The Hero Within

I’ve got an original fiction idea for you this week. Haven’t done one of these in several months. This one was sufficiently developed that it might work as a “pitch” for either a novel or a TV series. Well, maybe I’ll let you be the judge of that….

“The Hero Within”
(or, possibly something else, ‘cuz I’m not totally sold on this title)

Subject #1: Rich, cultured, and very physically fit man in penthouse suite discussing the day with his valet and joking good-naturedly. Remarks are made about certain “extracurricular activities” and long term plans and “making a difference” and such, but nothing specific. The impression, of course, is that he is a mega-wealthy, playboy type who fights crime in his spare time.

Subject #2: Unkempt man wakes up nearly naked on the couch in his messy dump of an apartment, empty beer bottles and leftover food strewn about. Turning off the TV, he talks to himself while stumbling about the place, obviously hungover and cranky as he gets ready for work (or perhaps to go looking for work). What little we “hear” is laced with expletives and alternates between self-pity and anger/frustration over events in his life (e.g., divorce, bankruptcy of a business and not being able to hold a job since, etc.). As he leaves, yelling at the neighbor’s noisy dog, he mutters to himself about “fixing things” and “making things right”. The assumption, of course, is that he is either an average joe with a streak of bad luck or possibly a small-time criminal who is planning a crime (probably a heist), which he thinks will solve his problems.

Revelations: The reality of it is that Subject #2 was indeed a wealthy businessman at one time, but he let other matters distract him, which allowed Subject #1 to engineer a hostile takeover. Those “other matters” were his obsession with fighting crime — secretly, of course — as a masked adventurer (a la Green Hornet). Having a lot of personal capital tied up in his “extracurricular activities”, he soon went through personal bankruptcy, which then led to his divorce. Between that and the takeover of his business, he also no longer has access to the properties which housed (or had secret tunnels which led to) his crimefighting HQ and related stores of weapons and technology. What he doesn’t realize, yet, is that the unscrupulous Subject #1 discovered these secret locations and equipment and has begun (subtly and small-scale, so far) to use them for nefarious purposes — i.e., to illegally increase his wealth and power, from straightforward theft and back-alley assault to industrial espionage, corporate blackmail, and shady business deals. As soon as Subject #2 discovers what #1 is up to, he will take it personally and make it his mission to stop #1. Meanwhile, #2 just needs to stop drinking and figure out how to get his life back on track….

The revelations about who these two characters actually are/were and how they got to this particular stage in their personal and professional lives might occur within, say, a pilot episode of a TV series or the opening chapter or two of a novel. Subsequent developments — e.g., #1’s creative uses for the “hero tech” he now has, one or more personal confrontations between the two, #2’s other activities as he gets his life together while fighting inner demons, #2 adopting a new adventuring persona and becoming a gadfly in #1’s plans, etc. — would be spread over the course of one or more seasons or books. The story might be played either totally serious or with a strong mix of humor — and, here, I’m thinking #2 would be someone like Bruce Willis as ‘John McClane’ in the Die Hard movies. Similar vibe, anyway.

End of pitch.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

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How to Improve Marvel’s Netflix Shows

“There’s always room for improvement.” — various people at various times

I was thinking about Marvel’s Netflix shows the other day and remembered an article about them that I’d seen a couple months ago. The author, Max Farrow, notes:

“[W]e can’t help but admit that 2017 was something of a stumbling block for the superheroes of Netflix. For all the grit and timeliness of The Punisher, several factors ensured that neither The Defenders or Iron Fist managed to inspire that much enthusiasm in fans. How can Marvel and Netflix get their mojo back, then? What can they do to get their superhero shows on track once more?”

He suggests five ways to do just that, so I figured we could look them over, and I’ll add a few reactions and comments of my own….

1) Stop Killing Villains

Farrow lauds the “fleshed out and highly memorable” main villains (especially as compared to some in the movies) and the “titanic talents” (e.g., Ali, Tennant, Weaver) that have portrayed them. But, he finds it somewhat odd and disappointing that at least twice a major villain has been offed part-way through the series.

“[T]his isn’t to say that show execs can’t, or shouldn’t, kill villains off full-stop. Unique and unpredictable storytelling is a fantastic quality in a series. But, having villain number three die midway through a season is precisely why Netflix shouldn’t opt for it again.”

I agree with him. These were strange moves that interrupted the flow of the respective stories. If they can attract such talent for these roles, why kill them off early? (Of course, it’s possible that they may only want to sign on for 5 or 6 episodes, and that would be a shame.)

2) Kick Ass, But More Efficiently

Farrow lays it out:

“The Marvel/Netflix shows may be gritty character studies, but we wouldn’t love them as much without their alleyway (or corridor) brawls. However, it’s been two years since Daredevil and Frank Castle dished out some quite frankly jaw-dropping beatdowns in Daredevil season 2. Aside from several notable moments in The Defenders, there’s been very little in the way of truly electrifying showdowns since. So, why are these kinds of moments becoming scarcer?”

As Farrow acknowledges, “action scenes are expensive and tricky to film.” But, no matter how “real-life” these shows are, they are still about characters with amazing superpowers and fighting skills. People who tune in expect to see these powers/skills used and, hopefully, not only executed well but in ways that seem authentic and make sense.

“From Daredevil’s radar-sense to Jessica Jones’ limited flight, honing on in [sic] these iconic abilities in fight scenes could really make the Marvel/Netflix shows stand out. Moreover, given enough resources and planning time, a great choreographer would be able to turn these prerequisite punch-ups into something truly special.”

Yes, indeed.

3) Planning Makes Perfect

Unlike the (mostly) “efficiently cohesive, detailed world” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Netflix shows, according to Farrow, seem to struggle with reminding us of their interconnectedness. In particular, he points to “The Defenders” and its slow ramp to get viewers up to speed on “picking up where each of the solo shows left off” and “a lot of work into maneuvering [the characters] into suitable positions for the story at hand.”

At first, I thought he was being a little hard on the writers/producers regarding efforts to a) show us what our heroes were currently up to and b) orchestrate their eventual “team-up” against their common foes. I mean, that’s a lot to juggle. Plus, more generally, the appearances of ‘Claire Temple’, ‘Karen Page’, and other supporting characters help to remind us of the shared city in the other series. But, after re-reading Farrow’s comments, I have to admit he makes some good observations.

“A bit more pre-planning would be hugely beneficial in this regard. Moreover, it would help any inter-show crossovers to feel more natural, such as in the rumored second season of The Defenders. Plus, it will allow for terrific new stories to be told, which change and shape the wider Marvel/Netflix world.

Sure, the shows all feel alike with their similarly grungy Manhattan, but it’s strange how inconsequentially huge events – such as Kingpin’s bombings – are rendered within the context of The Defenders.

It’s even stranger when we consider that all of the characters operate only a few blocks away from each other as well.”

I can’t help but agree with him there, too. This leads into the next gripe/suggestion…

4) Get To Grips With The Wider MCU

When “(Marvel’s) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuted on ABC back in 2013, it was essentially a spin-off that followed the “Battle of New York” seen in the first Avengers film. Agent Phil Coulson was the crossover player (with an appearance or two by Nick Fury), and there have continued to be references to stuff from the films sprinkled about in the TV series. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of the fans, connections between Netflix’s Marvel-based series and the MCU movies have been quite slim, with references even fewer and farther between.

“This hasn’t been hugely detrimental to these shows, though. Moreover, The Punisher barely features any inter-world connections and still manages to tell a rich and compelling story without relying on references. However, it is getting to the point where passing lip-service to iron suits isn’t going to cut it anymore.

At what point in the MCU timeline does Daredevil’s showdown with Fisk take place? A year after The Avengers? No one knows. Plus, the lack of Defenders references from the movies are conspicuous by their absence. Surely S.H.I.E.L.D. would have a use for someone like Matt Murdock?”

Farrow is fair to note the various challenges of things like logistics, varying development times, the “notoriously fractious relationship” between the movie and TV divisions, etc. Still, if the Netflix series are firmly set in the same world as the MCU, and I hope they are, then they really need to make a better effort to make that clear. It would only make sense, and it would further please the fans who value such continuity.

