Gaming is getting in the way again, too. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a powerful temptation due to the relatively little work I can put into it (after all, the longer story capsules on this blog are about all the backstory I need weeks worth of games) and the immediate payoff (which, of course, is mixed in with the fact that my RPGs with my wife are also role-playing games of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety). And it’s all a lot of fun, which writing often isn’t.
In fact, the new campaign (for lack of a better universal term) is deliberately absurd fun. We’re using the Cinematic Unisystem rules published by Eden Studios for the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” games for a setting I’m calling SPYFUNK – an anachronistic mash of late ‘60s through early ‘70s action-thriller tropes that borrows equally from spy movies, heist capers, blackxploitation, and classic anime. It’s been a blast. Right now our heroine is judging a Grand Prix of thievery in which Lupin III, Thomas Crown, Catwoman, and an oodle of others are all trying to be the one to steal the “Cat’s Eye” (a Wold Newtonesque pastiche of the “Pink Panther”).
Sometimes I think I should try to work in games… but the pay sucks.
Anyway, here’s finishing off the last of the projects I’ve named but never written about in the blog:
EXCALIBUR: KNIGHTS OF PENDRAGON
This is a concept well past its expiration date.
“Knights of Pendragon” was an early ‘90s series from Marvel UK about a group of normal people (a journalist, the journalist’s son, a novelist, a police detective, a professor, and a used car salesman) and one superhero (Union Jack) who found themselves imbued with the memories and insight of the Knights of the Round Table by a mysterious nature god called the Green Knight. I’m sure it was all ripping off Alan Moore, but it was the first “mature readers” comic I ever read and it enthralled me. Unfortunately, it only sold well for a Marvel UK series (in other words, not well at all) and was canceled after about 20 issues. It was relaunched as a far more standard superheroic series, and I didn’t even buy the last few issues of that.
“Excalibur” was an X-Men spin-off starring the Marvel UK superhero Captain Britain, his mutant/fairy/whatsis girlfriend, and X-Men refugees Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, Phoenix (not Jean Grey, but instead her time-traveling daughter Rachel Summers) and later on Warren Ellis’ creation Pete Wisdom. “Knights of Pendragon” actually started as a spin-off of “Excalibur” and featured Captain Britain in the first arc. “Excalibur” ran for a long time, was canceled, and is now back as “New Excalibur” with Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, and a bunch of characters I don’t know… and Juggernaut. I bought it for a long part of its initial run.
In any case, both series were canceled at one time and my idea was to fuse them together in an amalgamated team that would be made up of Marvel’s cast-off Arthurian-influenced heroes. Captain Britain and Union Jack would both be on the new team as essentially its Superman and Batman (Jack is a far more street-level character than the flying and super-strong Captain). The Black Knight, the character with most direct Arthurian connections in the Marvel Universe, would be in since he’s no longer welcome at Avengers headquarters. And “KoP” alumnus Kate McClellan (the journalist) would join as the new Doctor Druid when she became imbued with the “Merlin-soul” that a different Knight had possessed in the original series. The joke would be that she was doctor of journalism (and other Hunter S. Thompson references would abound). The idea for the first arc was that the heroes were trying to solve/prevent the murder of the other retired, civilian members of the original Knights of Pendragon.
It’s too late now, though. As mentioned, “New Excalibur” is currently ongoing from Marvel (with the Black Knight recently joining Captain Britain’s team) and Union Jack has his own miniseries on the stands. Perhaps it could work in another 5-10 years if “New Excalibur” gets cancelled.
GREEN ARROW: TEAM ARROW
Another concept whose time has come and gone.
Between the cancellation of the Connor Hawke “Green Arrow” series and Kevin Smith’s long-delayed revival of Oliver Queen and the current ongoing series, there was a time when I dreamed about what I would do with Green Arrow. I think I’ve mentioned that, like Sesshoumaru, I’m gay for Connor Hawke, but I’m also a fan of his dad, the self-described “old lefty” (as in politics) of the DCU. The only reason I’m watching “Smallville” this season is because they put Oliver Queen in the cast. My ideas would have gone in a very different direction from the current series.
