Archive for the 'Superhero Parody' Category

Apr 25 2008

A hard-learned lesson for superheroes…

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Superheroes should never ask “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” The answer is never helpful.

But where could you find that much nitroglycerin at this hour?

Dr. Darpa

Unless your IQ has tripled since we’ve last spoken, probably not.

Catastrophe

You are now.

Mr. Mental

Don’t flatter yourself.

–Paingod

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Jan 06 2008

The Superhero Nation Mission Statement

There are mad scientists. There are political scientists. At Superhero Nation, you get the worst of both worlds.

(Maybe this is why we haven’t had a mission statement up to this point).

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Jan 02 2008

Crocodile Terrorism: Tragicomedy, with an Emphasis on the Comedy

Quote of the Day:

Agent Orange: Few things are more pathetic than the crocodile terrorist. Yep. They can’t even do that right.

The Crocodile Intellect

And they talk like thisssssss…

We already knew that mammals > crocodiles, but this also indicates that mammal-insects > crocodiles. But Spiderman foolishly let the crocodile escape, which is further proof that alligators > mammal-insects.

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Dec 31 2007

Quote of the Day: Mike-Catastrophe Part 4

Mike: You’re positive you’re not an alien?

Catastrophe: Do aliens frequently speak fluent English?

Mike: Decryption programs applied to radio transmissions can do surprising things.

Catastrophe: I was checking football club rankings when you found me. Unless aliens are frequently interested in football…

Mike: You’d be surprised. You follow football?

Catastrophe: Sometimes. There aren’t any good teams around here.

Mike: Name three.

Catastrophe: Good teams? Arsenal, Man U and Newcastle.

Mike: Please. If you ever need to make up sports teams in the future, I recommend going with animal names, not randomly selected adjectives and nouns. “New castle?” “Man you?” That doesn’t even make sense!

Catastrophe: …

Catastrophe: You don’t get out much, do you?

This is the final part of a four part series. You can see part 1 here.

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Dec 29 2007

Conversation of the Day: Mike-Catastrophe Part 2

Mike: We have a non-optional orientation program for aliens. This is very simple. If anyone asks, say that you’re not an alien.

Catastrophe: I’m a cartoon character.

Mike: That was easy, wasn’t it?

Catastrophe: …

Catastrophe: Wait. There are aliens on Earth?

Mike: Uhh… no?

 

This is part II of a four part conversation. You can see part 1 here or part 3 here.

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Dec 28 2007

Amusing Links

Agent Orange presents his link of the day and a related public service announcement for crocodile-Americans.

The Annals of Crocodile Failures, 94th Edition

Lions, buffaloes and crocodiles do battle for control of a Kenyan wildlife refuge. This film is rated PG… Pretty Gruesome. The crocodiles make their inglorious appearance at 3:30, but they’re so ineffective that the (mammalian) commentators only notice them at 3:38. Unless you enjoy watching lions play two crocodiles silly, I recommend skipping ahead to 4:30, which is when things get rowdy on the land. “They’ve got ’em surrounded” (5:45). I also enjoyed the sudden appearance of Superlion– he flies– at 5:45.
6:30 is outlandish and further indicates how completely pathetic the crocodiles were in their brief appearance. Any creature that is unable to cripple a baby buffalo is hereby banished from the reptile class. Experts at Palomar University, one of the world’s leading reptological institutions, have found that:

The class Reptilia [Reptiles*] includes turtles, snakes, lizards, alligators**, and other large reptiles…

Let’s face it, crocodiles: even turtles and snakes*** count as reptiles. But not you*. (Don’t snicker too hard, mammals… the lions did not make a persuasive case for your phylum).

Not to fear, crocodiles: although you are no longer reptiles, you may technically qualify as amphibians****. However, both mammals and reptiles will remain ashamed to share a subphylum with you.

Tailnotes

*clarified for the benefit of crocodiles. Not that I think it will help.

**Unsurprisingly, saving the best for last. Incidentally, 99 % of reptologists agree that alligators > lizards > snakes > amoeba > crocodiles. As for the last 1%, if you are ever so horrifically unfortunate to find one of them, escape quickly. (Even if you’re a mammal—it’s not worth finding out if it can spread across species). Say whatever you need to. “I need to sharpen my claws (fingernails)” or “my scales (skin) require polishing.”

***Crocodile sympathizers may dispute that snakes are more worthy of the reptilian name than crocodiles. And we can speculate about the psychological disorders that might prod them to do so. But the fact remains that snakes can eat hippos (not for the squeamish). And, furthermore, snakes have their own baseball team, with which I am not familiar, and dominate a city with which I am.

