Archive: Spotlight Chapter 6: Special Persecutor

By and large, I think I’ve pulled over most of the older posts I wanted to highlight in the new space, so the archive weekend posts will likely be limited to the Spotlight reprints as I end each chapter. Which, as it turns out, I just did.

This chapter: gazelle vampirism, super-powered prison fashion, shadowy conspiracy chambers, and the only event that leaves every single version of Crowd speechless. Plus, pray for us all, because Stallion’s about to be the reasonable, level-headed one. This can’t bode well.

Chapter 6: Special Persecutor

“He’s not dead,” Roc said quietly.

“Still. And: no shit,” Stallion returned for the bajillionth time. He’d tracked Roc down to the observation room for The Stone. Which wasn’t moving, and hadn’t moved in the two days since they got back from leaving a crater in Canada. Which meant Voice was still alive. Somewhere.

“So then where is he?” Bruise asked. Stallion had dragged the cutter along, hoping he could get the Stone Cold Bitch to, you know, move or something.

“We still haven’t heard from Covert?” Roc asked, finally taking her eyes from the not-moving glitter rock on the other side of the unbreakable glass.

“Not since the tool ditched us just after the border,” Stallion said. “Girl, seriously, you aren’t doing Volume Knob any good just standing here. Unless you’re waiting for him to die?”

Here was where he normally would have been dodging giant concrete hands or something, but even Stallion’s normal button-pushing barely got a rise out of the girl.

“Covert has intelligence resources we don’t,” she said, turning back to look at The Stone.

“And we have still being big deals instead of has-beens,” Stallion countered.

“Stallion has a point,” Bruise said. Stallion locked eyes with Roc in a bit of shared shock, then they both looked to the guy with green hair (this week).

Bruise fell back a bit, but explained: “Covert brought us on that mission in the first place because we’re big, loud, and have a massive PR machine. If things went south, we’re the bright shiny thing to point to, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing Trent’s had to spin.

“We don’t have a military industrial complex and world-spanning intelligence agency to use, but we do have fame. I know you don’t always like it, Teresa, but sometimes that opens a whole other set of doors, you know?”

“See? Listen to Chewy,” Stallion said with his extra-wide grin.

“Chu.”

“Whatever.”

Roc bit her lip a moment, checking out the still-not-moving Stone.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she whispered.

“Girl, even I know where to start,” Stallion said.

“You do?” Roc and Bruise asked at the same time. Stallion chuffed air and crossed his arms.

“Seriously? You guys suck,” he said. “The psycho from TV. Duh. He hacked this place that went ker-blooey, right? He’s gotta know who they are and where else they are. We show up, flash the smiles and the awesome, and grill the hell out of code-loser until he gives it up.”

“The authorities aren’t just going to let us waltz in and–” Roc started.

“Since when?” Stallion returned. “The love us. You probably won’t even have to flirt with any boy cops to get in.”

He dodged the concrete bludgeon by several inches. There was his girl.

“I told you, I’m not–”

“We gonna dance with each other, or with the psycho?” Stallion asked. Roc fumed a moment, then nodded.

“I’m in. Let’s go.” She was out the door before she’d even finished talking. Stallion heard the security checkpoint beeping even as Bruise and he scrambled to catch up. Just as they’d passed out of the tech maze that protected The Stone, Bruise’s phone rang. Stallion could smell the nerves and hormones surging as goth-boy checked the screen.

“I … I have to take this,” he said. Stallion rolled his eyes.

“Girlie’s already in high gear, so I’m not waiting for you to deal with your rent boy or whatever,” Stallion said, running for the open front door.

“Tell Schizo where we went if her dupe-stapo let you talk to her,” he yelled back just before leaping skyward to try to catch up.
What call could be that important? Click to find out

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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.

Lining Up: Roc

Managed to do another character / design sketch for Spotlight. As I mentioned in the Stallion post, most of the current members don’t really suit up when they go out hero-ing. There is one notable exception: Roc. Teresa has a fashion line just like everyone else, and I want to put together a look for that. Since she takes this whole super-hero thing a lot more seriously than any of the others, though, it seemed right to start with her knightly attire:


As I mentioned in the logo post, Teresa is fully convinced that being chosen by The Stone, being made superhuman, is the contemporary equivalent of her favorite RPG class: the paladin. She feels she’s been knighted, and since her power to reshape mineral deposits lets her create any shape she wants to, and manipulate it freely, she chose full out plate mail.

