Who Drood It?: Extra Crisp(arkle)y

One of the interesting things about going through the book of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and reading the musical, is looking at who they left in this particular piece of silliness, and why. There are a fair number of characters who wind up jettisoned outright, and I’m not sure the whodunnit plot is really affected. There are a few, however, whom it seems weren’t so much omitted as they were absorbed in utero by the Reverend Crisparkle as the show was conceived.

In the book, Crisparkle is Neville Landless’s tutor, and he remains that in the musical. He’s also Neville’s staunchest supporter (aside from the young man’s sister, of course). But that’s largely his role in the story. He plays confidante to the hot-headed Landless boy, and staves off accusations by others (including, in the book, his own mother).

In the musical, however, Crisparkle takes on triple duty. He gets an upgrade from tutor to guardian, subsuming the role from the amzaingly-named, but absent, Luke Honeythunder. He also takes on a significant aspect of Rosa’s not-appearing-in-this-stage-show guardian: Mr. Grewgious.1

It works just fine, since honestly the book is kind of flooded with caretakers and faux-parental figures, most of whom spend a lot of time talking to each other about what do to with their charges. It’s interesting in what it may say about the amount of oversight of the time period, but in terms of the rip-roaring, odd whodunnit plot, fewer parents and parental figures make things move much more quickly.

Besides, I just keep thinking of Crisparkle as doing what the church has often done, and absorbing those philosophies which might be sympathetic in order to increase influence. In this case, influence just happens to coincide with time onstage.

1. I can never love Charles Dickens enough for his character names. Honestly, they provide recurring amusement even in the gravest of tales.[back]

Morituri Blog: Divine Puzzles

That weekend reprint does seem to have gotten my Morituri brain going at least a little bit. No idea if this will turn into a fuller series of posts, but we’ll do this one and see if more happen to present themselves. This time up it’s faith, in the person of Jelene Anderson.

Developing the ability to understand the way just about anything works if she touches it and / or focuses her attention on it, Jelene takes the name Adept. It would have been easy to take Jelene–a woman of explicitly stated spiritual faith–and follow a narrative in which the de-mystification of the world simultaneously destroys that faith. With death raining down on all sides,1 and the standing trope in science fiction that magic and spirituality are science we don’t understand, it would hardly be out of place for the soul of the group to lose her own faith as knowing how everything works still doesn’t give her all the answers.

This is a dark story in general, after all. The Morituri are walking dead. No matter what they do, it’s over. If The Horde doesn’t kill them, their own bodies will. They are walking no-win situations. Disillusionment is kind of built into the very core of the story, starting from the first issue, as the harsh reality of these young peoples’ fates smacks them in the face.

One of the things I think Gillis does a great job at with this series, though, is juxtaposition. In a tale of imminent death, literally from without (The Horde) and within (The Morituri Effect), there are nevertheless all these moments of hope. It seemed completely counter-intuitive, and yet I think for the most part Gillis pulls them off. In fact, once I look back at it, it seems as if he couldn’t have told the story without them.

Jelene is another wonderful blending of concepts which seem–at least in a lot of science fiction contexts–contradictory, but which come together in an unexpected way. There is certainly a level of disillusionment with the governmental bureaucrats overseeing the program, as she is at one point locked away with various technologies in an effort to maximize her metahuman insights before she dies. Despite this, as Jelene’s powers grow, so does her faith in a higher power.

click for biggerness
Art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams, words by Peter B. Gillis

As with Harold’s death previously, Jelene’s is another one which feeds into her goals and arc. Like a lot of Morituri, Jelene’s powers surge as she begins to near her end. She sees not just the workings of those objects near her, but begins to see the workings of the universe itself. And making those connections, witnessing some kind of unified quantification of the universe, she sees the creator she’s been seeking.

I think I’m making this sound more preachy than I think it reads. I didn’t get the sense that Gillis was trying to force some kind of belief system on the reader. Rather, he was taking the character to her natural conclusion. Which, yes, is her death. But, like I said before, the methods he uses manage to turn final, grim moments into this unexpected flare of hope which serves to pull the reader along, and kind of reinvests you in the narrative for the darkness yet to come.

