Your absentee author here, dropping in to say ‘Hi’, ‘How are you?’, ‘You’re looking well, have you lost weight?’ and other assorted greetings and pleasantries.
It’s been a busy few weeks, mostly on the home life front (saw the National Theatre Live international broadcast of Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston in Macbeth, caught up with friends, did some writing, played more Arkham Origins than I should have, and so on).
If I was more on top of things, I’d have blogged before now about the fantastic event I had with George Ivanoff at Eltham Library. George has said many wonderful things about the Vanguard Prime series (in addition to writing the fantastic Gamers trilogy…am I saying fantastic too much? Does this make me the Ninth Doctor?…which any reader with even a passing interest in sci-fi/fantasy or video games should check out), so it was great getting the chance to meet and hold both a Q&A and workshop with him.
We kicked things off with a conversation about the Vanguard Prime series (including some questions about Red Alert and the nature of digital publishing) before guiding the audience through the process of creating a story. While George covered what’s involved in creating a cast of characters, I explained the process of coming up with story ideas and how to then structure your plot. With a little luck, there’ll be a budding writer or two who took away a new idea.
Thanks again to George for making the trip out to Eltham and taking the time to chat about Vanguard Prime. If you’ve since noticed that your sonic screwdriver pen has gone missing, it was the butler what done it.
Speaking of sonic screwdrivers, The Day of the Doctor aired while I was off not posting on this blog. As enjoyable as it was seeing Matt Smith and David Tennant on screen together, I have to admit to being one of the seemingly few people who were slightly disappointed by the episode. That said, it was a massive thrill just getting a peek at Peter Capaldi’s super-intense gaze, so I’m looking forward to the Christmas special and seeing 11 regenerate into 12, even if I’ll miss Matt Smith. Also; Sonic Screwdriver would make a great name for a drink at a geek-centric bar. So much so that I’m sure it already exists.
In addition to seeing the National Theatre Live broadcast of Kenneth Brannagh in Hamlet, my wife and I went to see George RR Martin speak during his recent visit to Melbourne. Being the obsessive nerd type, I’d already heard much of what he talked about through all the interviews with him I’d either already read or listened to in podcast form, but one of the things that struck me was how gracious he was. Appearing with Michelle Fairley, he’d often find ways to redirect questions that the audience had asked directly of him so that Michelle had a chance to answer as well. It was a small thing, but it was something I noticed, and it only added to my respect for him.
Listening to: Space Oddity by David Bowie
Reading: Fortunately, The Milk… by Neil Gaiman
Watching: Downton Abbey
The wait is over! Vanguard Prime: Wild Card will be released tomorrow, 27th February, and to celebrate I thought I’d return to a series of posts that haven’t been featured here in a while; the Making of a Superhero. And given that Vanguard Prime: Wild Card heavily features the Knight of Wands, what better time than now to take a look at the team’s resident man of mystery?
I wanted to create characters that felt interesting and dynamic enough that they could very easily be the protagonist of their own book. The examples I had in mind of these stemmed from comic books, of course, where the Justice League and the Avengers were traditionally populated by characters that were already established in their own series.
This was in opposition to teams like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, where the characters were created to be part of a team, and as interesting as they may be in their own right, they still work better as part of that team structure.
I wanted the “Big Three” of Vanguard Prime to be much like the Big Three of the Avengers and the Justice League. Just as Captain America, Thor & Iron Man and Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman all have their own supporting characters, antagonists and personal lives, I wanted to come up with characters that felt as established as that…without the benefit of 70 or so years of continuous publishing behind it.
I started in the place I was most comfortable with, drawing on the ‘Self-Made Man’/’Mortal Amongst Gods’ elements that Iron Man and Batman share, while also focusing on the ‘Dark Avenger’ archetype originated by characters like Zorro and the Shadow, their legacies continued to this day by the aforementioned Dark Knight Detective.
It wasn’t the first time I’d used the ‘Dark Avenger’ template to create a character; when I was 10, I came up with a spoof superhero called Penguin Man, who eventually mutated into “Nighthawk” when I was 12.
