The Last Skull, Book 1 Complete!

With the completion of the Nemesis arc, the first book of The Last Skull (concerning secret origins, time-travel, and teenage superheroism!) is now finished. You can see it here. I've also written an additional 'secondary' bit, called 12 Seconds--part of the story told from Mulligan's perspective (one of the characters in the story who's power is described as the ability to be 'precisely at the right place, at precisely the right time). It's mildly spoilerish (it explains how Mulligan's power works, and his relationship with Paladin--which is only implied in the main story), but it's also just a standalone piece.

I have one major complaint :P that you have to sign into something to leave comments, and I never remember to do that so I haven't commented on the story on the site directly.

I like it -- the gritty narrative and the mistakes Sue makes in battle are awesome -- she comes through on guts alone, more than skill or talent, which is brave and makes sense for a rookie.

I am ambivalent about the broader superhero universe she inhabits -- Epoch and Sovereign and the rest seem as super-super powered as a lot of DC and Marvel Comics guys with convoluted histories and such, whereas the Skull is almost realistic. I liked the broader universe because it was your own version of like the Justice League or the Avengers, etc., and I got the sense of decades of stories -- it just seemed incongruent with the realism in Sue's narrative until that point.

So I liked all of it, but I didn't know how much I liked her inhabiting that world when the first bit was her own world without the broader scope, does that make sense? Like I like pizza and I like pierogies, but pierogie pizza seemed weird until I ate it and it was awesome. I'm not sure if I've digested this yet.

I really liked Mulligan. I find it funny (given our recent efforts at collaboration) that JZ also has a Paladin and I've had one in my sketchpad since fifth grade, and I have a Brick as well. Some names just seem too good not to use -- but that's why there's alternate dimensions, right?

All in all, great work and I look forward to more.

I'm worried that if I open up comments to anonymous users, I'll get spam. I *hate* moderating spam. I'm not familiar with Wordpress' anti-spam measures, though; if they're fairly effective, I'd have no issue at all with removing the requirement to log in for comments.

The in-congruency between Sue's world and the rest of the superhero world is something I've been giving a lot of thought to--have you ever seen the original Batman animated series? And then watched the Justice League animated series, which features Batman? You have that same sudden incongruency--in Batman's standalone series, the stories were gritty and humanistic--a hard-boiled Greek tragedy about the foibles of criminals and the ridiculously dressed specter who hunted them. Almost every episode took place at night--the whole thing felt like some sort of grim spectacle.

Then, flash forward to JLA: Suddenly, Batman's punching space aliens and fighting in an alternate dimension alongside a brilliant cacophony of brightly colored superheroes, many of which can set you on fire with their mind. The retro-30s hard-boiled look disappears; Batman's now got electro-gauntlets and a satellite station that houses an orbital death-beam. But still, throughout it all, Batman remains the same: A ridiculously dressed specter who hunts crime and scares the crap out of everyone around him.

This is what I want to capture. I might fail miserably, but I do have a plan. The first book was meant to escalate pretty fast--Sue goes from streets to Epoch to meeting the Sovereign, this world's parallel of Superman. Time-travel, boomerangs, ice-beams, and other assorted nonsense suddenly crowd in only a few arcs after she was beating the snot out of meth-dealers.

The next book (writing the arcs now, ahead of time) is going to go back down to the streets--away from the high-end DC styled stuff and back to the gritty noir roots. The plan is that now that I've shown the reader the boundaries of this world, I'm going to ratchet back to where we started and move Sue up through it--slowly, step by step, up until the next year (when things will finally come to a head). Like Batman in the original series, she's going to have to establish herself as a capable, dangerous specter before she gets to punch aliens in the face. She's going to have to earn her place in the universe--on the streets.

I'm not sure how it will work or what the end result will be. And I understand if it feels a little... contradictory.

Also, I think I might have mentioned it in the comment thread for 12 Seconds, but my one big regret with Mulligan is that I can't do a stand-alone series with him because that gimmick would get really old really fast.

Oh no worries. Dude, I grew up with comics thanks to my dad -- he had every issue of X-men since its start in 1963. He hated DC comics but that made them interesting to me so I kept tabs on Batman, the JLA and the rest. Superman has been my favourite character since I was 2 years old. I totally know the historical background for what you're doing and the same contradictory impulse bothers me in Batman -- I love his realism in things like Batman: Year One, and feel uncomfortable seeing him in the midst of intergalactic battle. He's still Batman and I still like him, I just feel like he's out of his environment, like seeing an exotic fish in somebody's backyard pool or a poodle in the jungle.

