The Best Jedi Master Ever?

Qui-Gon? What? He got pwned the first time he fought a Sith, which his apprentice famously cut in half. How could Qui-Gon be the best Jedi master ever? He was a terrible Jedi. I hear you, but here’s my reasoning, my explanation.

It’s quite simple really.

Qui-Gon is the only master who’s pupil didn’t turn out to be a huge failure.

Yoda’s apprentice, Count Dooku, turned to the dark side and lead the Separatists against the Republic. Although Yoda partially made up for this in training Luke Skywalker, but he didn’t do that alone; Obi-Wan started Luke down the path.

But Obi-Wan’s actual apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, destroyed the Jedi Order! So Obi-Wan isn’t in the running for best master, though he does get the mantle of best Jedi (though Luke may be changing that in the recent movies, but both of them beat Anakin’s black-clad buttocks, so no points for Luke beating Vader).

And Luke Skywalker’s apprentice, “Emo” Ren, preferred his grandfather’s methods and slaughtered Luke’s new Jedi Order.

Just going off the movies (which I loathe to do because the EU –– I’m coming around to the term “Legends” –– is my favorite part of Star Wars), the only successful Jedi master we see is Qui-Gon Jinn, whose apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, didn’t fall to the dark side, didn’t slaughter younglings, and didn’t disobey the Jedi Code. He was a real Jedi’s Jedi.

But Obi-Wan is no perfect master, because of the aforementioned failure of his apprentice (but then…he never wanted to train Anakin, and only did so because it was Qui-Gon’s last wish, so maybe Obi-Wan could have been the best master and the best Jedi).

That’s why Qui-Gon Jinn, who’s a terrible Jedi, is actually a great master. I guess those who can’t do teach.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Second Letter From Kausao City

For those of you who aren’t caught up, I recently received a letter from Kausao City’s governor’s office describing how the Kausao City Post Office is being used to contact rebel sympathizers outside of the hegemony. After more than a week of searching for information regarding the seized letters mentioned in that correspondence, I received another letter.

Here it is:

 


Jianghu Sympathizer,

I’ll refrain from using names for mutual protection. In fact, it may be too dangerous to contact you at all. I hope our desperation has not compromised you.

Jonica…A contact in the Four Winds Trading Company has alerted us to a plot to kill the Kaiyumi crown princess during her first visit to Kausao City, and frame a prominent Jianghu society in the process. We already have a tough time convincing recruits that we’re a legitimate rebellion – we’re losing the propaganda war. If the princess, a known critic of the Council of Nine, were to fall, seemingly by our hand, the Jianghu may be too discredited to carry on.

One of our number – again, no names – has informed us that you have contacts within the Empire. It is our hope that you can impress upon them how dangerous it is to allow the FWTC to remain sovereign outside of the Empire. The treaty that created the Kausao City hegemony dictates the corporation can only be regulated by the Aerish government.

We have already sent word to the princess, and are praying to Ehal that it arrives before her retinue departs. If you can lean on your government and keep the FWTC too busy to become embroiled in such distant plots, you could save a lot of lives.

With gratitude,

The Swift Songbird Society


 

I’m not sure who they think I know, or how one voice could make a difference, but I’ll do my best. Though picket signs outside the Capitol might be too much.

Then again, I do know someone who applied for a government job last year, an assistant to some middle manager somewhere. I wonder if he got the job. I’ll check.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to post here and keep a record of my findings. And, again, here’s the original letter – for your files.

The Jianghu rebellion is the centerpiece of the Jadepunk roleplaying game.

The Strength of the Comic Mini-Series

With the dozens upon dozens of ongoing monthly comic book titles that have been canceled in recent years, it’s a wonder why the Big 2 still pursue that as a business model for new titles (old titles have the staying power of time behind them, so they’re exempt from this rant).

Here’s my trouble with releasing an ongoing series before the market has been primed: it’s hype. Period. They want to hype something that’s going to “last forever, so get on it in issue #1.” It’s BS.

I get wanting to release a new title to expand your listing on Comixology (or bookstore shelves…if those still exist by the time you read this). But this practice demonstrates short-term thinking on the part of the executives and creative directors. “Get the numbers up this quarter, we’ll worry about next year when it comes around. Besides, we’ve got 14 big crossover events ready to launch between now and then, anyway. Ka-ching!