1. In at least one case, this is quite literal: The Horde have adopted a tactic of taking prisoners just outside the edge of the atmosphere, and then throwing them out of their ships, where their bodies, burning upon re-entry, create a macabre shower of shooting stars.[back]

Lining Up: Bruise

Max (Bruise) wound up taking residence in my head design-wise this last week. He’s actually the only Spotlight character I’d drawn previously, though I kind of hate what I did now. So, being vaguely satisfied with what I’d sketched of some of his teammates, I thought I’d take another crack at him:

Max is kind of a mish-mash of alternative styles. He’s not really goth or punk or emo, I don’t think, though those were all styles I looked at when putting him together. The multitude of piercings were required. I mean, the “pain guy” has to have those, yes?

Anyway, the pants are probably the element I went around on the most. I started with just jeans ripped all to heck, but then I found some strapped up pant designs that I really dug. When you remember that these are the styled looks, the actual clothing lines, something like that seemed like a better choice. Eva, after all, would want to make more of a statement that just some ripped jeans. And all the straps give the outfit a smidge of a bondage vibe, which feeds into Max’s twisted / pain image.

I fiddled with Max’s facial features quite a bit here, too. I was trying to find a balance I liked with make-up & androgyny. One version had lots of loopy eye makeup, but I thought he looked like a Death knockoff and / or like I was making a Clockwork Orange reference that I wasn’t really going for. So I settled for the streak of large eyeshadow and the black nail polish for now.

I toyed briefly with trying to fit his logo onto the jacket sleeve, but it just felt out of place. Just assume it’s on the care labels, which Max probably tore out, but when you get the look at the alterna-stores, it’s totally there.

Powerblog: On Specialties and Weekly Obsessions

By the time Power Pack finished its second year, it had long stopped being the only series I collected. With the help of that well-stocked book store, I was collecting several series at that point. But, of course, those pesky little kid super heroes were still top of the list.

Issue 25 changed up a lot of things. In addition to the kids switching powers, the comic changed up its shipping schedule. The end of the issue announced that Power Pack would now be going bi-monthly. I was going to have to wait two whole months between installments.

Of course, my obsessiveness kicked in quite thoroughly in that interval. Did going bi-monthly next issue mean that it would be two months until issue 26, or that 26 would ship as normal and set the cycle, after which it would be two months until 27? Yes, it was wishful thinking. But, between desperation and math being not my friend, it made complete and utter sense at the time.

So the next month came, and I went to the book store anyway, and there was no Power Pack. Emboldened more than I normally would be, I asked behind the counter if they knew if the book would be another month or not. The folks at the book store were nice and all, but there was only one employee who dealt with the comics ordering, and that person wasn’t around.

However, if I wanted to check, there was a comics specialty shop I could vis–

Wait, did I just hear…? There were shops that didn’t just have a comic book section, but which were wholly dedicated to comics? I had to excuse myself to re-align my understanding of the way of the universe.

With the same fervor I’d had on previous attempts to Have All Power Pack Always, there was badgering which resulted in finding the local comic shop. It was, at the time, a fairly small store, but in addition to having all the comics the book store carried, there were these long, cardboard boxes full of comics, all in protective plastic sleeves and with cardboard backing. It was like a little treasure trove of comics archive-iness. If I’d been overwhelmed by a long magazine rack of comics, I was rather shell-shocked when realizing (1) how many comics fit in a box, and (2) how many boxes were in that small shop.

It did turn out that I’d have to wait an extra month for Power Pack, but in the meantime, I’d just discovered the comics specialty store. Several more shovelfuls had thus been dug for my entrenchment.

Research Wonk: How Do You Say That?

I’ve been in a couple of different shows where I’ve tried a British accent of one kind or another, but because I’m me, I always find myself neck deep in accent research. Most of the time, it’s not really essential to what I’m doing (I have something workable already), but any excuse to try to take apart accents is one I’m likely to take.

In any case, I’m back at it again. For both sharing and link-parking reasons, here are a few of the resources I’ve enjoyed in the past, and have been using to various degrees this time, too:

For accents of English in general, the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) is a nice starting point. Each person, identified by age, is reading one of only a couple of different passages, which is especially helpful when trying to differentiate between two similar regional accents. It’s global, too, so there’s a lot of different nations’ takes on English to uncover.

For UK accents in particular, I also quite love the British Library’s accents and dialects section. Where IDEA has a wider spread, the British Library collection has a much deeper store on UK accents. It collects several different language and accent projects. While they don’t use the leveling device of having folks read the same passage, it’s hard to mind all the different stories folks tell in the interviews, which give a look not just at the sound of the language, but of the culture and local traditions in which they exist. A fair number of older folk are the specific focus of some of the cultural preservation projects collected there, as well, which helps to give a slightly less contemporary take on a given accent.

