Tag: superheroes

From the Vault: Everything Old Is New Again

A post from last year: updated to reflect the fact that my memories of both Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness have soured considerably.


Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

Flash Fiction: Dust’s Cape

Courtesy jessicapeppler's Flickr

One of the titles generated by the Random Story Title Generator for this Terribleminds challenge inspired the following.


The people passing by on the street probably saw her as one of Boston’s countless bohemian young people. Between the purple in her hair and the rings in her lip, it was an easy mistake to make, and one she on which she relied. What was the point, after all, of maintaining a secret identity if people picked you out of a crowd on sight alone?

The Copley Plaza loomed over her. Her friend on the force dropped hints that Chavetti and his crew were meeting there. More than once in sessions at the social worker’s office that was practically her second home, the names came up. Chavetti. Charlie B. Big Mike. Dice. The same police friend had also indicated that they were here for a reason: meeting some big overseas honcho. Apparently, the FBI would be watching the hotel.

The thought made the sushi in her stomach flail in anxiety. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d walked through plenty of hotel lobbies before. If she walked with intent and didn’t look around nervously, nobody’d look twice. Even the gym bag wouldn’t seem out of place. She took a deep breath, crossed the street, and walked through the hotel doors.

Chavetti likes the suite on 6, her detective friend had said. He likes the view.

She didn’t pause or hesitate at all as she moved through the lobby. It was only once she was in the elevator that she caught her breath, and told herself to calm down. Once she pressed the button for 6, she dropped her gym bag, pulled it open, and removed the cape from within. It was long enough to cover her from her shoulders to her ankles, and the hood easily covered her entire head. As she swept it over her shoulders, she felt the sensation wash over her, like fine grains of sand were running down her entire body. It was not unpleasant, but it still unnerved her every time.

The cape was a curio, something that had been tucked away in her grandfather’s attic for years before she found it. Neither of her grandparents could provide an explanation as to what it was or where it had come from: her grandmother lost a battle with Alzheimer’s years ago, and her grandfather was very serious about the secrets he kept. Still, as the inscrutable magic of the cape swept over her street clothes, transforming them into the tough but flexible fabric that hugged her curves and protected her, she had to wonder where her grandfather had acquired it, and if he knew its true nature.

The elevator doors opened, and Dust stepped into the hallway. Discovering the cape had been eclipsed by discovering its powers, which had happened over several nights when she’d visited her grandfather with her parents after her grandmother’s funeral. Upon donning the cape for the first time, as it changed her clothes, she heard the voices of every mourning victim in her office. Social work wasn’t easy, and she’d always told herself that just listening made a difference. With the cape on, however, she always felt like she could do more than just listen. She could act. She could do what others could not. Touch those the law found untouchable. Bring justice where it was sorely needed.

So what if the cops called her a vigilante?

Dust approached the suite quietly. When she arrived at the door, she leaned towards it without touching it, her ear towards the wood. The doors were very thick, but she could make out several men laughing. Stepping back, she lifted the hood over her head, and focused her attention on the cape, and the arcane symbols stitched into its inner surface. She pulled the cape close around her, and in the next heartbeat, she felt herself dissolving into fine grains in the carpet. To a passer-by, she might have resembled a pile of brown sugar or sand. She was still capable of motion, however, and she slid under the door into the suite.

She couldn’t see so much as perceive the people in the room. There were at least six of them, possibly as many as eight. She had to assume they were all armed. She slid through the carpet towards what she hoped was the window, and willed herself to begin taking her normal shape. As she did, and her hearing came back, she heard the air conditioning turn on. This was good; any bit of wind could be helpful for her cause. When her eyesight was restored, she fixed her gaze on the short, slick, douchey face of Chavetti.

“I think you’ve made enough families mourn, Chavetti.”

Charlie B and Dice went for their guns. She waited for the last possible moment before she released her form again, moving with the wind as she felt bullets passing harmlessly through the dust she left in her wake as she moved. Dust stung the eyes of the gangsters and they began to fire wildly. She passed between them, moving as fast as she could, and when they started screaming in pain, she found herself smiling. She kept moving in her semi-dust state until the screaming either stopped or lessened to pained moans, and she stood before Chavetti, who was cowering behind a couch.

“You… you know who you just…”

“No. I don’t. Look at my face. Do I look like I care?”

Chavetti raised a hand. “Please…”

“Like all those families who begged you? You’ve had this coming.”

She went granular again, this time falling into Chavetti’s mouth and nose. The sensation was odd, but she mentally bore down and kept the gangster under her until he choked on her dust. Then, pulling herself free, she left the room the same way she entered, leaving the doorknob and lock untouched.

Outside, with her bag over her shoulder and tea in hand, she watched the police cars and ambulance speed in. She waited until they wheeled out the body bags, then walked away.

Everything Old Is New Again

Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

It’s why I can’t bring myself to full-on hate or even mildly dislike the new Star Trek films. The settings and characters I and many others grew up with are being taken in a new direction. The storytelling stumbles here and there, and I’m not quite convinced that that Abrams and his crew can, in fact, give us something entirely new out of these old and familiar trappings, but I am cautiously optimistic. In fact, if I were to put Into Darkness and Man of Steel side by side, I’d say that Abrams and company are doing more right by the Starfleet folks than the current bunch at the helm of the DC film universe are doing in terms of breathing new life into their given amphitheater. At least Into Darkness didn’t rehash any of its narrative within the film and infused its characters with humanity and charm within the writing, rather than relying on the actors to do that stuff.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

Flash Fiction: The Red Hood

Courtesy Wikipedia

For Chuck’s flash fiction challenge, Fairy Tale Upgrade.


