the power of mind control available to him, why didn’t he use it earlier rather than having the reporter come to his apartment and get as far as she did?”
MS: I think that people of goodwill have an innate desire to confess their sins. The scene with the reporter isn’t as much about her as it is about him. You’re right–he could have taken care of her without even talking to her. But he needed to get it off his chest, and this was the perfect opportunity.
TimC writes: ““Matthew Sturges: Cleansed and Set in Gold is a pretty dark in tone. The same can be said for House of Mystery and, to some extent, Fables. Is there something that draws you to this type of storytelling and if so what is it? I haven’t Midwinter yet (I promise I will) but I was wondering if this darker tone is something that runs through your novels as well?”
MS: The novels are actually rather less dark. They have their moments, but the two novels are more along the lines of what you’d expect from a standard fantasy novel, temperamentally speaking. I count myself lucky to have more than one avenue for getting ideas out of my head because my imagination tends to be all over the map.
As far as being drawn to that kind of storytelling, it’s true, but I’ve never spent much time wondering about it. I clearly remember reading The Shining when I was thirteen years old and thinking, “Where has this been all my life?” The great thing about horror to me is how deeply it affects us; great horror slaps you in the face and makes you confront and feel things.
KellyK writes: “General question for those Masked authors who make a living writing comic books. I’d like to know how they would compare the challenges of writing for both genres. Pros? Cons?”
MS: In one way, comics is easier. Writing good prose is very taxing, and in comics the only part of your script that the end user ever sees is the dialog; the artist handles the fine points of the narrative. When you’re writing scene and panel descriptions in a comic script, your only audience is the artist, and the main goal there is simply clarity. You don’t need to worry about coming up with the mot juste in order to describe events; you just have to describe them. On the other hand, comics is a very structured medium. Pages are only so big, and individual issues are only so long: typically you have twenty-two pages in which to tell a chunk of story, no more, no less. I imagine it must be a bit like television writing, in which you’re constrained by necessity to structure the story a specific number of acts, each of a specific length. That kind of constraint can be very helpful in structuring a story, but it can also be hellishly limiting. Ultimately, they’re apples and oranges. The one thing that stays the same across any medium is writing effective dialog, and that, to me, is where the true challenge lies.
Ponytail writes: “Matthew Sturges – Thank you for my first ever introduction to comic books with Cleansed and Set in Gold. Loved it! How old were you when you started writing and what did you write about? (crazy stuff, I bet!)”
MS: The first thing I ever actually finished was a short story I wrote when I was eighteen called “Conscience and the Letter Q,” which was a brave attempt at a Borgesian psychological horror story about a kid who murders his step-father. The story is lost to the ages, so I have no idea if it was any good, but it probably wasn’t! It takes a long, long time to get good, unless you’re some kind of crazy genius like John Kennedy Toole. That said, I’d been tinkering with writing since I was about six years old. I think that bug hits most writers pretty early!
Michael A. Burstein writes: “Here is my one question for Matthew Sturges. I don’t think he covered it in the story (if he did, I apologize for missing it), but it’s been bugging me ever since I read it. How did Wildcard discover his powers? Given how he gets his powers, it seems unlikely he ever would have, um, taken the action needed to get his powers to kick in the first time.”
MS: My best guess is that someone lost a finger in an unfortunate accident in a hot dog factory, and that’s where it started. To be honest, I never really worked it out on the assumption that whatever you imagine is more dreadful that anything I could write.
James Maxey (“Where Their Worm Dieth Not”)…
Starship1 writes: “To James Maxey – A lot of your work has been in prose fiction and, specifically, superhero prose fiction. 1. How is the market for this sub-genre? Do you find it easy to find a home for your work? Or do many publishers consider it a risky niche market?”
JM: Definitely a niche market, but slightly less risky than it once was. Ten years ago, the only superhero novels getting printed were licensed properties. You’d find Batman and X-men novels, but any book written about these existing characters required the characters returned to the status quo at the end of the book. Stand alone superhero novels were really rare. When my debut novel Nobody Gets the Girl game out, bookstores weren’t quite sure where to place it. I’d go into some stores and find it with the graphic novels, which probably surprised shoppers who picked it up and found no pictures inside. Other stores would stock it in the science fiction section, while still other stores would place it in the general fiction area.
There was a time when, if your book didn’t fit into a existing marketing slot in a book store, it was doomed. Things are changing now. I’m seeing more and more original superhero novels getting published, like Ghosts of Manhattan and Ex-Heroes. Amazon has given a lifeline to micro-genres. It’s like a store with infinite shelf space, so a book doesn’t have to be a bestseller to be stocked. When you go buy Masked, you get suggestions for other superhero prose. People enthusiastic about superhero novels build reader lists that can lead people to great books that never made it into Barnes and Nobles, like Mur Lafferty’s Playing for Keeps.
“2. Do you think the appetite for superhero fiction of the short story and novel variety will continue to expand?”