I think it's great that you constructed a whole universe, and I'm glad Sue is going to be sticking in her smaller corner of it for awhile. I think Mulligan would be fun in short stories but yeah, it would be hard to write a series around that. I just thought his power was clever, reminds me of a lot of sci-fi I've read, and kind of like Groundhog Day a little.

I'm sorry, I was sleepy last night and just flew off on a rant about my thoughts as soon as I got a chance.

On a related note, one of the things I am really interested in doing (especially if this crossover works out well) is trying to encourage others to create their own stories in this setting (or create connections to other people's settings). The idea of collaborative story-telling really intrigues me.

I've had similar thoughts about my own serial (and other stories). I imagine this can happen in any genre, but science fiction and fantasy seem especially prone to it (with superheroes bridging the gap between the two).

I tend not to phrase it as being out of place (like Batman in an intergalactic battle), as much as outside of their primary relationships. With relationships playing a big role in defining the character, you can easily lose what connected readers (and hey, the writer) to the character in the first place.

It's easy to start with a character that has connections with people in their local area which probably includes their parents, family and friends, but as soon as you have the character get into the big things that going on in the universe, you probably don't have relationships with the same intensity involved.

A good (non-comic) example is the book "Beggars in Spain" by Nancy Kress. Kress is one of my favorite authors, and I loved the first half of the book as it appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. It was about people who were genetically engineered to not need sleep and how it affected their relationships with their families and friends. The second half of the book moved into space and how the change affected society, and interested me much less. I didn't even read the next two books (it was part of a trilogy).

I think it's possible to keep a lot of the realistic feel if the relationships in one part of the narrative are relevant to the other. The TV show Babylon 5, for example, managed to keep a realistic feel even though they ended up killing an emperor and kicking godlike beings out of the galaxy. Also, however, key character relationships grew, changed, but stayed relevant to the story, throughout the whole thing.

As for Mulligan... I think a long term story from his perspective might work if you mostly didn't go through the alternate versions in any great detail except on special occasions.

The universe of the Skull and the Rocket could easily be the same -- there are so many teams running around in both that a crossover would be easy. I don't know about Glimmer Girl and Zephyr but I think it's a similar situation. Honestly, the only reason the crossover really needed to be alternate dimensions is that I'm a jerk and Diggory and Dahlia's world is "realistic" outside of his specific time-travel storyline, and not super-hero based. The Samaritan Project is also self-contained, their unique relationship with the government is key to the story, so other supers couldn't also be running around.

You guys could easily have a back and forth thing afterwards, kind of like Spiderman hanging out with the Human Torch, but they meet a couple characters during the crossover like when Superman fought Hulk during the DC vs Marvel storyline. Those two universes are separate while one on its own is self-contained.

This project is sounding very intriguing! Do post here when it starts....

@Jim Zoetewey: That's an interesting way to put it, and something I think I'm going to try and keep in mind as I proceed. Strongly establishing Sue's relationship with Anna, Sumerset, Epoch--and later on, the next character, Red--will probably help prevent the narrative from detaching from the ground and floating off into conceptual sci-fi la-la land. As for Mulligan, I've actually been talking with a few people about this very recently--I might try to tell stories specifically from Epoch's point of view, and indulge in Mulligan when it's relevant (and interesting).

@Gavin Williams: Regrettably, I doubt that would work out; I've already defined a number of things that vary from the Legion of Nothing's universe. 'Capes' are registered by law with the government--they receive protection, anonymity, training, equipment, salaried pay--even merchandising deals. In exchange, they're basically a super-powered police force, with all that implies. Legion of Nothing's universe seems to rely more on ad hoc vigilantism; things have gotten to the point where superheroes are too powerful for anyone to stop them. It feels much more like DC--where the Justice League is an institution apart from the government, but often working with them. In my setting, the Justice League /works/ for the government. There are other big differences too--point is, they're definitely separate universes. I'm also definitely interested in establishing connections between those universes, though.

(All of the above comes with a big note that my assessment could be totally wrong and based on a severe misunderstanding of how Jim's universe works)

@Fiona Gregory: I think we might end up submitting it as an additional webfiction blog--give it its own entry--depending on what the others think.

@Fiona: You can feel confident that it will be promoted not only here, but also in the blogs/stories of all those involved.

@Robert: I don't ever specifically describe how the system works, but you've got it basically right. Where the universes are similar is that they've got a lot of superhero teams out there. Where they're different is that the government's mostly given up on controlling them through the law. It's more interested in containing the damage, and cultivating good will among the powered community.