So the third Descendants Book, The Devil Came Down To Mayfield is on sale now, so I guess I should spend some time shil—I mean looking back at this momentous time in the series’s life and talking a bit about it.
Maybe I should do the same thing with Volume 1, but I only thought about it now and besides, I’ve talked a lot about the genesis of the series. So for the next two weeks, I’m going to be providing a director’s commentary of sorts for Volume 1’s issues and specials. Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments since the stupid spambots forced me to close the comments on the actual issues.
Well we’re doing it anyway.
Fair warning though: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Descendants #13 – Another Kind of Homecoming
AKoH started life as Descendants Annual #1. The Annual was actually going to be a multi-chapter deal just like the regular issues or a Giant-Sized issue, but then I thought better of it simply because I felt like I’d rather just use the annual to wrap up the storylines that ended in Volume 1.
At the time, I felt like Tammy seeing Warrick on TV in the annual and Laurel just bringing the parents in was a big twist. Readers would expect a Superhero story to play with secret IDs for a long time, especially with the parents because not having them in the kids’ lives would be a big source of pathos.
I came up with that because it was starting to feel, well… icky to me that these three were keeping these kids around without contacting their parents, Tome or no Tome. I feel like the reason for them not to stay with their families made some level of sense thought. It put my mind at ease though.
This issue was where I really dug into the character of Cyn too and her issues with losing her ‘good’ family and having to deal with her ‘bad’ family again. There are still elements of the Cyn/Warrick ship in play here but reading it again, it feels like I was retconning her reaction back in Ladies of Ragnarok even then.
Descendants #14 – Standing with Titans
The original plan was to bring The Kin back once every volume. Even back then, people liked those characters and really wanted to see more of them. Hell, I wanted to see more of them and the rough first page or so of ‘The Kin Super Summer Special #1’ is still in my writing folder. Much like Alexis did for a long time, these kids just evaded the spotlight no matter how I tried.
So what was to be a big issue for The Kin became a big issue for Whitecoat and Legion of One.
The Character Page on TVTropes (thanks to those of you who made and then added to that, btw) calls Whitecoat and Expy for Spider-man and… Yes. Yes he is. I didn’t even really plan that, but he so is and his sidekick has tentacles that act a lot like webbing too. I would say I’m a hack, but I did design his delightful hat.
Legion of One was inspired by the White House scene from X-men 2, but I gave him the handicap that he’s not that good at taking people with him. Thus, the martial art integrating teleportation into the flow of the motions.
The thing I remember most was making a point of playing up an animosity between NYP and the superheroes, fostered in no small part by the mayor. This was set-up for a Whitecoat origin mini where we meet his father the cop and learn that a lot of the old school cops are actually pro-hero, but the new guys being pushed in are being made anti-prelate by rumors and lies spread by the mayor. That might show up again someday.
Descendants # 15 – Never Simple
A song fic. A. Song. Fic.
I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry, readers. This was before I read much song fic and realized how annoying it was. I considered taking it out of the book version because… SONG FIC. ARG! By the way, I have a recording of myself singing pretty much any song that shows up here. If people ask, I might throw them up on Youtube.
Anyway, a LOT happened in this that wasn’t song fic related. We first meet interfacer culture here. They came out of a discussion I had with my friend that outside of the military, the people who would turn cybernetics into a subculture wouldn’t be badass thugs like in cyberpunk stories, but geeks who have wanted this for ages and have the know-how to make it happen without professional aid.
In the words of Terry Pratchett, early Descendants is the same characters written by a less skilled writer, so I’m unsure how well I conveyed it, but they’re not evil so much as attention seeking, naïve and making poor choices… for the most part. It might have been ham-handed to have Juniper make friends with one, but it was adorable, so I stand by it.
Warrick and Tink started here too. As I’ve said, I didn’t intend it to last, which is why this is also Tink’s first appearance, and why he acceptance of Warrick’s invite is… pretty mean. I even used my Orwellian power to write an extended scene after the fact to soften those edges. Believe it or not, I’ve gotten the ‘sure why not’ answer. It didn’t end well, but it did happen.