5) Shorten The Series

Farrow contends that the thirteen-episode structure of each season of the Netflix shows — except for the “The Defenders” mini-series, of course — is just a tad too long. I’ll let him explain…

“Regardless of what theme each show is exploring, at their hearts they’re superhero stories, right down to their adrenaline-fuelled needs. That isn’t to say they can’t be deep or cerebral (these shows have frequently proved that it’s possible), but they do need that burgeoning, dramatic tension to keep them chugging along.

Unfortunately, because of their structure, the Marvel/Netflix shows can’t sustain this drive for the time that they’re required to. Even the best of these series are forced to tread water for some period of time, be it the opening episodes of The Punisher or those where Kilgrave’s imprisoned in Jessica Jones. When this happens, the bloat sets in and the show grinds to a halt.

Again, it’s not that we don’t love spending time with characters like Jessica Jones. But if the show around them suffers for it, then something’s got to give. And that something is the series’ length.”

My instinct is to deny it. I mean, I love my superheroes (regardless of how much I complain), so the more episodes the better. Right? But, after briefly reflecting, I have to admit that Farrow is probably right, and I’ve even had similar thoughts. Most (each?) of the Netflix shows could probably have been improved by tightening up the writing/pacing, thereby cutting each season down to 10(?) to 12 episodes each.

I’m tempted to add a point or two of my own, but you all already know my gripes and preferences from the reviews I’ve done on these series. (See ‘Review Posts’ link at top of page.)

So, what do you think? Is Farrow unfair or otherwise “off” in his assessments? Am I an “unfaithful” fan for generally agreeing with him? Is ‘Kilgrave’ overrated, ‘cuz Tennant makes Whovian fangirls swoon? Should I stop asking questions? Just wonderin’…

Review of Star Trek: Discovery

“We come in peace, that’s why we’re here. Isn’t that the whole idea of Starfleet?” — Comm. Michael Burnham

With all the heated rhetoric and division within fandom over “Star Trek: Discovery”, I wasn’t sure I wanted to weigh in. Plus, I’m sort of torn about it myself. But, ultimately, I thought I might find it cathartic to force myself to put my thoughts down. Besides, it’s just my opinion, and it isn’t worth any less than anyone else’s, so why not?

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

I did an earlier review of the pilot episodes, essentially the prologue to the rest of the season. If you haven’t already read it, you might want to jump over and do that now, since this is sort of a “sequel” review, and there are a couple things addressed there that I won’t touch on here.

USS Discovery

I have to admit, they pulled off a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming. Take Captain Lorca, for instance. He definitely had an independent streak, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to see him dodge, if not outright disobey, his orders in order to carry out his agenda. I chalked this up to “realism” (in his mind, at least) and a bit more aggressive nature. But, of course, I had no idea what that agenda truly entailed until towards the end. I remember some fans commenting about him being mean, evil, even speculating that he was from the “Mirror” universe. Even after that scene when he held a phaser on Cornwell, I was more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he was overstressed and suffering from a form of PTSD. (She still should have thrown him in the brig.) Maybe I’m obtuse, or maybe I just didn’t want to see it, but I didn’t. And they — i.e., those other viewers — were right. (I was suspicious re the eye-sensitivity thing, though.) Still, I’m a bit disappointed to see Mirror Lorca go, ‘cuz he was an interesting character.

I was a little surprised that they went to the “Mirror” universe so soon, though. Were they — i.e., the writers/producers — so nervous about the show being able to establish itself on its own that they felt they needed to (re-)introduce a fan-favorite place/situation? Have to say, I enjoyed it, and it may indeed have helped. Also, bringing back Georgiou the way they did was very intriguing. I assume she will pop up on occasion in subsequent seasons, and I’m fine with that.

On the other hand, the changes to the Terran Empire’s fashion choices was a bit irritating. I commented on the Klingon and Starfleet uniforms in my earlier review. Regarding Starfleet, this article made some valid points about changes in uniform styles both in previous ST series and in real life military, so I suppose it makes sense that even the vaunted Terran Empire can fall victim to fashion trends.

Btw, my favorite Mirror version of the Discovery crew was young Captain “Killy”. I have to assume the real “Killy” is as deadly as she is ambitious, so she killed her way up the hierarchy very quickly. The TE uniform and straight blonde hair were quite flattering for “our” Cadet Tilly. I enjoy watching the brilliant-but-unsure “prime” Tilly — sweet girl — and appreciated seeing her grow a bit this season.

The other twist that both amazed and frustrated me was the fact that Ash Tyler was, in fact, Klingon. Not only that, he was Voq, the albino follower of T’Kuvma seen back in the pilot 2-parter. Some fans predicted this, but I refused to accept it. And, in a sense, I still refuse. I don’t care how they explained it, it’s too far a stretch for me to believe that Klingons would be capable of this level of sophisticated surgery and genetic manipulation. (Actually, I don’t buy the entire procedure being possible for any race, but, hey, this is science fiction, after all.) The explanations by L’Rell and Dr. Culber seemed to conflict somewhat. But, near as I can figure, L’Rell not only made Voq anatomically human (and a match for the captured Lt. Tyler) but somehow transformed his DNA, too. (That’s the kicker for me.) Then, she essentially copied Tyler’s consciousness and overlaid it onto Voq/new-Tyler’s mind, while programming the Voq personality to take control at the proper time. (Except, it didn’t quite go as planned.) This new body somehow showed no signs of the physical trauma of being remade, even at the genetic level? C’mon!! Frankly, it would have been more believable for L’Rell to have simply cloned Tyler and “inserted” a copy of Voq’s mind/memories to stay in the background and take control when required. Heck, if Voq was hellbent on punishing himself, he could’ve had his brain transplanted into a Tyler clone.

Voq / “Tyler”

That said, the Tyler/Voq character not only gave us an idea how fanatical his faction was, but it also had a lasting impact on Burnham and her own growth as a character. (Plus, although Tyler/Voq is no longer part of Starfleet, they left it open for him to appear in later episodes, which could prove interesting.) I was glad to see Burnham evolve as a character. How could she not from all that she experienced personally and professionally? We even got to see a little more emotion from her. (Not much, though. Not sure if that is due to the writing/character or the acting.) In the end, it appeared that she was able to forgive herself, or at least come to terms with what happened in the past, and accept reinstatement into Starfleet with rank returned.

Saru seems to have grown as a character, too. He is more confident in himself, less ready to run, which must take great willpower. His friendship with and trust in Burnham seems to have been restored, as well. This development also pleases me. (Did that sound slightly imperious?)

I didn’t like Stamets from the get-go. He was arrogant and abrasive. But,… as the season progressed, I became a bit more sympathetic to his situation — i.e., frustrations with his pet project and the fact it was co-opted by Starfleet. Stamets himself even seemed to soften just a bit through the various events, not least of which was the tragic loss of his partner, Dr. Culber. Hopefully, the character will continue to be more likable in the future.

I also hope we get to spend more time with and learn more about Detmer, Airiam, Owosekun, Rees, and Bryce — i.e., the rest of Discovery‘s recurring bridge crew — next season. That would be in line with the way the show was advertised as not focusing on senior officers, after all.

Of those major characters who were killed off (or, at least, one version of them was) in season 1, I am most disappointed about Rekha Sharma’s Commander Landry. Sharma has an impressive genre resume, including stints on “Smallville”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “V”, and “The 100”. I was looking forward to getting to know Discovery‘s small-but-dangerous (and somewhat abrasive) Security Chief, seeing what makes her tick, watching her interactions with the rest of the crew, etc. Alas, ’twas not to be.

I have mixed feelings about Harry Mudd. I liked that we got to see him, but I’m not sure I care for this harder-edged, vengeful, even bloodthirsty version of him. Gotta love a good time-loop story, though.

My comments on the writing will be fairly brief. It was a somewhat mixed bag, perhaps, but nothing near as bad as some critics claim. (In fact, the story improved as the season progressed.) I think some people just look for things to complain about. Were there predictable or confusing plot points? Occasionally. Did characters do or say dumb things? Undoubtedly. Were there better ways to develop and/or resolve some things. Perhaps. None of this is unique to “Star Trek: Discovery” or to any Star Trek series or to any series, period. Give the creators and crew time to find their footing, as it were. Besides, just think how much room for improvement there is! 😉

Of course, though I addressed them in my earlier review, I need to make a few additional comments about the primary canon issues….