JM: Here three competing trends collide. Trend one: The appetite for prose fiction in general is on a decline. Short stories in particular have fewer and fewer homes that pay professional rates, and, with very rare exceptions, even if you sell to the top markets, short stories are lucky to be read by more than a few thousand readers. Trend two: It’s easier than ever to get a book or a short story published. So, you have more titles hitting the market at a time when you have less demand, which means that the readers available to an average book are dropping. Trend three: Superheroes are hot and getting hotter. When I was a teenager, superheroes were mostly trapped in comic books and being a fan past the age of 12 labeled you as a nerd. And heaven help you if you were one of those pathetic nerds who would actually go to a comic book convention. Today, events like ComicCon draw crowds in excess of 100,000 fans. Every year, you can count on at least two or three superhero movies being released, and odds are good one of these movies will be the highest grossing movie of the year. There have been enough superhero television shows now that it’s only a matter of time before there’s a cable network devoted to nothing but superheroes. If even 1 superhero fan in 100 who buys movie tickets is interested in reading prose superheroes, that’s a huge potential market.
“3. What would you like to see for this sub-genre in the future and what do you think can be done to help it along?”
JM: I think the biggest boost would come if a really big name author tackled the genre. If Stephen King or J.K Rowling decided that their next book was going to feature super-powered men in tights, other publishers would scramble to release similar books. Of course, King’s novels already feature a lot of people with superpowers—telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis—but since his heroes don’t put on capes and fight masked villains, his readers don’t know they’re reading about superheroes.
TimC writes: “James Maxey: What is it about comic books that makes them such a powerful source of inspiration for you and what is it about comic books that has continued to capture the imaginations of young and old ever since their creation? Is it mere escapism or is it something more? Comic books aren’t just for kids. Some of the best offer social commentary in a way that is thought-provoking but entertaining at the same time, something for kids but something for adults willing to look beneath the surface. Would you agree and, if you do, what would be your favorite examples of titles that have succeeded in doing this?”
JM: The last question first: Obviously, comics aren’t just for kids any more. Most of the critically acclaimed stuff that’s gone on to mainstream respectability, like Sandman and Watchmen, are among my favorites as well. I also liked how Marvel’s Civil War books provided commentary on the balance of privacy versus security, reflecting many of the debates that unfolded in the aftermath of 9-11. I thought that John Ostrander’s Spectre series was really daring in its examination of big moral questions. In some ways, he used that series to put the very notion of God on trial. And the Hourman series written by Tom Peyer repeatedly surprised me with genuine insights into human nature.
The first half of your question is something I’ve spent a lot of time pondering. Why do superheroes and superpowers feel so right? It seems like we should have evolved to accept that we are fairly sluggish, earth-bound creatures. What possible evolutionary advantage can come from imagining that we can run as fast as lightning, or fly like a bird, or lift trucks over our heads? Attempting these things is likely to get us killed and removed from the genetic pool. Yet we can and do imagine these things, and it seems to be hardwired into us. Tell any three-year-old boy that Superman can fly and it makes sense to him. Of course he can fly, and other men can turn invisible, and some men are bulletproof. You can find these same powers popping up in Greek and Egyptian mythology. Visit a tribe in the Amazon that’s never seen a comic book and you’ll discover that they also have tales of heroes who fly, or turn into animals, or breathe underwater. Superheroes seem to be fundamental to the human psyche.
My personal experience is embarrassing, but possibly typical. Until I was almost twenty, I just assumed that one day I would be able to fly. Some doctor would tell me I had the right genetic mutation, or there would be an accident with a radioactive hummingbird, or I’d find the flight-ring left behind by some time traveler. I used to make lists of the stuff I’d need when I finally got my superpowers. I figured biker gear would be the most practical outfit; the leather could stand up to high speed flight and a full helmet would keep bugs out of my teeth. I’d drive around with my left arm held out the open window, feeling the way the wind would run along my skin when I tilted my hand at different angles, cataloging the best ways to hold my arms to minimize drag. Intellectually, if you’d asked me if I’d ever be able to fly one day, I knew I wouldn’t. But, emotionally, it felt self-evident that I would one day. I can still remember the instant when I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. There was this really old man who lived near the college I attended; I don’t remember his name now, but he had to be in his 90’s. He was very frail, but he insisted on walking everywhere on his own. One day I was watching him walking across a room and thinking, “He looks like he’s about to fall over,” and then, bam, he did fall over, breaking his arm. A dozen people ran to help him. I just sat there, feeling so powerless. I kept thinking, if I’d been able to fly already, I could have just swooped in and caught him. Then I grew very chilled by the understanding that was never going to happen. I wasn’t ever going to have the power to swoop in and save anyone. I can still feel the ache of that moment.
But I learned in that moment that the driving force behind my superhero dream wasn’t just about having special powers, it was about having the power to help people. The world is full of bad things that happen to good people, and at the root of the superhero dream is the desire to make the world better. I didn’t want to fly so that I could save money on airfare; I wanted to fly so that I could keep old men from breaking their arms. Superman doesn’t lift cars over his head to impress Lois Lane. He’s out fighting lawlessness, imposing a sense of order to challenges that seem to be beyond the grasp of mere humanity. You get the myth of the Batman because the forces we create to deal with the challenges of poverty and criminality do so often seem impotent, or outright corrupt. Since ordinary human institutions so often let us down, we crave the strong man who can stand up and sock the bad guy in the jaw and make the world right again.