N0w, you know me. I don’t like to complain about a problem unless I can provide a solution. Fortunately, I come from an era (the 90’s) that saw a fairly stable Big 2, while many other companies struggled to maintain ongoing titles beyond their flagships (like the Big 2 right now).

Embrace the Mini-Series

Remember those 3-9 issue story arcs that used to be used to test the viability of a new line? They’re still around, but the lines they produce don’t seem to have any staying power.

Here are a few titles that did it right.

The merc before he got the mouth. #1 of 4.

The ragin’ cajun. #1 of 4.

Fathom: Dawn of War. #1 of 4.

That last one is of special note. Anyone remember Fathom when it first released?

Fathom. #1 of 9.

At the time, it felt like Fathom broke the mold. A new series, from the late and great Michael Turner, that was never meant to be an ongoing series.

In fact, all of these were marketed as a limited series. You know what they all share? Damn compelling stories! Did they sell super well? I honestly have no idea. But that’s shallow thinking. Here’s why.

They Created Loyalty

There’s a saying in marketing that it’s better to go deep (long-term thinking) than wide (short-term thinking). The difference is in how you treat your customer. Deep thinking engages with them one-on-one (or as close to it as possible), recognizing that they (not your Wizard Mag. or Facebook CPM ads) are the ones who will grow your brand by talking about it. Wide thinking is the “get a billion people to see your Twitter post” marketing scams. Without the deep connection, the people looking are not going to convert long-term, they just want to see the immediate spectacle – and have been given no personal reason to stick around.

Here’s what those mini-series did:

Gambit

When Marvel saw that Gambit was a hit with fans, this solidified their loyalty within the X-verse. People (like me) tuned into X-comics that heavily featured Gambit. But, he wasn’t as big a hit as Wolverine, and thus didn’t deserve an ongoing title. But his mini-series scratched an itch with fans (brand loyalty) and helped enrich and already slammin’ ongoing title (X-Men, Vol. 2).

Some people today fail to see Gambits appeal. But, let’s be honest, most of his more recent mini-series are pretty terrible in comparison to him taking on the Assassin’s Guild in New Orleans. (Maybe some of the new generation should look a little further back on Comixology to learn why Gambit is so beloved by so many. YMMV, though, as all of this is subjective.)

Deadpool

Personally, I credit Deadpool’s current popularity all the way back to this title. Before this title, he was a token ninja with a healing factor. He also wasn’t anywhere near as insane as he’s portrayed now. He was someone who couldn’t die, and so looked at life as something to laugh at. (I like both versions, really, but it’s important to note where he came from.)

After this mini-series, we started seeing more and more Deadpool in our comics, but it was still some time before he got his own ongoing title. But in that decade or so between, Marvel was building incredible brand loyalty for the character, starting with this mini-series.

The Fathom Lines

The first Fathom series (1-9) established a comic line, with multiple spin-offs, that is still going strong to this day (often in mini-series format). Hell, this one is potentially the best of the bunch because it launched an entire comics imprint (Aspen Comics), named for the main character of the Fathom comic.

And that brand allowed a truly incredible 4-part mini-series, Fathom: Dawn of War, to become a deserved hit. It’s my belief that Dawn of War wouldn’t have achieved the reception that it did if it wasn’t for Fathom‘s success. And Kiara, the star of Dawn of War, has gone on to lead multiple titles of her own since that time.

What Do You Think?

Should comics, and comic franchises in general (movies, TV, etc.), start being more responsible with how they market their comics? Should we see an “ongoing” series restart from the same title so many times (how many #1’s has Marvel put out this year)?

In fact, should the TV properties do the same? Agents of SHIELDThe FlashArrow, and Supergirl are all going pretty strong (deserved of the “ongoing” title). But while Daredevil was groundbreaking, the second season was less so – it felt to me like two mini-series (Punisher’s origin and Elektra’s origin; awesome as they were) smashed together. I would have preferred to have them as their own standalone mini-series shows (with Daredevil co-starring). This one is less cut and dry, however, as a movie could be seen as a “mini-series” of a kind, and Netflix is a more complicated animal than comics and appointment TV.

