Friday, December 2, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 20

This has always been one of my favorite chapters. I’m not sure exactly why—it’s not very plotty, and it’s a bit short on action, and even the funny bits aren’t my usual kind of funny. I think it’s just because I enjoy watching the way Trevor and Jude interact, even if it’s in a sort of strange, hallucinatory sequence.

In a lot of ways, Masks is about orphans. Trevor’s an orphan twice over—his parents died in a car wreck, and then his mentor disappeared on him. Rae is estranged from her family, as are many young masks. And of course, orphan stories are very much about either rediscovering family or building a new family. So Trevor gets a bit of both in this chapter, and seeing him finally get a moment of happiness, however awkward, makes me happy in ways I can’t quite express. I suppose this chapter exists just because it makes me smile.

Still, there’s some good stuff in here, isn’t there?

It was a surprise to me when I wrote this chapter that Jude was a fairly good parent. It really was a toss-up, and one of those things I didn’t know until I sat down to write him. I’d originally conceived the character as someone who would appear only in flashbacks and in Trevor’s memories. After all, by definition, he had to be gone—Trevor didn’t really work as a character if his mentor was running around in the story. Jude was the aching void in Trevor’s life, the hole that would never be filled. So it almost didn’t matter what kind of father he’d been to the kid, as long as Trevor remembered him as a good one. He could have been a real jerk. But for what it’s worth, I think this is very much the way Jude was in real life. Everything was a teachable moment to him, he was never completely without a sense of humor, and he loved his “son” more than he ever said.

The way he plays with Trevor, making him think the situation out, teasing him for being morbid and dramatic—that’s the sort of father Trevor would need to become the man he’ll eventually be. A lot of what went into Jude in this scene was the idea of what Trevor must have lost. I knew when I created him that he’d become a sidekick to protect someone he loved, so I had to make Jude worthy of that kind of devotion. And a kid whose parents have just died isn’t going to become a wisecracking, happy-go-lucky sidekick unless he feels relatively safe and secure in his new family situation—he can’t constantly be worrying that Jude will abandon him, or he won’t have been the kind of kid he was. So while Trevor is very much like Robin in some ways, Jude is very unlike Batman. He’s much more of a dad, and a good one.

That much was intentional; I always thought that most of the kids Batman trained would be pretty solid adult heroes when Batman was gone, but Trevor was so shattered by the loss of his mentor that Jude had to be a different kind of person. He’s much more emotionally involved, wiser and more foolish at the same time—more human, basically. The kind of solid, moral man you’d want defending your city against supervillains, especially because he wouldn’t take himself too seriously. This is not the kind of father you want to take away from a kid like Trevor when the kid is thirteen years old; they’re too good for each other. I knew when I wrote the early drafts of this scene that I would have liked to hang around with Jude before he vanished, and by the time I finished the chapter I missed him just as much as Trevor did.

And that, ultimately, is why not-exactly-Jude was the perfect person to deliver the lesson Trevor needs to learn at this point in the story. As several readers have pointed out, Trevor has been on a very dark path through this whole novel. Even when I was playing around with the possibility that either Trevor or Rae was a murderer, Trevor always seemed like the stronger candidate, and with good reason. All those rules in his head—they could be telling him anything, couldn’t they? What kind of person would teach his surrogate son the things that messed Trevor up so badly? And now you know—Trevor didn’t learn all his lessons from Jude. Like most of us, he has to sort out the good things he’s learned from the bad, and decide for himself who he’s going to be.

Of course, he’s got quite a head start, hasn’t he? His true self looks and sounds remarkably like the man he thinks of as the perfect hero. And he’s not such a bad guy. Trevor might just make it out of the shadows after all, if he survives what Cobalt has in store for him.

And yes, I do know why Jude passed his mantle on to Rae instead of Trevor. It’s an answer worth waiting for, too.

Fun random fact: Nicole’s illustration is loosely based on the Canadian actor Sebastian Spence, who recently appeared in the Canadian drama Sophie. I ran across him when he starred in the sci-fi series First Wave in the late 1990s, and I used him as a mental model for Jude when I first created Trevor. I mentioned this to Nicole in passing, and the next thing I know she’s dug up his current headshot and used it as a starting point for the painting. They didn’t look very much alike by the time she finished, but it amused me to watch her work. So if they ever make a Masks movie, I’m calling it now—Sebastian Spence is my first choice to play Jude. It’s only fair.

This week’s soundtrack is “Famous Last Words,” off Captain Tractor’s new album of the same name, in honor of dead people saying portentous things:

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