For one thing, I was going to move Ollie to Texas, into an Austin/San Antonio hybrid that would have given the series green vistas, political tension, and a wide open range for Green Arrow’s maverick spirit. Also, I was going to make it a team book, with Ollie and Connor both in their Green Arrow costumes and Ollie’s original partner Arsenal (formerly Speedy) and his daughter as recurring cast members. I probably would have thrown in the now-sidelined Arrowette for good measure, as well as giving the Queen household a sexy hippie housekeeper.
Other elements would have included:
A retired ‘50s superhero named Coonskin Slim who owned a chain of diners; he would come into conflict with the team as it became revealed his activities in the ‘50s were motivated more by bigotry than heroism.
An Hispanic superhero mayor. I probably would have used El Dorado, whom I think died in “Infinite Crisis.” He wouldn’t be happy that the blonde bowman moved into his town.
A crisis of identity for Connor when he, like his father before him, accidentally kills a man in the line of duty. Since Connor has never been happy with his marksmanship, this would have led him back to his multiethnic heritage and the study of Korean martial arts and archery (they have it just like Japan).
An homage to Robert E. Howard and Mike Grell in a story titled “Axe, Bow, and Sword” in which Ollie’s sword-swinging look-alike Travis Morgan, Warlord of Skartaris, summons Ollie to help him defend a remote Texas town from an invasion of snake-men. They find themselves fighting alongside a mysterious, axe-wielding barbarian who bears a closer resemblance to the creator than the creation (if you get my drift).
It was more a collection of cool ideas than a real plot, but it’s all superseded now by current “Green Arrow” continuity.
THE HOUNDSKEEPER’S DAUGHTER AND THE KING OF CATS
I know I mentioned this, but I didn’t explain much. There’s a long-standing folktale that you can summon Big Ears, the King of Cats, by roasting a living cat over a fire and when he arrives he’s supposed to tell your fortune. In the story, our virginal heroine is being wooed by the rakish master of the estate and soon she knows he won’t take “no” for an answer. She sets out onto the moors with the old tom that guards the barn, intending to summon Big Ears so she can find some way out of being deflowered by the master, but can’t go through with it (she’s the heroine, after all!). Of course, this actually does summon Big Ears (who probably is the old tom) and he offers her a choice between him and the master. She reluctantly accepts the offer, and a few days later (after the cat has mysteriously disappeared) a devilish young man comes to the estate and begins disrupting the natural order of the place. Romance and suspense ensue.
Oh, and there’s also dogs in the story.
This is actually intended as a novel.
There’s an entire sub-genre of fantasy fiction that I call “pagan romance.” It seems to have begun with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and has been continued by Diana L. Paxson, Morgan Llewellyn, Patricia Kenneally, and a handful of others. They’re usually retellings of European legends (primarily Celtic) composed with an eye toward historicity, centering on the emotional life of the protagonists, usually featuring graphic sex scenes, and advocating modern neo-pagan beliefs and morality. I used to enjoy them quite a bit, but I’ve fallen out of the habit.
After reading Kij Johnson’s Fox Woman and Fudoki (or, to be honest, getting halfway through each of them), it occurred to me that Japan’s early Shinto tales could be mined for extrapolation the same as pagan Europe’s stories. I started researching prehistoric Japan to flesh out the tale of Yamato Takeru, but gave up when it overwhelmed me and I felt like the more I learned the less I knew. But I still hope to go back to it.
“Yamato Takeru” is the bizarre, violent tale of Japan’s first tragic hero. Yamato Takeru was one of many sons of the reigning emperor, long before the introduction of Buddhism. He was so beautiful that he could effectively disguise himself as a woman and yet so strong he could crush a man’s ribs in a bear hug. After murdering one of his brothers in a fit of rage, Yamato Takeru is sent out across the Japanese archipelago to conquer the other tribes and cultures. He wanders for years like an androgynous Hercules, always being sent out to perform another task just when he’s earned some rest with his only comfort being his long-suffering concubine. He eventually gains the enmity of the local gods and dies of illness after being cursed by a ghostly stag, but then his spirit rises from his burial mound as a white heron and flies to freedom.
It would make a good pagan romance… especially if I played up the androgyny.