Anyway, I’ve beat this horse enough. What are your thoughts on the matter?

A Smarter Way to Publish RPG Settings

Most of the game design articles this week have centered around making games more accessible for new audiences. In this article, I’d like to touch on a method for 3rd party publishers to attract some of the extant RPG audience that’s out there.

Go All-In with Setting

Let’s face it; most 3rd party published supplements are new settings to be played with a particular system. This was the way I went with Jadepunk: Tales From Kausao City and Shadowcraft: The Glamour War. And I’m here to tell you, I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that designing for Fate Core wasn’t incredible fun, nor lucrative (the Fate audience is great to its creators, in my experience). The problem lies in narrow distribution.

Just like how no one outside of the Mutants and Masterminds community is going to know what Emerald City is, and most people who don’t play Savage Worlds will have anything but a passing awareness of Deadlands, few people outside of the Fate community know what Jadepunk is. And that’s sad because Jadepunk is awesome (seriously, everybody says so).

“What?! Jadepunk is AWESOME!”

So unless you have the clout, and extreme patience, to build a single system from the ground up, I suggest you…

Distribute Widely

There are more systems than players in today’s market, and most players already have their favorite 2-3 systems that see 99% of the play at their tables. That’s a huge barrier to entry right there.

So what’s a fledgling game designer who wants to sell their shiny new game to do?

I suggest you write up your core setting document, sans system and put that out as a sort of “RPG travelogue.” Most RPG players are pretty smart, able to figure out how to make their favorite system play for film or comic book franchises that are out there, so there’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for your setting.

See where I’m going here?

The unique thing that you have to offer in this instance is your setting, so this approach makes sense. By only releasing the setting (at first, see the next section), you are giving your setting mass market access – anyone can try it out, without having to learn new mechanics. (And what if someone’s table loves your setting, but hates the mechanics you attached it to; they won’t give it the time of day.)

Once your setting is released…

Add SOME Systems

“But I want to play with mechanics,” I hear you saying. Well, this is where you get your chance. Once you release your setting, you can poll your buyers (or Kickstarter backers) and ask what systems they like. Then you can get to work on conversion documents targeted at your audience like a smart missile zeroing in on exactly who is most likely to buy it.

Personally, I wouldn’t make these conversion documents very long; 10-40 pages are probably enough for most systems, but it’s really up to you at this point. And the most beautiful part: by making conversion documents for your setting, you’ve opened the door for others to make them for their tables, increasing the value of your setting to the wider market.

After a few years of applying this method, you would hit the most popular systems out there, and your setting (if it’s good) and it’s conversion documents will sell better than if it were attached to a single system.

What Do You Think?

Does this sound like it would work? I’ll tell you, Jadepunk has been out since 2014, and I know many people who would love to give it a try, because of the setting, but who have a distaste for Fate rules. (Even some of the people who have worked on Jadepunk have said they want to convert it to their preferred systems).

To me, if setting is your thing, this is a no-brainer.

Intrepid Stories: Too Close to the Sun

Intrepid City 0:2

TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN
By Ryan M. Danks

The XS–9 rocketed out of Earth’s atmosphere. Propelled by prototype plasma engines, the experimental air/space hybrid plane was the pride of Valiant Industries’ R&D department, which they claim is light years ahead of their competitors.

Colonel Cole Stewart leaned into the cockpit and watched the pilot, Captain Martin, fly.

“You should be strapped in,” Captain ‘Marty,’ as Stewart’s team took to calling him when they boarded, said.

“‘Should,’” Stewart said. “Sounds like a suggestion.”

Marty shook his head, but couldn’t help smiling. “Damned PJs.”

Behind Stewart, in the staging area of the plane, he could hear members of his team telling their new rookie the story of their last operation in Eastern Europe.

“This one guy just wouldn’t go down,” Staff Sergeant Briggs said. “No matter how many rounds I pumped into him, he just kept coming.” Most people would have used their hands to mimic the actions of shooting something, but Briggs pointed his loaded .50 caliber machine gun at the rookie.

The young man’s discomfort was blood in the water for the rest of the team.

