By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! Comic Book Magic!

8 years ago | ubersoft (Member)

So I finally got to the part of the story in Curveball where our heroes have to deal with magic. I've been looking forward to this part of the arc for a while. I finally introduced it in Issue 12, wound up devoting an awful lot of ink to it in Issue 13, and now in Issue 14 there's actual worldbuilding around it. (Still need to put up Part Four. "November" issue. Sigh.)

What's interesting is that in all my planning I didn't anticipate how it might fundamentally change the story.

I was inspired to figure out how magic fit in my world from The Legion of Nothing -- the scene where Nick runs into Vengeance while they're trying to deal with the Mayor. It's one of my favorite earlier scenes because Nick is the classic Science Guy and here was this thing that was Very Much Not Science but it was there and he mostly rolled with it (I'm operating from memory now, it's been a while since I read the first arc). It was a very Marvelesque thing, with Doctor Strange and Iron Man saying "hey" (only Vengeance is more like "Warlock Punisher," but... well, I'm getting sidetracked). And it worked perfectly. "Hey, look, this is part the world too, no wonder most citizens have given up trying to sort it all out."

LoN is probably the serial that did more to convince me to start writing Curveball, and I thought a lot about stuff Jim was doing that I liked, and how I would want it to feel different from what he was doing -- that's right, Jim, you're one of my unsung muses ;-). And one of the things I wanted to do was make magic very different--more chthonic (or if I'm going to stick with genre types, more like magic as it was shown in the Vertigo line when it was mostly separate from the main DC line). So I worked out how that fit, mostly, and tucked it away, and wrote issues 1-11 with (I'm pretty sure) absolutely no mention of magic anywhere whatsoever, until all of a sudden in issue 12 it stepped up and kicked CB in the jellies, hard.

So far, so good. Except that I'm working through Year Two now and I'm a bit concerned that the choices I'd planned out so carefully are in danger of taking over the rest of the story. :) I hadn't intended to write The Call of Chthulhu, Son of Krypton Edition, but the story effect of keeping it hidden for as long as it has and then bringing it out may be that it just draws more attention than the other stuff I want to introduce.

The great advantage of the way Marvel does it is that it puts everything on the same level, essentially. Magic and technology and mutation are all powers first, and while the storylines may be different depending on the source of powers, and the specific "get out of jail" cards the protagonists deploy to resolve their situations may be different, you can put them all on the same world because they scale relatively easily. I wanted my magic to be very alien to the world, and as a result it may have to take over the show for a while, unless I can figure out how to mitigate it.

Ah well. Unintended consequences are one of the joys of writing.

Curveball (Updating)
A Rake by Starlight (Updating)

Read responses...


  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I remember reading an interview by the authors of the Whateley Canon (transgender superhero fiction). Their canon is sort of a kitchen sink thing. Pretty much everything you could think of is part of this world, as far as superheroes, superhero related stuff, and non-superhero related stuff. Western myth, Eastern myth, Magical Girls (a la sailor moon), superman-alikes, militant heroes, sponsorships, science fiction, comedy and tragedy.

    In the interview, one author said that there are certain elements that, once added to a setting, take over that setting. Mythos (in the Lovecraftian sense) is the one they were referring to. Once you introduce the being so impossibly vast and horrible that it obviates virtually every defense, so strong that it can defeat any foe in the established weight classes, it naturally starts to bleed over into all of the other parts of the story. To not let that vast-and-horrible being cast a shadow over every other element of the setting just creates a kind of dissonance. It's not something you can put back in the box, and even when it is in the box, it's impossible to ignore it even then, because there's always the shadow of a doubt - every quiet moment thereafter, you have to wonder if they'll appear again.

    On a level, I experienced that with Worm, both in terms of the vast-and-horrible and in terms of another setting element - multiple realities.

    The monster is out of the box. I suspect you have to learn to live with it.

  2. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Yeah. Monster is out of the box, AND I got it wet, AND I fed it after midnight, AND I just dated myself, right there.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  3. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Marvel does it well in other ways. Remember, they've dealt with that kind of stuff before, particularly in terms of the more cosmic storylines. Galactus, the Beyonder, the Collector, Thanos, the Nova Corps., Annihilation, the Technarchy running rampant, War of the Kings, and that invasion from a universe where Death was killed and everything lives forever. Massive stories dealing with entities on a vastly more powerful scale than Earth heroes, including an undying universe of Cthulhu-inspired beings that slew Death.

    And one of the great heroes to deal with this is...a talking raccoon.