The sword isn’t always there, but I like the visual of it. It’s ridiculous-size, of course, but being made out of stone like her armor, its weight isn’t really at issue. She physically swings as a kind of mental aid, but it’s T’s mineral telekinesis which is doing the heavy lifting.

Her personal icon seemed appropriate on the armor, since she thinks of it as a knight’s standard. She wears it to identify her order. What’s missing, and what drives Trent nuts, is the Spotlight element for its background. She will in most cases suggest that it’s not on purpose; she generates the armor without actively designing it. Whether that’s true or not, it speaks to how much precedence she doesn’t give to the corporation behind this little group of supers.

I think this particular sketch makes Teresa look a bit shorter than I envision, but her bulkiness–for lack of a better term–is definitely on purpose. As Gloria and Liam discussed in the previous chapter, everyone in Spotlight undergoes a rigorous training regime. Teresa is definitely in shape. That doesn’t mean she looks like some kind of runway size negative seventeen, though. I wanted her to have a more everyday body type, and Teresa’s definitely the kind of woman who isn’t going to apologize for that. One of the many crusades she’s on is to give a big ‘screw you’ to the culture of waif-ism. It’s great if you’re thin, she’d say, but there’s no reason why everyone needs to be in order to be healthy–and more than a few folks are healthier if they aren’t.

Logo Logistics

The Stallion sketch and rambling got me on a logo / icon roll. That, and I’ve been wanting more excuses to play around with vectors in Manga Studio. The end result was a rather long evening of entirely too much graphical geekery. Also: logos for everyone.

Bruise’s was kind of tricky, because I had no earthly idea how to represent pain in an icon format. I bounced around looking at various medical iconography, but nothing really sat right with me there. So, I started looking at representations of nerves themselves.

Of course, most representations of nerves are rendered in three dimensions, which made for some frustration when trying to turn that into something simplified and two-dimensional. Trying to make it too symmetrical turned it into something that looked more like a star. So, I randomized the edges and added in the tendril bits. I’m not entirely sure it reads immediately as a nerve, but then again, nerves aren’t exactly a universal icon to begin with. In any event, I do think it reads as biological and somewhat insidious, which is definitely what I wanted. If any icon should be indefinably disturbing, this was the one.

I originally played with something involving a bio-hazard symbol in the center, but I thought it got too busy, and was hard to balance with the curves and points of the nerve itself. The skull was simpler and seemed to fit on a few different levels. In terms of powers, there’s the feels like I’m dying when hit by a pain wave, and the nerve-deadening when Bruise absorbs pain.

Then there’s Max himself, who is a sort of mish-mashed punk / goth guy. Which probably violates the philosophies of both counter-cultures, but Max does like to push buttons. Max’s clothes would show up in Hot Topic and other stores which enjoy dark decor. So, the chibi-death look of the skull slotted in with that idea, as well, I thought.

Roc’s name is something she sees as a clever pun, but which most of her teammates, and the majority of the media, don’t really get: she named herself after a giant, mythical bird. Teresa is an RPG / Fantasy fiction / Society for Creative Anachronisms kind of woman. She saw getting powers as her opportunity to be a modern-day paladin, fighting evil and living as a paragon and (not incidentally) having really cool plate mail armor.

Her symbol is less about her powers, then, than about the legends and literature she’s wrapped up in. I looked at a lot of knight’s crests, mostly. The wings remind me of some I found without being complete rip-offs, and the tail is actually a modified version of some crusade banner crosses I ran across while researching. The roc itself doesn’t seem to be especially distinctive in outline. I went with a head shape that reminded me a bit of a pterodactyl to try to evoke the feeling of both large and old.

Roc is probably the only one other than Stallion who will have a large icon on display, though not on her clothing line: whenever I write that she’s generating a shield, you should assume it has her “standard” etched into it. She may want to be a paragon, but Teresa can’t help but revel periodically in the flashy stuff when she’s being a hero.

Crowd is Yup’ik, one of the Alaskan Native tribes. Her icon is partially derived from a common look among native mask designs, which often involve a central figure surrounded by feathers and a variety of other shapes, from fish to hands to webbed feet. I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the dual spirit elements of the culture, but when I found those elements, along with some other elements I already knew about from previous research, it locked Sarah’s home into place for me.

Sarah’s heritage dovetails into her character and powers in a number of different ways, even more as I continue to research the culture, but I hesitated about this one. It’s an itchy kind of thing, as it co-opts cultural heritage, and the design itself glosses over tradition for something … shinier.