The Klingons. What more can be said about the Disco-Klingons? There are elements of the old, familiar Klingons, but so much has changed. From their physical appearance to their fashion sense, these Klingons may as well be a whole new species. Some fans think people like me are complaining too much about this. They say, “Look at the previous changes in Klingon appearance. You accepted those!” Yes, but the distance (so to speak) between the Klingons that debuted in the original “Star Trek” and those that debuted in Star Trek III (1984) (and then used in subsequent TV series) was much shorter than between either of them and the Disco-Klingons. Plus, the prior changes have been explained satisfactorily (in DS9 and ENT, I believe), with the most human-looking version being a brief aberration, so it is series canon. And, while we must admit there are a few inconsistencies from previous series, it is best to stick to established canon whenever possible.

I have played with a few ideas of how to get either of the earlier versions of the Klingons to replace the current Disco-Klingons.

1) Perhaps the Klingon houses we’ve seen represented are one Klingon race, while the STIII/TNG version make up the other houses. Wipe out the former, and the latter can take over.

2) Some sort of DNA-rewriting drug or disease could infect the Disco-Klingons, changing them all over a few years to the STIII/TNG version. But, that wouldn’t explain why the one encountered by the NX-01 crew in the ENT pilot had the STIII/TNG look.

3) L’Rell and Tyler/Voq could go back in time several thousands of years, inadvertently cause the annihilation of the Disco-Klingons, and become the “Adam and Eve” of the new Klingon race, which looks like those in STIII/TNG. (I’ll leave it to Klingon historians to figure out how far back they’d have to go. Probably pre-Kahless.)

If nothing like any of these scenarios happens, then the sudden “re-imagining” of the Klingon race was, in my book, not only unnecessary but inexcusable.

In regards to the more advanced look of the ships and other technology, I can understand and accept a certain amount. For example, if they made the Starfleet ships look just a bit updated — say, something like the old Enterprise 1701 refit or 1701-A — and without the low-budget look of the original series, that would probably be acceptable. Keep the general designs and colors, so that everything is recognizable as belonging to the Prime universe. But, making everything look generations more advanced was a mistake, IMO, even if we’re pretty sure tech would actually look closer to that than to something clearly designed in the 1960s.

Similarly, it was a mistake to introduce cloaking technology and hologram communications at a time far earlier than they were introduced in established canon. (I talked about this more in my review of the pilot episodes.) These technologies aren’t limited to just one, experimental ship (see below), since we’ve seen multiple Klingon vessels now use the cloak and both Klingons and Starfleet using the holograms, rather than the (mostly) flatscreen viewers that were standard in all previous ST series. It might be possible to write out further use of cloaking technology (for a few years, anyway), but I don’t think that is feasible with regards to the holograms. If the new series’ creators were so set on using “new” tech, they probably should have set the show further in the future.

Stamets x 2 in mycelial network

As for the paradox of the spore-drive’s existence, I think there is still time to resolve it — if not in Season 2, then in a later one. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Discovery is an experimental ship using an experimental drive technology. There is no need to assume that it will get any further than that. When they were still using the giant tardigrade to navigate, I thought they might abandon the spore tech for ethical reasons. (I.e., “we can’t use it if it means having to effectively enslave these creatures.”) Once Stamets realized he could be the navigator, the situation changed. But, it obviously still has its dangers, not only to Stamets (or whoever else might be hooked into it) but there’s the possibility of damaging the mycelial network and unraveling hyperspace (or something like that). I suspect this will tie into whatever decision is made to cancel use of the spore-drive, especially after Burnham’s rousing speech about the Federation needing to stick to its principles.

About that speech… The “darker” nature of the season’s story arc and a certain amount of ethical ambiguity expressed by the words and actions of certain high-ranking Starfleet officers were among the turn-offs to many long-time Trek fans. I admit, it bothered me, too. But, it appears that that was all part of the writers’ plan, as the characters were brought to a situation of existential threat that forced them — thanks to Burnham’s actions — to take a hard look at what they stood for and what they were willing to do to “win”. In other words, this was a turning point in Federation and Starfleet history that led to the (hopefully) more consistent, honorable, shining example that we know from other ST series.

Of course, as this article reminds us, the people and events of the Star Trek universe — even Federation and Starfleet — have never been flawless or reached the ideals they strive for. Even our heroes are “human”.

Ultimately, I think it would have been fraught with many fewer problems — both in terms of canon violations and audience acceptance — if the producers had opted to go with a non-prequel series. Something concurrent with TNG/DS9/VOY might’ve worked, but I think fans (including me) are/were more than ready to boldly go into the 25th century or beyond. (See a few suggestions here.) The war aspect was another negative point for many (though it wasn’t the first time Star Trek did that), and I think longtime fans would prefer a return to focusing on exploration and first-contact situations. Maybe someday we’ll get it.

There are those fans and other viewers who have little-to-no respect for the idea of canon and the need to maintain consistency across stories told within a larger framework of people, places, and things. Such people will write me off as perplexing at best, but more probably with some degree of condescension. At the other end of the spectrum are hard-core Trekkies/Trekkers. These are more likely to have, in addition to a healthy respect for established canon, certain parameters of tone and adventure in their mind within with a “real” Star Trek series must operate. I am much more sympathetic to these fans, but I suspect some of them will just shake their heads and wonder how I can call myself a Trekkie/Trekker.

But, I have to call it the way I see it. I for one will continue to watch “Star Trek: Discovery”, because, in my assessment and for my particular sensibilities, the positives still outweigh the negatives. It might not feel or look quite like other Star Trek series (would it be wrong to quote IDIC here?), but it’s still Star Trek, and I’m willing to stick with it — at least, for now.

P.S. I realize that there are other aspects of “Star Trek: Discovery” that were inconsistent with established canon, like the use of the familiar delta symbol, which was supposed to be limited to the Constellation-class ships (or, maybe just Enterprise?) until later adopted for all Starfleet. Much as I like James Frain in the Sarek role, there are a few inconsistencies in his character compared with the older version portrayed by Mark Lenard. There’re also all the questions about inserting another sibling for Spock, which somehow never got mentioned in any other series or movies. Etc. But, I didn’t have the time or energy. You can read more about these issues and others here.

Do These Marvel Superteams Deserve Movies?

“Well, if DC ain’t gonna make us a good Justice League movie any time soon, why not let Marvel take a crack at it.” — Hunter Rasmussen, writing at DailySuperheroes

Love ’em, hate ’em, or in between, we’ve had a lot of comic book characters and teams adapted for TV and film over the past couple decades, and we have plenty more in the offing. But, naturally, we all have some favorite(s) that haven’t made it to live-action, yet. (“Invincible”, anybody?)

I came across an article titled “10 Marvel Superteams Who Deserve Movies” by Hunter Rasmussen at DailySuperheroes. (He purposely excluded “any official Avengers or X-Men teams” in order to simplify things and spotlight lesser-known groups.) I thought I’d give my 2 cents’ worth in response to Rasmussen’s suggestions. So, following his ordering…

10. New Warriors: Rasmussen referred to his favorite version of the team (pre-Civil War) as “incredibly wonderful,… charming and funny”, and he thinks a “straight up comedy” New Warriors film would work best. Much as I liked them back in the day, I’m not so sure this team (in any version) has the popularity to draw crowds to the theater. But, an action-comedy is probably the best bet, imho. Also, remember that Freeform is developing a half-hour action-comedy NW series (starring Squirrel Girl), which will likely debut this year.

Cover art for Exiles, vol. 2, #1

9. Exiles: Hmmm. I enjoyed this comic series, but my initial reaction to making it into a film was negative. However, I am warming up to the idea. The fact that it involves characters from various Marvel realities & timelines traveling from one reality/timeline to another could make for an interesting movie plot and fun action, while also keeping it separate from the main Marvel properties. OK, I’m in!

8. Alpha Flight: I love me some Alpha Flight (especially the original John Byrne incarnation), and I would love to see a faithful adaptation to either small- or big-screen. It would be best to have some link to the X-Men (even if merely referenced in dialogue or some other Easter eggs), as there is in the comics. But, the plot could be something totally unrelated to Wolverine or the other mutants. (Of course, a Logan cameo would be awesome.) Plus, I’m sure our Canadian friends would appreciate seeing their government-sanctioned home team get the live-action treatment.