But with my new story, I didn’t want a Batman rip-off. I didn’t want to just transplant Nighthawk from my childhood into the present day (not least because there’s already more than one comic book character that’s taken that name).
So I looked back at the characters that intrigued me when I was younger; not the characters I loved, like Batman or Spider-Man, but the characters that seemed slightly goofy or “off”, but still stuck in the brain. Characters like Steve Ditko’s Blue Beetle and the Question, or Jack Kirby’s Mr Miracle. Strange, colourful characters that immediately capture your interest with how quirky they are.
I’ve spoken before of the need for a memorable superhero to have a strong thematic element; something that elevates them from the mundane to the iconographic. As an example; Batman and Spider-Man draw on the animal kingdom, with those two animals informing many of the elements that make those characters unique, such as Spider-Man’s web-slinging or Batman’s Batcave.
It’s hard these days, after so many thousands of superheroes have been introduced to the world, to come up with a unique theme for a new character. What I ended up drawing from was the memories I had of my mother practicing divination with her tarot card deck. I never put much stock in the fortune-telling side of it, but I always found the names and the illustrations of the cards themselves fascinating.
So bearing in mind the off-beat features of the Ditko and Kirby characters, I was immediately drawn to the “Knight of Wands” card, combining as it did aspects of the warrior and the magician under one, evocative name.
Storytelling is the art of posing questions and then answering them. The first question I posed to myself about a character called “the Knight of Wands” is why would he take that name? Especially when you consider that there are two decks in the tarot; the major arcana and the minor arcana, with the Knight of Wands belonging to the minor arcana. Out of all the cards in the deck, why would someone pick that one?
And that’s when it occurred to me; he’s named himself after a character from the minor arcana because there’s a villainous organisation called the Major Arcana that he’s working to bring down.
That’s where the next question comes into play; why? Why is he fighting this organisation? And it’s from there that I developed the Knight of Wands’ back story, fleshing out the Major Arcana as an organisation of superhumans that the Knight’s father founded but that has been overtaken and corrupted by his older brother.
This idea had a certain Shakespearean flavour to it that really appealed to me at the time; it’s only in retrospect that I also see the influences of films like Infernal Affairs and anime series like Cowboy Bebop as also having a fair amount of influence.
Using the tarot deck also provided me with ideas for the Knight of Wands’ paraphernalia, including his method of transport; his “Batmobile” wouldn’t be a car, it’d be a supersonic scramjet stolen from the Major Arcana, named after “the Chariot” card.
Originally, I had the Knight carrying a flaming sword, but that felt off given that he was meant to be a knight of wands. An off-hand comment someone made about Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver being the Doctor’s “magic wand” gave me the idea of giving the Knight a similar high-tech wand, albeit as a collapsible quarterstaff, which is where his “laser-lance” comes from (though I called it a “photon rod” at first).
His real name – Ethan Knightley – came from two separate sources; Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt from the Mission: Impossible franchise (not that I’m a major fan, but it was always a name I thought was cool) and Mr Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma. I imagined the Knight to have been a Scottish aristocrat, born and bred to continue on his family’s legacy, only to end up a beggar knight errant.
This would be a Batman with no fortune, forced to do things on a budget, and just as the Knight of Wands card represents improvisation, he’d work from his gut and off-the-cuff rather from than any grand plan or comprehensive system of preparation.
Unlike the other characters I created for Vanguard Prime, the Knight’s creation came quickly. By the time I was done, I had a character that I was very fond of and just as interested in exploring, which is why I decided to make Book 2 his spotlight story after keeping him in the background of Book 1.
That affection has also led this post to being much longer than I intended it to be, but I wanted to give you a sense of everything that goes into creating a superhero character…especially as it seems to be one of the things that people Google that brings them to my website!
And if all this rambling has somehow intrigued you about the Knight of Wands, this is where I remind you that you can read all about him and the Major Arcana in Wild Card, Book 2 in the Vanguard Prime series. You’ll recognise it on the shelf; it’ll be the only one where a hooded figure is wielding a flaming laser-lance…
‘Til next time.