But oddly enough, that’s also why I think it’s the right direction to take. Spotlight is a story about fame and celebrity and media and corporations, and the sublimation of cultural traditions to those far more crass goals is exactly the kind of thing that fits right into what’s going on.

In-story, The Spotlight Collective has a whole lot of PR / media crazy going on in it. They want to exploit every angle they can to spread each member brand. And unlike her more willful teammates, Sarah isn’t a strong enough personality to resist when a Trent or an Eva coos over Yup’ik masks and how “tribal is in.” Well, some of her counter-selves probably are, but none of them get to make decisions.

Voice’s icon was the most straightforward one. Even then, I toyed around with how I wanted to represent the sound waves. I tried a couple of different versions. I couldn’t pull off anything with real curves to the wave, at least not in a way I liked. I debated something more like the sound bars on an audio mixer, but again, I didn’t like the end result.

This one has a nice, slightly harsh feel to it, which I think works. Liam can be a bit strident in general. That it let me make a vague “V” shape in the logo was an added benefit that will tickle no one but me.

For the record, sonar had a different icon. So did “The Human Megaphone,” which is part of why Eva went ballistic when Liam changed names.

I already went on at length about Stallion’s logo. I went ahead and made a graphics version of it, though, because I’m nothing if not obsessive in my completion-ism. Which is also why I included him here.

These are all just the line-art versions, of course. I’m still debating color. Not just individually, but in the context of whether or not it changes. I’m inclined to think the icons might change to better complement whatever clothing they appear on, but I’m not sure how sound that is from a corporate branding perspective, which would obviously influence The Spotlight Collective’s decisions. But, if nothing else, I think these are a good baseline, both graphically and in terms of the characters they represent.

Archive: Spotlight Chapter 5: Recovery Phase

Another chapter of Spotlight finished up this week, so that’s our archive re-post today. What do you call terrorists from Saskatchewan? No, really, Spotlight have no idea. Also: living legends, clandestine meetings, spoiled dates, international intrigue, and Stallion is still looking for a super-powered three-way. Cut tag after our first section in service of politeness, as always:

Chapter 5: Recovery Phase

“I think all of that Spotlight daily regimen is finally starting to show,” Gloria said with a smile as Liam sat down in the booth. He could feel the blush, and was thankful that the restaurant wasn’t particularly well lit.

“I’m not sure how to take that,” he said. “I mean, I had a bit of a belly before, but I wasn’t–”

“Compliment,” Gloria said, laughing. She signaled for the waiter. “Take it as a compliment. Everything isn’t a conspiracy, you know.”

Liam returned an awkward chuckle. “Okay. So: thanks.”

“See? Look how much easier that is,” she said, then nodded to indicate the arriving waiter. Conversation lulled as they made their orders. Liam barely even looked at menus these days. The standing eating out scenario: Grilled chicken breast. Broccoli. Water with lemon. It was tempting to order a greasy burger, smothered in chili and unnatural cheese sauces. As Gloria had just pointed out, however, such things didn’t mix well with the physical regime Liam underwent as part of his term in Spotlight.

“Honestly, I’m a little jealous,” Gloria said as the waiter moved off toward the kitchen. “It’s been hellish trying to adjust to losing on-call fitness and nutrition staff.” She chuckled again, adding, “and that’s from a professional trainer.”

“Well, I’m not seeing the struggle,” Liam returned, nodding to Gloria’s own athletic shape.

“Ah, this is nothing like the Glo-Ray days, though.”

“Yeah. I guess I always thought you guys got those bodies with the powers. I never realized how much work you had to put into them. Well, unless you got super-strength like Christian.” Liam winced and rubbed his left shoulder. “I mean, Stallion.”

Gloria tilted her head to one side as he let go of the old bruise. “I told you he wouldn’t like you calling him by his old name.”

“Everyone else seems to be fine with it,” Liam said. Gloria shrugged but said nothing more. “In any case, obviously his body came with the power, but the rest of us have to work at it.”

Gloria nodded sympathetically, then frowned.

“What’s that?” she said, pointing to Liam.

“What?”

“That. That face you just made.”

“Nothing,” Liam foundered, and held back a loud, relieved sigh as the waiter swung by to deliver drinks. He was suddenly parched.

“Nuh-uh,” Gloria jumped right back in as soon as the waiter was gone. “You’re avoiding. Is it Sarah?” Her humor was gone. Understandable. Sarah was, after all, how Liam convinced Gloria to start meeting with him in the first place. Once Trent had the techies put blocks on all of Sarah’s communication lines after the Transparent C+ incident, Liam had been the only loophole the two could exploit. He wasn’t a former teammate of Gloria’s, so he could meet with her. And pass messages between her and Sarah.