****Assuming they’ll have you. Don’t hold your breath.

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Dec 28 2007

Conversation of the Day: Dec. 28 (Mike-Catastrophe Part 1)

Setup: Catastrophe is a statistician that has been transformed by a mutagen into something uncannily similar to a character on a hit cartoon show, Hegemon (“Gotta kill ‘em all!”) Mike heads the Office of Special Investigations’ efforts to conceal extraterrestrial life and mistakenly believes Catastrophe is an alien.

Mike: Hello.

Catastrophe: I’m reading.

Mike: This’ll only take a second.

Catastrophe: Time’s up.

Mike: …

Mike: Let’s say five minutes.

Catastrophe: That’s 30000% of your original request. Is talking with you really more important than the club rankings?

Mike: And considerably less likely to get you pushed down the stairs.

(This is part of a four part series). After 6:00 PM on 12/29, you can read part 2 here.

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Dec 21 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 21

Evil-Corp Publishing Presents: So You Want to be a Supervillain!

1. If you ever capture your opponents, kill them immediately. If possible, execute them yourself—leave nothing to chance. “But how will my most hated enemies see my glorious schemes come to fruition?” They won’t—they’ll be dead. That’s the point. Have their descendants serve as slaves and/or witnesses to your undying greatness.

2.  As attractive as doomsday devices are, they don’t provide a very credible threat. Would you really destroy the world you live on? Even the UN will laugh at you rather than recognize the magnificence of your doomsday device. For a nominal fee, however, you can buy EvilCorp’s InstaWorld Kit*. Then the only question is this: would you rather have a billion dollars or the chance to get rid of the UN?

3. Villainous devices will work only once. You will only be able to shrink/zap/body-swap with a cabbage/etc. to a hero once. Any subsequent attempt to use the device will end in disaster. If the hero survives the first use, switch to conventional weaponry and ready your escape pods.

4. If any minion suggests any plan that involves monkeys—simian minions, devolution rays, etc.—shoot him immediately. If possible, feed him to real minions, like sharks or animated trash compactors. On the list of most mind-boggingly inept supervillain schemes, “monkey business” ranks right around invading the US with Amazons and killer bees.

*Life not included.

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Dec 09 2007

Quote of the Day: Dec. 9

Agent Orange: Contrary to popular belief, the New York Times is not actually the most anti-American news outlet. CSPAN is far more dangerous, and not just because it is more accurate than the average comic book. You couldn’t design anti-American propaganda more effective than around-the-clock Congressional coverage.

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Dec 08 2007

Quote of the Day

“You don’t change the world by whispering.” — NY Governor Eliot Spitzer

“Only a New Yorker could think that volume can change the world.”– Jacob Mallow

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Dec 07 2007

Quote of the Day

I reject the cynical view that politics is a dirty business.”– Richard Nixon

Sorry, I can’t think of any way to make that any funnier.

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Nov 28 2007

The truth about “superheroes”

The International Society of Supervillains has the dirt on “superheroes” that are really tools. Reed Richards, Namor and Superman take the cake.

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Nov 21 2007

Quote of the Day: Wednesday

Bartender: New Hegemon movie’s coming out.

Catastrophe: I heard.

Bartender: …

Bartender: How much do they pay you to wear that?

Catastrophe: Not enough.

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Nov 18 2007

Quote of the Day

Jacob Mallow: I’ve finally perfected the concoction. It will–

Paingod: No.

Jacob Mallow: What?

Paingod: I don’t want to know what it does, how it does it, or your vast and no doubt eminently disruptable deployment strategy. Telling me can only guarantee that your plan does not come to fruition.

Jacob: What? How would that matter?

Paingod: …

Paingod: You’re new here, aren’t you?

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Nov 15 2007

A moment that will live in comic book infamy

Pass me down the shark repellent, Robin!”

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Nov 13 2007

Quote of the Day: Tuesday (Nov. 13)

Agent Black: The quintessential yes-or-no question of our times is not “do you want to win the war on terror?”  There are actually two: “do you feel safe in New York City?” and “Should you?”

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Nov 09 2007

Only a Bumbling Person Can Stop a Supervillain

A supervillain is easily identifiable because power is sexy.  That’s why we always get the best women (no one really wants to date a mild-mannered reporter or an inept freelance-photographer).  But superheroes are also easy to identify if you know what to look for: the bumbling factor.  The more bumbling someone is, the more superpowers he’s waiting to unleash. For example, the last time my henchmen attempted to break into a presidential convention, they got absolutely shellacked by Tucker Carlson. If you have ever wondered whether someone that looks that bumbling could only get on TV because he was really a superhero, you’re not alone.

