Tuesday, September 27, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 was a surprise hit with my reading circles. I didn’t expect them to enjoy Rae sneaking around quite so much, but they did. A few notes on the origins of this chapter:

-The tunnels under Lieber Hall are based on my dad’s stories about attending UCLA as a physics major in the 1960s. There were, at the time (and according to the Web, there still are) tunnels running underneath the campus, supposedly built during World War II. By the 1960s, students in physics and the other sciences would run experiments down there. I recall one particular story about an acoustically neutral room—a room that had been outfitted so that sound basically wouldn’t travel in it. The tunnels don’t seem to be in use anymore, except by unauthorized urban explorers. The smell was inspired in a “toilet graveyard” pictured in one explorer’s photo diary—a collection of abandoned toilets dumped in a tunnel and left to fill in with dirt. Research is awesome.

-Hermes Psychopompos was a real aspect of the Greek god Hermes. I’m not even kidding. Look him up; he’s awesome. He’s the root of the English word “psychopomp,” which is still in use by academics and probably a hundred points in Scrabble.

-Odysseus with a wooden-horse logo: Odysseus was the creator of the Trojan Horse, of course. He’s also my favorite Greek hero, so he had to show up here.

-Soleil’s lock code is based on 741.5, the section of the Dewey decimal system reserved for comic books. Talk about obscure! But it was my favorite part of my local library when I was growing up, before the graphic novels got their own special section. It's also why she and Rae have room 741 in Castigan Hall.

-The fates of superheroes’ significant others: this is a multi-level joke. “Tossed off a bridge” is, of course, a reference to Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s girlfriend. Stan Lee wrote a story in 1973 where the Green Goblin kidnapped Gwen and tossed her off the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man tried to snag her with his webbing, but (in most versions of the story) the sudden stop broke her neck, and she was dead by the time Spidey pulled her back up. “Murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator” is a reference to the death of Alex DeWitt, girlfriend of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, in 1994. Kyle came home and found that his enemy, Major Force, had killed Alex and stuffed her body into a refrigerator.

-The refrigerator bit is a double reference because of “Women in Refrigerators”, a website active in the late 1990s that listed female characters in comics who were injured, killed, or otherwise depowered as plot devices in comics. The site, created by writer Gail Simone, was designed to pose the question of why it was overwhelmingly women who were treated in this manner, often to motivate male heroes. A common response to this criticism was that it wasn’t so much an attack on female characters as it was a result of the fact that supporting characters tend to take the hit when heroes need motivating, and because most superheroes are male, their supporting casts skew female. Anyway, when I sat down to write this chapter, I realized that, because Rae considers herself the protagonist of her own story, she wouldn’t see Trevor as the Superman to her Lois Lane. She’d see him as the Lois Lane to her Superman. Any guy she dates would be in danger of ending up in the refrigerator, at least to her way of thinking. Of course, Trevor can take much better care of himself than your average supporting character, and that makes him more attractive date material for Rae. This is what passes for humor among people who read too many comic books.

-Guessing Trevor’s real name: Yes, every single one of these names is a superhero reference. “Jason” is Jason Todd, one of the boys who served as Robin under Batman (and got killed doing it). “Steve” is a reference to Steve Rogers, who’s “too old” for obvious reasons. “Matthew” and “Michael” are both references to my favorite hero, Daredevil, a.k.a. Matthew Michael Murdock (and because I had to turn Rae’s thoughts to Mike somehow). I considered just using all the Robins’ names, but that would mean calling Trevor Dick (not a good name to use in English anymore), Tim (instant Monty Python reference, but I’d be repeating his first initial), and Damian (does anyone see that name and not think of The Omen?). That didn’t work, so I just used one Robin name and two other superheroes I like.

-Bruises: Injuries and abuse will be a recurring motif in Masks. In future blogs, I’ll talk about the real-life missing and abused children who inspired Rae’s origin story. This chapter, however, provides our first real glimpse of that darkness in Rae’s past as she watches the dead body of a little boy removed from a house in her neighborhood—a boy who died from abuse that only Rae seemed to know about. The story of this family, and how this boy died and what Rae had to do with it, will be explored as the story unfolds. I wanted to give Rae a secret that would stack up against Trevor’s dramatic past (remember the burning train and the blood on the carpet?), and it seemed right that she should have a more intimate, personal tragedy, something that only she would remember. It made sense that someone with Rae’s powers of observation would see and remember details that other people missed. These haunting memories are the price of that talent, and they connect to some secrets in John Lawrence’s past and even a few pieces of Trevor’s arc. 

This week's song is almost inevitable. I can't write a sneaking-around-in-darkness scene without thinking of Theory of a Deadman's "Invisible Man" (watch out for the lyrics, youngsters): 


  1. Funny, I always heard it as Gwen Stacy was killed off while Stan was on vacation, because he liked the blonde. Everyone else didn't. When he got back from vacation, he was pissed.

    At least, that's the version I heard.

  2. Huh. I'd never heard that. Although I HAD heard that Jack Kirby created the Silver Surfer while Stan was out of the office, and gave him a surfboard because he was "tired of drawing spaceships."

    Still, it's good to know Trevor can take care of himself even when I'm on vacation ... or it would be if I ever went on vacation. :)