Ms. Amazing, in many ways the central figure of Universe Gun, has been with me for around 14 years now, for as long as I’ve been publishing my fiction. This is an attempt to follow her development.
I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while now, and have finally been pushed to do it by this amazing piece of artwork by my amazingly talented friend Tsunami Hee Ja! Stop reading, and go check out her other work now!
My first piece of published fiction was The Strangers in 2002, a set of missions for Irrational Games’ Freedom Force. Freedom Force was an absolutely awesome loving homage to the 1960s Marvel comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the first story driven game I played. It was designed to be moddable, so that players could design their own characters and make their own missions using Python scripting, and share these with each other. I took to this with a vengeance, and ended up producing a number of add-ons for the game that gave me a small taste of fame.
The Strangers was a story driven campaign featuring a team of oddball superheroes with the common theme of being outsiders. A teenage devil rebelling by doing good, a mermaid, a pulp fiction Victorian demon-killer and an emotionally disturbed Kirby-esque robot-man called Adam Zorn. One early cutscene required me to show Adam’s old allies on his home planet of New Aeden, a group of throwaway characters who get killed to demonstrate the power of the villain of the piece. This meant quite a bit of work for me, painting costumes for these characters on to their models. As luck would have it, Freedom Force member Alchemiss (a Southern belle Scarlet Witch type) came with a hidden extra costume skin called “amazing” in the game assets, and I decide to use that. I called the character Miss Amazing, figuring it had a nice 1960s wholesome and slightly corny ring to it.
I was kind of suprised to find that people really liked the Strangers. What started off as a series of 9 missions ballooned into something much larger. The extended story began with Ms. Amazing having survived the initial attack of the superhero killing machine “The Horror”, and becoming a very valuable playable character if you managed to get her to safety in the game missions. I expanded her story. The people of New Aeden were genetically evolved beyond normal humans to have the potential for superpowers. Their chief scientist Professor Zandor, who had created the robot Adam Zorn as a perfect man, had also created Miss Amazing by combining all the best genetics his people had to offer, thus making her a perfect woman with Amazing Strength, Amazing Invulnerability, Amazing Breath, Amazing Vision and so on.
At the time I was reading Grant Morrison‘s run on the JLA. I’d followed Morrison from his early work on Zenith, through his Vertigo weirdness like Doom Patrol and Animal Man and his magnus opus The Invisibles, and was initially a little bit non-plussed to see him writing straight superheroes. One of the first things to grow on me was his treatment of Superman, a straight faced unabashed good guy who always does the right thing but is incredibly cool with it. Its easy to write a loveable rogue or a rebel, writing a boy scout and making him work took real skill. Here are a few snippets of Superman in action.
Superman finds himself in a kid’s dream thanks to the Sandman, and humanity depends on the kid remembering who Superman is.
Superman faces off against a rogue king angel. This little throwaway line was a work of genius, in my opinion!
Supes faces down the US army, who have been mislead into fighting the JLA. I loved this scene so much that I built a similar opportunity for Miss Amazing into the Strangers.
If anyone asks me what the best Superman stories ever told are, I just point them at the JLA.
I adopted this approach for Miss Amazing, and made her a missionary for the religion of Z’od-ism on her planet. She’s physically powerful, but also kind of super-inspiring.
She was an optional character in the game, as the player could have let her die in the mission she was introduced in. If she survived, one optional cutscene showed a petty crook talking about how he’d gone straight and devoted his life to charity work after she spoke to him when she arrested him. I made sure that if she survived she got in enough lines of dialog to establish her unique personality. I was quite proud of this idea, I don’t think I’d ever seen a superhero/missionary before, and the fact that I’m an atheist and don’t particularly approve of missionary work just made me more determined to make it work.
I wrote an outline for a sequel, and Miss Amazing was given a larger role as the leader of floating city in India where the refugees from New Aeden had established themselves on Earth. I burned out on game modding and never made it, and started playing City of Heroes, the superhero MMO.
I played a few of my Strangers characters, and made Miss Amazing and played her a little bit.
