Other People’s Toys

A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! is approaching. January 12th, as you’re already aware. In celebration, I’m endeavoring to post a blog a day up to the run up. Have a question or thought you’d like to share? You can reach me at Hipstercthulhu@hotmail.com.

A question writers get asked, especially in these days of franchises and expansive intellectual property domination, is “What existing character / universe / idea would you like to write something for?”

I’ve always found the question fairly complex. I like writing my own stuff. Not just because I think my ideas are cool, but they’re mine, so I can do whatever I want with them. Any existing media comes with its own baggage, and while I know many writers will ignore that baggage in favor of what they want to do, I’ve always felt that was basically cheating.

I think it’s a mistake to be beholden to continuity at times, depending on what character or idea we’re talking about. But broad strokes should matter since that’s part of what makes the character or idea appealing. For that reason, I’d much rather create alternate versions of those sorts of characters because continuity isn’t an issue and I could do whatever I want.

I’ve little interest in Evil Superman stories, but if a writer wants to make a Superman-like character and then explore that character going evil . . . well, honestly, I’m not very interested in that either, but it still makes more sense to me to do it that way than to try shoehorning evil Superman into canon.

If we’re talking about a character or IP I would like to visit given my druthers, there are a few qualifications. One of those is that my interest tends toward more obscure characters and universes because there’s more flexibility. If I were to write a Spider-Man comic title, there would be a whole universe of stuff to deal with. Or X-Men. Or Gargoyles.

(For the record, none of those would be particularly interesting to me even without that universe of stuff. They’re just examples.)

As an old school comic book fan, I’d lean toward characters that either don’t get much stage time or have a lot of space to play around in. This is why many of my favorite characters wouldn’t be high on the list.

She-Hulk? I adore her (even if I don’t adore every version). But she’s been around a while and consistently and writers have done a lot with her already.

Squirrel Girl? Another great character, but some terrific writers have defined her so wonderfully that I’d feel like anything I did would be second to that.

Thor? The first superhero title I’d ever read, but I’ve never really enjoyed the character like I did in the ‘80s. Also, a character that has had every facet explored and re-explored.

Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes version)? A great character, painfully mishandled by DC over the years as they rebooted and reshuffled their continuity over and over again. The very nature of DC’s confusing continuity tangle discourages me from entering that arena.

This is why, after much thought, I know exactly what comic characters I’d like to write about:

Marvel’s Circus of Crime!

While not completely obscure, the Circus of Crime is exactly what it says on the box. A circus . . . of crime. The best thing about the Circus of Crime to me is that they don’t really have any special powers or abilities beyond what you might expect. There’s a strongman who, while strong, is not superhuman. A human cannonball who can shoot himself out of a cannon, so that’s sort of like flying but a lot less useful. A pair of acrobatic brothers, an evil elephant trainer, a cowboy with an electric lasso, a snake trainer. The only member with any significant ability is The Ringmaster AKA Maynard Tiboldt who has a special top hat that can hypnotize people.

It should come as no surprise that I love the Circus of Crime. It pushes so many of my buttons. A weird theme, a bunch of C-listers who get their butts instantly kicked as soon as someone like Spider-Man or Iron Man shows up.

I’d love to explore the idea of what it might mean to be this while also embodying a conceit (the classic circus) that is less relevant than it was. And I love when dismissed and underestimated characters make a show of themselves. I’d also use it as a chance to shoehorn in another group of obscure Marvel villains The Death-Throws. Criminal jugglers! Criminal circus! It practically writes itself!

I’d also love a chance to write a Man-Thing story in the classic weird tales vein of the character. The non-sentient plant monster has been a staple of Marvel comics, but I’m a big fan of his original appearances involving wizards, demons, and even ghost pirates as he trundles through the swamps of Florida guarding the Nexus of All Realities. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

In a non-comic book choice, I’d love to write something with Tars Tarkas, the green Martian ally of John Carter. You may know Tars as the character voiced by Willem Defoe in the underrated John Carter of Mars movie. As a long time fan of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom novels, I’ve always had a great affection for the leader of the Tharks.

My final choice would have to be Kolchak: the Nightstalker, that intrepid reporter in the straw boater who runs afoul of the weird and paranormal. Kolchak is exactly the kind of character I tend to write a lot already: an ordinary person who stumbles through supernatural situations and somehow makes it through alive. Kolchak’s influence on my work is obvious, as is every character on this list if you really think about it.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

LEE

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