This was one of those issues where I was really feeling my Power Rangers influence too. If you’re not familiar with the show, they almost always book-ended episodes by having school bullies, Bulk and Skull antagonizing the rangers, only to be humiliated. Having Lily get her comeuppance here was purely that.
Cyn’s ran (‘…cats on conveyor belts…’) was taken from a join rant I and a friend had about Grapple Rules in Tabletop RPGs. If you follow that link, you’ll see what I’m talking about, but in a nutshell, so many RPGs feel the need to model every part of what it takes to grab and hold someone and for them to try and stop you, resulting in needless complication for little to no purpose, much like Lily’s ‘plan’.
Descendants #16 – Psalm for a Soul
Kareem was already a fan-favorite by this point and everyone wanted to see him up and about in the land of the non-astral by then. I had a few more things I need to establish with him before that happened, so I came up with this idea to tease that in this issue, which was already on my plate.
Way back in Legacy of One, I left this ‘half-gate’ to Faerie open and surprisingly, most of the readers at the time never mentioned it. As much as that did wonders for my pride, it did make it fun to bring it back in such a dramatic fashion.
There was a lot of background stuff to this issue that never got formally spelled out. For example, the half-gate itself. The idea with this thing was that nothing could pass through without something taking its place. That’s why the probe ended up in Faerie. The astral storm it caused it what caused Kareem to manifest and effectively taught him to use his power to manifest.
Having Melissa doing legwork to try and find Kareem after his disappeared was a no-brainer. I know it feels like I’ve dragged this ship out for a long time, but I really do love how they go together, but it’s all a matter of circumstance: the circumstances have never been right for them to get together.
Vorran is mentioned her for what I think is the first time as his potential threat to Liedecker’s interests. I had no idea that it would take so long to get Game of Kings moving as a subplot and it wasn’t helped that Thunderhead, the guy behind this, was designed to be an antagonist to The Kin.
Oh yes, Virginia. Go back to that issue: one of the nameplates in the Tome Facility reads ‘Thunderhead’. Chekhov called, he wants to learn some of my gun play skills.
Speaking of Chekhov’s guns, Liz von Stoker was slated to become Freaque from the very beginning. Her story is based in part on the ‘The Cure’ storyline from the X-men Animated Series where Apocalypse sets up a fake mutant cure that actually powers up the user and makes them his slave.
I never liked ‘mutant cure’ stories in X-men. The X-men are an analog to any other status a person can be born with that’s part of them and is integral to who they are, like race, ethnicity or orientation and the idea that you can ‘cure’ that is far more morally reprehensible than the series or comics ever really treated it as. Even Professor Xavier was pretty laid back about the whole ‘someone made a treatment to annihilate a core part of my being’ thing.
And yeah, I get that mutant powers can be debilitating if not dangerous, but it’s never presented as helping people be less dangerous, it’s usually presented on par as part beauty product, part anti-mutant weapon.
‘Become More’ was my commentary on the whole thing; the kind of simpleminded approach to descendant powers one might see in this kind of world, touted to make you socially acceptable while actually being wrongheaded and dangerous as all hell.
Reverend Stiles and his group were my concession to reality. I originally didn’t want any idiots running around being openly anti-super like in Marvel, but when I was writing this, I’d just run into the Westboro Baptist Church protesting… something—I have no idea what their protests even have to do with their crippling homophobia anymore—in the city I went to college in for the second time I had to agree that yes, those kinds of idiots would be out there and acting just like that, though on a much smaller, dumber scale.
Because I didn’t want the story to be about hating on religion (I’m not religious, but if someone is, I’m cool with that as long as they’re not hurting anyone or denying them rights), so I played up Ian’s religion here, at the same time discovering that Catholicism has a freaking patron saint of superheroes. That was too good to pass up.
The fake-out between Freaque and the Mauler was me experimenting with having a mystery plot. For a while, Freaque was just going to be her own issue, but the similarities between them in my head lead me down this road instead. I like where it got me.
