As I said in that blog, the characters in Universe Gun started off pretty much as Ms. Amazing’s Legion of Superheroes stand-ins – a team of orgone-enhanced post-teens who she visited in a utopian 30th C setting. There was Sun Girl and Moon Girl, Star Girl, Coriolis Boy (who I drew wobbling and falling over) and Star Girl’s boyfriend Rugged Boy (who may yet appear within the pages of the ‘Gun). Once I gave these characters some serious thought, I realised that a dystopian future would provide much more dramatic conflict. I refashioned the timeline – the 30th C had been a pinnacle of superhuman society, and the 37th C was in comparison a constipated social slump. Nothing was terrible, but everything could be a lot better if people would only admit it. Some people look back on the 1950s or 1960s as a golden age. The citizens of the 37th C would look back on the 30th C in a similar way. Coriolis Boy and Star Girl 3000 (as her name suggests) had been brought up in a virtual facsimile of this Golden Age, and were now dumped in the crappy present day of the 37th Century. If you’ve been reading the strip, you’ll know that these elements have all persisted pretty much intact. There’s something cool about a mismatched squabbling brother and sister alone in an alien world together.
I can’t really talk about these two without going into the subject of representation. The human race is roughly 50% female, and around 16% caucasian, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at our fiction. Marvel have made 18 movies, and failed to present us with anything other than a white male lead, despite the inclusion of the X-Men, whose time in the 1980s under Chris Claremont still act as a high water mark in diversity in superhero comics. There’s an uncomfortable tension between nostalgia for a time when everyone was white by default, and progressive moves by writers over the years. Green Lantern Jon Stewart keeps getting looked over for Hal Jordan due to someone’s childhood memories. The Avengers line up struggles to have more than one woman because it’s based on a 1960s property. There are signs of improvement in superhero comics. Marvel is doing a good job of creating a more diverse universe, and hopefully this will continue.
If you create your own world you have to address this state of affairs and decide which side you’re on. You can’t stay out of the game. Making everyone white because that’s what you know, or you didn’t think otherwise (as I did with The Strangers), is as much of a political statement as making a deliberately diverse team. Eisner award nominee Gene Luen Yang gave a great speech recently about diversity that’s well worth listening to.
The Universe Gun team on my first iteration were primarily white, purely because I didn’t ask myself these questions. Once I did, I made the decision to create a future where caucasians were incredibly rare. There are no white background characters in Universe Gun. The Life Star, however, continues to churn out white superheroes like Ms Amazing because its kind of stuck that way, a little bit like the mainstream fiction industries in our world. Due to this, Coriolis Boy and Star Girl 3000 are the token white members of the team.
On to the topic of gender. Like most people, I quite like the Simpsons. It’s funny, subversive and inventive, but boy do its gender roles suck! The male characters, Homer and Bart, are loveable scamps who do whatever they feel like, inconvenience everyone around them, and can’t help but be loved for it. The female characters, Lisa and Marge, get to stand on the sidelines, drinking vinegar and scowling, and maybe enjoy their own quirks like playing the saxophone. How hard can it be to reverse this? Not very, in my opinion, and that’s exactly what I decided to do with these two characters.
So, ladies first. Huhuh Huh!
The coriolis force is the pseudo-force that causes planetary-scale motion of air and water to curve. If you try moving a mass of air or water North in the Northern hemisphere, it starts moving to the East as well, because the planet gets narrower, and it has to speed up to conserve its angular momentum. Its a pseudo-force like centrifugal force, in that it really comes about because your frame of reference is not moving in a straight line. It gets stronger towards the poles and vanishes at the equator due to the changing curve of the earth relative to its axis. It played a big part in my PhD thesis on ocean modelling, and I never suspected at the time that I’d create a superhero around it!
(Oh, and the Coriolis Force only acts on a planetary scale. The water doesn’t spiral down the toilet the other way here in the Southern hemisphere! )
So, rotational motion, planetary scale movement, put them together and you’ve got a guy who can control rotational motion, but also senses the planets motion. At the equator, you’re describing a circle in space the radius of the Earth, and at the poles, you’re spinning on the spot. He can feel that, so sudden change in latitude cause him severe motion sickness and vomiting. On the plus side he can manipulate rotational motion at planetary scale levels, allowing him to twist pretty much anything into pieces. Its a clumsy destructive form of telekinesis, with a few interesting tricks that I’ll keep for later.