This go around, too, I’ve found that memes are useful for more than just LOLcats. Apparently there was a meme a while back going by either “accent challenge” or “accent tag.” And there seems to be a pretty wide spread of UK residents who took up the banner and posted their videos to YouTube. So, “accent tag Welsh” or “accent tag Norfolk,” for example, bring up a fair sampling of natives of the given region. It’s clear the meme was of US origin, as one of the questions (“what do you call it when you throw toilet paper on a house?”) seems to stump just about everyone from the UK, but otherwise, it’s also a fairly compact glance at differences between regional accents.

As you might imagine, the YouTube tag has a lot more younger people participating, so it’s a more contemporary look at the dialects. And, since it requires a web-enabled camera and Internet access, it likely self-selects out some measure of lower class samples (indeed, there were a reasonable handful of folks who felt they should mention that they speak a bit more “posh” than others in their area), but it’s still useful, I think, especially, again, for regional comparisons.

Archive: Morituri Blog: The Ravages of Genius

A long while back, I had ambitions of doing a multi-post series on the elements I saw at play in the original, Peter B. Gillis run on Strikeforce: Morituri. At the time, I only did the one. I did get the trade collections of that whole run for a gift semi-recently, though. Mayhap I’ll dig back into that. Even if I don’t, I did enjoy this look, so we’ll use that for my ‘five new posts’ reprint reward of the weekend

I made brief mention of a list of the many things Strikeforce: Morituri is “about.” Said list comes largely from my take on each of the primary characters. Each one has a power and a corny code-name and a gaudy costume, sure, but each one also helps Gillis explore a theme. If I’m not going to start with a proper overview, I can at least start with the first character, then: Harold C. Everson – Vyking.

Everson is our road in. In one of Gillis’ many tricks to cover exposition, Harold is a writer. A writer who wants to write a book on life as a Morituri. So, unlike with any number of other first-person narrators, it makes a certain sense that Harold would fill us in on the events leading up to the invention of the Morituri process, would cover information any average citizen should know. Out of story, he’s writing for people in the past; in-story, he’s writing for people in an uncertain future, whose knowledge of past events will be of indeterminate completeness.

Sorry, I’m already falling into asides. That Harold provides a handy expository tool is probably the least impactful development from making Harold a writer. The thing about the Morituri in general (especially the second generation, those six characters Gillis starts the series with), is that they sign up for the process for both the same and different reasons. Every single one of them has lived four years with an invading alien force, with their world ravaged and plundered and enslaved. All but the most hardened hearts are going to want to do something in that situation. So they sign on first because this is being billed as the best chance to destroy the Horde. But beyond that, they all have some secondary reason, each of which serves to set up their character arcs and set up the particular theme Gillis will use them to explore.

Morituri as embodied by Vyking, then, is the simultaneous gift and curse of intense artistic genius. Whether myth or reality, we’ve all heard it: true genius comes at a cost. Usually, it’s madness or a short, cruel life (or both). Art requires suffering, and thus the greatest art requires the greatest suffering.

Vyking’s powers give him that, to a degree. He has a wider audience than he might ever have had were he to remain Harold Everson. He has the eyes and ears of the planet. He can Make An Impact. His power plays out the archetype, as well. Vyking has two primary abilities: he has an unexplained mental link to the other Morituri and the active ability to redirect energies. The first is an easy fit for an argument regarding collective unconscious. The latter isn’t quite as obvious, but especially given the kind of “change the world” writing Harold wants to do, isn’t “redirecting energies” exactly the sort of thing he’s best suited for?

Art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams,
Words by Peter B. Gillis

Like with all the Morituri during Gillis’ run, Vyking’s death is as emblematic of the character’s particular theme as his life and powers. As with the loss of all great genius, Vyking’s death leaves a vacuum which resonates to his peers. That sounds more purple than I mean it: see, Vyking literally leaves a vacuum, because when he dies, he blows a hole in the hull of a spaceship, and his teammates have to pull together to seal the breach.

It works as a metaphor for the “power of genius” argument, especially when you also consider that Harold’s choices wind up influencing his contemporaries. They finish the assault Harold chose to start. Another man, trying to emulate Harold, takes the Morituri process. He’s made his impact; he’s burned through his genius and thus achieved some level of immortality.

Except it’s simultaneously a load of hooey. This, too, comes back to the moment of Vyking’s death. His final plea gives it all away, as he blurts out “not before I’m finished!”