7. X-Factor Investigations: This comic series was about Jaime Madrox, the Multiple Man, leading a detective agency made up of various X-people not currently on the usual mutant superteams. I read a few issues and agree that it has a lot of promise for adaptation. In fact, a few years ago I mentioned it as a potential live-action, X-Men-related TV series. More recently, it was announced that James Franco would be starring as Madrox in a solo film. Whether or not X-Factor Investigations or any of those characters will be in the film is unknown at this time.

6. MI-13: I had trouble remembering this one, as it has been many years since I read any of the relevant comics. As Rasmussen summarized, “MI-13 is the British equivalent of Alpha Flight… a governmental agency that can call on any and all British superheroes.” Not exactly, but close enough. This opens up many possibilities for characters, plots, and locales to use that are more UK- and Euro-centric. Part superhero team, part intelligence agency, and part paranormal investigations, this organization could indeed be the basis for a cool movie or three.

5. Young Avengers: According to Rasmussen, this doesn’t count as an “official” Avengers team, since it was unsanctioned. Personally, I like most of the characters, and there some good material available for stories. But,… part of the reason it works in the comics is because of the various connections to Marvel’s big name Avengers (e.g., Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye), as well as supervillain Kang the Conqueror, which aren’t there in the film universe. I just don’t see how it would work. Maybe in another 10-20 years?

4. Squadron Supreme: I was quite fond of the JLA-like Squadron — originally, the Squadron Sinister — from another Earth in my youth. It had some fun characters (especially the Superman-analog, Hyperion, and the simple-minded Shape) and explored some intriguing ideas (e.g., what if the JLA took over the world?). I haven’t read any newer stuff, but it sounds like not much has changed. As Rasmussen says, “Squadron is about how power corrupts and at what point we should question authority. And, holy heck, would it make a great stand-alone movie. No MCU connections needed. So good.”

3. Thunderbolts: On the one hand, this was an enjoyable series with some cool characters and an interesting, unusual premise — i.e., supervillains masquerading as superheroes, who (mostly) then decide to really go legit. The fact that criminal-turned-hero Hawkeye stepped in to lead them was icing on the cake. I agree with Rasmussen that the members’ internal struggles made for some great character-growth in a fun redemption tale. (I seem to remember later issues veering away from this somewhat.) But, I’m not convinced that it would translate so well to the big-screen without the villains’ histories being established, as they had been for many years in the comics.

2. The Sinister “Six”: Rasmussen isn’t referring to any of the original villains that made up this team and which were slated to be in the apparently-shelved Sinister Six film. Rather, he wants to see live-action versions of a relatively new incarnation of the team, as seen in the comic series Superior Foes of Spider-Man (2013). He calls it “the funniest and best written Marvel comic in recent memory.” I have no idea, since I am totally unfamiliar with it. But, in principle, I am less optimistic that a team of D-list supervillains could draw any but the most die-hard Marvel fans.

1. The Runaways: As I’ve mentioned before, I liked this comic series about likable, gifted teens on the run from their supervillain parents. It has definite potential. But, I think the story works better as a regular- or mini-series for the small-screen, rather than as a movie. Much more time to develop characters and plot. Apparently, Marvel agrees with me, since they developed that very series with Hulu, and 9 out of 10 episodes have already aired as of this writing. I haven’t watched it, yet, but I hope to soon. (Probably after Season 1 of “The Gifted” finishes up.)

In summary, then, I think there are various reasons why several teams on Rasmussen’s wishlist wouldn’t work out as movies. But, Exiles, Alpha Flight, MI-13, and Squadron Supreme have the most promise as do-able, live-action adaptations of lesser-known Marvel superteams that need only maintain tangential connections to the rest of Marvel’s cinematic adventures. Is anyone at Marvel/Fox/Disney listening? Helloooooo?

P.S. Incidentally, if you’re wondering what Marvel properties I think would make good TV series, check out “7 Marvel Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 1 of 2)” and “7 Marvel Properties that Should Be on TV (Part 2 of 2)”.

The Director

It has been awhile since I posted one of my “original fiction” ideas. I came across this concept that I’d forgotten about and decided it was fleshed out enough to share. It would really work best as an ongoing series, whether novels, comics, or TV, so that there is time to really develop the characters and watch them connect the dots on the big conspiracy, plus other ideas.

“The Director”

Over the past decade or so, there have been a large number of disparate and seemingly unrelated “events”/incidents — some public, some private; some known to police/feds, some not. They have included various crimes (e.g., arson, burglary, kidnappings & strange disappearances, murder & assassination, fraud, terrorist bombings, etc.), as well as car accidents (some during car chases), a downed plane, and a few accidental deaths. Some of these have been solved, others have not. There have been other things as well, such as people suddenly “going crazy” or discovering documentation that either explicitly implicated someone in a crime (or cover-up of a crime) or was at least suspicious (like a piece of a larger puzzle). There are also links (though not apparent at first) to events in the corporate world — e.g., mergers and takeovers, stock manipulation, corporate espionage, class-action suits, et al. Other than in a couple obvious instances — e.g., insurance fraud and one of the arson cases, and deaths resulting from the downed plane & a couple car accidents –, no one has successfully made any connections between the various incidents. Until now…

A small-time private investigator and his bounty hunter associate encounter some lowlifes that turn out to have information about two other cases — one current and another closed but unsolved — which links all three together. A city police lieutenant has an unusual dream that inspires her to look for links between two seemingly unrelated cases; not only is she successful, but when she relates her discovery to a retired mentor, he remembers something similar about an old case of his that also turns out to be related. A former profiler for the FBI (now teaching criminal psychology at a college) reluctantly helps local police on an unusual case and unintentionally gets involved in something that leads to clues about an old, unsolved case (a child abduction/murder) that has haunted him for years. And then, there are the Men-in-Black (for lack of a better term) who begin to show up, either in the shadows or in a less-than-public confrontation and warning our protagonists to “back off” or slightly more politely “It’s our case and we’ll take it from here.” They always claim to work for one federal agency or another, but the names they give either aren’t in any federal databases or they are so highly classified that not even our heroes’ contacts can get access.

While it would not be revealed until some time into the series, the idea is that these prima facie independent events, spanning roughly 15 years and all over North America (but occasionally elsewhere), are all due to behind-the-scenes machinations of an extremely powerful individual and his/her efforts to cover up some of his/her activities. Obviously wealthy and/or in a position of influence, this person’s ultimate goal is to secretly take control of the U.S. government, while leaving not only the general public but most government officials and law enforcement thinking that everything still functions as normal. S/he has managed to fly under the radar, with very few in government, law enforcement, or the corporate world having an inkling of how much power this person wields. S/he is a master manipulator, who accomplishes his/her goals — from stock fraud to homicide to legislation — by directing actions through various intermediaries, sometimes several levels of them.

Eventually, our heroes discover and/or are contacted by a group calling itself ‘The Network’, who have begun connecting the dots on these cases. Their members include representatives from law enforcement, government officials, business/industry leaders, and various “lesser” members. They are just starting to get a handle on the magnitude of the conspiracy and have hypothesized the existence of ‘The Director’ (as they have dubbed him/her, though ‘Maestro’, ‘Kingpin’, and ‘Big Cheese’ have been suggested, too), though obviously not his/her identity or ultimate motives, and are doing what they can (with limited knowledge, despite their resources) to thwart The Director’s plans and build a legal case. Perhaps a later plot thread would be to see efforts to convince/recruit others into The Network, after we’ve spent some time with the above group.

I see this as an amalgamation of ideas from various comics, movies, TV shows (e.g., X-Files, but less UFO-centric) with elaborate plots and constant new revelations and conspiracies within conspiracies. Feel free to ask questions or make your own suggestions to expand on this concept….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

On a Nightwing and a Prayer

“[W]e need to find the perfect person. We need to get the script right. We need this movie to blow your mind.” — Chris McKay, director

I’ve mentioned the upcoming Nightwing movie before, and you may have heard or read other stuff. I’m excited about it, ‘cuz Nightwing/Dick Grayson has become one of my favorite DC heroes. Up until recently, all we knew was that:

1) Warner Brothers announced back in February that it was ramping up development on a live-action, Nightwing solo film based on the DC Comics character;
2) it was planned for release in the next few years (recently set for 2/1/2019, though that is likely tentative); and
3) The LEGO Batman Movie director Chris McKay has been given the helm, with a script from Bill Dubuque (The Accountant).

I just wanted to comment on a few of the latest newsbits….

