Welcome back to my month-long countdown of my favorite moments from the minis, one-shots and limited series from the Descendants Universe.
I’d like to speak a minute about a bone-headed move I made early on when setting up the structure of the DU stories. The shtick of this site is that all of the Descendants stuff is basically a comic book franchise only presented in prose instead of sequential art. To that effect, we have the main series, which is obviously ongoing, and then the other stories.
When it first started, there was the Who is… The Whitecoat one shot and the Rise of Morganna miniseries. Fine. Pretty simple. But then came Liedecker Institute. The thing with LI, is that it has an ongoing story, but it does a 12-issue run, then goes on hiatus for a while. I dubbed this a ‘limited series’ because I was familiar with several limited series comics that worked sort of like this: they were written as miniseries with the potential to become on-goings, with multiple arcs within them. Gambit has had a few of these and currently has an ongoing that is unrelated to his limited series.
But… as I now understand it, ‘limited series’ means the exact same thing as ‘miniseries’. So basically, I look like a dumbass having a limited section and a miniseries section. I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet. Maybe I’ll change ‘limited’ to just ‘other series’ or ‘ongoing’ even though they’re not always on a regular update schedule. I’d like to hear from you, the readers who have to put up with this, and know what you’d like me to do about this, even if that’s ‘shut up, it doesn’t matter, comic nerd’.
Anyway, on with the countdown!
#10 – Liedecker vs the Wildmen (Liedecker: Life and Times – The Apprentice)
If you’ve read the Liedecker: Life and Times minis, I think it’s pretty evident that it’s really not the same kind of writing style (however experimental) you find in the main series. When it originally ran, I had warnings on it that the series was Web-16 instead of the Web-13 that I try to keep most of the site at. It’s a lot darker then the rest of the DU, it’s violent, and I even dropped a couple of f-bombs in there, something I didn’t even do while talking about Ghost Ocean (and yes, I’m still angry about that book).
The reason is that LI:L&T takes place more than twenty years from the present day, before there were superheroes. And if you know your comic books, twenty years is also the amount of time generally said to have passed in the Marvel Universe since the Fantastic Four were formed. It’s a big of a gag, a bit of an homage, but I ran with this idea, and so the minis are not supposed to be superhero comics in the way that the rest of the DU stories are. They are, in fact crime comics.
See, back in the day, there were a lot of types of comics. I’ve mentioned before how there were horror and romance and comedy comics just all over the place before the Comics Code came down and destroyed all that. Around the time I was thinking of giving Liedecker a backstory, I happened to pick up some old, cheap True Crime comics… and they are awesome.
See, a lot of those comics, weren’t about criminals getting their asses kicked, but of them doing crime—and getting away with it most of the time. It was all about bad people doing bad things and the ones I got did a surprisingly good job of fleshing these guys out without making their lives a sob story or saying that what they did was okay. They were just people, no matter what terrible thing they did.
That’s what I wanted to capture in these minis and what Liedecker did to the Wildmen is precisely the kind of thing I wanted to showcase. Liedecker is a badass, and he’s rich and he’s resourceful… and that is not a good mix with grief. It leads to some truly horrific things like how he crippled the Wildmen as a gang and the fallout he suffered from it. He is a man, he did something completely awful…but he’s still just a man.
Incidentally, DC Comics picked this month, my birth month, to run their Villains Week promotion… where almost every villain featured (and The Creeper, one of my favorite fun characters who is not a villain for no reason) has not only killed a whole mess of people but also killed children. Yes, even Harley. You might remember that I just got done yelling at DC for the last thing they did with Harley. Except for Flash’s Rogues, they’re all just cartoon monsters now.
Remember when I was unique?
This is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to get at with Liedecker and… expect a blog post in the future about villainy and evil.
#9 – Nermal (The Whitecoat: Networked)
I am constantly surprised that no one comments on Nermal. People seem to love Whitecoat and I’ve even gotten a few supportive emails about Barn Owl, but never a single word about Nermal. Well I’m going to talk about Nermal because I love this guy.
Nermal was born out of the old private eye cliché of the PI always having some guy he can reach who always has just the information he needs, often several guys: a gun expert, a jewelry guy, a former thief, etc. In this day and age, someone who knows where to look can find information on damn near everything, but let’s be honest, most of us only know how to google stuff. We also all have that one friend who seems to be made of magic because they not only know how to google, but what magic questions and Boolean voodoo to type in to make Google caught up exactly what you need AND who knows all sort of other sites to check that you never could have found.