They were a month and change into the arrangement, though, and Liam still couldn’t bring himself to admit his own ulterior motives. All in good time.

“No. No, Sarah’s fine,” Liam assured Gloria, who relaxed visibly at the confirmation. “She’s still … quiet. Spends a lot of time by herself. Or, with her selves, I guess, depending on whether she’s manifesting any counters. But she’s fine. Passed her psych eval and everything.”

Left unsaid was Liam’s own mandatory counselling after his first fatality in the field. It had been two weeks since his last panic attack. Five days since he last dreamed of his own still-beating heart tearing itself from his chest. And Sarah was the one Gloria cared for, worried about. Their own connection was tenuous enough without oversharing.

“Then what was…?” Gloria pressed.

“I … okay, this is a little … I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but…”

“Oh, for God’s sake spit it out,” Gloria was tensing again, which of course tensed Liam.

“The Stone doesn’t give you physical changes unless that’s part of your power. I know that now. Which means, when you were Glo-Ray … did you …?”

Gloria laughed so loud that some of the closer heads turned. She hunkered down a minute and stifled the volume. They chose this place for the discretion of staff and patrons, but calling too much attention to themselves did no one any good. She took a deep breath, then answered:

“The Stone only gives you five years to make an impact. You have to work all the angles. Sometimes, you do that by enhancing the curves,” Gloria said. Gloria feigned nonchalance well, but while dim lighting and her natural coloring might hide any blush, Liam’s extra-audio senses made it a lot harder to hide the embarrassment in her voice.

Liam was about to respond when his phone went off with the trademarked interval progression signalling an official summons.

“Covert?” he whispered as he read the text.

“Hardly. I just don’t talk about it,” Gloria quipped.

“No,” he said, looking back up at her. “Official Spotlight meeting in twenty minutes. With Covert.”

Gloria froze with her iced tea halfway to her mouth, then set it back on the table. “You’re kidding. The Covert?”

“Yeah,” Liam said. He looked across the room to where the waiter was, and without thinking bent his voice to carry through the crowd.

“I’m going to need mine to go.”
Who the heck is Covert? Click to find out

Lining Up: Stallion

So, over the last couple of chapters of Spotlight, I’ve been playing out the idea that the members aren’t normally “costumed up” in a traditional way. Other than Roc, none of them have abilities that would allow for instant changing, for one thing. For another, having them in civilian clothes which are from each of their distinctly-branded clothing lines seemed like exactly the kind of thing The Spotlight Collective would want to help promote said lines (and the revenue streams from same).

Trying to do character sketches, then, is a little more like trying to do a look book than a real costume. They do have costumes (they donned them for the chapter that just finished, for example), but they’re more often found in their designer clothes. I’ve been trying to get a feel for what kind of clothes each member might wear normally, then extrapolating that into the styled up line that might result. I finally have what I think I like as a first look for our resident horn-dog (horse?), Stallion:

Stallion (don’t call him Christian unless you’re courting pain) has always felt like the Jersey Shore type in the group. He’s something of a dudebro. He’s styled with a lot of tight t-shirts with deep V necks to show off his bulk and muscles. Almost all of them with a lot of silk-sreeny designs on them. He also makes sure his jeans fit, because he wants the ladies to, ahem, see what he has to offer.

I thought about giving him more jewelry than the earring, since he definitely feels like the kind of guy who likes himself some obnoxious rings, but I rather think he’d destroy any finger jewelry hitting things with super-strength (“the strength and speed of a herd of wild horses” is how I believe I put it in my initial workup), so they aren’t here.

The love of silk-screeniness is part of why I wanted to concentrate on Stallion first. The design here is Stallion’s personal icon / logo. Stallion seemed the most likely to want his brand big and centered, whereas the others will probably keep their symbols in less look-at-me locations. So, I got to play with the logo at a reasonable size to see what I liked.

Because they’re each a brand, but they’re part of a group, I’ve been trying to come up with a logo design that could be used for both. The field background on Stallion’s is common to all Spotlight folks. It’s meant to be a riff on five beams of light, with the center beam widest to highlight an individual’s personal icon. Stallion’s, of course, is a stylized horse head. I tried to do something that wasn’t just a chess knight, and this is what I came up with.

I kind of love the separated, angular mane section. It’s reminiscent of a swoosh from ye olde leading sporting goods company. Only in this case, it has more sharp angles and is turned upside down. Stallion is totally the anti-Do-It.