Tucker Carlson, Superhero

There’s really no way to know how many of my plots have been spoiled by Carlson and Alan Colmes, but I’d feel pretty confident saying that they’re the main barrier between me and global domination.

Hannity/Colmes

I’d give you two guesses whether it’s Hannity or Colmes that’s the bane of supercriminals everywhere. Remember, people that look bumbling are dangerous. And anyone that looks as bumbling as Colmes can strangle your best assassins with his mind.  Interestingly, Sean Hannity is also a superhero, but any supervillain that fears a conservative diversity hero should reconsider his line of work.

Way to keep a secret identity, dumbass

Unsurprisingly, the talk radio guy doesn’t know how important it is to keep his appearance secret.

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Nov 09 2007

Quote of the Day: Friday

The Refrigerator of DOOM

Doctor Savant: “Before we open my refrigerator, you better take this.”

Lash: “What the hell, a flame thrower?”

Doctor Savant: “Just in case.”

Lash: “Just in case of what?

Doctor Savant: “Exactly.”

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Oct 24 2007

Pun Explanations

Hello.  A few of my readers asked me about the chapter titles.  Did I mean ____ as a pun on ____? The answer is probably yes.  I’ll go through a few…

Gotta Kill ‘Em All! is a dark play on Pokemon’s slogan, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”  The popular children’s cartoon series, Hegemon, plays a prominent role in this chapter.  A related pun…  in politics, a hegemon is a completely dominant nation.  Since the end of the Cold War, “the hegemon” has always referred to the United States.  After all, what story about superheroes could be complete without a superpower?

How Many F’s are there in Katastrofy? (Win a Pulitzer in 20 Minutes a Day!) is a play on the latest Superman movie, where a supposedly Pulitzer-calibre journalist (Lois Lane) wonders how many F’s are in “catastrophe.”  Katastrophy is the name of the Hegemon that’s clearly based on Mewtwo (he’s in the header).  For reasons that I will hopefully be able to reveal by the end of 2007, the real-world incarnation of said character decides to go by “Catastrophe” because you’d have to be a complete idiot to spell it “Katastrofy.”

National Catastrophe is a phrase.  In a book that already has a character named Catastrophe and Nation in the title, how could I resist?

Dr.  Berkeley’s name is actually a reference to George Berkeley, an 18th century philosopher who claimed that anything we perceive is necessarily real.  (Mirages and The Matrix are both perceivable things that probably aren’t real).  The more obvious Berkeley association features a certain university in California, but that wasn’t my main objective.

What Do We Do About Berkeley? This time the reference actually IS to the university.  Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) had been advised by his gubernatorial staff not to hit on the counterculture of UC-Berkeley.  Reagan responded: “Look, I don’t care if I’m [campaigning] in the mountains, the desert, the biggest cities of this state, the first question [I get is]: ‘What are you going to do about Berkeley?’ And each time the question itself would get applause.”  I amended the phrase to “What do we do…”  rather than “What are you going to do…”  because the title is already a bit long.

Forget Who’s Watching the Watch-Man…  Don’t Leave Yourself Alone with Him is a play on the phrase “but who watches the watchman,” and of course the comic book series The Watchmen, but most prominently Syler from Heroes.  You definitely wouldn’t want to find yourself alone with THAT watch-man.

The Empire State Strikes Back is an obvious play on Star Wars…  not too tricky.

Gods and Supermen at Yale is a reference to God and Man at Yale, conservative William Buckley’s seminal work on the relationship between faith and scholarship.  In the context of Superhero Nation, the “Gods” are researchers…  well, I shouldn’t spoil a chapter I haven’t written, right?

The Crisis of Infinite OSIs is a play on DC Comic’s seminal series, The Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Really, really devoted students of US government might know there is a separate Office of Special Investigations within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Air Force, and the legislative Government Accountability Office.

It Takes a Child to Raze a Village  the original is liberal Hillary Clinton’s quote, “it takes a village to raise a child.”  I can’t say any more without hopelessly spoiling the chapter.  Suffice it to say that I hope you won’t miss Greenwich.  (Heh.  A red herring, I assure you).

The First Draft of History is a reference to the quote that “journalism is the first draft of history.” 