Of course, since superheroes aren’t going to ride to our rescue, it’s up to us, as mere mortals, to battle the suffering and unfairness of the world. I think that the reason the superhero dream has been built into our brains by evolution is that it drives us to be better people.
AvidReader writes: “James Maxey – Excellent story although some of the elements, especially the torture scenes, were difficult to read. Even though you already touched on it in your last visit here, I’d love to know more about your reasons for writing this story and how it applies to your love of comic books. There was so much going on here that I wondered if you considered either making it longer or using it as the basis for a future novel.”
JM: The potential for a book is definitely there. I especially have some ideas about Atomahawk that would probably be enough to keep my brain engaged for a year, which is roughly the amount of time it takes me to work a novel through all of its various drafts. But, this possible novel is competing in my brain with a half dozen other ideas, so it’s tough to say when I’ll finally get around to it.
As you say, I love comic books, and because I spend so much time thinking about them, I often find myself wondering, if a super-powered being did exist, would the superhero career be the best use of their abilities? For instance, say that you were Superman, and you learned that Lois Lane had breast cancer. With your x-ray vision and heat vision, you could identify all the cancer cells within her and zap them, saving her life. But, of course, if you had this power, would you have the ethical right to stop with her? Let the cops deal with bank robberies, and fire-fighters deal with burning buildings. With your super-speed, you could probably treat a few thousand patients a day, curing stage five cancers that no doctor or drug can touch. And, since you can fly, you can treat patients in New York one day, London the next, Moscow, Tokyo, etc. You could do this 24/7 and save 365,000 lives a year.
Isn’t it more important to do this than to piddle around with Lex Luthor? But, what if once you did turn into Cancer Curing Man, all money going into cancer research dried up? Why would any company spend billions looking for a cure if you’re around? And right now, fear of cancer is probably the biggest reason smoking has declined so much in the US. What if people started smoking again because they knew that Superman wouldn’t let them die of lung cancer? Could you, as Superman, refuse to treat smokers?
Fundamentally, these are stupid questions. There is no Superman. I shouldn’t be awake at three in the morning thinking about this stuff. But, as long as my brain insists on following these mental pathways, I may as well be writing stories based on these meanderings.
Since you mention the torture scene in “Where Their Worm Dieth Not,” let me tell you some of the reasons why I included it. At first glance, it might seem like I’m trying to portray Retaliator as secretly evil or at least crazy by revealing what he does to small time crooks. But, I fully understand the impulses that drive him to such extremes. My best friend was once robbed at gun point. They took his wallet and said that since they had his driver’s license they’d come to where he lived and kill him if he called the cops. Of course, he called the cops anyway, and they caught the two robbers a few hours later driving a car they’d stolen with the driver still tied up and locked in the trunk. So, by my count, they were guilty of kidnapping, armed robbery, and grand theft auto. They should have gone to jail for years, but did a plea bargain and wound up serving six months. My girlfriend’s old apartment was broken into twice, and neither time did the police even send out a squad car. They just took the report over the phone. I had the same response when someone smashed in the window of my car and stole my stereo. I understand that society only has a limited number pool of resources. I don’t know that I’d want to live in a police state powerful enough to stop all crime. But on a gut level, I still feel a sense of outrage that these small time criminals can get away with only a slap on the wrist in the unlikely event they are caught at all. Retaliator is just the expression of this anger. I’m counting on the reader being repulsed by his extremes, but still understanding and maybe even sympathizing with his attempts to impose justice in an unjust world.
Paul Cornell (“Secret Identity”)…
TimC writes: “Paul Cornell: What inspired you to write Secret Identity and did you feel any extra pressure going in? What is your opinion of the role of gay characters in comic books and how they’ve been portrayed to date? I’m thinking of characters like Midnighter and Apollo on the one hand, and the new Rawhide Kid on the other.”
PC: I’ve always been a fan of Captain Marvel, and I’d always been interested in what the differences would be between the child Billy Batson and the adult he transformed into. My thought process was to find a big difference between secret identity and hero, and the rest went from there. Obviously, one then has a responsibility to make the gay person recognisable to, and relatable to for, gay people. So one asks them. I think there should be a lot more gay characters in comics, and I think we’re getting some good portrayals now, notably Batwoman and Scandal in Secret Six. A gay male hero in the mainstream is the next thing, I hope.
KellyK writes: “General question for those Masked authors who make a living writing comic books. I’d like to know how they would compare the challenges of writing for both genres. Pros? Cons?”
PC: Well, media rather than genres. Swapping between media really requires an effort, as Joe I’m sure will attest. TV and comics have a lot in common, but demand a change in how one thinks about movement. Try saying ‘she walks out of the door and slams it behind her’ to a comic book artist. Which bit of that is the drawing? You have unlimited effects budget in comics, but, as in TV, limited space/time. In prose, of course, anything goes, which always makes it my favourite. It’s then important to *let* yourself do anything, and recognize when it’s right to do so.
