Paths Not Taken
I’ve revealed a number of times on this blog that the creative process is nowhere near as neat and tidy as it appears. Nothing springs forth fully formed out of its creator’s head unless its Athena. No, for all the grace and beauty that the swan of enjoyable stories exudes, she’s doing a lot of work under the water.
You’ve likely read about how Juniper was meant to be a robot clone in mockery of Marvel pulling the same thing, or how Tink was meant to be a temporary love interest, or how Callie Kreiger just sort of lucked into being Vamanos. I can assure you though that I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to discussing some of the things I’ve changed before they went live that shaped The Descendants as a whole.
So this week, I thought it might be fun to unveil a few more. Let’s hop into my TARDIS and unravel the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey chaos of what could have been from the annals of Descendants history. Things like…
Morganna’s Host Was Meant To Be Lisa’s Twin Sister
I won’t blame you for wondering why I underlined ‘sister’ there, but not ‘twin’. I haven’t done much with Lisa’s twin brother, Zack, or most of the Ortega clan for that matter. There just hasn’t been a lot for them to do, especially as I work to develop the other characters.
But there was a time where the Ortegas would have become much more intricately linked to the story.
It all started with a fairly stock trope: The kids’ class goes on a field trip, one of them picks up a forbidden staff (the Staff of Hyrilius) and BAM! They’re possessed by Morganna. The twist would be that ‘bad twin’, Lisa would have started with it, but ‘good twin’ [I have no idea what I originally named her] would sacrifice herself to save Lisa, thus setting up the same deal Lisa has with her aunt in the final story.
Why didn’t this happen? Consequences and… Morganna.
As I was roughing out the story, I had this idea that the Staff would be Morganna’s Vessel and every time she turned up, a new person would be under the sway of Morganna. But then I really started to like the conflict Morganna actually taking and keeping someone Lisa loves.
The problem there is that I was kidnapping a sixteen year old girl from her family in-story. Adults and runaways and people with less than close families can disappear without a lot being done about it, sadly. However, the Ortegas were never meant to be the kind of family where their daughter could disappear and they wouldn’t raise hell.
Lisa, who I always planned on making into Occult, would be tied up as a character in this long, tragic subplot where she has to lie to her parents about where her twin sister went as they continue the fruitless search for her. There would never be an ounce of joy in this character if I went there until I ended the subplot once and for all.
I’m sure there’s a good story there and that another writer might have gone with it and even that some of you reading right now might have liked to have seen that. But really, that isn’t a Descendants story. Yes, I’ve had some darker stuff (Hell, CynQuest isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows) and more serious moments, but in the end, this series is not the place for that level of pathos. It’s about fun and adventure and ‘holy crap, that was awesome’ (And believe me, that’s where CynQuest is going).
As for how Zack got his Y chromosome… I have no idea. I honestly don’t. Lisa’s twin was a girl literally up until the moment I typed the scene she was meant to appear in (at the metal concert).
Morganna also figures into…
Ape Knight Originally Stayed Evil
Here’s some truth: the reason Mystic Spiral (Morganna’s three introductory issues) was three issues was entirely so that I could bring Lucian the Ape Knight into the world of The Descendants.
Gorillas and superheroes go together like ninjas and flying spin-kicks: one makes the other infinitely better. That DC has an entire city of high tech, talking gorillas in their main universe is almost enough to excuse turning Beast Boy red in the New 52. In fact, part of the reason Beast Boy is awesome is because he can turn into a gorilla (also, an ankylosaur: the best dinosaur).
The other dinosaurs would argue, but they came down with a bad case of crushed ribs.
So when I started writing my own superhero series, of course I had to have an ape character. (Why wasn’t he a gorilla? Well because I’d just heard of a Wonder Woman story by Gail Simone featuring gorilla knights and hastily picked another ape.)
Enter Lucian the Ape Knight, a character who I have to force myself to ration out, lest this series Ape Knight and The Descendants. And it’s easy to see why: He’s an orangutan with a magic spear! He rides a rhinoceros! He’s got the whole ‘honorable warrior’ shtick going! He’s pure evil!
Okay, he’s not pure evil now, but he used to be in development.
In fact, right up to the writing of a certain scene in his first appearance, that was the plan. Lucian was going to be Morganna’s muscle and loyal to her as his feudal lord. He would still have been a noble character, but his honor would have forced him to side with the crazy lady.
You have to understand the Inexorable was never in the cards until I was doing research for The Miracles of St Drausinus, and as a squish wizard, Morganna needed an enforcer to justify someone like Ian not just flying up and punching her while she’s distracted. Ape Knight was that enforcer and I made him with that in mind.