Here’s where Gillis earns his money, I think, in that he manages to both support and debunk the ideology of The Mad Genius. Vyking gets everything he hoped for, but he, as with all those like him, also loses that. As much as Gillis may acknowledge the trade-off, I think he similarly acknowledges that, no matter how you slice, it will never be a fair one. The more intense the genius, the greater the loss when it’s gone. No matter how much you’ve done, when you go, the potential to do more is gone. That fact becomes starkly and unmistakably clear in the hyper-empowered, hyper-condensed lives of the Morituri.

Original version published on Trickle of Consciousness

Who Drood It?: Strangers in Fiction

I started rehearsing for a new show this week. Which means, of course, I’m about to think way too much about things. Welcome to the Mystery of Edwin Drood version of my nattering.

I’m three-quarters of the way through the book the musical’s based on, though I think I’ve hit just about all of the chapters on which the scenes in the show are based. I think the first act uses maybe five chapters of the book as the basis for scenes. Which is fine, since Drood the musical is far more about having fun with conventions–of the theatre in general, of musicals in specific, of whodunnits, of Dickens himself. So, really, you grab enough from the source material to build a base on, and go from there.

There are things I miss, of course, though they’re almost all ancillary characters who don’t build the plot so much as they let Dickens have a good time lampooning character types: the self-important Philanthropist, the stern and all-seeing headmistress, that sort of thing.1

The only song I’m kind of torn about from an adaptation point of view is “Perfect Strangers.” It’s a really pretty song, and I love its sentiment, but I find myself thinking about the chapter than inspired it. It goes a bit like this:

Drood and his fiancée, Rosa Bud,2 are constantly quarreling. Which is understandable in context. Their respective parents promised them to one another when they were little children, then both sets of parents managed to sod off to the other side. This is Dickens, after all. Orphans are important.

Anyway, the guardians of each child kept to those promises, so that both young people grew up knowing there was a marriage waiting for them. Rebelliousness was bound to follow. Since both are good-ish young folk, they don’t take their frustrations out on their caregivers, but each other. Because displacement is also an important Dickensian value.

Rosa’s tired of all the quarreling, though. She wants to have a pleasant stroll, so she makes a suggestion: let’s the two of us pretend we don’t know one another. Drood, she says, should imagine and act as if he is affianced to someone else entirely, while Rosa will imagine and pretend to be someone who has just met him.3

Drood agrees, and off they go, both their spirits lifted at this proposition. At which point, Rosa decides the best way to maintain the charade is to ask Drood about his imaginary fiancée.

Oh, dear Rosa, and it was going so well.

Our good master Edwin proceeds to answer each query by describing his imaginary mate, whom he feels is the pinnacle of perfection, as exactly the opposite of Rosa in every single way. Physically, she is tall where Rosa short, with a larger nose to Rosa’s small one. Oh, and she’s interested in every single thing that Rosa objects to. Why, she’s the perfect woman!

To be sure, Rosa doesn’t let it all go. She’s got quite a few things to say about how awkward, unsightly, and socially malformed the poor imaginary girl must be.

There’s a lot of scoffing and taunting involved, which made me giggle repeatedly. It’s sort of a Dickensian version of that rom-com scene where the two eventual lovers are squaring off against each other, trading quips in an effort to get the upper hand. Not that I think there aren’t enough of those scenes, but I found myself kind of tickled to find it from the man known for stories involving strangled prostitutes, child labor abuses, and any number of other sullen social injustices.

It doesn’t paint either Drood or Rosa in an especially lovely light, mind, which is probably the real reason it’s replaced. In the context of the faux-play being presented, the theatre troop is trying to set up its heroes and heroines a little more cleanly. Plus: pretty songs are pretty.

I’m just saying: Dickensian rom-com is kind of awesome subtext for the pretty, mournful love song, no?

1. This pruning, sadly, means that no one on stage gets to go by the name Luke Honeythunder, a name which is made of a ridiculous amount of win for making me wonder if Dickens was predicting 70’s porn, but we can’t have everything, I suppose.[back]
2. Drood spends most of the book referring to Rosa as “Pussy.” Yes, I know that’s not what it meant. It’s still amusing because I am twelve in my brain. If I’m feeling especially childish another time, I’ll quote you the really amazing string of dialogue that makes use of Rosa’s nickname in the book.[back]
3. It may not escape your notice that, in this fantasy scenario, Rosa still attaches Drood with upcoming spousal responsibilities, but makes herself a free agent. Never let it be said that our heroine is without guile.[back]