“Face was weird, too,” First Lieutenant Lane said. “Pale, with red eyes and big fangs. It was like a friggin horror movie.” She formed her hands in claws and made a menacing face at the rookie, which had a more horrifying effect with Brigg’s machine gun in his face.

The rookie tried to laugh it off. He seemed sure they were joking with him. But everyone else was straight faced. “Serious?” He said.

Stewart’s attention was drawn back to the cockpit by a blinking light on Captain Marty’s touchscreen. “Did something pick us up?”

“Naw,” Marty said. “Nothing can pick us up this high up. That there’s Ground Control reaching out.”

Marty touched the answer button, but it didn’t activate the comms system. He tapped it several times. Nothing. “Stupid geniuses. They make a plane that can drop Paratroopers into an LZ from high orbit, but they can’t get the console to answer phone calls.”

“That’s why I don’t listen to their suggestions to buckle up,” Stewart said, slapping Marty on the shoulder. He stepped back into the staging area, where his Paratroopers were gearing up for the mission ahead.

After breathing on his helmet’s tinted faceplate and wiping off the fog, the rookie leaned back and looked at Briggs. “So, how did you end up stopping him?”

Briggs was too busy connecting his machine gun to his armor’s mechanically-assisted control arm to notice the rookie was talking to him. Lane got his attention for the rookie by smacking Briggs in the chest. “What?” The big man said.

“The ‘vampire,’” the rookie said. “How’d you stop him?”

“Vampire?” Briggs smiled and looked around at the amused faces of in the staging area. “Well, the Colonel killed him,” Briggs said, nodding toward Stewart, who was chambering a round into his sidearm and holstering it in the automatic ejection mechanism in the thigh plating of his armor.

Stewart made the ejector open and close a few times by waving his hand passed it; he still didn’t trust the high-tech gear his superiors forced on his team. Stewart preferred the old parachute and flak jacket rig that never failed him before.

The rookie looked up at Stewart as if to ask how he did it.

Stewart shot Briggs a look of displeasure for getting him involved. “I carved his heart out,” Stewart said. He drew his large carbon fiber knife a few inches out of its sheath, installed in the chest plating of his containment armor, to make his point.

The rookie whistled. “Damn, sir. You’re hardcore.”

Everyone in the room tried to contain their laughter but failed miserably. Everyone but the rookie.

Lane grabbed his shoulder. “Thanks for this,” she said between laughing fits. “Truly. Thank you.”

“Aw, what?! You mean you didn’t–” The rookie got up and moved to the back of the staging area. “You guys suck,” he said as he passed hysterical team members.

The team member the rookie sat down next to offered him a cigarette. He took it, lighting a match on the ‘No Smoking’ sign.

Lane wiped a tear of joy from her face and tossed Stewart an extra magazine for his rifle. “So, Colonel, you finally get hitched, and leave your bride at the altar to go on an OP?”

“I didn’t leave her at the altar,” Stewart said, slapping the magazine and racking his weapon. “The limo just dropped us off at different airports.”

“You afraid married life will suck the adventure of you?” Briggs said, elbowing Stewart in the arm.

Stewart pressed a touchscreen on his forearm to fiddle with his containment armor’s settings –– an excuse to look away. “If I didn’t come, one of you would get eaten by a werewolf or something. Eh, Rook?”

Everyone laughed at the rookie’s expense. He turned a faced the wall.

“I can go on a honeymoon anytime,” Stewart said, placing his weapon in the mechanical holster on his back.

Lane smirked. “I’m sure she felt the same way.”

Stewart was about to respond when Captain Marty called out from the cockpit: “Finally got in touch with Control. They’re calling off the mission.”

“They give a reason?” Stewart asked.

“NASA is reporting some kind of ‘cosmic storm’ headed our way. They’re not sure what it is, but they don’t want to take any chances.”

Briggs looked disappointed. “We came all this way for nothing?”

“Has situation on the ground changed?” Stewart asked.

“Negative,” Marty said. “This seems like a safety procedure for our benefit.”

“Sounds to me like more suggestions,” Stewart said. “We all know what we signed up for; mission first.”

“Hooah!” The team yelled in unison.

Marty shook his head. “I’ll let Control know we aren’t diverting course, then.”