Hegemonic Instability Theory.  Maybe you’ve heard of “hegemonic stability theory,” the theory that particularly strong nations contribute to world peace.  Well, mental instability appears to be more relevant to the plot (and creation) of this novel, so I thought that was more appropriate.   It’s also a play on the Hegemon angle, if you’ve been paying attention.   (Additionally, Orson Scott Card wrote a book called “Shadow of the Hegemon,” which  I might turn into something like “Shadowing the Hegemon”)

The Last Oorah.  Oorah” is a Marine concept…  hell, a way of life! Its origin probably derives from “heard, understood and acknowledged” (HUA), a general expression of enthusiasm (ahem…  anything and everything but no“).  At one point, I had the chapter called The Last Huah because I wasn’t sure whether the character that dies is a Marine or an [Army] soldier.

The pun is that there’s a novel called The Last Hurrah, which is also a stage in Star Fox 64.  (Wow, I am such a nerd).

A few of the chapters (Agents of Change, Agents of Destruction, etc.) play on the double meaning of “agent” as a federal employee (IRS agent, OSI agent) and a causative factor.  The Free Agent plays on a sports-term for someone who currently has no employer.

Yep, that’s most of it.  I should add– well, it should be obvious that– a title that has to be explained is probably not working.  So hopefully titles like A Free Agent or What Are We Going to do about Berkeley? work even if the reader isn’t familiar with the inside joke.  If they don’t, then the author has needlessly alienated a lot of his readers.  I think the titles would be effective even if the reader didn’t know.

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Sep 25 2007

Novel Writing Strategies: Keeping Readers Interested

Outline

  • Summary of past novel-writing problems
  • Solutions to improve reader longevity
  • Improving chapter length
  • Marketing!  Marketing!  Marketing!

This is mostly aimed at anyone trying to write a novel, particularly an online novel, but Superhero Nation fans might be interested to see what my writing process is like.

Problems

  • My first chapter attracted readers but didn’t keep them. 
  • Of the first 100 readers that started reading, 30 lasted over half a minute and 15 spent enough time that I could reasonably assume they finished the chapter. 
  • None started reading the second chapter. 

Diagnoses

  • My short-term retention was a problem.  70% of the readers decided right off the bat that the novel didn’t work for them.
    • The novel’s opening was not working
  • Medium-term retention was pleasantly high.  Half of the readers that read past the first few paragraphs made it through 9000 words.
    • The middle was considerably better-written than the beginning
  • Long-term retention was zero.  15 readers read 9000 words, but none started the second chapter.
    • The first chapter was incredibly long, 30 double-spaced pages.  Readers that finished that lacked the time/energy to proceed.     

Fixing the Introduction

It’s hard to describe how bad my first five pages were.  But I’ll give you the first 75 words, along with parenthetical comments from a dangerously perceptive reviewer. 

Courtney had problems. 

One.  His name was Courtney.   He hated it but knowing  that he vastly outsmarted the gigglers comforted him.  (This opening does not grab me. Who are these gigglers?)

Two.  He was an ex-superhero, the once and present Lash, the best nonpowered hero New York had never heard of.   He had showed Gigas, the head of the Social Justice League, up when a supervillain struck.  Gigas had him fired and, more humiliatingly, violated the first rule of superheroics by x-raying Lash’s face. (Very un-superhero like) But they couldn’t take his name.  (do you even need this?)

It would take me hours to fully explain why the first 5 pages were so bad, but let me summarize. 

  • Melodramatic
  • Anticipation problems.  A good opening makes readers think “Sweet Jesus, I want to see where this is going.”  This opening probably makes people wonder whether the story would interest them.  (Who’s Courtney?  Why should we care about people laughing at his name?)
  • Passive narration (‘telling’ a story rather than ‘showing’ it).  High on backstory, short on action.
  • There’s no scene.  
  • Hard to understand (maybe not these first few paragraphs, but certainly the rest of the five pages). 

It took me three months to turn my deservedly savage reviews into a rewrite.  You can see the rewritten chapter here, but I’ll analyze the first two paragraphs. 

[start] The tree was critical.  The blueprints for the Governor’s mansion clearly showed that the tree’s branches came intriguingly close to a second-floor window.  It was less obvious that the window led to the room of a servant scheduled to work during tonight’s fundraiser.  Most importantly, the Governor’s security detail only sent a guard past the tree every forty-five seconds, plus or minus fifteen.  The superhero had spent an hour counting.  Lash had estimated that the leap through the open window would be four feet.  He could do that.  Maybe.  Being an unpowered hero was always interesting. 