    I think one of the appeals to comics is that they've thrown so much into the mix. It exists, sometimes people know about it, but it's hard to be frightened of Dracula or Cthulhu when you've got the Hulk around. You might think of it as harnessing that supposed dissonance to also help show how strong the rest of the world is. You know, boost up your heroes' reps with it or something (I haven't read yours). Like if a giant 9-fingered orange claw reached out from a hole in the universe from another dimension and New Yorkers were too busy giving it the finger to be scared.

    Because the dominating part, if it's not planned, can be a problem. I've seen it before. The Ultimate Warrior. Hulk Hogan. The nWo. Hogan, Bischoff, and the old nWo guys in TNA. Such a dissonance can be harmful to enjoyment.

  4. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Ubersoft: In some ways it sounds like you gave magic more thought than I did.

    My approach could basically be summarized as follows: Because I tend to go a little overboard in worldbuilding, I deliberately decided that I would set in things my own version of a standard comic book universe. That means that in my opinion certain things must be included--mutants, aliens, magic, the various ages of comics, gods, demons, and so on.

    When it came to the specifics of magic, my two criteria were 1) make sure it's not like the Dresden Files because I don't want to copy it and 2) make sure it's not like the magic system in the homebrewed "wizards in the modern world" RPG that I ran a few campaigns in.

    As for the "introduce such and so a story element and it will dominate your story" problem, I'm pretty much doomed. I've introduced everything including "cthonic" elements in the form of Lee and his people (though they owe a considerable amount to Roger Zelazny's Amber series, Jack Kirby's New Gods, and a bit from Gaiman's Sandman). Still, they're pretty much unstoppable by the main characters. I'm likely to handle that by having them not appear very much--hopefully by limiting their appearance to Lee.

    That said, the fact that I know more about them than has appeared so far likely means I won't hold to that.

    Plus, then there's parallel worlds. That's been hugely important in the most recent storyline. Hopefully it won't get more so.

    All that said, speaking as a reader of Curveball, it doesn't feel to me like magic is taking over. It feels like an additional complication in the way of finding out what's going on with Liberty's death, and the conspiracy surrounding Tri-Health.

  5. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I love the way it came out of left field and kicked his ass. Its honestly teh best handling of magic ive seen in a serial set in our world.

  6. casanders (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    When I started writing the novel version of Watchmage, I had to seriously nerf the magic system. It was just too powerful, and when the protagonist is too powerful, it's hard to give him an antagonist that can match him.

    I think that's why it's so hard to write Superman comics, and why everyone villain has easy access to kryptonite (it seems)

    The Watchmage of Old New York. At Jukepop Serials
  7. AGreyWorld (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    That's why I've always hated superman. Though now I think about it, almost all main characters have plot armour. At least with superman it's laid out clear at the beginning.

    Other than the boring cyptonite, the best way to write a superman character is not to abuse his body, but his humanity. Superman has to have his sweetheart stolen from him...

  8. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Don't forget the other major weakness of Superman: magic.

    AGreyWorld, I've had a story like that. Featured a super strong, invincible character who had the ability via something he could drink (or inject when in human form) to turn back into his normal-looking human (as opposed to being a 10 foot tall, ultra-muscular, blue and orange man with wings).

    The villain had no powers but was good with chemistry. Hence the hero getting knocked out, then waking up in a basement somewhere flooded with poison, superglued into a copy of the villain's costume with the villain announcing over a speaker that the police were on their way.

    Something to remember is that every character has a weakness. Superman-style heroes may seem boring, but there are always ways to exploit the weaknesses for combat and for drama.

  9. George M. Frost (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    That's interesting. I'm usually worried about the exact opposite problem--having the main character not be strong enough to actually win/survive a fight with the bad guys.

    To my mind, it doesn't really matter how strong protagonists seem on paper. It only matters how strong they are in relation to the ones they're fighting. Also, I would count super intellect as quite a strong power.

    The Zombie Knight Saga -- undead superheroics
  10. casanders (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    @Agreyworld: there is an unfortunate trend in comics known as "women in refrigerators syndrome." To assault a hero's humanity, the villain does something terrible to his significant other. It's very effective as a plot device, but there are also connotations that I am not comfortable with.

    My favorite character weakness is the Hulk's. To beat him, you have to calm him down enough for Bruce Banner to take over. It's the opposite of every other comic, using pacifism for victory.

    The Watchmage of Old New York. At Jukepop Serials
  11. AGreyWorld (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Casanders, yeah. One reason I don't like superhero stuff so much is the powers are almost always too powerful and it almost *always* ends up like that and, inevitably, predictable. Also, by nature of the heterosexual and predominantly male leads - of course it's always a girl.

    Damsel in distress, it's the same throughout the history of storytelling- Actually, ancient mythology is usually quite good at avoiding the trope (but I'm not particularly knowledgeable on the subject)


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