Those newsbits come mostly from McKay himself, who has been sending out tweets and doing interviews over the past few months. Regarding what attracted him to the project,

“I’m a big comic book fan, and being able to do the story of Nightwing, to do a Dick Grayson story, which is a character that every single person in the world knows, but has never really had a lot of screentime…. I’m a big fan of underdog stories, and he is one of the biggest underdog stories in comics. And he’s a character that I grew up with. I like the arc.”

He continues…

“Robin was there as a window character for little kids like me to understand Batman’s world and see into Batman’s world. There’s no other character in comics that went through this real-time transition.”

Comic writer Tim Seeley thinks that a plot based on or “very similar to” the 6-issue story arc he recently wrote for the character is the way to go. I haven’t read it, but the synopsis I saw does sound interesting. On the other hand, it sounds like the impact of the events depend on Nightwing’s relationships with other heroes, and there really isn’t time to sufficiently establish those relationships on-screen, imo. In other words, there’s too much ‘history’ for it to really work. I’m not saying there can’t be references to known DC people and things, and I truly hope there are. We fans expect and deserve them. But this really needs to work as a standalone feature.

While no plot details have been revealed as yet, we do know that Grayson’s comic-based past will be acknowledged. As per McKay, “Yes. In some form. There will be lots of nods. Lots of nods.” This comment spurred plenty of speculation about what might be referenced in those nods. His youth working as a circus acrobat with his parents and their subsequent deaths? His years working as Batman’s original sidekick ‘Robin’? His time spent with the (Teen) Titans? Past (or current?) relationships with Starfire and/or Oracle? His day job as a cop in Bludhaven? There’s a ton of material to mine there, but we just don’t know what McKay and Dubuque have in mind.

From the beginning, McKay has stressed the intense physicality of the Grayson/Nightwing role and that the actor will need to be fully committed. “Every day. It is going to be gruelling from a martial arts, gymnastics and stunt perspective.” Isn’t there CGI for that stuff? According to McKay, not so much in this film.

“It’s gonna be a [frick]ing badass action movie with a lot of heart and emotion. It’s gonna be a crazy, fun ride. Whoever gets cast as Nightwing, and any of the other actors around, are gonna go through a [frick]ing boot camp experience because it’s gonna be a lot. I’m not gonna do a lot of CG. It’s gonna be all real $#!t. It’s gonna be real stuntwork, and they’re gonna need to do all of the stuff on camera and do it credibly. For the cast and the crew, it’s gonna be a visceral experience, and for the audience. It’s not gonna be like a lot of these movies where there’s a lot of CG and flying and things like that. Everything he does is gonna have to be real. His superpower is being really [frick]ing good, as a human being, at fighting and gymnastics and $#!t like that, so you’re gonna see that on screen. It’s gonna be fun!”

Sounds awesome!

Naturally, there have been a lot of actors’ names thrown around the fan-boards (e.g., Finn Wittrock). But, no one’s been cast, yet, and as per FlickeringMyth’s Jordan James, “according to Chris McKay himself, we shouldn’t necessarily count on Nightwing being played by a well-known actor.” (See also opening quote.) I think this is a great move, one that more superhero movies (and sci-fi/fantasy in general) should consider. In fact, a few years ago I came up with a few potential candidates….

McKay’s exuberance for the project is practically palpable, and he’s already predicting (sort of) an award win in at least one area:

“This movie is going to win a stunt Academy Award. They’re going to make a stunt Academy Award for this movie. I guarantee it. It’s going to be insane.”

I certainly appreciate his enthusiasm and drive to make a spectacular movie. As always, I just hope he does right by the character(s) and the source material, while balancing amazing action with well-developed characters and believable dialogue. It certainly has blockbuster potential, and I’d like to see it realized. “A [frick]ing badass action movie with a lot of heart and emotion,” indeed.

Ideas for TNG, DS9, and VOY Crews

“To boldly go where [many] have gone before…”

Yes, I realize this is the TOS logo

Everyone’s talking about the new Star Trek show, but I haven’t watched it, yet. So, instead I thought I’d share my ideas for some familiar “old” faces. A few years ago, I started jotting down where I thought the various crewmembers of the Enterprise-E might go or what they might be doing, following the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Then I did the same for those from DS9 and Voyager. And, since I was filling out rosters for new ships, I created some new characters, as well. I also came up with a movie plot — well, the basics, anyway — which would bring most of these characters together in a big, sweeping adventure.

Now, I realize that there is a ship-load of non-canonical material — primarily novels and online/computer games — that has provided stories for these characters over the years, including some that are post-Nemesis. Maybe multiple, even conflicting stories for a few of the more popular ones. But, I haven’t read (or “played”) them, and even if I had, they are considered “apocryphal”. So, except for where mentioned, I wasn’t too concerned with my ideas contradicting someone else’s. I have checked a few things via Memories Alpha and Beta, but I never got around to investigating other things, so forgive me if I got some background detail wrong. (Feel free to give me a friendly heads-up in the comments, though.)

Ready? OK, let’s begin with a roll-call….

USS Titan
— Note: As per the end of Nemesis, Riker’s new command is the Titan. But, the movie didn’t establish what class ship it was. There is a Luna-class Titan, but a non-canonical source declared Riker’s ship to be a brand-new Prometheus-class vessel, and I decided that was fine by me. Also, since the scene with the Titan‘s First Officer was deleted, I created my own character for that position.

Captain William T. Riker (Human male)
— married to D. Troi

First/Executive Officer, Commander Suresh Jacobsen (Human male)
— of Indian and Swedish extraction; parents were representatives from ethnically pure conclaves whose lives were threatened when they left their respective communities to marry and have children
— also supervises xenobotany lab
— will eventually learn he is distant cousin of Annika/Seven

Ship’s Counselor, Commander Deanna Troi (Betazoid/Human female)
— married to W.T. Riker

Chief Medical Officer, (Lt. Commander) Dr. O (Oalian male)
— from little-known planet/race (humanoid), just admitted to Federation
— on “loan” to Starfleet, much like Phlox was
— also, he’s a cyborg; unknown to all but Riker, Troi, Chekov, & a couple others on board, the real “O” is actually a tiny, fragile, humanoid creature within the chest-cavity of the “O” cyborg (like in MiB)
— cyborg body looks like a heartier version of the real O and has great strength, durability, and “enhanced” senses

Chief Engineer, Lt. Commander Antonin Chekov (Human male)
— descendant of Pavel Chekov, of course
— generally surly, but with wicked/dark sense of humor

Science Officer, Lt. Commander Ramon Ramirez (Human male)
— doctorates in quantum physics and virology
— suave, Latin stereotype on the outside, but an insecure and tortured soul on the inside

Chief Weapons Officer, Lt. Harry Kim (Human male)
— following Voyager‘s return to the Alpha Quadrant, Ensign Kim was soon promoted to Lt. junior grade; he was promoted again to Lieutenant just prior to being assigned to the Titan in 2380

Chief Navigator (also Second Officer), Lt. Commander Strek (Vulcan male)
— background in astrophysics and astrocartography
— accomplished pilot of many ship classes and expert in ancient weapons from many planets/cultures
— was CWO of another ship, which he left under mysterious circumstances, and has something to do with his taking the Navigator position
— has taken it upon himself to unofficially “mentor” both Harry & Annika, whether they want the advice or not

Chief Communications Officer, Lt. Thelas (Andorian female)
— like many Andorians, still has a semi-racist distrust of humans
— usually civil, but has a quick temper

Chief Security Officer, Lt. Minda N’Gele (Human female)
— martial arts afficionado
— befriends Annika/Seven

Transporter Chief, Lt. Jasad Kell (Cardassian male)
— uncharacteristically shy, like his famous relative, architect/artist Tavor Kell
— very musically talented and well-read
— befriended by Harry Kim

Astrocartographer, Lt. j.g. Annika Hansen (Human female; formerly Borg-designate Seven-of-Nine)
— upon Voyager‘s return to the Alpha Quadrant, Janeway got Annika “Seven” Hansen accepted into an accelerated Academy training program; she began with rank of Ensign (given her experience) and graduated as a Lt. junior grade

USS Destiny

USS Destiny
— Note: Originally, I called this the USS Archer, and it was the prototype for a new Archer-class. But, Star Trek Online has the Excalibur-class Archer (from Nemesis) still active in 2409. There is also a novel that establishes an Archer-class in service since at least the 2260s. So, although I’m not too concerned with contradicting non-canon sources, I opted to change it here. I was going to go with USS Herakles, until my research reminded me of the Sovereign-class Destiny, where Ezri Tigan was serving as assistant Ship’s Counselor, before she became the emergency recipient of the Dax symbiont and was re-assigned to DS9. I thought it would be cool to have her return as Ship’s Counselor, with Sisko replacing Captain Raymer (who was referred to but never seen).

