Friday, November 18, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 18


I’m going to say it one more time, for those who missed my snark on Facebook: This is Trevor’s Inigo Montoya moment.

Nobody who has seen or read The Princess Bride can forget the scene where Inigo, a fencing “wizard” who has trained all his life to kill the six-fingered man who murdered his swordsmith father, finally confronts his quarry and gets to say the words he has waited all his life to say: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” 

One of the things I most wanted to play with in Masks was the idea of revenge-driven heroes. A surprising number of heroes are motivated by either a desire for revenge or a desire to make sure that a past wrong is never repeated. That’s a great motivation—come on, it’s propelled The Punisher for nearly 40 years and Batman for more than 70. And there’s a reason—it really speaks to readers, and it makes the job easier for writers.

Let’s face it, we’ve all wanted revenge, and sometimes that revenge has been disproportionate to the offense. I hated the bullies who tormented me as a kid, and I wasn’t above meting out horrible fates to them in my fiction—usually accidentally, of course, since they hadn’t actually wronged my characters. There’s nothing that makes us quite as savagely happy as seeing the bad guy get his. And revenge is an easy plot for a writer of adventure stories; if the bad guy definitely did something terrible, you can cram in some really crackling action scenes, secure in the knowledge that no punishment you can devise is too severe for a murder/child molester/terrorist/etc. None of this namby-pamby business of reasonable doubt; if he murdered the hero’s girlfriend before his very eyes, the audience is totally fine with seeing that villain get blown into hamburger.

But by now, you might have figured out that I can’t leave things alone, especially when they’re easy things, and the superhero obsession with vengeance always interested me because superheroes, almost by definition, don’t rely on due process. When they’re right, they’re really, really right—but they can also be really, really wrong. Trevor gets a lot of the classic elements of superhero origin stories, including the quest for vengeance on behalf of a murdered mentor … but what if all the evidence pointed to the last person the readers would want to see hurt? And what if we couldn’t be sure whether Trevor was wrong about her, or we were? Remember, we’ve had flashbacks to Rae’s childhood friend who went missing, but we have only her word about how she came by the costume and what happened to the man who gave it to her. Trevor, meanwhile, came to Los Angeles hunting the man who had stolen Jude’s identity, and it’s been pretty clear all along that whoever is wearing that costume—the man Moon was tracking—is connected to Jude’s disappearance. Now Trevor, like Inigo, has finally come face-to-face with his quarry … and it’s the girl he loves. Whoops.

This, by the way, gives me the opportunity to invert another trope. In superhero comics, a girlfriend finding out the hero’s identity is very often a cue for her to get killed off or turned evil. Well, Rae’s not going down so easily, and if she’s evil, she’s been evil all along. So are we dealing with a tragic case of mistaken identity, or a stone-cold sociopath who’s been stringing our hero along while wearing the symbol of a man she murdered?

The answer is … I’m not going to tell you just yet. But don’t kill me, because next week’s chapter picks up about ten seconds after this one ends, and Rae and Trevor are about to have their first really big fight. And once again, there are surprises in store.

This week’s soundtrack is Mumford and Sons’ “Dust Bowl Dance,” with lyrics drawn from the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath. It’s become a sort of personal soundtrack for me when I write vengeful characters whose quests for vengeance end in a very, very bad place. I think the end of the song might be how Trevor’s feeling about now …

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