Side note: drawing the actual horse head was a gigantic pain in the tuckus. I’m reasonably satisfied with it, in that it finally looks like a horse after several attempts that just looked like dogs with big nostrils. On the other hand, once I had a realistic-ish horse’s head, I discovered I’m not quite skilled enough to make him leer the way I wanted. You should pretty much always assume Stallion is leering. It’s his default expression.

Archive: Spotlight Chapter 4: Mixed Media

Finished the final section of the next chapter of Spotlight this week, so this weekend’s archive is the full chapter compilation. Cut tag at the end of the first section so we don’t take over the entire page:

Chapter 4: Mixed Media

“Mom wants to know why she hasn’t seen you wearing the shirt,” Hillary asked as soon as she answered the phone.

“I can’t,” Liam said, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” his sister returned.

“You can’t even see me,” he said, incredulous. “How would you know–?”

“I’m your sister,” she said.

He opened his mouth to rebut the nonsense argument, but then had the clear, instinctual knowledge that Hillary was raising her eyebrow on the other end of the line.

“I see your point.”

“So you can’t wear it why?” she repeated. “You have know idea how hard I had to work to keep her from printing ‘Ginger Pride’ on that thing.”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

Eyebrow.

“You’re right. Well, thank you. It’s very tasteful, but we aren’t allowed to wear anything in public that’s not part of the line.”

Eyebrow.

“I’m serious. I wish I weren’t. You’ll notice my favorite, worn-out, blue T is gone, too. It’s part of the merchandising contract. Not only do they design our work gear, but everything. They don’t want us ‘diluting our image’ with commercials, so they make the line our full wardrobe.”

“So you’re a walking mannequin?” Hillary said with a chuckle.

“The Spotlight brand pays for a big chunk of our operating costs,” Liam returned, though he groaned internally as he regurgitated Trent’s line. “Besides, after the designer wound up nearly killed by that lunatic, parasite thing, I thought wearing her clothes was the least I could do.”

There was a brief pause on the other end of the line, and Hillary’s tone softened as she said, “Well, that last one, at least, sounds like you. I was worried my idealist brother had been podded. How is she doing?”

“Recovering. She has to take it easy, they said, which is probably going to be hard for someone like Eva, but her assistant’s in overdrive, fueled by fear and guilt, so I think he’ll be okay to pick up the slack.”

“Good. The news hasn’t said much about her. And you still don’t know why that thing…?”

“When Stallion squishes a bug, it stays squished,” Liam said. “None of the people it was inside remember anything, unfortunately. We’ve been trying to backtrack it, but it’s been hard. Trent’s had us in full blown Image Rehabilitation mode since–”

“I have the internet,” Hillary returned with only the slightest note of a jibe.

“Have you seen the one where they remixed me attacking that little girl with a dance track?” Liam asked with a groan.

“Which one?”

“How many are there?” Liam said, then pushed on, deciding it was best if he didn’t know. “Anyway, it’s been crazy out there, lately. Trent’s pulling out all the stops trying to counteract the bad PR. Which, actually, was the whole reason I called.”

There was a knock on the door, and Crowd–Sarah–snuck in, eyes and smile wide.

“This. Place. Is. AWESOME!” she said with a squeal. She spun in place and fell into the overstuffed couch of the green room. Hair and makeup had done wonders to brighten the young woman’s features. Her hair practically shone. For a minute, Liam wondered if Sarah had generated a counter for the interview.

“I can’t believe Trent actually booked us on Josephine!

“Did she just say…?” Hillary started through the phone.

“So, yeah,” Liam said a bit sheepishly, giving Sarah his own version of his sister’s raised eyebrow. She covered her mouth with a giggle and a silent apology. “We’re on today’s show.”

“Today’s … ? You’re booked on the biggest live talk show in the world. Today. And you’re just now telling me this?” Hillary said. Her voice took on a slight echoing quality he recognized as Hillary switching to speaker. Liam bit his lip to repress his own manic grin. She’d hear it through the line.

There was another knock on the door, and a young woman wearing a headset peeked her head in.

“You’re up in five,” she said, disappearing almost as soon as she said the last word.

“Hill? I gotta go. Can you…?”

“Mass text sent. Calling Mom now,” Hillary said. “You’ll pay for this one, brother,” she finished. The line beeped as she disconnected.

Sarah hopped up, rubbing her hands on her skirt nervously. Liam smiled, sharing the nervous delight.

“Showtime,” he said.
Super-heroes on a talk show? What could go wrong? Click to find out