Inspire the Hero

It’s a pretty popular trope for heroes, human and super alike, to inspire the people they protect.

In my humble opinion, this was done best (and most visibly) in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Literally, Batman’s mission statement was to strike fear into Gotham’s criminals and show the people that anyone could be a hero. He wanted to spur the people to action to save their city. In The Dark Knight Rises, it comes full circle and literally Gotham’s people have to fight alongside Batman against Bane’s army. While TDKR isn’t the film that The Dark Knight is, it’s a powerful closing sequence.

I always get a rush when Batman flies the bomb over the building and that kid shouts: “It’s Batman!”

Fuckin’ Batman. What a world, right?

But I started wondering about the reverse; what does Batman get from the people of Gotham? He tells Lt. Gordon not to thank him (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). And it’s clear that he takes on the mantle as a duty, a commitment. He does it for the people of Gotham. He needs them to thrive.

Set Batman aside for a moment and consider the question more broadly. What does a hero get from the people he protects?

I think we’re accustomed to the notion that our heroes are selfless and do what they do out of duty or innate goodness. In Peter Parker’s case, it’s both, right? Peter was a good kid and his Uncle Ben instilled in him the duty to use his power for just purpose (With great power comes great responsibility).

The X-Men are especially selfless. Not only do they sacrifice their lives in service of others, but they also suffer terrible prejudice over their mutant abilities. All they get from people is hate and mistrust.

Quick aside, though: Why are the X-Men persecuted and the Fantastic Four lauded? They exist in the same universe, but for some reason the F4 are like rock stars and well-respected while poor Professor Xavier and Co. are suffering through mutant registrations and military attacks… Anyway…

I’m driving at a point, I promise. I’m working on a follow-up to my first book, Titan, and I’m playing with the question of “What does the hero derive from the people he protects?” No spoilers, but for my character it’s two-fold: 1. He draws confidence and resolve from knowing the people are behind him, and 2. There may be practical benefits from the support of “the people.”

I feel like all fiction and story on heroes revolves around the idea of people gaining strength from the hero, but not vice versa. If I’m wrong, please tell me, I’d like to read some examples. But I wanted to explore this in the development of my character, Eric Steele/Titan, and his path to becoming a superhero. The first book is an origin story and explores the themes of responsibility, secrets, and choice in the development of good and evil.  I’ve always thought about Titan as the Breaking Bad of superhero stories because, much like the evolution of Walter White from Mr. Blue Chips to Scarface, I didn’t want Eric Steele to just be Titan after a convenient montage of superheroic hi jinks. I wanted to show how a person, with dreams and aspirations and fears and issues already, reacts to obtaining superhuman abilities and inheriting crushing responsibility. In my mind, that’s not just a finger snap. That would take a while.

But now that I’ve told the origin story and my character has his powers, I want to explore this theme of how the hero draws upon the people he saves as much as the people he saves draw upon him. Eric Steele is still not a veteran superhero–not even close–but I think his evolution needs to touch upon this concept. Frankly, I think the only way he can ever become a fully fledged superhero is to learn what his role is in the world and how he needs the people around him, friends, family, and the unwitting public alike.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of TitanCatch up with the first one if you haven’t read it yet.

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Grow Up

Growing Up

Remember when you were a kid and you dreamed about what you were going to be when you grew up? I think about that often. This isn’t what I dreamed about. But I don’t really remember what I thought would happen. The only clear memory I have is that I wanted to be an Oceanographer like Matt Hooper from Jaws.
It’s perfect. My dreams then were based entirely in fiction like they are now.

I never dreamed about writing as a little kid.

I used to write stories and read them to my parents. When I was in 6th grade, I wrote a story about my teacher being a serial killer. She liked it so much she read it to the class. It felt great hearing everyone respond to the story. I wrote more.

I’m still chasing that feeling. I’ll figure out what I’ll be when I grow up when I catch it.

Harold Ramis

Egon cuts loose.
When I was a kid, I cannot remember how many times I watched Ghostbusters. Some good friends at work commented recently that their kids watched some movies over and over again. If I remember correctly, the movies were Madagascar and Wreck It Ralph. For me, that was Ghostbusters (and Jaws, if am being honest). I watched it again and again and again. I’m surprised that my VHS never burned out. Ghostbusters is one of those movies that I will watch to the end no matter at what point I find it playing on some cable channel.

Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spangler could almost go unnoticed in Ghostbusters. In fact, when I was a kid, he did. Bill Murray soaks up all of the attention, Dan Akroyd bats clean-up, and Sigorney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and William Atherton scramble to take what’s left. Ramis’s portrayal of Egon is so dry and subdued that to a 5 or 6-year-old kid, I barely knew he was there. I knew he was weird and he was the smart guy, but nothing much registered. In fact, on the Full Screen version of the movie (no black bars at the top and bottom for the uninitiated) Egon is cut out of the walk and talk with the hotel manager of the Sedgewick—he’s too far over on the left.

Bill Murray gets all of the praise for Ghostbusters and rightfully so. He is charismatic and off-putting all at once. In some ways, he speaks for the audience—because he hasn’t really been paying attention (or caring, really) Murray’s Dr. Venkman is almost a passive character in a movie where he’s the star. And, at the end, when finally Dr. Venkman is invested and he says, “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown.” The audience rallies behind him.