That is who Nermal is. He knows how to find information and since he doesn’t have powers (or the basic fitness to be a cop), he does what he can by making himself available (for an affordable price) to New York’s heroes. The fun of Nermal though is that like any enjoyable hero, he faces hardships (not, I might add, life destroying depression-causing things) for his choice to do good. In his case, however, it’s having to deal with the attitude, quirks and general weirdness of his clients… which makes him the IT guy… which makes him me. Oh god, what have I done?!
Right. So yeah, a few interesting facts about Nermal: the true hero of NYC:
1- He’s based on Paco, best friend of Blue Beetle III Jaime Reyes
2- Originally, he was going to be part of the poker game in White Coat and the Second Stingers, but I cut him because every story I came up for him was just kvetching heroes asking for dumb information.
3- He is a white hat hacker and part of a global group of the same. His friend in Tokyo was one of them.
4- Yes, he is named after this guy, both in and out of universe. And yes, Garfield is still going in the 2070’s.
#8 – Tantrum Has Had Enough (Liedecker Institute: Second Semester)
Growing up, as I started to appreciate stories with arcs and ongoing characterization, one thing I always marveled at is how a formerly flat character can suddenly be scooped up and developed. My favorite example of this was Demona from Gargoyles. Some people might argue with me that she wasn’t all that flat in the first place, given the ‘loves her arch enemy’ deal, but to me, Season One Demona was pretty much just a cackling villainess with a decent backstory that didn’t pay off.
Then came the second season and suddenly, she was much more complex, having experienced way more than we gave her credit for and having a much deeper inner life than ‘I’ll make my old boyfriend pay for… not being a jackass like I am’.
I love when this happens, but it wasn’t until this moment in the LI series did I realize that if a writer is interested in character stuff, it becomes inevitable (except for Adel. I am consciously NEVER developing him). See, there was never a plan for Annette. She was just a bad kid that Vorpal was saddled with (look for more of that relationship in the next month or so), and nothing more.
At the Institute, she was just another mean girl to hang out with Lily and… she spoke French, mostly because, Gambit. That was it. There was nothing to her.
And then came that instant in the January Heatwave arc where I stuck her in purely as filler and part of the joke was that she did nothing at all while all this drama was going on around the new character, Maya. I’m not sure where it came from, but I suddenly saw this glorious moment where Annette saves the day… for completely selfish reasons.
There weren’t a lot of Annette moments after that, but you might recall her pitching and having fun with it in the next arc. The reason for it is that I’m starting to have ideas about her and the idea starts with the honey badger. In case you’re unfamiliar with the internet meme:
And that’s Annette. It’s not that she’s a bad kid, it’s that she really just wants to be herself and use her powers as she sees fit and no one has ever let her before. Voice kept her from using them to protect her from the French government, Vorpal practically threatened her to stop her from, well, tantruming with them, and she’s fed up with it. Now she’s getting positive outlets for it and it’s good for her.
#7 – Vorpal in the Airport (Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble)
I think this speaks to a shared experience. I am willing to bet that most people reading this have had to endure an awful wait in some unfamiliar place where all the chairs are lined up in a row and some very polite people are trying to tend to your needs when what you really want is for someone you’re familiar with, who you care about, to come and tell you it’s okay.
It might not have been an airport. Maybe it was a bus station, or a hospital, or at a funeral. Maybe someone was just leaving for a while, maybe they were gone forever—maybe you just didn’t know and no one was giving you answers fast enough. It is an awful experience and I hope that none of you ever have to go through it, or if you do, you don’t have to go through it again.
Writing this scene in V:G&G was pretty damn emotional for me because I’ve been there many times and it’s almost always the same. Only this time, in a way, it was my fault. Yeah, she’s fictional. I know that, but that doesn’t make it feel good or right. Fictional or not, this was still a young girl and I was… destroying her. Not only that, but I knew that the hope she was going to get at the end was false.
Writers create characters and for them, we are gods and shepherds for them. Some of us are kind, some of us are callus. I like to think of myself as kind most of the time. But with this, especially this, but also the whole mini, I was very, very cruel. Vorpal already existed, so nothing good or light could have come out of her origin story.
