Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Written by Bruce Brown and Dwight L MacPherson
Art by Thomas Boatwright
As I mentioned in last week’s What Are You Reading? (where I incorrectly referred to it as Howard Lovecraft and the Ice Kingdom), I didn’t care for Bruce Brown and Renzo Podesta’s Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. I liked Podesta’s art for the most part, but some of his choices bothered me. Like, when a character sees a city of ice for the first time and marvels at how glorious and beautiful it is, maybe the audience should be able to see it too instead of just taking the character’s word for it. The greater problem though was that it was that it was too clunky about the way it tried to balance Lovecraftian horror with a kids comics sensibility.
There were some cool, creepy moments, but they were ruined by simplistic characterization and actions that just didn’t feel real. That’s most clearly illustrated in the scene where young Howard Lovecraft meets C’thulhu for the first time. I’m not a Lovecraft scholar (hell, I’m barely even a fan), but I know that the elder gods are supposed to be huge and terrifying; that just looking at them drives people insane. But when Howard meets this monster, he runs away and beats the Deep One by stopping short at a cliff so that the pursuing Wile E. C’thulhu flies right over. Howard then saves the repentant beast and names him “Spot,” a nickname the elder god gratefully accepts from his new master. The whole scene struck me as ridiculous and I wasn’t sure how anyone could salvage Frozen Kingdom to make a better second volume. But Brown (with the help of new co-writer Dwight MacPherson) does.
Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom picks up where Frozen Kingdom leaves off in the story, but the tone is all different. This is a flawed comparison, but I kept thinking of Edward Gorey as I read it. Frozen Kingdom tried to be all-ages by throwing in things for both adults and kids, but failed because it was too easy to draw circles around its parts and say, “This is for kids” and “This is for grownups.” Undersea’s approach is the kind that Neil Gaiman’s always advocating for: that it’s okay to tell a story for children and make it good and scary. Kids will recognize themselves in Howard Lovecraft and think it’s pretty cool that he has a monster for a friend (Howard doesn’t treat him like a puppy in Undersea), a humorously loony dad (who was genuinely disturbing in the first book), and a dauntlessly resourceful cop as a mentor (a new and very welcome character). There’s also a pretty awesome cat. And while readers are enjoying all that, they’re encouraged to be good and creeped out by the world.
Welcome once again to What Are You Reading? This week our special guest contributor is comics writer Dwight L. MacPherson, who you might know from Sidewise, currently running on Zuda; the pirate story Dead Men Tell No Tales; or Kid Houdini and The Silver-Dollar Misfits, among other works.
To see what Dwight and the rest of the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click on the link …
Last month saw the launch of Sidewise, the Zuda Comics series by writer Dwight L. MacPherson and artist Igor Noronha. Now that the series has been running for a few weeks, I email interviewed MacPherson to learn why he set out “to create a smart, engaging, action-packed historical fiction story that will appeal to readers of all ages… and still be cool”. The story is described at its Zuda site as: “Teen genius Adam Graham borrows his parents’ time device to visit 1902 London, only to find himself in an alternate dystopian past. As a member of Nikola Tesla’s band of young freedom fighters known as SteampunX, Adam must wage a war against a myriad of deadly steam-powered robots, mad scientists and a nefarious state police controlled by Queen Victoria’s preserved brain to free the oppressed nation, crown a new monarch and return to his world in time for a final exam.” Be sure to visit the Zuda site every Thursday for new installments of the webcomic.
Tim O’Shea: For folks that don’t know steampunk, two-fold question, could you provide a brief description and what it is about the genre that appeals to you?
Dwight L. MacPherson: Certainly. Steampunk fiction is a sub-genre of science-fiction and fantasy. Stories generally take place during Victorian times (hence the “steam”) and contain fictional technological advancements (such as steam-powered robots, laser rays, battle dirigibles, etc.) or technology that was created at a much later date (such as the computer). Because of the inclusion of futuristic technology, alternate history is also a large part of most steampunk fiction. The works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are prime examples of steampunk fiction, as are the novels “The Anubis Gates” by Tim Powers and “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and the classic television show “The Wild, Wild West.”
Everything about the steampunk sub-genre appeals to me: the romanticized time period, Victorian sensibilities, futuristic gadgetry, magic and alternate histories. I became a fan of Wells and Verne as a child, so I guess you could say that I also find it nostalgic.
O’Shea: The story has alternate versions of historically recognized figures such as Tesla and HG Wells. Is Ms. Hopping inspired partially by any historical figures in particular?
MacPherson: Every member of Tesla’s team (there are members we haven’t met yet) has a name with a historical or mythical connotation that is–or should be–important to the British people. With a bit of research, I’m certain readers can learn some very cool historical facts about England as well as learning a bit about British mythology.