Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We Need a New Universe!

I would like to take a detour from discussing my favorite classic comics for a moment to post some ideas that have been rattling around in my brain about what the comic book medium needs if it is to continue to be entertaining and commercially viable. In five words: we need a new universe!

OK, I admit that I’m not that hip to what is currently going on in the Marvel and DCU’s, but my overall impression is that things are convoluted, confusing, self-referential and quite jaded. Both companies have so much baggage after decades of creative work that it seems no amount of "Crises" or "Secret Wars" can quite make sense of their respective messes.

I hear these complaints everywhere in the comic blogosphere, and it seems to me that the solution is obvious: build a new comic universe from scratch. This is exactly what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did back in the 1960’s, as a much-needed reaction to the stale and stultifying state of DC’s line of comics, and look at the way they revolutionized the medium! Why can’t we do something similar today by starting fresh with a brand new line of comics — perhaps one that is published entirely on-line — and really take advantage of the power of the internet in the process? I know there are thousands of talented artists and writers out there who would love a place to publish their work; could "open source" comics be the wave of the future?

We could call this new publisher “Cosmic Comics” or “Singularity Comics” or something similarly appropriate to the universe I have in mind. I have a large and growing Word document full of ideas for this new universe, and I’ll go ahead and throw out a few here in hopes of stimulating some discussion.

Some Ideas for the “Cosmic Comics” Universe:

A general emphasis on cosmic, mythic and science fictional themes in the spirit of great cosmic Marvel characters like Galactus, Silver Surfer and Thor.

De-emphasis on costumed superheros (gasp!). OK, this is controversial and might be commercial suicide, but I just think the mask-and-tights wearing hero has been done to death, and really needs to be given a rest. Most of my favorite characters have never worn silly costumes (Silver Surfer, Hulk, Swamp Thing, Conan, Deathlok, Ka-Zar, Shang-Chi, etc.), EC comics were brilliant without men in tights, so I don’t see them as necessary for great comics.

Robots! Robots! Robots! I would like to see stories that explore the problems of super-intelligent machines and how they will lead to "singularities" (aka "robot apocalypses") on Earth and throughout the universe. What role can human heroes play in a universe increasingly dominated by superhumanly intelligent machines? Perhaps an elite corps of "robot fighters" or "Butlerian jihadists" already exists to combat the machines as they spread outward from "the Core" via "singularity waves" across the universe, and also to preempt singularities on worlds that are approaching superhuman AI technology (such as Earth).

Cosmic, spacefaring heroes in the vein of Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, Starhawk, Dawnstar, etc. If we must have costumed heroes, these are the kinds I would find most interesting.

The Gardeners: god-like cosmic beings who create, maintain and destroy life throughout the universe.

Sowers (they seed worlds with life)
Cultivators (they monitor, maintain and modify life as it evolves)
Harvesters (they harvest life forms of interest for various uses)
Reapers (they destroy threatening life forms)

The Transhumans: cybernetically and genetically enhanced humans created by corporate-military interests to serve as living weapons. After going rogue, they are persecuted by their former employers and by various fundamentalist groups who consider them an unholy abomination. Obvious influences here are Deathlok, William Gibson, the X-Men and Jason Bourne.

Godwave Zero: a flux of energy that sweeps over the earth, mutating all life and giving birth to super-powered humans. I'm mainly thinking of enhanced mental powers — telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, super-intelligence, etc. — not super-strong green guys!

Master of Kung Fu in Space:

A "cosmic Shang-Chi" from an interstellar order of fighting monks (somewhat like the Jedi knights?) wanders the galaxy fighting injustice, perhaps hounded by the evil mastermind who trained him (think Fu Manchu/Darth Vader). A galactic empire modeled after feudal Japan?

Perhaps there are two schools, the "Shaolin", or peaceful fighting monks, and the "Ninja", a cult of assassins who serve the Emperor. The Emperor often tries to destroy the Shaolin, resulting in the ongoing "Shaolin-Ninja Wars". (Note that Shaolin and Ninja are just placeholder names to give you the general idea).

The above scenario would take place in a "Singularity-free" region of the universe, where intelligent machines are strictly forbidden and the inhabitants have instead developed the powers of their minds and bodies to superhuman levels (a la Dune).

"Savage Eaarth": adventures in a post-apocalyptic future "Eaarth" in which rising oceans have flooded the cities, civilization has largely collapsed, climate change and runaway biotech have thrown the environment into chaos, and scientists who control technology have the status of wizards. Engineered life forms and formerly extinct animals such as dinosaurs and mammoths terrorize the wild lands, and outposts of the former American, European and Asian empires struggle to survive in remote areas of the world like sub-Saharan Africa that have returned to barbarism following the great Resource Wars that ended industrial civilization. An anything goes adventure series in the spirit of Tarzan, Conan, Kamandi and Thundarr, but with an edgy "doomer" realism.

"Fifth World": a different take on apocalypse, set in the world after 2012, when the reptilian Annunaki have returned to enslave humanity. New pyramid-shaped temples rise above the ruins of the "Fourth World" as symbols of the new order, while heroic bands of humans struggle to liberate the world from the yoke of the shape-shifters. The cataclysms of December 21st, 2012 not only laid waste to the old world, but they brought forth new mystical/psychic abilities in humans, empowering a a wide variety of superheros. "Fifth World" would combine elements of Chariots of the Gods, Planet of the Apes, Killraven, The Eternals, Graham Hancock and David Icke to create a rich environment for science fantasy adventure.

Well those are a few of my ideas, none of them terribly original, but hopefully there’s something here of interest to comic book fans. Let me know what you think of my ideas for a new "Cosmic Comics" universe, and help me brainstorm further!
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