After this mini, I felt about as drained as I ever did after writing a story. There’s a reason this was followed by White Coat and friends doing a fun poke game. I’m not sure I’d ever do something like that again. It’s not me.
But… in the end, I’m glad I did it. I made Vorpal, made her who she is and writing the mini, especially the airport scene, to me feels like taking responsibility and ownership of her. I’m not sure that makes sense to non-writers, but the gist is, I care about that character and I feel like I owed it to her concept to put her backstory out there, no matter how much I didn’t want to write it because it was always implied anyway. This was just doing it honestly.
Okay, enough of the artiste rambling about his craft. Let’s get to girlish cooing.
#6 – Maya and Soot (Liedecker Institute: Generations Aflame)
Maya, like Taylin from Rune Breaker is not my baby. She was gifted to me by the same wonderful lady, my best friend, who you might know as Nyx from my Ledgermain Comics days, or Pele form the forums. She was originally created for an X-men game (not the one Warrick was created for). Yes, she is the second fire-base character Pele has come up with and given me. The stunning part of that? Between us, I’m the pyro.
Anyway, just like Taylin, Maya was developed a lot via out typical process of spit-balling and while I was helping Pele create the character in the Hero System, I started talking to her about how she could summon flame monsters ala Pyro from the X-men franchise. Given that Maya was a sweet, wide-eyed kid though we originally joked that all of Maya’s monsters would somehow be adorable.
Now, one thing that should be said about Pele’s roleplaying style: she collects pets and allies. Like a lot. So I got a brilliant idea and told her about this concept we used in other games: secondary mutations. The idea is, you get five points more to build powers with, but the GM gets ten points to spend in disadvantages. I built her disad as an Uncontrollable Duplicate that basically animated any fire she was near for too long. And then I had one flame start to follow her around.
The fun to me is that while Soot is as cute and friendly as can be, Maya starts out (both in the game and on the page) utterly terrified of him. You can’t even blame her, as her parents died in a fire while she got to hear the ‘song’ of the flames as they consumed them. It’s a pretty terrifying thing for a kid to go through and taints her view of the happy, playful Soot.
One might wonder why I’m not so broken up over Maya’s dark origin as I am over Vorpal’s. Well one, I didn’t come up with that. That was Pele getting her creepy on. And two, Maya wasn’t utterly destroyed by it. It hurt her, es, but at the Institute, she’s getting the help she needs; off-screen therapy, training with her powers, and friends who care about her. Maya’s going to be fine.
And that’s why her moments with Soot, slowly warming (heh) to the little guy rank so high on this list. It’s more than just the general cuteness of the two together, it’s because the ‘girl and her dog’ thing going on with them is a sign of hope and healing. And if you’re wondering why I abandoned the ensemble vignette style on LI for an entire volume to focus on Maya’s spring break, there you go. This was the anti-Vorpal and even had elements of Vorpal’s long march toward healing in It.
The other part of it is the show that there really is a myth arc in LI. You’re seeing a lot of fun slice of life stories in a super school, but it’s one of mine, so there’s an arc to it. An arc that plays the long game. No promises, but once I finish Rune Breaker and So I Married a Supervillain, I might start a bi-weekly ‘LI: Yearbook’ series because frankly, I don’t write enough LI stuff. Let me know if this is a thing you’d like to see happen!
Anyway, that’s all the time we have for this week. Stay tuned next week for the finale, even though it won’t be September anymore.
Special note to my friends in the UK: Following an epic struggle with Amazon.com, I finally managed to force the behemoth to make Rune Breaker Book 1 free on Amazon.co.uk. The battle continues to make the first Descendants book free for you as well. If you wish to speed the process up, you can go to this link, and use the ‘report a lower price’ button to report the links for ‘We Could Be Heroes’ in the bookstore to Amazon.
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“So basically, I look like a dumbass having a limited section and a miniseries section. […] I’d like to hear from you, the readers who have to put up with this, and know what you’d like me to do about this”
“I might start a bi-weekly ‘LI: Yearbook’ series because frankly, I don’t write enough LI stuff. Let me know if this is a thing you’d like to see happen!”
Seconded on both.