AvidReader writes: “Paul Cornell – A great story with a great, great hero. You said you ran this story by some of your gay friends and I’m ultracurious about how they responded. Were they very positive? Were their elements of the story that were changed a result of their input?”
PC: Thank you. Some of their notes were about Canal Street, purely research details from those who’d spent a lot of time there. But some of it was about the fears and emotional stresses of being in relationships that don’t have the entire enormous support of mainstream culture.
Kingfisher writes: “For Paul Cornell, What’s the deal with UK comic book writers? The gang from the other side of the pond rule comics. Why do think this is? Is there something there an experience that is uniquely English or Scottish that translates particularly well to comic books?”
PC: I think some of it is economic circumstance: we’re the other country that does comics, and we speak English. If the US was Francophone, the French comic creators would be the big thing. We were brought up with all sorts of genres, which gives us a slightly outsider perspective on superheroes, and we grew up with weekly anthologies, which gave us the quality of brevity. Glad you like the results.
Milani writes: “If you had to choose between writing for television or writing for comic books, which would it be and why? Writing short stories probably doesn’t even come close to paying as well as the other two, so what is it about the short form that draws you to it? Does it give you a different sense of satisfaction or does it provide a venue for telling a different type of story?”
PC: I’d choose prose, then comics. Apart from a couple of juicy possibilities I’m waiting on, I’m hoping to give up TV soon. The short form is the most challenging, and means you have to express yourself briefly. Also, I keep being offered nice assignments in short stories, like this one, which I think is one of my best.
Daryl Gregory (“Message from the Bubblegum Factory”)…
AvidReader writes: “Daryl Gregory – I loved the humor in this story. It’s something you do very well judging from The Devil’s Alphabet. Overall, MftBF ranks as one of my favorite – except for the metafictional twist at the end that I wasn’t a fan of. Why the decision to go that way? Was it something you had planned from the moment you sat down to write the story? And how’s Dracula: The Company of Monsters coming along?”
DG: Hey, AvidReader! Thanks again for reading The Devil’s Alphabet. As for “Message from the Bubblegum Factory,” that metafictional slant was the idea from the beginning, starting with the title, and then onto the first line of the story, which was addressed to “Dear Reader.” (Maybe in the reprint we’ll change it to “Dear Avid Reader.”) But the questions that threads throughout the story — is the narrator trapped in Soliton’s story? does he have free will? — came from taking the rules of the “ultimate big company superhero universe” (as Bill Willingham has it) at face value, treating them seriously, and not in a jokey way.
The narrator is trying to come up with an explanation that fits all the facts of his world — which are the facts of Marvel’s universe, or DC’s. Those worlds diverge from ours when that first superhero appears. Superman starts out fighting gangsters, but soon enough supervillains start showing up, and other superheroes. So, putting on my science fiction writer hat, I wondered, what would explain that? Maybe it’s a virtual reality like a game world, maybe a pocket universe designed especially for Soliton. Or it could be that the narrator is insane. I do have an answer, and I have two more stories in the Soliton universe planned, following Eddie King’s quest to kill his step-father. I just need time to write them!
TimC writes: “Daryl Gregory: You have a great sense of humor that shows up in your work. How important do you think humor is? What does it add? And do you think there is any genre in which its inappropriate or shouldn’t be used? Are we going to see that Daryl Gregory sense of humor in Dracula: Company of Monsters?”
DG: Okay, Tim, now I have to go out and trademark “that Daryl Gregory sense of humor.”
You got me thinking, though. What _is_ my brand of humor? I definitely have a preference in my own stories for comedy that grows out of characters reacting to horrible, terrifying situations, and not from me, the author, adding funny elements to the story, like say an alien with a speech impediment. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Dr. Zoidberg is hands-down my favorite Futurama character.)
In my own stuff I like to have characters use humor in dialog to cover up their fear, humiliation, or despair. In “Bubblegum Factory”, I liked the dissonance between the narrator’s jaunty patter and his depressed mental state. The nuking of Chicago was the 9/11 of his world, and he blames Soliton for that, but he’s still keeping up the facade of the bantering sidekick. It’s an approach I used in my first novel, whose first-person narrator is having a mental breakdown, and a technique a writing teacher of mine likened to Bluegrass music — if you’re going to talk about murder and betrayal and your dog dying, at least do it to a snappy tempo.
I also like it when characters have deadpan reactions to the latest absurdity. Think “Sean of the Dead” when Mom complains that the people trying to get into the house were “a bit bitey.” Or in Chris Roberson’s comic “iZombie,” the great moment when a guy discovers that his best friend is a were-terrier. He doesn’t freak out, though — the two friends sit down together and play video games. It’s funny, but it works because it’s true to the characters. In my own stuff, if I have someone step out of character to get a laugh from the reader, I may have won the sentence but lost the story.
In “Dracula: Company of Monsters,” there wasn’t much room for the funny in issue 1, but as I work on the scripts I’m finding more and more opportunities for the kinds of comedy I like. The main character Evan, who has been drafted by his uncle in a plan to resurrect Dracula, is in way over his head. As the bodies pile up, Evan would like to be running to an asylum, but he can’t afford to do that. The scenes where he’s desperately trying to come to grips with the latest horror are some of the darkest and funniest scenes in the book. For me, anyway. Some people just don’t find impalement as amusing as I do.