Around this time in 2006, I was working on Star Wars : The Force Unleashed in my day job as a games programmer. One night working late on a Death Star level, I came up with the idea of an opposite idea called The Life Star, an artificial moon that upgrades planets rather than destroying them. I developed this in my head, and created a modified version of Miss Amazing. The new one, Ms. Amazing, was less starchy and grew quite a different personality in my head. She was annoyingly smug and smarmy, quite clueless about Earth culture and determined to blithely trample all over it in her role as Hypermissionary of the Life Star. I came across the website Superdickery.com around this time, in particular this gallery of Superman using ridiculous powers. I decided that Ms. Amazing would have exactly 100 superpowers, each numbered according to some kind of technical specification. These included Amazing Eyelashes (for hypnotising local law enforcement), Amazing Weaving (for making awesome costumes) and Amazing Cocktail Mixing (for… no idea?) and so on, as illustrated by the icons below. She would regard these abilities as being just as important as the more standard Amazing Strength and Amazing Invulnerability.
This started as a joke, but actually became a serious point with the character as I developed her. After all, making great cocktails, clothing and negotiating are much more important than being able to beat people up in real life. It got me thinking about how superheroes don’t have to be police or soldiers, but can be so much more. This became Ms.Amazing’s mission, to upgrade the planet to have super-hairdressers, super-garbage collectors, super-bakers, super-artists and so on and so on.
In 2009, I decided to have one last hurrah with Freedom Force. I’d read Grant Morrison’s Superman Beyond 3D, an fantastic two-parter where Superman gets on a Yellow Submarine with some Superman analogues such as Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, Ultraman, the Nazi Overman, and so on, and goes on a big psychedelic adventure that requires the reader to don 3D glasses at various points! I decided to do that for Ms. Amazing, or its it Miss Amazing? I settled on both of them. The superhumans on The Life Star are trained in their abilities in virtual reality while their bodies grow, as we’ve seen with Coriolis Boy and Star Girl 3000 in Universe Gun. I decided that Miss Amazing and The Strangers were the training run for Ms. Amazing.
In The Amazanauts, I gathered together seven versions of Ms. Amazing to adventure together across space and time. There was the pure and virtuous Miss Amazing and the smug and knowing Ms. Amazing. Sarasvati Wow! was a Hindu super-nymph with a heart full of unrestrained joy. Amazium 235 was an impossible 11-dimensional metal from the first few split seconds after the Big Bang. Omegazon was the last Amazon, shepherding life into the grey heat death of the Universe after all the entropy has run out. Emma Possible was a sharp supergenius mixing up Mister Miracle and 60s scifi and spy fiction. And Zenwoman was a haughty omniscient experimental female from an all-male space empire.
I also had the pleasure of working with a collaborator – the wonderful Afghan Ant who created the in game character art way better than I could ever have done.
Ms. Amazing herself received mixed reception. A lot of players found her annoying, which was quite intentional. She’s an acquired taste. Writing these missions, I remembered what I’d seen in the simpler more straightforwards Miss Amazing, and really enjoyed writing her again.
Ms. Amazing finally cropped up in Universe Gun in 2013. I’d initially created the team as her Legion of Superheroes, some friends who she drops in on every now and then by time travel. I find her current role much more satisfying. She died in the distant past in 2050, triggering the first major upgrade of the earth towards superhumanity. This sacrifice turned sour when Cyberius went on the rampage for several hundred years and she wasn’t there to stop him. After this massive war, there was a brief Golden Age from the 26th to 32nd Century, when humanity seemed to be getting along without her, thanks to the efforts of Cyberius and the Life Star. By the 37th Century, things are not going so well, and the solar system could really use another Ms. Amazing.
She’s a memory. A myth, an aspirational figure for the current team. Cyberius XII talks to her in his head as he shoulders the responsibility of fixing the solar system, and misses her terribly. The Life Star has shut down centuries ago, and she isn’t coming back, no matter how much anyone wants her to. Its like the story of a species learning to grow up on is own without a mother.
She was created so that I wouldn’t have to make another 256×256 pixel texture, and to reduce the size of my upload by half a megabyte or so back in the days of dialup internet. She has pushed my boundaries a bit since then. She’s been on a flier for my local comics meeting, Comics with Friends and Strangers. She’s been responsible for my only collaborative fiction effort, and as of this week is the first of my characters to be drawn by another artist. I’ve commissioned a few friends to produce images for a set of trading cards for the back pages of Universe Gun #3 and #4. The awesomely talented Tsunami Hee Ja has done Ms. Amazing for me, and I couldn’t be happier with the result!
I’m nowhere near finished with Ms. Amazing. She plays a big part in Universe Gun #6, which I’m hanging out to get around to drawing (I’m still in #5). I’ve got a couple of projects in my head that feature her for after Universe Gun. I think we’ll be working together for quite some time.
See you in seven, Strangers from a Science Star! Dr Mike 2000, 14 August 2015