…But then came the moment in the reptile house where Ian and Lucian have their little ‘not so different’ moment and I realized that I didn’t want Lucian to be an antagonist to Ian. I really liked the idea that he would be a character who would help the group out and even be friends with them.
I won’t lie and tell you that the idea of them having a talking ape as one of their very first super-friends wasn’t attractive either.
In case you’re wondering, this is why, when A Magitech Crisis rolled around, I had the demons create evil baboons. Yes, they are still tooling around Mayfield, and oh yes, there are both males and females.
I can’t really think of a segue for this one, but did you know…
Kareem Wasn’t Going To Get Out Of His Coma
Kareem might be the most popular character in the series and I really can’t blame them. In terms of temperament and morality, Kareem is the Superman of the DU. He is good, he is kind, he is thoughtful he is never petty or selfish. And if properly motivated he can destroy you.
If you look back to the earlier issues, you can definitely say that he wasn’t top of mind for me for a lot of the series, but he did have a persistent arc; that being how he learned to interact and be helpful to the team even though his physical body was in a coma. For over two years worth of stories, Kareem’s coma remained, up until the dramatic conclusion to ‘4‘ in which he was returned to his body rather forcefully.
But did you know that it was originally my intention to leave him in that situation?
Oh yes, dear readers, I am that much of a bastard. And what’s more: this changed Melissa’s arc as well.
Starting from the top, my first conception of Kareem’s power, as I believe I’ve stated before, was that he would be able to project other people into the astral plane with him. Not only could he do this to the willing, but he could also drag people kicking and screaming into the astral where he was (and is) basically a reality warper. The inspiration for this was the X-men Animated series from the 90’s, which had some really cool effects to show psychic battles on the astral plane.
Kareem’s life would increasingly revolve around either the difficulty of manifesting himself in the material world using tech and asking other people to join him in the astral. This isolation, first displayed in the very first issue, is what formed the basis of his and Melissa’s relationship and thanks to the astral jaunt thing, they could be isolated together. In fact, my plan for their first date would have been Kareem creating a restaurant and amusement park for them on the astral.
The Bright, Bright Summer. As I was expanding the world out from Mayfield, I realized just how small Mayfield is. In order to maintain it, I would have to cut Kareem out of every adventure outside of the city or come up with some new sort of technobabble to explain why he could project across the country.
In the end, I chose to let him out of the coma entirely, thought I still wonder if I should revisit the astral jaunt power. Either way, Kareem was now free to move about and make other friends and even find a love interest. And as much as I hate the idea of making a woman’s characterization dependent on her relationship with a man, I think it makes a measure of sense with Melissa. She didn’t like Kareem for his gonads, she liked him because he was isolated like her and couldn’t possibly drag her out into the world.
‘Losing’ him (in a very teenager kind of way) was the setup and seeing her old not-really-friends growing up and getting married was the knockdown, leading to her subplot from Volumes 4 and 5. I think the arc this change put both of them on will end up being good for both of them because if a relationship does form (I believe I just heard the shippers’ teeth grind at that ‘if’) for them, it will be based on something more substantial than petty teenage angst and lack of other choices.
But are least Kareem started with a planned arc. The truth of the matter is…
I Had No Idea What I Was Going To Do With George
A question I’m surprised isn’t asked more often about the series is why it starts en media res. If you stop and think about it (and all of Volume 1 depends on you not doing that the first time), there is no reason for us to come in on the aftermath of the group’s ill-fated raid on the Tome facility where the kids were being held. The first chapter of Issue #0 is nothing but exposition for what seems to be a missing Issue -1.
Here’s the unvarnished truth: Issue #-1 exists. It starts with the raid and ends with Alexis dragging a badly burned Ian into the car as they speed away. And it is awful. I didn’t know these characters at that point and had zero confidence at putting them into a fight scene right off the bat. The result was less than stellar and it will never, ever see the light of day.
There is also an Issue #-2. Sigh. The problem with -2 is that I could never come up with a satisfactory manner in which Alexis could stumble onto the Tome plot at the Academy that wasn’t hilariously contrived. This problem haunted me all the way into Issue #0 in which I still had no idea how she go onto the plot.
This was how George was born. In essence, he was a hotfix for the problem. Instead of coming up with a dumb reason or leaving it as a plothole, I made it into a mystery. Someone had called Alexis with the information and set the group on the path to becoming The Descendants. Later, in Ladies of Ragnarok, he appeared again to drive home that there was something more to him than the audience knew and in the process, making sure the group stayed together.
And so it went. George (who is named after my grandfather is you’re curious) continued to show us and render enigmatic aid with no explanation. Thus, I dug myself in deeper. I knew that eventually, I would have to reveal who and what George was, but while I had his purpose (keep the Descendants together and heroic), I didn’t have his means or really a motive.