TimC continues: You mentioned selling another superhero-themed short story before this one. Did you know you’d find a home for it when you started? How hard was it finding someone to publish it and how likely is it we’ll see more stories set in the Soliton universe?”
DG: Oops — I answered your last question above. Two more Soliton stories to come, Tim — I just don’t know where or when.
As for my first superhero story, I was lucky. I’d been invited into the anthology Eclipse 2, which was supposed to be a collection of original SF and fantasy, but then I turned in this superhero story. Later it was reprinted in a year’s best fantasy anthology, and then in a year’s best SF anthology, so I don’t think anyone knows what genre it is either. With some exceptions, like Stephen Baxter’s tale for Masked, “Vaccum Lad”, superhero stories usually don’t make sense as science fiction. (Reactionless flight? X-Ray vision that works how again?) But even when you invoke magic to explain superpowers (as Paul Cornell does in his story for Masked), they _feel_ more like science fiction. So…. yeah. I was glad the Eclipse editor, Jonathan Strahan, didn’t reject the story out of hand.
AnnettefromSW writes: “You were a comic book fan when you were younger and are now writing comics professionally. What are the top five comic book characters you’d like to write for an why? P.S. I think you’d be great on any of the Spiderman titles.”
DG: It’s very simple, people. Let me write Captain America, or the kitten gets it.
I have a great love for the low-powered, street-level heroes like Daredevil, Hawkeye, Batman, and yes, Spider-Man. The stakes seem to be higher when the stats on the character sheet are lower, and I love how there’s room for small tensions and moments in their stories. Something about Peter Parker trying to hide his costume from Aunt May gets to me.
I also particularly love stories about supervillains, and the supervillain lifestyle. Give me any story about the Thunderbolts, or Flash’s Rogues, or Marvel’s TaskMaster and I’ll run with it.
Gail Simone (“Thug”)…
dasNdanger writes: “@ Gail Simone – 1. In school, where you the bully, the bullied, or the bystander?”
GS: Neither. This probably sounds like baloney, but I hated bullies, always have, and I was tall and athletic for my age. So I used to be the girl who would push around the bullies and tell them to knock it off. I remember chasing one bully into the girl’s room and scaring the crap out of her. Maybe a little Batgirl was in my mind at the time. Still hate bullies to this day.
“2. When you write, do you always stick to your outline, or do your characters start writing the story for you?”
GS: I think if the characters are writing the story, you’re doing something wrong. They may have ideas, they may get feisty, but the writer still has to drive the vehicle.
“3. I’m a very visual person and need detailed physical descriptions of characters if I’m going to connect with them – I need to ‘see’ who I’m reading about. However, Elmore Leonard said in his 10 Rules on Writing: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters”, and I’m finding this to be the case more and more with modern writers – and I hate it. Where do you stand on character descriptions?”
GS: Hi, Das! Well, in prose, I think it can be very awkward, these lengthy image description passages. The well-chosen phrase is preferable to a dozen overly flowery ones. So I’d prefer being a bit strict, I think. In comics, I give guidelines to the artists, but I want them to have freedom to use their gifts, that’s why they’re drawing, and not me.
EllenofA writes: “What’s it like working in the male-dominated field of comic books? And I’m not just referring to the behind the scenes but the actual on the page experience of writing for mainly male characters.”
GS: I don’t have anything particularly illuminating to say about this, I’m afraid, Ellen. Characters are characters. We’re always writing people outside of our own bodies, or it’d be pretty grim reading our stuff. I guess I would say that the spectrum of characters available is what makes writing at DC or MARVEL fun in the first place, you know?
“Ms. Simone – Given Thug, Villains United, and Secret Six, I’m going to guess you have a thing for the bad guys (and gals). Wondering if this is an accurate assessment and if so what draws you to these characters? Do you see a possibility of redemption in all of your characters? Do you see a possibility of redemption in all villains?”
GS: It’s not so much that I like the bad guys, as that I enjoy the extremes that comics allows us to write towards. I mean, in comics, you can have the Hulk on one end and Mr. Fantastic on the other, and both are speaking fantasy dialogue, essentially, but it’s fun partially because it’s so damn odd. I see a lot of comics writers writing all the characters with a ‘modern’ ear, making it sound like the conversation in a coffee shop. But that’s boring to me, who wants to hear Galactus talk about the weather?
So, with the bad guys, it’s the twist in speech and behavior that I love. That they curve when they should fire straight. And it’s always fun writing about desperate people.
TimC writes: “Gail Simone: I was surprised to hear this is your first published short story. How did you find writing Thug compared to comic books? Did you struggle with this unfamiliar form or did it come easily? Can you tell me about the process of creating Alvin’s voice. Is it something that just happened in the writing of the story or did you establish his voice for consistency before even sitting down to write?”