Lash lay behind the courtyard fountain as the hapless guard wandered past the tree again, his heels clicking against the cobble-stone path.  The beam of the guard’s flashlight soon faded around the near corner.  Forty-five seconds. [end]

The most obvious change is that this is a scene: a character attempts to break into the Governor’s mansion.  After the first three sentences, he seems like he’s a criminal, probably an assassin.  Then I off-handedly refer to him as “the superhero,” even before we know his name or what he looks like.  A traditional individual-focused story would probably start with the character and then describe the mission, but I start with the mission and hardly describe the character at all, besides how physically inept and meticulous he is. 

Up to the word “superhero,” this could very well be a police procedural or a Mission Impossible-style spyfest.  Then the story gets ridiculous, particularly in “…four feet.  He could do that.  Maybe.”  My first opening was melodramatic, but I think this comes off as comically melodramatic and patently ridiculous.  (Four feet?  The ‘superhero’ can’t jump four feet?) 

I think that my readers have been cued to expect a somewhat strange story about superheroes.  (In case that weren’t obvious enough, Lash’s main weapon in the first chapter is a fire extinguisher).  I think that reader anticipation has shifted much more to “I’d like to see where this is going” from “this sounds boring.”

Is my new opening effective?
I’m inclined to say yes.  Remember, before I had…

  • 100 readers started chapter 1
  • 30 made it past thirty seconds
  • 15 made it to the end of chapter 1
  • 0 started chapter 2

I rewrote my opening two weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve had…

  • 37 readers started chapter 1
  • ?? readers finished chapter 1
  • 10 readers started chapter 2 (so I’d assume that at least 10 readers survived to the end of chapter 1).
  • 9 readers started chapter 3
  • 64 readers started chapter 4 (I bet you’re asking what the hell!?! I’ll explain this in just a second). 

These numbers are drastically better.  My first-to-second chapter conversion rate is more than 25% and the people that start the second chapter appear to be dedicated readers.  My survey sample is pretty small (only over the last two weeks), but it seems that the first three chapters are generally successful enough that this story might be publishable.  But publishing is a distant concern and right now I’d like to worry about 1) posting the best chapters I can write to the website and 2) getting as many readers as possible to those chapters.

Advertising

Remember that 64 readers started chapter 4?  That probably seemed pretty weird, given that only 9 readers started chapter 3.  My brother linked to my site in a discussion on sympathetic villains at The Volokh Conspiracy.  Since then, ~55 Volokh Conspirators have started chapter 4.  So even a comment can generate a significant amount of traffic.  I suspect that a link from, say, one of the writers at Volokh would generate enough traffic to be commercially significant.  But TVC is mainly a legal blog; I can’t imagine why it would be disproportionately loaded with comic book fans. 

I suspect that my demographics will be better represented at Daily Kos or Little Green Footballs link.  Speaking of LGF, it actually inspired the conservative-lizard and liberal-frog demographics of Superhero Nation. 

Chapter-Length

The original version of my first chapter—the terrible version—was 9000 words long (30 pages).  9000 words is a hell of a commitment, probably several hours.  Who wants to spend several hours at a single site? 

I’ve since split up the first 9000 words into 3 chapters, but chapter 3 is still ridiculously long.  I have to cut it down more.  (Everybody Dies is also too long).

One thing I’ve learned is that chapter length really matters. Shorter chapters—no more than 2000 words—work much better. Each chapter’s end is an opportunity to leave your reader on a cliffhanger and make him feel that he’s accomplished something.  Each chapter’s start is a chance to rehook your reader or at least give him a chance to recuperate and return. Additionally, each chapter allows you to subtly shift the focus of the reader’s attention and focus by using a new chapter title.

I’ve mentioned before that chapter titles are really important to selling a novel. They’re also important for the reading experience. You can use the title to create a sense of anticipation, foreboding or establish the mood. Right now, the chapter titles I’m going with are:

  1. Life, Death and the Manhattan Mangler [~1000 words]
  2. The Empire State Strikes Back [~1500]
  3. The Best Investigator in the World [~7000 words]
  4. Everybody Dies [~8000 words]
    • Unless I also want my readers to die, I should probably break this up into many chapters.  Possible chapter titles include “The Human Condition,” “Only Human,” “Grim Prognosis,” “Reach for the Skyline,” and “Two Girls for Every Guy.”
  5. The Human Resources Promise [~1500 words]
  6. Stockbroker to the Slaughter [~2000 words]


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