Captain Benjamin Sisko (Human male)
— yes, in my version, Sisko has returned from visiting the Bajoran “Prophets” in the Wormhole

First/Executive Officer, Commander Melia Merridan (Centauri female)
— great grand-niece of Vendik Merridan (see below)
— background in Communications and Astrocartography

Science Officer, Lt. Commander Enrique Takeshi Sulu (Human male)
— descendant of Hikaru Sulu, of course
— primary training as physicist, specializing in warp-drive theory

Chief Medical Officer, (Lt. Commander) Dr. Julian Bashir (augmented Human male)
— just pleased as punch that he and his wife can serve together and under Sisko’s command once again
— married to E. Dax

Ship’s Counselor, Lt. Ezri Dax (Trill, female host)
— though Ship’s Counselors on large ships usually have minimum rank of Lt. Commander, Sisko made an exception when the previous Ship’s Counselor requested a transfer planetside due to family issues
— married to J. Bashir

Chief Engineer, Lt. Commander Talen Vreen (Bajoran male)
— large & muscular (bodybuilder), jovial
— originally a novitiate to the priesthood, until an unknown event during the Cardassian occupation caused him to lose faith in the Prophets; this makes for an “interesting” relationship with Sisko

Chief Tactical Officer (and Second Officer), Lt. Commander Tuvok (Vulcan male)
— offered but refused promotion to Commander (and assignment as First Officer) until such time as he has fully recovered from the “unspecified degenerative neural condition” he developed toward end of VOY; as it is, he is on temporary medical leave and preparing for Fal-tor-voh

Chief Navigator, Lt. T’Vrel Duchamp (Human/Vulcan hybrid female)
— raised on Earth; sometimes tries to be “too human”, which she realizes is an overcompensation & she struggles with it
— uneasy relationship w/ Tuvok, who naturally thinks she should strive to be “more Vulcan”, following the way of Surak

Chief Communications Officer, Lt. Mal-ven Thrasq (Carvinian male)
— lupine humanoid with excellent hearing; affinity for linguistics
— encyclopedic knowledge of pre-Federation Earth history

Chief Security Officer, Lt. Rik McGinty (Centauri male)
— cocky SOB but a natural leader and quite adept at weapons, hand-to-hand combat, and tactics
— drummed out of the Centauri Marines but given second chance in Starfleet as favor to his uncle, an important military contractor

Transporter Chief, Lt. Tamara Applewhite (Fellurian/Human female)
— stunningly beautiful, w/ gentle cranial ridges and long platinum-blonde hair usually pulled back in ponytail
— knows how off-putting her beauty can be; has been burned in the past both by lovers and others who betrayed her or just wanted to be associated with her
— very professional, amiable, but afraid to let anyone get too close

Member of security detail, Lt. j.g. Nog (Ferengi male)
— quite competent but a little too eager to please
— has a crush on Lt. Applewhite

Other Familiar Characters

Chakotay
— independent security consultant for traveling dignitaries & such

Crusher, Beverly
— either Captain of U.S.S. Marcus (a medical research ship) or professor/administrator of Starfleet Medical (which I think was either stated or hinted at in Nemesis)
— a pet project has her consulting with Dr. J. Merridan (see below)

Crusher, Wesley
— according to a deleted scene from Nemesis, he finished at the Academy and had just been assigned as a Lt. j.g. to Engineering on the Titan; for my purposes, though, Wesley is either still “traveling” or assigned elsewhere.

Data
— physically destroyed in Nemesis, though memories & personality matrix were downloaded into his less-advanced predecessor, B-4, who was still struggling to process/integrate all that data
— perhaps it could all be downloaded into a separate, positronic computer network, allowing “him” to function as an independent, interdisciplinary researcher and instructor (e.g., engineering, history of various cultures, philosophy, computer architecture and A.I.), occasionally guest-lecturing (either in a temporary body or as a hologram) at Starfleet Academy and various professional symposia

Garak, Elim
— keeping his eyes-n-ears open and probably up to no good

EMH/Holographic Doctor
— now named Dr. Jonas Merridan (see below), after Dr. Jonas Salk (Human, developer of polio vaccine) and Vendik Merridan (Centauri, pioneer in advanced holography)

Janeway, Kathryn
— Starfleet Vice Admiral in charge of research operations or ???

Kes
— still in energy-state?

Colonel Kira Nerys
— commanding Deep Space Nine (renamed?) station

LaForge, Geordi
— retired from Starfleet
— co-founder & head researcher at Cochrane-Scott Research Laboratories, developing new technologies in engineering and improving old ones
— personally working on joint project with Starfleet Engineering

Merridan, Jonas
— instructor & researcher at Starfleet Medical
— a pet project has him consulting with B. Crusher

Neelix
— married w/ children and running a restaurant on some planet

O’Brien, Miles
— engineering instructor at Starfleet Academy
— wife Keiko teaches elementary school nearby

Odo
— still merged with Founders?

Paris, Tom
— interplanetary, commercial shuttle pilot
— married to B. Torres

Picard, Jean-Luc
— retired from Starfleet and doing volunteer work at an archeological dig on Vulcan

Quark
— still tending bar on DS9 and giving Kira a hard time

Rom
— Grand Nagus, based on Ferenginar
— married to Leeta

Sisko, Jake
— journalist/writer & documentarian
— based on Earth, but often travels off-world
— keeps in touch with his father and Nog on the Destiny

Torres, B’elanna
— working on experimental technology at Cochrane-Scott Research Laboratories
— assisting LaForge on joint project with Starfleet Engineering
— married to T. Paris

Worf
— Federation Ambassador to Qo’noS or Qo’noS Ambassador to the Federation?

Movie(s)?

OK, now… the story idea for a movie is still rather barebones (like most of the above characters). But, I’m thinking it might be expanded into two movies or a TV mini-series. (Well, if this happened in 2005, maybe.) The timeframe is the Earth year 2382 (i.e., roughly 2-3 years after the events of Nemesis and ~7 years after “Deep Space Nine” ended).

Plotline 1: The elderly Ambassador Spock becomes ill and dies shortly before negotiations are to begin for an important peace treaty with a new planetary system. For reasons to be revealed (and possibly connected to events in an old episode), the only “logical” replacement is Jean-Luc Picard, and the Destiny is ordered to pick up & deliver Picard (who, as a VIP, is escorted by Chakotay?), as well as remain nearby as a reassuring presence. Meanwhile, Drs. Merridan and Crusher are kidnapped from a ritzy party for reasons TBD.

Plotline 2: An experimental piece of equipment is stolen from Cochrane-Scott Research Laboratories. Evidence initially points to Klingon involvement (cameo by Worf?), though the group responsible turns out to be composed of members of several races. Other than its primary purpose in a warp core, the only other conceivable use for this particular component is for a particularly nasty WMD. With Torres assigned by La Forge as CSRL consultant, the Titan is dispatched to hunt down and retrieve the stolen device. Meanwhile, perhaps a sub-plot involving Janeway, Paris, and/or Data/B-4?

That’s all I have, for now. Maybe I’ll flesh it out more in the future. (No pun intended.) Thanks for indulging me….

Cypher

The following piece of original fiction is over 20 years old.

I seem to remember being inspired in part by a TV movie, but the title and plot have long since faded from memory. (Well, mine, anyway.) Originally, I wrote it longhand… in pencil. (You remember those, right?) But that copy disappeared, probably around the time I moved from NJ to FL 8 years ago. I thought it was lost until a few years ago, when I found a partially-corrupted text file version. I managed to salvage it, but the second half was gone. I was considering posting it here, anyway, but held off.

Then, a few days ago, while going through some old boxes of stuff, I found my handwritten copy with both parts! Plus notes to explain what’s going on! Yay! So, I’m able to share the whole thing. (There are additional notes for a Part III, but I’m gonna hold onto them, in case I ever get the urge to continue the story in another post.) Not that it’s anything fantastic. But, it was my first foray into fiction-writing since my college years, and I thought it turned out pretty good.