As I grew up, though, I started noticing Egon more and more. The bit where Peter gives him the chocolate bar (“You…you’ve earned it.”) and the look on Egon’s face is priceless. His exchange with Janine where she’s clearly coming onto him and he is so focused on setting up the computer that he can barely be bothered to speak with her is only funnier each time I watch it. Akroyd and Ramis wrote the script and they gave Egon the most ludicrous things to say:

“Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

Venkman: “Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head. Remember that?”
Egon: “That would have worked if you hadn’t stopped me.”

Venkman: “You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client – the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog…”
Egon: “Not necessarily. There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.”

And my favorite is actually from Ghostbusters II:

“Psychomagnatheric. Negative human emotions are materializing into a viscous psychoreactive plasm with explosive supernormal potential.”

Oh, psychomagnatheric, right. I give the man credit for learning and memorizing the line. I mean, I have, but I’ve watched the movie 500 times.

Harold Ramis breathed life into this character. It’s an old cliché now to say “There are no small parts, just small actors.” Harold Ramis was never the star. Probably the closest he came was in Stripes. But no one ever said, “Hey, let’s go down to see that Harold Ramis movie.” He didn’t need to be the star. He played every role with dry, off-color humor and humanity. Even Egon, for as strange as he is, has humanity. I always remember his very small part in Knocked Up as Seth Rogen’s dad; he’s on screen for maybe 5 minutes total, but he brings such gravitas.

Arguably, Harold Ramis was a bigger director than actor. Lest we forget: he directed Caddyshack. Name a funnier movie, I dare you.

He also directed National Lampoon’s Vacation. He also directed Groundhog Day, which while not my favorite is a cult hit. Hell, he directed several very funny episodes of The Office (Example: the one where Michael decides to teach the office about depression by fake committing suicide by jumping onto a trampoline from the roof. After testing this, he decides a moon bounce is a better idea. This also features the Dwight “Un-shun/Re-shun” scenes with Andy).

Movies have been a big part of my life. So much of my childhood was spent watching movies. Harold Ramis was a big part of that. He figures into the formative years of my psyche. Creepy, right? I remember Ghostbusters so fondly because a.) it’s an amazing movie, and b.) its universe was a funny, terrifying, and exciting place. Caddyshack only gets funnier on repeat viewings.

Death is a strange thing. I’ve been thinking lately about how if there isn’t a God what happens to us when we die. If that’s the case, hopefully we’re remembered by our friends and our family. Maybe if we achieved something big, we’ll be in history books. Or maybe we could make three decades’ worth of iconic movies and characters and generations of people the world over will remember us. I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, I think Harold Ramis left a mark.

I’d be happy if even a small fraction of the people who Harold Ramis’s movies had an impact on remembered me as I’m sure he’ll be remembered.

Another favorite?

Egon: “I’d like to perform gynecological tests on the mother.”
Venkman: “Who wouldn’t?”

The punch line wasn’t his, but the setup was just as funny.

What Inspires You?

What gives you ideas?

I don’t care who you are; every single person expresses creativity. Some paint, some cook, some renovate their house; hell, some decorate Pinterest boards. I write. I don’t care what you do. It can be anything, but what inspires you to do it?

I’m inspired by everything I see. Stephen King works like that or at least he says he does. In his autobiography On Writing, King talked about how his inspiration for the book Desperation came from riding across the country on a motorcycle and seeing a lonely desert town with no one in it. He started to wonder, “What if a police officer went crazy and killed everyone in town?” Desperation was about more than that simple concept, but that was the nugget. That’s where it began. There is a hotel just like The Overlook, which inspired The Shining.

I’m an unapologetic fan of TV and movies. To a fault even. Unfortunately, I sometimes watch TV and movies at the expense of my writing. I’m getting better. Leave me alone. Anyway, I got the “nugget” for Titan from Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘s villain “T-1000,” a robot made of “liquid metal.” T-1000 could look like anyone he touched and make weapons with his limbs.

I thought it would be cool if a good guy had those abilities. Titan was always a person, not a robot, but the robot/technology origin remained a part of my thinking for awhile. In fact, originally, Titan’s suit was made of nanobots that could also hack computers and take control of technology. Over time, that morphed into a mishmash of liquid metal that lived in his bones and eventually became less specifically metal, but elements and ores. The end result: Titan’s suit is made up of the same material that existed at the moment of The Big Bang and “unique elemental properties” yet to be fully revealed. In fact, Titan’s suit doesn’t really even work like liquid metal — it behaves like fine fabric threads that come from his pores and interweave around him.

But in the end, all of that detail and thinking came from me wanting a superhero that could be bulletproof and make his own swords, knives, or whatever. A rich mythology about where the character comes from, who he is, what are the threats he faces is still coming together even now. But other influences have guided me towards thinking about the Endgame. In other words, I know how Titan ends in broad strokes.

Sometimes a song on the radio will get the wheels turning. I imagine what sequence might play out with the song playing. It’s like a movie running in my head. I listen to music when I write. More often than not I listen to movie and TV scores. I also listen to this music when I drive home from work. It helps me decompress. More than anything, thoughts run through my head about characters, situations, and even snippets of dialogue.

Sometimes it’s just an image or a picture. I drive to work early in the morning. The sunrise sky is brilliant. I’m most inspired when it casts red ribbons across the morning clouds. The other morning the cloud front was a tall, silver wall with the sun scratching at the top to be seen. I think about my characters looking up and seeing that horizon. I wonder what they’re doing. What they’re thinking about. What are they feeling?

What inspires YOU?