Descendants #18 – A Tale of Two Churches
The Sineaters were the actual religious bad guys I wanted to have, but I backed off making them completely evil because of Deidre. I want Deidre to come back because I feel that she’s awesome and I love her accent. Make no mistake, they were all evil when I wrote the end of ‘Freaque’, but somehow, Deidre made them good between issues.
Well, that and once Reverend Stiles was dialed in, the whole thing felt like a massive screed against Christians and I didn’t want that. Luckily, this made the whole group more fully-fleshed and I found that my explanation about them not knowing all that much about Faerie in general made this feel more natural to me.
I do regret making Mauler one of Stiles’s followers though. It justified the showdown in the middle of the rally, but looking back on it, it just feels lame. I have no idea who else it could be, but I just want it to not be that guy anymore.
Failures in plotting aside, I do want to talk about my favorite moment in this whole thing: Lisa quick-changing the gang. I talked about my Power Rangers influence here, so this is a good place to talk about the D-icons. This scene was the seed of that particular idea, which solves a big problem for all superheroes: how do you change into your costume?
Seriously, with cameras everywhere now and no telephone booths, it’s harder and harder to justify that quick change. Serendipitously, being a fan of sentai series, I had a brain-blast and realized, ‘Hey, a while ago, I just had them ‘morph’ into costume with magic. Let’s do that !’
I can’t say how much I love the D-icons now that I’m getting to play with them in-series. It’s a key to the mirror-gates, it’s a password transcoder, it’s a quick-change device! It’s amazing and awesome and the second I find someone who will do custom die casts, I’m going to have one of my own and probably sell them.
Descendants #19 – All Girls Want Bad Boys
I have been called on this title… SO many times now and I think most of the people who have done so must have stopped reading the entire series once they saw the title.
Yes, I am aware that it evokes the ‘nice guy’ argument that a lot of misogynistic ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ drag out. Yes, I know it also evokes a dangerous behavior of seeking out emotionally abusive relationships that’s not exactly being helped by abusive relationship glorification engines like Twilight of 50 Shades of Gray.
HOWEVER. This was written in 2008, way before MRAs and pick-up artists were a big thing and before Twilight was even conceived of. More importantly, I know the title is complete bunk and the entire issue is a subversion. It makes fun of and illustrates the fallacies of that statement.
Sorry about that, but I wanted to get that out of the way, but maybe once a month, some well-meaning but very angry person comes and spits fire at me over this title. I would change it, but my spite is yet to be overcome by my annoyance.
Anyway, around the time I was writing this, several shows I liked had so-called ‘Girl’s Night Out’ episodes, where the female cast is showcased either exclusively, or near-exclusively. Having a rather sizable female cast myself, I figured ‘what the hell’.
I was also listening to the commentary on the Buffy DVDs, about how they liked to play with high school tropes like ‘why is my boyfriend acting differently’ and that’s where the mind control plot came in.
That was almost a mistake. It never really occurred to me what a terrifying enemy Warrick can be if lethally motivated. More than a week went by with me trying to come up with a way for them to win. For a while, Cyn was going to pour herself into his armor and choke him out. It was meant to be another tick in their relationship, with Cyn being guilty about hurting him like that, but I never got the blocking right in the scene to let Cyn do something like that without the others seeing.
As I’ve said before, her relationship with Warrick grew on me even though the plan was to discard it, and once I found that I couldn’t make Cyn’s hero moment work, I decided to make it up to Tink by giving it to her. My intention was the even with the break-up, she’d be a character the readers would want to see back every once in a while. Her gadgeteer nature had already been established, so the manner of her victory was easy to come up with.
You know, I never noticed it until I saw it on TVTropes, but Tink seems to really like electromagnets. She saves the day again in Metal X with one. Weird.
And that’s it for the issues of Volume 2 that appear in the new book. What thoughts do you have on these issues? What from them do you wish would come up again? What do you hope never comes back again (like song fics?)