Over the years, George has taken on a number of different identities in my head. At one point, he was literally God (big ‘g’), looking out for His Creation by helping those who would help others. Then he was the Hungan, who was using the team as a catspaw to wage his war against Morganna, who return he foresaw. At another point, he was the son of Laurel and a character who I never quite got around to writing, come back in time to save his future… and then I decided to semi-romantically link Laurel and Mr. Voice and George, clearly not being mixed race at all, wouldn’t fit anymore.
And of course, to complete the cavalcade of cliches, I even had him pegged as a villain, building the team up to eclipse the real hero who would eventually defeat him and convince that person that they weren’t needed.
The fun part is, technically, all of these could still be true thanks to the magic of time travel (and why yes, if I ever write the Abrahamic God into the DU, he would be mixed race because I’m mixed race and I am the creator of the DU. META! But just kidding, I already have a representation in the DU: comic writer Sterling Jackson).
But eventually the truth came out and the reason I settled on the explanation I did is because it opens the world up a bit more. We now know that there are alternate futures and that Descendants 2095 was not just a delusion. And we also know that there is a force out there that is trying to guide the course of events. Knowing that George is trying to push things a certain way, it adds a bit of ambiguity to events in the world. You always have to wonder if this is pushing us toward George’s Golden Age or not.
And I think that’s pretty cool. George will return in a featured role in Volume 7.
Speaking of Descendants 2095…
There Were Other ‘Imaginary Stories’
While I know that a lot of fans now see that issue as a foreshadowing mine and a source of drama, the real point of it was to run the idea of more stories like that in the series. That is, stories that aren’t fully in continuity with weird re-imaginings and ‘what if?’ moments.
So while many of you have now gone back and reread it to see all of the various things it did and didn’t foreshadow, there wasn’t a lot of support for seeing another one. So I’ve shelved the plans to do more, but the ideas are still there. In fact, there was an alternate reality for each of the younger Descendants with 2095 being Warrick’s.
I’m loath to reveal these because I might still use them, but hey, I have half a page left in the blog and it might spark some discussion. So here we go: the Lost Universe of The Descendants.
Cyn: Descendants: Optimum
No, the world of CynQuest was not Cyn’s planned alternate reality. Instead, Cyn’s imaginary world would be a cyberpunk/noir universe where she is a private detective who is also a swarm of nanites (so she can still be a shapeshifter). The original story concept would have been Lisa, Kay and Juniper hiring her to find the missing drummer of Snackrifice, and unraveling a conspiracy that was taking homeless folks off the streets (the drummer was formerly homeless and was doing his part for the homeless when he was snatched by mistake) for illegal super-powered cybernetics experiments.
Warrick would be her unofficial cop partner with Alexis as Chief of Police and Laurel as her favorite informant.
Juniper: Super Heroic Descendant Force Infinite!
Juniper, if you’ve been reading closely, is a big anime fan. So naturally, her alternate world is a loving tribute to Japanese animation particularly from the 1980’s… because I can.
The initial plot here would be that Juniper is the Star Princess (whose parents were forever faceless because this was pre-The Juniper Chronicles) and leader of a squadron of transforming, combining mechas flown by Our Heroes. Laurel was the Chief Engineer, Alexis and Ian were her generals, and Adel was the Dark Ace, an enigmatic pilot in a custom mecha whose loyalties are unknown.
Kareem: The Descendant Age
The actual sword and sorcery story from this line of thinking. Combining Greek Myth with Arabian Knights, it would follow Kareem as a prince on a quest to make his name as a hero in the world, slaying great monsters and righting wrongs.
Warrick and JC would be his sidekicks while Cyn would be the djinn he liberated from the evil wizard Brotha Ryte in his first adventure. The older cast members would be kings and queens of the various lands he visits and Melissa would be the rebellious handmaiden who runs away from her duties to join his quest.
Melissa: DES High
No pseudo-fan fiction would be complete without the High School AU and of course if anyone’s world involved getting rid of everyone’s powers, it would be Melissa’s. This one is pretty straight forward; the younger cast are her classmates while the older ones and villains are teachers and upperclassmen.
The real crazy of this one would have been stunt casting. Morganna as the capricious and despotic Drama teacher, Liedecker as the principal, and Brother Right as the guidance counselor.
I also toyed around with the idea of them starting to get powers her—but different powers than the main DU.
So there you have it folks, a peek at what could have been. I hope you enjoyed it and there really are plenty more where that came from.
Last week I mentioned the paperback edition of A Girl and Her Monster and they are now on sale! If you would like a copy, you and get it from Amazon or CreateSpace. Use the code “JC6FHA72” during checkout at Createspace to receive 25% off; there’s no need for any of my loyal and wonderful fans to pay full price for this offer!
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