He’s based more than a little bit on the Legion’s Cosmic Boy: serious team leader, Mok = Rokk, limited form of TK, and quite comfortable with his own half nudity. I’m surprised at the reaction I sometimes get for drawing a young man in short shorts (or footy shorts as we call them here), but I think they make a great unisex costume for him and his sister – a little bit superheroic but still grounded and practical. There’s definitely an analogy with Robin too – I think of Gamma Ordnance, their old team as a bit like the Teen Titans, and Mok is their physically small, short-pants-clad leader. Once he’s transitioned to the 37th C real world, he’s the subject of ridicule, and tries to maintain this air of strained dignity. Hard work when you have to hold your sister’s hand in a fight.
There’s a part of me in him too, the workaholic in search of a mission, the guy who’d rather construct a comic at home than party. The key to writing him well is maintaining that balance between his stiff-necked superhero self and the young man inside who can’t unwind.
Star Girl 3000
You may have heard of the Unified Field Theory. In our universe there are four fundamental forces. Gravity acts on all matter across infinite distance, getting weaker with distance but never reaching zero. Electromagnetism is the same, but acts only on charged particles. The Strong Nuclear Force and Weak Nuclear Force act only over atomic distances, and are responsible for holding the nuclei together. Atomic nuclei consist of protons (positive charge) and neutrons (no charge). Electromagnetism makes all the protons repel each other, the Strong Nuclear Force counteracts that and hold them together. The Unified Field Theory is an attempt to find a deeper theory that describes all four of these as manifestations of the same thing.
Jacqui Mc2, Star Girl 3000, can manipulate the Strong Nuclear Force to increase or destabilise the bonds between atoms. She can make herself, or anything she touches incredibly hard to the point of being invulnerable. The field can be transmitted by touch – she can pass it down a line of people or through a stick or chain. She can also reverse the field to weaken anything she touches, making advanced diamond-hard walls or armour crumble like chalk. (These are depicted as a blue overlay for hardness, and a red overlay for destabilisation. I may update the graphics later if I have a better idea.) Actually, bonds between atoms are controlled by electromagnetism, but the Strong Nuclear Force (and its carrier particle,the gluon) sounds better. She refers to it as Atomic Density Control, which is completely wrong, but Iguess she didn’t pay much attention in science class.
Chemical reactions can transfer a lot of energy, such as the explosive mix of petrol and oxygen. The atoms stay the same, but group together in a new way. Nuclear reactions, where the atoms themselves change, involve much larger amounts of energy. Jacqui can tap into this level of energy by casually crushing atoms in her hands and releasing it as explosive blasts. She’s pretty much the most powerful superhuman in the solar system.
She’s also a complete dick, a female Bart Simpson, the kind of bully who gets away with it by being funny as well as brutal. Her contact invulnerability powers came about as a cross between Kitty Pryde and the Vision’s abilities. Vision can make himself harder or intangible. Kitty can make others intangible by touch. Jacqui can make others harder by touch. It should be a nice protective power. I’ve very much enjoyed thinking of all the nasty ways she can use it on other people – a bit like if Kitty Pryde were to phase people’s heads into the toilet through the lid.
Her speech is inarticulate, and heavily modified by the fact that she can’t swear, but says “pooping” instead. The idea here is that the Life Star censored here in its confused narrative module (a shown in the montage pages in #2) and she literally cannot say any swear words, and doesn’t really notice.
I’m trying to put my finger on why she has such long hair. I didn’t want to make her a classic “tomboy”, and the hair and purple lipstick give her a kind of eccentric femininity like a rockabilly chick might have. Its also great for showing motion, which is important for the main action hero of the team. Coriolis Boy has stay still and point powers, Star Girl 3000 tends to get more directly physical with her opponents.
She’s probably my favourite character to write. She’s got a very simple basic personality – she likes smashing things and pissing people off, and she seems a bit thick. That makes her perfect for adding curveballs. Writer Mark Waid once said that in every issue, someone should do something that completely surprises you. Jacqui’s great for that – I’d say one of her influences there is the Powerpuff Girl Buttercup, by default the toughest fighter of the team, but also the quirky one of the group.
A weekend trip to a Kustom Kulture show earlier this year gave me the idea to make the 30th C simulation a little bit rockabilly and 1950s style, with Jacqui and her boyfriend Maximum Boy cast as juvenile delinquents. I’ve tried to depict that in my title sketch here, and may revisit 30th C Gamma City more fully in a side strip at some point.
The Life Star was barely able to maintain a consistent reality for them, so it had the quality of a Saturday morning cartoon, repeating itself in small chunks. They remember saving Gamma City on a strictly weekly timetable in between classes and high school dramas. Neither have left the city during their adventures there, because the simulation was of limited scale. They were both imprinted with very basic personality templates (“leader” and “rebel”) as covered above. They’re defective superhumans from an old-fashioned lo-fi recreation of the past, and yet they’re the two members of the team who actually act like superheroes. Whether that’s always a good thing remains to be seen.
See you in seven, sisters and brothers! Dr Mike 2000, 10 Oct 2014