Also, shout out to them0vieblog, which is doing a retrospective of Spider-man stories and linked my article What’s Wrong With Villains Month. Granted, the link it to an article praising the ‘Shed’ storyline, but it does make a point about the Gauntlet showing Peter incorruptible by darkness (and he needs it after doing Satan’s dirty work in offing his daughter), but I stand by feeling like they didn’t need to do that be diminishing the humanity of such villains as Lizard and Rhino.
“I never liked ‘mutant cure’ stories in X-men. The X-men are an analog to any other status a person can be born with that’s part of them and is integral to who they are, like race, ethnicity or orientation and the idea that you can ‘cure’ that is far more morally reprehensible than the series or comics ever really treated it as. Even Professor Xavier was pretty laid back about the whole ‘someone made a treatment to annihilate a core part of my being’ thing.”
Indeed, as a male I’m deeply offended and hurt by sex change operations. How dare they ‘cure’ maleness!
I specifically didn’t mention gender because there’s a lot of stuff about the difference between gender and physical sex and such that I don’t know enough about to comment on.
I *will* say I’m horrified by skin bleaching and hair straighteners used to ‘pass’ as white and believe me, that sort of thing could be an option for me.
I’m not at all sure having superpowers, especially if they come with major anatomic changes, would realistically be any less complicated an issue than sex/gender. Quite honestly I can easily see how many people would be very eager to get a ‘cure’.
That it’s treated as a ‘cure’ instead of a major lifestyle choice that should have some weight is the big thing to me. They make the case that you can’t track mutants because you can’t punish people for existing, but they’re pretty laid back about treating who they are as a freaking disease.
Calling it a cure all the time makes it feel like the writers agree with the Friends of Humanity.
The biggest problem with comparing mutants/powered people of any kind to any other group, of course, is that no other group is dangerous by definition the way mutants are. Because of that, the parallels are all flawed, and “curing” mutants becomes both a more understandable option to offer voluntarily (especially in the cases of people like, say, Rogue) and a more justifiable measure in terms of weaponization. I mean, does anyone have the “right” to be able to move metal with their minds? Is that something we should protect? Maybe so…but if they use it against other people, then taking it away is pretty reasonable. It’s a non-lethal measure that restricts their options, much like incarceration restricts the choices nad options of normal criminals all over the world.
I will say that the word “cure” is pretty loaded in this context, though, and even referring to it that way is indicative of a mindset that is problematic at best. One thing that I liked about the second X-men movie was Brian Cox, who seems to lose his cool maybe a couple times throughout the film, and reveals his real reasons for acting as he does maybe once. I’m not claiming it’s “best actor”-worthy material, but he sells the idea of a guy whose life was ruined partly by his son’s mutation, and who sees it as a disease because it allows him to justify taking punitive action, believe he’s acting for the greater good, and (on some level) avoid blaming his son for what happened, all at the same time.
Of course, like Magneto, he ends up acting like a guy who might have had a good point once but has crossed the line so far that there’s no excusing or justifying his actions anymore, even if there was once. The contrast makes both characters more interesting.
Although the fact that mutants alone might not constitute a sustainable world population makes Magneto’s decision in that movie kind of dumb, beyond the evilness of it.
It’d help if beyond Rogue, most of the ‘I want to be cured’ folks weren’t like Angel or the Morocks who have purely cosmetic mutations.
Magneto’s stunt at the end of the movie is clearly a dumb choice made on the fly. He saw that Stryker was trying to kill all the mutants and was like ‘Turnabout!’. Then again, we don’t know how many mutants are in the movie-verse. Pre-‘E is for Extinction’, there were 32 million mutants in the MU, 16 after until M-Day, so that would be handily stable.
I’ve got a who ‘thing’ about how mutant genetics work in the MU. Apparently only psychic powers (and Nightcrawler’s mutation) actually past down, everyone else just gets random powers. Even twins can have different powers.