GS: Well, comics allow the artist to do so much of the storytelling, and prose obviously does not. But there are some similar skill sets, like a decent ear for dialogue and hopefully having the understanding of the movement of a plot, etc. So I would hope that most comic writers would have most of the skills needed to write prose or cinema. I enjoyed the process quite a bit. I had Alvin’s voice and story in my mind before writing it, thankfully. I always say the best advice I can give an aspiring writer is this…Know what it is that would break your character’s heart. I think if you know that, you know both the strengths and weaknesses of your character.
Pontytail writes: ““Gail Simone – Absolutely loved Thug! Where any of the characters patterned after anyone you know?”
GS: Hhm. I don’t think so, now that you mention it. No one springs to mind, sorry, Ponytail!
KellyK writes: “General question for those Masked authors who make a living writing comic books. I’d like to know how they would compare the challenges of writing for both genres. Pros? Cons?”
GS: Well, I’m pretty hooked on writing comics, Kelly, simply because I love seeing a talented artist take my words and make beautiful pictures out of them. But having complete control, as you do in prose, is pretty lovely as well!
AvidReader writes: “Gail Simone – I love Secret Six! Great. Now that that’s out of the way – Thug. I loved Thug! The clunky language was a little daunting at first but, once you get a handle of it, the story goes very quickly. Thug touched me more deeply than any story in the anthology. Have you been surprised by the response to Thug? Has this experience made you consider possibly writing more prose? Is there a novel in you?”
GS: Thank you, Avid. Yeah, I have been a little surprised. Noting the talent and resumes of the other contributors, there’s always the very real possibility that my story would stink and I’d embarrass myself and have to go live in a hovel selling ships in a bottle to deranged tourists. But the response has been astounding, several writers I really adore said it was their favorite story in the book, or one of their favorites, and a surprising number of people said the story made them cry. It’s nice to have a story that stuck with people, that meant something to them. I can only offer my gratitude to those readers.
There might be a novel. I get asked a lot. I’m working on something in my spare time, in fact.
Thanks everyone, for the nifty questions. Hope you picked up the book, there are some wonderful stories in there!
Joseph Mallozzi (“Downfall”)…
Arlan writes: “Liked “Downfall” a lot. Can you speak to how your story ended up as long as it did – it is the longest in the anthology by far. You say you wanted it shorter, how would you go about that?”
Joe: Strange as it sounds, it ended up as long as it did because that’s as long as it took to tell. I suppose if I had wanted it shorter, I could have simply tackled a different story.
AvidReader writes: “Joe – Well done. I really enjoyed Downfall. And, while reading it, I couldn’t help but have Marshall remind me of a certain producer. How much of Marshall is you? Were any of the other characters inspired by people you know? And how did you come up with all those crazy superhero names?”
Joe: They say you should write about what you know and, while I admittedly know little about being a reformed supervillain, I do know plenty about mothers who enjoy reading Maeve Binchy. To be honest, I wasn’t consciously drawing from experience while writing any of the characters although it’s funny that several people who know me said they found my depiction of Marshall somewhat autobiographical. As for those crazy superhero names all I needed was a dictionary, google search to make sure none of the crazy monikers were taken, and plenty of time.
Ponytail writes: “Joe Mallozzi – Between writing and producing a TV show, travels abroad, keeping up this awesome daily blog, culinary adventures, making specialty desserts, etc, etc, where did you find the time to write a short story?”
Joe: One of the nice/horrible things about being a writer is that you’re rarely ever not working on something. Whether it’s lying in bed, eating a meal, or listening to your significant other talk about her day, the wheels are always turning. I tend to run through a particular scene in my head a couple of dozen times before I’ll write it down. Countless rewrites follow.
“What did your family think about Masked and your short story?”
Joe: Alas, they’ve yet to check it out. Lulu, my French bulldog, sniffed it curiously several times so I’m optimistic she’ll get around to it eventually.
“Any plans in the future to leave television and become a full time book writer?”
Joe: Who knows what the future holds? I have an idea for a pretty wacky novel – and an equally wacky second short story. It’s all about finding the time…
“I forgot I wanted to ask you one more question. The black lab named Remy. Well? Any correlation with your co-worker Remi Aubuchon? Tell the truth!”
Joe: Actually, no. I came up with the name of Marshall’s black lab well before we’d hired Remi though, for what it’s worth, Remi Aubuchon is just as lovable and great with kids.
“Joe – Lou Anders specifically said your story was one that would make a great movie. How does that make you feel? What if Downfall was made into a movie? Would this definately persuade you to write comics full time?”
Joe: I wouldn’t need any persuading. I’m presently scripting the first issue of an original comic book series. More on that in the coming weeks.
Paloosa writes: “1) Any particular writers or story influences that helped you with the choices you made as you struggled through it?”
Joe: Not too long ago, I read a terrific piece of writing advice that came from author Joe Abercrombie. Actually, it came from Joe’s mother who told him that, when writing “you have to try to be honest”. As Joe goes on to explain: “Everything that seems dishonest, that seems unconvincing, that seems untrue, weakens the effect. If you keep honest, you can’t go too far wrong.” And I really took that to heart as I was working “Downfall”. There were countless times when I’d stop to read what I’d written, and think: “This isn’t me.” If it felt forced or less-than-genuine, I’d scrap it and start over. In the end, I have no idea if “Downfall” is honestly great, but I do know it was honest.