The style of narrative should be a familiar one: protagonist gets thrown into an awkward situation with little helpful knowledge (and, in this case, a dose of amnesia), and the reader discovers things at the same time as the protagonist does. I tweaked the text just a tad to eliminate an inconsistency and improve the flow, but it’s mostly intact here….

“Cypher”

Part 1:

bald-head-side-view-with-three-question-marks_318-48742Sand.

That was the first thing he was aware of when he came to. It was in his mouth, and it did not taste very good. He tried spitting it out, but he just got more sand on his dry lips. The gritty substance seemed to be all over him. He could feel it on his hands and face and in his clothes. As he started to turn his head, he became aware of a melange of odors assaulting his nostrils. Fish… dead fish and brine. That was most obvious. Wet wood, candy, rubber,… and a faint wafting of smoke.

He suddenly realized he had been lying face down in the sand and, apart from his feeble attempts at spitting, he had not moved since becoming conscious. He tried to open his eyes to see where he was, but there was only a gray fuzziness at the edges of a field of black.

“Am I blind?,” he thought. It occurred to him he should panic at that, but somehow it did not bother him too much. It was as if his subconscious knew the condition was either normal, or temporary, or both.

Slowly, however, his remaining senses seemed to start kicking in. He became aware of sounds, faint confirmations that the world around him was feeling a bit less out-of-sorts than he was. He heard, and then felt, the gentle surf lapping at his feet. His shoes and the lower half of his pantlegs were obviously soaked, but the water was warm and he felt no chill.

Hesitantly, he moved arms and legs into position and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. His whole body felt stiff and he sensed that he had a few cuts and bruises, but he did not seem to be in any real pain. His shoulder bumped something which, upon further tactile examination, appeared to be a log about four feet long and nearly a foot thick, lying on its side and slightly slick to the touch. As he eased himself into a sitting position on the log, he started trying to fit some of the pieces together.

He was on a beach somewhere, but he did not know which beach or even why he was there. Probably not to swim, as he was fully clothed and had no swimming trunks on beneath his pants. Judging by his physical condition, he had either fallen and injured himself, or he had been involved in some sort of scuffle and then abandoned. Had he been mugged? He had no wallet, but that was not proof in itself of foul play. He had no watch, but somehow he knew he neither owned nor needed one. Furthermore, he seemed to know exactly what time it was — 11:23pm on Friday, September 6, 2013.

He was, however, wearing what felt like a man’s wedding band on his left ring finger. Either he had stumbled across some rather inept thieves, or he could rule out being mugged. Beyond that, he had no idea where he was, how he got there, what happened to him, or, despite his uncanny awareness of time, how long he had been lying unconscious in the sand. What was most disturbing, however, was the fact that he had no idea who he was.

Part 2:

under-a-pier-at-night“Young man, I said, ‘Are you alright?'”

He jumped and spun around at the sudden sound, startled out of his introspection. Squinting into the darkness of his slowly clearing vision, he thought he could make out the stocky figure of a dark-skinned man standing less than twenty feet away. He had been so absorbed in his self-examination that he had not noticed the stranger’s approach in the semi-damp sand.

“Easy, son. I don’t want any trouble. I just saw you sitting there on that log with your head in your hands, and I thought you might be sick or hurt or need some help.”

The black man continued to appraise him with a kind but wary eye.

“Hey, is that some kind of karate move or something?”

Only then did he realize he had instinctively gone into a defensive, semi-crouching stance when he first heard the man’s voice.

“Tae kwon do, actually,” he responded automatically while taking note of how dry his mouth was. Sensing an absence of hostility from the stranger, he began to relax a little. How do I know tae kwon do? And how much do I know?, he thought. Judging by his reflexive actions of a moment ago, he was probably well-trained, at least.

“I took a class down at the ‘Y’,” he said. It seemed his instincts were also telling him “Never let the other guy know how much you know until absolutely necessary.” He could hear it in his mind, as if it were part of a lecture. But from where?, he wondered. Was it really from a public self-defense class?

“Say, you do look banged up a bit,” the stranger observed as he approached cautiously. “Why don’t you let me have a look? I’m a doctor.” The black man started giving him a cursory examination, then stopped. “The moon may be ‘big and bright’ tonight, but other than a couple minor cuts and bruises on your face, I can’t see diddly. Why don’t you come back to my place, and I’ll get you patched up and maybe throw in some hot chocolate if you like. C’mon, it’s only about a quarter-mile back up the beach,” he said, gesturing behind him with his thumb. “And, besides, it looks like we could both use someone to talk to tonight.”

He considered his options and, given his situation and the seemingly genuine concern and kind offer from this friendly stranger, he decided not to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

“Alright,” he said, “I guess I could use a little medical attention. And the hot chocolate sound pretty good, too.” Besides, he thought, if this guy was involved with whomever or whatever happened to me, why would he come back now? And why the ‘good samaritan’ act?

“Fine,” said the stranger, taking him by the elbow and leading him slowly back the way from which he had apparently come. “Lean on me if your legs seem weak or you feel dizzy. You may have a concussion. By the way, I’m Amos. ‘Dr. Amos J. Thibodeaux, M.E.’, if you want the business card version. But, you just call me ‘Amos’.”

The two began walking quietly side by side, each immersed in his own thoughts as the surf whooshed gently on the beach, making the occasional bid to caress their feet. The younger of the two glanced back at where he had just been and realized he had been lying just outside the shadow of a huge pier. On the land beyond the pier, he could see and hear the workings of a small amusement park. That would explain the cotton candy smell, he surmised, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a breeze tonight. I wonder how I could smell it so well, especially with the stinky dead fish smell being so strong. But, that should be the least of my worries. I still don’t know who or where I am or why I was lying unconscious under a pier in the middle of the night.

Notes:

bionic-eye-implanted-in-old-blind-man-to-seeo  He, aka “Cypher”, is a cyborg with an organic brain, cloned from one “donor” (supposedly without memories), but partially “programmed” with engrams of another. He has a computer-enhanced memory, processing, etc. Everything that happens to him or is detected with his enhanced senses is recorded and backed up to “the cloud” every hour. [I just added that bit, since “the cloud” wasn’t a thing when I first wrote this.] He can interface and up/download data on any known system.

o  Occasionally, he has memory flashes from both the original brain donor and the engram “model”.

o  Eventually, he will discover that his “creators” were not entirely benevolent and that he was programmed with some rather violent urges and deadly skills.

o  He also discovers that the incident which ended up with him being beaten and left on the beach was due to betrayal by another synthetic human.

Apparently, I later spent some more time thinking about how I might further develop this concept into a complex, three-part story. I had totally forgotten about it, but I found my old notes about this on another sheet of paper just the day before yesterday. So,…

Notes II:

First novel/chapter originally develops that Cypher was created by a benevolent organization, then it ends with a twist to indicate that Cypher was built by and/or working for “bad guys”. Second novel/chapter develops this further but ends with another twist, indicating he may have worked for/with “good guys”, after all. Third novel/chapter expands on this, finally revealing his true origins/mission. It would be something along the lines of:

1) “Created” by benevolent organization that was partially funded by U.S. Dept. of Defense.

2) Top-secret group within the intelligence community convinced (bribed? coerced?) one of the scientists involved to deliver the first successful “product” of the Proteus Project (i.e., Cypher) to them.

3) This group then trained Cypher/Proteus for an undercover mission to infiltrate and expose a rogue faction (“bad guys”) within the intelligence community.

4) While on this mission, he is ambushed, beaten, and left for dead on the beach.

– fake pulse is temporarily damaged
– experiential memory is 99% erased, and link to back-up memory is damaged; so, even if he knew he had it, he couldn’t access it
– eventually, limited self-repair of functions are able to restore the link

5) If Cypher ever gets full (back-up) memory restored, it won’t be until end of third novel/chapter.

There ya have it! The genesis of “Cypher”. Hope y’all found it enjoyable.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Throwback Wednesday: B5, Star Trek, & Star Wars

Given that I ran out of time to write a “normal” post this week, I got the idea for this one from the “Throwback Thursday (TBT)” posts you sometimes see people do on Facebook. But, I’m gonna give you 3-in-1. (I actually do a “Top 10” every December on my other blog, but I’ll keep this one more manageable.)