Grandmother’s house was deep in the forest on the edge of a lake. At her top speed, it took the Red Hood less than a minute to fly there from the city. She did a circuit around the lake, peering into the trees. She didn’t have any sort of enhanced vision or anything, but she suspected the Devourer was not above laying a trap for her. The Woodsman wasn’t in the habit of warning Megawatt of forest trouble unless it was serious.

Before helping her friends, though, she had to know her grandmother was safe. Taking a deep breath, she landed by the front door and turned the handle. Away from the windows and tucked into a corner was a modest bed, occupied by an old woman.

“Grandma?”

“Who’s there?” The voice shook, feeble and quiet. “Come closer, I need to see who it is.”

Red stepped into the cabin and closed the door, removing her mask and drawing her hood back. “It’s me, Grandma. It’s your Babs.”

“Babs… Babs? Where have you been?”

Suspicion crawled around, restless, in the back of her mind. Her grandmother’s body was brittle, but her mind had been sharper than this. She took another look at the woman in the bed.

“Grandma… your eyes…”

She remembered them being a dark brown that had begun to lighten with her advanced years, not the dull red that gazed at her. Without warning, arms of impossible length reached out, one hand grabbing her wrist while the other snapped to her neck. As she struggled, the visage of the old woman melted away. The Devourer’s true form was amorphous, not subscribing to any anatomy known to man. The appendages holding her became dark tentacles. Her free hand grabbed the one around her neck.

“Please, do struggle more. The more of energy you expend, the more delicious you will be when I overwhelm you.”

She grimaced. Its grip threatened to sap her strength entirely. Her mind raced, attempting to understand why she couldn’t beat this thing, when she could single-handedly demolish high-rises and carry armored cars over her shoulder like a sack of laundry. They were powers she’d had ever since…

The memory washed over Barbara unbidden. She remembered her father, missing an arm and bracing himself against the door to her bedroom, shouting at her to get under the bed. The thing that now gripped her appeared in the hallway and her father raised the shotgun against his shoulder. The weapon roared and something wet and warm hit her face. Everything after that was screams and horror.

More tentacles emerged as the Devourer expanded to its true dimensions, crushing the bed beneath its bulk. A circular maw filled with rows of serrated teeth opened in the midst of its many red eyes. It hissed, a wholly inhuman sound, and its breath stank.

If her father could wound the thing with some buckshot, why couldn’t she beat it herself? Tentacles were wrapping around her ankles. Any moment, it would lift her into the air and swallow her.

She closed her eyes. She reached into her mind, to the first time she thwarted a robbery, the battles she’d had alongside Megawatt and the Woodsman, the way it had felt to do good with her gifts. They were emotions and motivations entirely her own, untouched by the Devourer’s influence. She held onto those feelings, nurtured them, like the embers of a fire ready to roar into life.

“You cannot resist.”

Her eyes opened. “Yes, I can. And I will.”

She pulled her right arm back, planted her feet, gripped its slimy tentacles in both of her hands, and swung with her hips as hard as she could.

The mass of the Devourer slammed into the wall of the cabin. Years of weather and the tender mercies of the forest had weakened it, and the wood collapsed. Timbers fell and broke around Barbara as she summoned all the strength she could and aimed for the sky.

For a spine-chilling moment she went nowhere. The Devourer’s maw was inches away. She kept her eyes on the clouds above her head, willing herself to close the distance. Moment by moment, inch by inch, she climbed. The Devourer lashed at her with its many appendages, but her struggles kept it from dragging her any closer. Gravity had a hold on it, while she was still capable of flight.

Red Hood pulled her arms closer to her body as she flew ever higher. She planted her feet on the Devourer and glared down at it.

“Why Grandma?”

“An appetizer. I will take back what you stole from me.”

“Maybe. Provided you can fly, as I can.”

With that, she grabbed hold of its tentacles and pulled while pushing as hard as possible with her legs. Inhuman tearing sounds filled the sky. Tentacles snapped free.

“You utter bitch.” The words were a hiss, not the scream she expected. Somehow, it still terrified her even when she had the advantage.

“I am what you made me.”

Unable to maintain its grip, the Devourer plummeted. She watched it fall. It took a few seconds for the black, writhing mass to hit the ground. With a scream, she followed it, crossing the distance in the blink of an eye, hitting it with the force of a speeding train. She pounded it until it stopped moving. For a moment, there was quiet, broken only by Barbara’s rapid breathing. A form approached through the dust and she whirled, ready to strike.

“Easy,” said a deep, male voice. “It’s me, Red.”

She exhaled. The Woodsman stood by her, leaning on his axe. In the crater, the black mass hissed and bubbled. The Red Hood sat, looking at what she’d done. She watched the remains of the Devourer until the last bit of its putrid, spitting mass of semi-liquid evaporated, absorbed into the earth. Then the woman a dead family had called ‘Babs’ lowered her head, pulled up her red hood, and started to cry.

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