“2) Do you feel satisfied in what you accomplished with this story?”
Joe: Very. The fact that I actually completed it was an accomplishment. And the very positive feedback I’ve received since its publication has made it all the more satisfying.
“3) What did you learn that might make this process a little less painful for you in writing your next short story adventure?”
Joe: I’ve got a secret for you: most writers I know hate to write because writing is an inherently painful process. I suppose I’d liken it to childbirth. Now I’ve never experienced childbirth and chances are pretty good I never will, but I hear it’s mighty painful. And yet, despite the pain, women continue to have babies. They may not be as adorable as a nice, fresh copy of your latest book hot off the presses, but I’m sure they nevertheless provide a certain sense of satisfaction.
dasNdanger writes: “Joe – There is one thing I wanted to discuss, and it has to do with the third question I asked Gail – about character descriptions. I noticed you didn’t go into too much detail, and though you did include some description, for my tastes it wasn’t enough. That was the only thing I found lacking in your story.”
Joe: Whenever I read, I tend to skim over the descriptive passages. As a result, I prefer to be economical in my descriptions, offering up the broad strokes and then allowing the reader to fill in the rest of the picture.
“That said, Joe, if you could also address the last two questions I asked Gail, I’d appreciate it: 1. When you write, do you always stick to your outline, or do your characters start writing the story for you? (I am always curious about this aspect of writing, and like to get different takes on it…and I can’t remember if I’ve asked you this before.)”
Joe: I knew the general story, where I wanted to end up, and most of the scenes in between. I think it helps to have an outline or, at the very least, a general blueprint of the story in your head, especially if you’re looking to write a series of satisfying set-ups and pay-offs.
Mark Chadbourn (“By My Works You Shall Know Me”)…
Arlan writes: “For Mark Chadbourn: I must say I didn’t see the twist coming. All along I thought I was clever and had figured out that Styx was the lifelong friend only to discover the twist on the last page – well done.”
MC: Thanks, Arlan. The twist was the premise so I had to work back from the reveal at the end.
AvidReader writes: “Mark Chadbourn – An awesome story with a very, very cool twist. You’re incredibly prolific and most of your work is in the fantasy realm. I’d like to know if your experience with Masked will lead you to branch out to more superhero-themed fiction? Did trying your hand at another genre maybe lead you to consider branching out? I know you’ve written for television, but I was even thinking along the lines of science fiction? And what’s happening with your pilot?”
MC: Thanks for the kind words about my ‘Masked’ story. Yes, I currently write fantasy, but I started out writing supernatural thrillers, and I’ve done some SF and crime. I’d be more than happy to do more SF in the future, and to do some more superhero fiction. A lot of writers don’t feel bound by genre limits – they just want to tell stories, and some might fit in one area, and some in another. Personally, I think it’s important for authors to keep shaking up what they do to keep things fresh. The big danger is falling into a rut.
The TV pilot is *sighs wearily* working its way through meeting after meeting.
Everything moves slowly in TV…until it moves fast…)
TimC writes: “Mark Chadbourn: Your protagonist is a dark anti-hero along the lines of Batman, a type of superhero you stated a preference for over the more traditional Superman types. What is your take on the shift toward these anti-heroes in mainstream comics. It seems as though you can’t pick up a title that doesn’t have a dark anti-hero protagonist (or literally have Dark in the title). All of a sudden, those traditional good guys are no longer the rule. Heck we even had Wonder Woman kill a villain a couple of years ago. What’s your opinion on this shift? Do you approve? Is it being overdone? And are there any of these dark heroes that appeal to you in the way Batman does? Do you think that comic book writing is in your future?”
MC: TimC, firstly let me say, Wonder Woman should *never* have killed that villain. It was wrong on so many levels. On the wider issue, I think it’s about maintaining a balance. The array of heroes should represent as many different outlooks as we have in the real world. Too many bright Silver Age optimists is as bad as too many grim ‘n’ gritty 80s/90s archetypes. As readers, we’re all much more sophisticated than the younger readership that was prevalent in the sixties, and I think we need more complex, nuanced heroes rather than one-note good guys. But I think for a hero to be a hero there has to be a well-defined moral code and that seems lacking, or at least warped, in some contemporary heroes. Heroes that have ‘Dark’ in the title, or aspire to that, don’t appeal to me, really. They always end up too simplistic, basic fan-boy fodder. Batman is much more complex than that. I have written some comics in the past – a creator-owned Image miniseries, Negative Burn and some other stuff for the now defunct-Caliber. In the future? Love to, but that’s up to other people.
Marjorie M. Liu (“Call Her Savage”)…
ML: I don’t really see any negatives or challenges. Well, except for issues of time, and not having enough of it.
I love writing novels, which allow me the space to go deep and complex with a character, and really flesh out a world. I also love writing comics, which are only twenty-two pages long, and require short, compact stories that rely on dialogue and art to convey what’s going on. I love the fact that I own the characters in my novels, and I love that in comics I get to play in someone else’s sandbox with established, archetypal characters, such as Wolverine and X-23.