You may have noticed that I have grouped certain kinds of posts onto dedicated pages (with links), which I have linked to below the main blog image above. But, there are many that don’t fit any of those categories. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight three of my personal favorites, with excerpts of text from each post. You may notice something they have in common: each one presents several ideas for rebooting or continuing a major sci-fi franchise. If you missed them the first time around, or just don’t remember reading them, I hope you enjoy these posts (again?).

“On Reviving Babylon 5”

Babylon 5 station + logo“The “Babylon 5” series (1994-1998) is generally acknowledged as one of the best science fiction shows in TV history, and it’s certainly one of my all-time favorites…. Recently, I discovered that JMS is considering a reboot of “Babylon 5”. A reboot?! Don’t do it, Joe! … I’m a little leery about returning to the B5 universe, even by its creator, given the lackluster attempts made shortly after the original series went off the air…. But, given the right concept and talent involved, it could be another hit. With this in mind….”

“Multiphasic Trek Update, part 2: TV Trekkin’ for a New Generation”

star_trek_logo_20090511_750w“Ever since “Enterprise” (and maybe before), Star Trek fans have been hoping, wishing, and praying for a new Star Trek series to be produced by a major network…. Now, in case you somehow haven’t heard, a new show has finally been approved by the powers-that-be and scheduled to debut in January 2017…. Unfortunately, we have practically no details, even on what direction they may go with it, so there is plenty of speculation and wishing…. I have come up with a few ideas of my own for the upcoming series (though others may have had them, too, I suppose), spanning different eras….”

“Ideas for Star Wars Anthology Series Films”

star-wars-logo-art“Since we all — well, not ALL, but a LOT of us — are psyched for the upcoming Star Wars movies and speculating about what they might be about, I figured I’d throw out a few (not entirely original) ideas for the “Anthology Series” films. There is definitely a lot of material to mine for these spin-offs and opportunities for expansion on what fans are already familiar with, since they are “standalone” films that are not directly connected to the new trilogy (i.e., episodes, VII-IX)…. The third film in the Anthology Series has long been rumored to be a Boba Fett origin story…. But, this movie hasn’t been confirmed, as yet. So, here are a few other people/things that could be explored, assuming Disney/Lucasfilm decide to stick to prequels….”

Hope you got a kick out of ’em, and maybe they sparked a few ideas of your own! (Feel free to share below.) ‘Til next week…

Three of a Kind (or, Who Is the Crimson Fury?)

Last time I presented one of my original fiction story ideas, it was about three adult siblings who gained amazing powers. So, this is (almost) deja vu 🙂 , except that, besides the “three adult siblings” protagonists, everything else about this idea is very different. The initial concept bubbled up in my mind some months ago, but I added a little more later and then fleshed out quite a bit of the details just this week. (That’s getting to be a pattern….) Here’s what I have:

“Three of a Kind”
OR
“Who Is the Crimson Fury?”

Philip, Derrick, & Terrell Jameson are identical triplets who grow up in a great, middle-class, African-American family. They loved rock & blues music and excelled in academics, sports, and martial arts. They attended the same university, majoring in business (Phil) and software engineering (Derrick & Terrell), eventually earning master’s degrees. Shortly after graduation, they went into business together and soon released their first software product. While celebrating their 26th birthday, a tragic accident(?) left their parents dead and Phil & Terrell missing but presumed dead. Fortunately, none of the brothers was married or had kids. Following a fairly quick police investigation that cleared the surviving brother of any suspicion of wrongdoing, Derrick collected a few million dollars in inheritance and insurance (from the parents’ policies), then cut all personal and professional ties and effectively disappeared.

The Jameson brothers as college freshmen

The Jameson brothers as college freshmen

What Derrick didn’t realize was that his brothers both survived. The explosion at the vacation cabin where they had been staying apparently blew their battered and burned bodies to the river’s edge; the current took them miles downriver, where they washed ashore. They were discovered and taken first to the closest hospital, then transported to one many miles away with a burn ward. The brothers remained comatose for the first few days. Once they awakened, it was discovered that they were amnesiac re their own identities (and familial relationship) and of the events leading to their burns and other trauma. Namely, Phil and Terrell both had 1st- & 2nd-degree burns on 75-80% of their bodies — hands, arms, legs, feet, back. (Could have been worse if they hadn’t spent hours in the cold river.) Their fingerprints had been burned off, too, which was another obstacle at identifying them. Fortunately, their faces and necks had only minor burns and would suffer no lasting scars. They also had an assortment of bruised and broken ribs and limbs.

After a few weeks, first Terrell and then Phil recovered his memory, but they remained in physical and psychological therapy at the hospital for many weeks. As soon as they were able, they set about tracking down Derrick — contacting friends, family, and associates; doing internet research; talking to cops and insurance investigators. Those last two groups were understandably interested in finding Derrick, so that they could properly redistribute some of the inheritance and insurance money. Phil and Terrell were sure their brother would be happy to see them and share the money, but at the time they had no money to spend on investigators or anything else. (Their only close relatives were cousins with a struggling farm in the Midwest.)

Eventually, they went on TV, asking Derrick to contact them or for others who might know where Derrick was to get in touch. Derrick, who had been living in isolation in a cabin in Canada, saw a newspaper article about the televised plea and the brothers were reunited days later. Once the lawyers and insurance people cleared everything up, Phil & Terrell returned with Derrick to his cabin. Determined to get back into the athletic shape they used to be in, the brothers adopted a rigorous training regimen. Meanwhile, Derrick shared with Phil and Terrell the research he had been doing on the cabin explosion that injured them and took their parents’ lives. Contrary to the official report, he did not believe that it was accidental. Furthermore, he believed that they were collateral damage in a larger web of corporate espionage and corruption at high levels. Once his brothers were convinced he was truly onto something, they began to discuss how they might set things right….

Jump forward to a few years later. All three brothers have fully recuperated and invested a lot of time and money (which they had invested quite wisely, while living very modestly) into implementing an intriguing plan. Using false identities, shell corporations, cover stories, etc., the Jameson brothers essentially fell off the grid. Having moved to a strategically-located area (and far from where they grew up, went to school, and worked), they now share a new, single civilian identity — Forrest Blaque, reclusive software engineer and entrepreneur. They continue to make and invest money under this name and BlaqueStar Software, while making few public appearances. (Note: All three now have identical facial hair, which they never used to wear, and haircuts. They already sounded and moved quite similarly.) They also share a single masked identity — the crimefighter known as the Crimson Fury — with a nearby base of operations at an abandoned factory/warehouse, that they purchased (through a shell company) and secretly renovated.

Crimson Fury - helmet, gloves, staff and nunchuksThe brothers share the same muscular build (5’11”, 190 lbs.), the same love of athletics, the same weight-training regimen, and they are all black belts in both aikido and taekwondo, including mastery of several weapons. The Crimson Fury costume incorporates some innovative materials, including a non-conductive, temperature-resistant outer fabric with an inner layer of impact-absorbant padding. There is extra protection in the gauntlets and helmet, though they are considering replacing the helmet with a reinforced cowl. Finally, they have loops, straps, and pockets for weapons, as well as a utility belt.

The three sometimes work cases together and sometimes individually, depending on the complexity, seriousness, and who’s available. They trade off on who appears in each identity, thus helping to ensure that none gets overworked. Whenever they go “out” in either guise, they use cameras, microphones, and GPS trackers to monitor and record their activities. This not only supplements verbal reports but serves as a “permanent” record for later study. After all, since they share an identity (well, two of them, technically), they need to know where each other goes, people encountered, what was said, intel uncovered, etc. This makes it easier to stay informed and maintain their identities. There is always at least one guy at home/HQ, doing research, keeping surveillance, and generally backing up whoever is “out”, while in near-constant audio-visual contact. Naturally, when “off duty”, they have to sleep, train, and run a small-but-successful software development business (though they do have an assistant or two for that last one).

The sorts of cases that the Crimson Fury works on vary, sometimes involving one or more corrupt and/or legit businesses, sometimes organized crime, sometimes government agencies, sometimes public servants, and occasionally other masked adventurers on both sides of the law. But, no matter what else they have going on, they always keep at least one eye on their main goal — uncovering the international network of white-collar criminals and government officials who are ultimately responsible for the deaths of their parents and many, many others.

Questions? Comments?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2016.