The Ideas Shoppe: The Making of a Superhero (Part 2)
Continuing my look at the creation of the Vanguard Prime team, I thought it was best to present the other junior member – Machina.
I knew it was important to include more than one teenage member of the team, and I also knew it was important to make that other member a girl. Machina arrived in my head almost fully formed. I knew I needed a “tech-head” for the group, and an armoured one would make a contrast to all the other members. The name popped out at me almost immediately, which I took as a sign that it should be a placeholder until I came up with something “better”, but ‘Machina’ quickly grew on me and so the name stuck.
I’ve been asked more than once how it’s pronounced. Technically, it should be “mack-in-a”, but I have to admit I pronounce it “ma-sheen-a”. The disparity exists because the name comes from “deus ex machina”, a term which translates from Latin as “god from the machine”. To quote Wikipedia (always an intelligent-sounding thing to say) it’s “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object”.
I half-named the character after this term because her power could become an easy “Get Out of Jail Free” card and I wanted a reminder to not let that happen – at least not too much. The mispronunciation comes into play because I just think it sounds better. A writer’s heart is a fickle thing.
As far as her character itself is concerned, I drew on all the slightly older teen girls I remembered from when I was young who all seemed so much more sophisticated than I was and were all highly terrifying. Admittedly, there’s also a dash of Hermione Granger in there, as well as a large helping of Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion, though I wasn’t conscious of either of those influences at the time. It’s only in retrospect that I realise how much those characters factored into Machina’s inception.
Design-wise, I envisioned Machina in a white V-suit that matched my original idea for Sam’s, with her outfit made-up of purple circuit-patterns where Sam’s was gold. Picturing actors in the role of my characters always helps me in creating them. I imagined Machina as a cross between Brie Larson, Alison Lohman and Stephanie Bendixsen, only British, and sketched out a rough idea of what she might look like to get a handle on describing her.
All of these designs suffer from the obvious problem that I can’t really draw but they helped me to envision the character, which in turn informed my description of her.
Eventually, my final sketch was passed onto the book’s design team. Just as with Sam, it was thought a white suit wouldn’t strike the right image, so the colours of Machina’s outfit were swapped to black and purple. Her character is very much retained, however. Interesting note: while I drew on the actresses I’ve listed for my mental image of the character, the book’s designer used Michelle Williams as a starting point. I remember being really impressed with the designer’s insight when she told me that.
Of course, all this gives an insight into the visual of Machina, but not her character. For that, I’d like to point to a couple of moments from the book.
One of those moments is where she’s talking about how she came to be a member of the team, and how that relates back to the relationship she has with her family. Machina doesn’t come from the same kind of background as Sam does. Though she by no means had a “bad” upbringing, I imagined her parents to be very distant people who’d had a daughter almost as an afterthought. The fact that she prefers to go by her superhero alias rather than her civilian name goes to show just how alienated she is from her family.
The other moment – and it’s a tiny one- is where Sam is listing the objects he sees when looking around Machina’s room and he notes all the stacks of CDs. It’s not commented on, and nobody has mentioned it to me as yet, but it seems odd in this day and age that a teenager would have need of physical albums, especially a teenager as tech-savvy as Machina.
I imagined these CDs to have been handed down to her from her older brother – the artifacts he passed on to help her cope when he left home and she was still stuck with their parents. It’s why she’s so knowledgeable and snobby about music, but it’s also why she’s standoff-ish with Sam when he joins the team; she’s created a new family for herself with Vanguard Prime, a family where she has a distinct role and purpose, and suddenly a new baby brother has come along to potentially usurp that.
She keeps those CDs as a tangible connection to her brother, using them as a security blanket in a way. I never actually address that in the book and I don’t know if I ever will during the course of the series, but it’s touches like those that writers create for themselves – if no one else – as they imagine the interior life of all their characters.
Since the book’s come out, I’ve been a lot asked about the relationship between Machina and Sam. I think the best answer I can give is that the dynamic between them is a complicated one, and that it will only grow more complicated in time to come, especially as Book 2 will throw a spanner in the works that nobody’s really counting on at the moment.
What is that spanner? You’ll have to wait until March 2013 to find out. But if you want to learn a little more about Machina, make sure to check out her bio here.