Monday, August 27, 2012

News, and what’s going on with MASKS Season 2

Hello. I’ve been away, haven’t I?

I’d like to tell you where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, but I can’t. I will almost certainly get sued. So I’m going to describe what’s been going on in very general, non-suable terms. And I do mean very general.

There has been a problem. Part of the problem is a person (well, a couple of people), and part of it is technical. It has been a very stressful problem to deal with. And the long and the short of it is that dealing with this problem has sucked up so much of my time and energy that I am way, way behind on getting the second volume of Masks written. As in waking up one morning and muttering, “Ye gods, what month is it?”

So, because I don’t think it’s really fair to make you guys wait forever to find out what happens to Rae and Trevor, we’re going to try a little experiment.

Waaaaaaay back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was first writing Masks for my friends in high school, it was a monthly series. One short story per month, usually written within two weeks of the due date. In some ways, I enjoyed that—I got near-instant feedback on my characters, my stories, all of it. It was good training. One of the reasons I went back to writing serials was that I wanted that feedback, and that interaction with readers.

Now, the first volume of Masks was written in almost total isolation—no feedback from anyone but the beta readers. So I’m going to try something a little different this time. I’m not going to be writing and posting a chapter a week—there’s too much that can go wrong with a schedule that tight, to say nothing of how nasty it is to revise that close to writing time—but I’m going to break the story down into four chunks, and write and revise one chunk at a time. That means that if something is going massively wrong in the first quarter of the story—the first six chapters—you’ll have a chance to weigh in down in the comments and tell me I’m screwing things up, and see how I deal with that in the next quarter.

Because, you see, I can’t get a whole novel written in a hurry. But I can do a quarter pretty fast.

So here’s how it’s going to work. If I have my way, there will be something Masks-related up on Pocket Coyote on September 10. Why September 10? Because I used to release new Masks stories on the tenth of every month, and it seems appropriate that I go back to a more interactive format on that date. Now, I’m not going monthly here—we’re still doing Wednesday chapters, even though September 10 is a Monday. But there will be something on September 10—maybe a short story, maybe the first chapter of Volume 2, maybe both—and something—either the first or second chapter of Volume 2—on Wednesday, September 12. And then we’re on Wednesdays.

Think I can do this? I’m a little scared, to tell you the truth, but I’ve been dealing with Teh Problem for way too long. It’s time to solve Teh Problem in the only way I know how—by doing something absolutely batshit crazy.

That’s where the photo at the top of this blog entry comes in. I picked up a four-inch-high Bucky Barnes action figure for good luck, and was playing around with him yesterday. Call him the patron saint of batshit crazy, mostly because of one of my favorite moments from his brief tenure as Captain America. One of his early outings in the costume ended with a villain firing a rocket launcher at a presidential candidate (who was actually working with the bad guys, but superheroes don’t get to be picky about things like that). Bucky, whose unofficial motto might be “Always lead with your face”, took bullet-catching to a new level and blocked the path of the rocket … from midair … with the shield. There was a large explosion and Bucky landed very hard on top of a parked car.

All of that led up to this magnificent panel:

"Okay ... at least I survived ... ow ... EXACTLY according to my half-assed plan ..."

Now if that’s not a valediction, I don’t know what is!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Comic Books You Should Be Reading: Hawkeye (?!)

I’ll admit, I never expected to be recommending a series called Hawkeye in this feature, let alone recommending it after only one issue. But there it is. Marvel Comics’ new series featuring the breakout Avengers hero is a little gem with a lot of very sharp edges.

I’ve never liked Hawkeye. He’s always been the team loudmouth, way too full of himself, and too often played off Captain America just so there was someone to play off Cap. But I picked up Hawkeye #1, partly because I liked the portrayal of Hawkeye in the recent Avengers movie and partly because Derrick Fleece told me to.

Thank you, Derrick.

Here’s a quick recap for the civilians: Hawkeye is generally considered a B-list superhero, a member of most versions of the Avengers over the years but rarely holding down his own title. He was raised by carnies and became a preternaturally good trick shot with a bow and arrow (among other things, but mostly with a bow and arrow). He ran around as a villain for a little while before changing his stripes and applying for Avengers membership. Since then, it’s basically been his job to put an arrow in the bad guy’s eye, call Captain America an idiot when it’s necessary, and in some cases be the only member of the team who uses contractions and/or slang in his dialogue. Oh, and he wears a purple costume, thus dooming him to the fate of almost all characters who wear secondary colors—B-list at best. 

Leap BEFORE you look!
The first issue of what looks to be a new ongoing series by Matt Fraction and David Aja begins with Hawkeye falling out of a building and firing an arrow upward, a lot like that much-ballyhooed shot that made it into the movie trailer. Looks familiar, right? Like you know where this story is going?

Except this time we see Hawkeye land … very hard … on his back … on top of a parked car. Six weeks in the hospital for our intrepid hero. That’s your first clue that this ain’t your granddaddy’s superhero story.  

Hawkeye's physical-therapy regimen.
 As Hawkeye (a.k.a. Clint Barton) points out, he’s the non-super guy on the team of superheroes. He’s out there as backup to Iron Man and Thor, and all he brings to table is, in his words, “a string and a stick from the Paleolithic era.” (He’s quite proud of looking up the word “Paleolithic,” naturally.) The series follows what Hawkeye gets up to when he isn’t being an Avenger, and that seems to be a lot more interesting than what he does when he is one.
Hawkeye's neighbors are so nice, they ignore the purple shirt.
Once he’s out of the hospital, Hawkeye runs afoul of his scummy landlord, who’s trying to evict all the tenants from the building so he can sell the place. Hawkeye seems to like his neighbors (they’re apparently the only people he knows socially who don’t run around in spandex, and most don’t appear to know he’s an Avenger), so he sticks his nose where it’s not wanted and the story goes from there. The rest of the plot involves a run-down casino, a duffel bag full of money, and an incident with a dog that will darn near break your heart. 

Aww, he made a friend. Sort of.
There’s plenty of action and crackling dialogue, but what’s more impressive is what you won’t see in this story. Hawkeye never dons his costume, and there’s not an arrow fired after that first page, but you don’t miss it at all. This is a story about the man under the spandex, and he turns out to be a genuinely interesting and sympathetic guy. He’ll kick his wheelchair into a busy street and break heads in the waiting room of a vet’s office, but he’ll also ask Ivan the landlord not to threaten people with murder in front of their kids, screw up breaking a beer bottle with a penny, and bribe a guard dog with a slice of pizza. He doesn’t have much of a social life outside of the Avengers and this little group of people on a rooftop, but you find yourself wishing you could be one of the people at that barbecue with him. He’s just a fun character to be around, and the comic is all about him, so you know you’re in good hands.

Spandex-free face-punching.
With visual and dialogue tributes to everything from jazz music to seventies action movies, Hawkeye is a fast and stylish thrill ride that never loses track of its heroic heart. Even if you’ve never touched a bow and arrow, even if you don’t care about whether Kang the Conqueror gets a shaft through the eye, you’ll finish this comic caring about Hawkeye, and what he does, and why he does it. And you won’t miss the costume at all. How’s that for a trick shot?

One note to the creative team, though—we’d better see more of that dog … 

"It's okay. I'm an Avenger." Well, that just makes it all better ...