Continuing from above:
The inconsistency of how powers pass down is pretty odd. From a creative perspective, of course, I sympathize with the desire to avoid just giving every relative the same powers, but the diversity is so extreme that it seems like genetics can’t possibly be involved, or at least can’t be the only factor. I do think what you’ve done so far (with the Kane family, for example, having powers that are related despite their differences) seems like a better compromise between interesting diversity and making sense.
I totally agree with you about the way so many mutants who want to be cured just look ugly. I’m not too knowledgeable about Marvel, so I’m not equipped to get very far into the specifics, but at least it would make sense to present the option to anyone whose power poses a danger to themselves and/or others, and that’s more of a morally okay reasoning. On the other hand, plastic surgery is totally legal, so suppressing mutant powers that distsort one’s appearance should probably be all right too.
I think what bothers me the most about Magneto’s stupid decision is that it seems pretty clear HE doesn’t know how many mutants there are. He might have an estimate based on past work with Xavier, I suppose, but he doesn’t double-check, or anything. Of course, that would be kind of a darkly humorous alternate ending to that movie; Magneto’s plan works and everyone just ends up enjoying the next few years until the species goes extinct, while Magneto facepalms. Humanity dies by “oops”.
Going back to the “cure” terminology, I can at least imagine it being branded that way by some people (whether they’re anti-mutant, trying to convince others that removing powers is an acceptable measure, or something else). It definitely seems like the framing of that issue should be something that the good guys would want to be involved in. Pro-mutant rights speakers and protestors (including normals who are the kind of people that support the ACLU, say) should have protest signs that say “mutants are not a disease!” or “you can’t cure humanity!” or something along those lines.
Personally, I think there could be a lot of fascinating debate about whether remaining a mutant is or is not a legitimate lifestyle choice. I would love to see a “mutant registration” or similar storyline in which the government (or whoever) isn’t ridiculously corrupt, overzealous, paranoid, or secretly being manipulated by evil. Professor X is so powerful that he constitutes a potential national security issue all by himself, even if he just sits at home, and it’s totally reasonable for the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and other groups to worry about what he’s capable of. Of course, one of the big issues with that sort of thing is that you first need some way to detect mutants, and screening the population to find them probably involves violations of personal privacy and constitutionally protected rights in the first place.
Given that supers (I don’t know if this is really true for mutants, since the Phoenix thing shouldn’t precisely count) sometimes have their powers grow, or change, the mutant kid with a blue tongue of today could turn into the Nightcrawler of tomorrow, so you could even try to make some case that tracking “safe” mutants isn’t a reprehensible as it might initially seem.
Personally, I do think that the idea of making mutants register is problematic at best, of course. But I wish that the fictional people who favored it weren’t always strawmen, and I don’t know of any who aren’t.
The thing is, Mengele already pretty much obliterated any way you can take about hunting down and tagging people like animals and make it sound in any way reasonable. I guess by being a complete foaming monster, he managed one good thing.
If you’re going to have a non-evil person suggest it, it needs to be grudgingly. The problem there is that the mutant who like their power is just going to say ‘no’ and then you have to fight them and be the bad guy anyway.
True enough, but I’d like to see it handled well anyway. I’m a greedy reader; I always want more from the world :). Maybe have the group making the offer disagree over whether to use the “cure” (for lack of a better word) on willing participants only, or only on willing participants and convicted criminals, or on whoever they like. I’m sure there are other interesting variations I haven’t thought of. I wouldn’t want to be tracked, myself, and I can only imagine giving up a power if it was actively dangerous to me/others due to a lack of control, or something of that nature. But I do think that having things like the “Become More” treatment, which is flawed but well-intentioned, are far more interesting takes on the concept than just “the cure is a weapon in the hands of bad guys, who use it on whoever they like until stopped, end of story”.
For the record, I’m not trying to browbeat you personally into writing my pet ideas into your universe, especially since I think you’re probably correct that handling it well might not be feasible. I just like talking hypotheticals.
Oh, I understand. I have fun having these kinds of debates. You should see the stuff I talk to Mazzon about on the forums!
As for Become More, now I feel guilty for it being the progenitor for Potentia and Gold.