I love telling stories, period. And I feel very blessed that I get to do so.
EllenofA writes: “What’s it like working in the male-dominated field of comic books? And I’m not just referring to the behind the scenes but the actual on the page experience of writing for mainly male characters.”
ML: That’s a hard question to answer, for several reasons. First of all, I don’t typically think of the industry as male-dominated, mostly because I’m well aware of all the women who work in comics. There are many women creators in this business who are doing fantastic work. Nor have I experienced any sexism. I write stories — and no one looks at my gender first before reading the words on the page.
As for your other question, I’ve probably written more male characters in my novels than I have in comics, to be honest! Or maybe it’s an even split. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t really matter. I don’t write by gender. I write by character. A male character will have insecurities, obsessions, fears…and all of that will be highly individual. Same with a female character. It’s fun!
“Several posters have mentioned the fascinating world you created for your short story. I’d like to know how it came about. Was this a world you had envisioned previously or was it created specifically for this story? How much depth did you create to this world (ie. were their details of the backstory and history that didn’t make it into the story?).”
ML: It had been tickling around my imagination for a while, but not in any coherent shape or form. Having to write the story for Lou brought everything into focus. And yes, there are details, history, that didn’t make it into the story — and that are still forming in my head. When everything has reached boiling point, I think I might like to turn it into a novel.
AvidReader writes: “I really liked your story and was amazed by the world building. Don’t mean to sound like a fantasy ubernerd, but do you create a map? How detailed a backstory did you create for this alternate setting? How much did your Chinese background influence the story? And are you still practicing law? I’d be fascinated to hear how you made the leap from a lawyer’s office to the writer’s study.”
ML: I didn’t create a map, though I do have a sense of where territories — physical and cultural — end and begin in that alternate universe. Similarly, the backstory isn’t incredibly detailed, but that’s beginning to change. I need to do some more research, and really immerse myself in that world. All my visits to China help, to some degree. I’ve spent a lot of time over there, so I’d say that my background and travels did influence the story to some degree. It’s always hard to say by how much, but in this instance, it was definitely on my mind.
Nope, not practicing law. And the leap was fairly simple — at least on paper. I sold my first book and gave up my legal career to write full time. I didn’t have a lot of money, and it was a risk — but I stuck with it, and I’m very happy with that decision. Of course, there’s more to the story, but those are the essentials.
dasNdanger writes: “First let me say that I am thoroughly enjoying Dark Wolverine (now Daken: Dark Wolverine), and I’m impressed by how well this character is being developed. I think he’s made a surprising impact on Marvel U, especially considering the ‘not-another-Wolverine!’ bellyaching he was met with in the beginning. Personally, I loved how Way introduced the slippery little bastard, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Like someone on Bendis’ forum said the other day, Daken makes it cool to be a douchebag.”
ML: Thank you!
“Anyhoo…A few years back I had the privilege of handling a Q&A with Daniel Way for the Marvel discussion forums. Although Origins still had a ways to go, he was able to shed a little light on this newly introduced character, just enough to whet our appetites for what was to come. Now Origins has come to pass and though we do know more about Daken, he still remains quite the mystery, and I do love a good mystery!”
ML: So do we, though we’ll be peeling back some layers over the next twelve months — emotional layers, anyway. We know Daken is a sociopath, but that’s not all he is. He wasn’t born that way. He was made. And not just by Romulus, either. The mystery of that personal history will be a driving force in next year’s stories.
“So, a few questions: 1. What have you been able to bring to the character, and do you have a favorite characteristic you like to exploit?”
ML: Dan Way had already created a complex character in Daken when I joined him on the book. I’m not sure what I’ve brought to the table, except that I love exploring Daken’s ‘playful’ side. He’s a total psycho, of course, but he does have a very sly sense of humor. He’s a flirt, he’s sexy, he’s not afraid to have some fun while he’s destroying lives. In a weird way, Daken is a bit of an optimist — at least, when it comes to himself.
“2. In your mind, does Daken have any redeeming qualities, or is he just a total sociopath?”
ML: I really do think he’s redeemable — depending on your definition of that word. My definition is rather limited — with regards to Daken, anyway. Redemption is dependent on his priorities. Will his priorities change? That remains to be seen.
“3. I have X-23 on my pull list, looking forward to it (just waiting for the mail)! Question, though: How hard is it to write X-23, Daken, and Wolverine without having them all blur into the same character? What is the defining element in each one that makes them different from the others?”
ML: It’s not hard, actually, because they’re all so incredibly different in their attitudes and approaches to life. Wolverine is the normal one compared to Daken and X-23! His son and his clone are both killers, yes — both damaged emotionally — but the ways in which they cope with those troubled childhoods and broken psyches make them polar opposites. Daken wants to rule the world, while X-23 simply wants to learn how to be a part of it. Daken manipulates others to get what he wants, while X-23 doesn’t have a tricky bone in her body. Daken wants power to protect himself. X-23 doesn’t want power at all, but she has it — and needs to learn how to harness it responsibly.