“PJs,” Stewart shouted. “Mount up!”

They all locked their helmets into place, rechecked their gear, and climbed into the jump pods – one for each team member.

Stewart waited until they were in their pods, then locked his helmet into place. He listened to the internal atmosphere regulators pressurize his suit, then checked his oxygen levels; which wouldn’t be a concern while inside the pod – the emergency oxygen was for orbital emergencies.

“Good luck,” Marty called over his shoulder as Stewart climbed into his pod. The Colonel gave him a thumbs up.

“Mic check,” Stewart said, as he tapped buttons in his pod’s touchscreen to set the landing coordinates.

Each team member reported in and called a positive sync to his coordinates.

“We’re good to go, Marty,” Stewart said through the comms. “Open the launch bay doors.”

“Copy that,” Marty’s voice came back through the comms, clear as day.

The bay doors opened, giving the team a good look at Eastern Europe through the windshields on their pods.

“Beautiful,” someone said. Stewart thought it was the rookie. Whether it was or not, the rookie was the one Briggs made fun of for being “sentimental.”

“Want to take a picture to show your mom, Rook?” Lane called out through the comms.

Stewart grinned as he looked to the West. He couldn’t see the United States from where he was, and Intrepid City was quite a bit inland, but he knew his new bride was down there somewhere. They had known each other for a few years, though Stewart never let his team know about her. There was a certain distance he liked to keep with them regarding his personal life. But Angela had insisted on some of his team being part of the bridal party. And he had to admit that he liked it when she took naturally to them as part of his extended family.

“What the hell is that?” Briggs shouted through the comms, breaking Stewart’s reverie. No one could see Briggs pointing, but they didn’t have to. It was obvious what he was pointing at: far above the Earth’s north pole was a blue and purple cloud, half as big as the planet, descending like a hungry monster looking for something to eat.

Stewart was at a loss for words. “I have no idea. Marty?”

The Captain must have been paying attention to his instruments, trying to line up the small launch window over the LZ. From this height, if the team dropped outside of the window, they would end up in a different country altogether. He didn’t respond to Stewart’s question. Instead, Captain Marty shouted “Clear to launch!” over the comms.

“Copy that,” Stewart said. “Leave the space dust phenomena to the scientists. We’ve got a job to do.” He counted down from five, knowing that after he took off, each of his teammates, in order, would launch one second after the previous team member.

“Two. One.” He pressed the ‘Launch’ button and readied himself to take a few Gs as he rocketed down through the atmosphere. But while the ejection rockets screamed to life, his pod’s safety latches malfunctioned. One side released as expected, but the other stayed locked in place, causing his pod to violently turn, slamming into the drop pod next to him. His windshield cracked from the pressure, and red lights reported a systems malfunction.

The team stepped on each other as shouts of panic and concern came through the comms all at once. Stewart was too busy trying to deactivate the pod’s rockets to join the chaotic conversation.

Like the rest of his team, Stewart was trained in emergency procedures during a drop, but when his pod was pointing at the rest of his team, like a missile taking aim, there was a new level of stress added to an already technical situation. 

Stewart’s pod bounced back and forth between the bay door and the pod next to him. By the time he got the rockets shut off, he his pod had wedged between the neighboring pod and the bulkhead of the ship.

“You all right down there?” Captain Marty said.

Stewart craned his neck to get a look into the other pod’s windshield. The pods were at an odd angle, but he could see the rookie’s eyes, wide with fright.

“Oh, sh–?” The rookie said, starting to hyperventilate. Everyone could hear it, now that they had regained their comm discipline.

“Lock it up, Rook!” Stewart yelled through the comms, trying to get the Paratrooper under control before he did something stupid, like eject while they were wedged up against each other.

The rookie, eyes about to bug out of his head, nodded. “Y-yessir.”

Stewart took stock of his situation. The way he was wedged up under the bay door, the rookie still had a clear shot to drop. Maybe if he did it would dislodge both of their pods.

“Alright, Rook. Here’s the plan. You’re going to launch your pod, and–”

“I would caution against that, sir,” Marty said. “I’ve got you pulled up on my sensors, and if he launches, it’ll more than likely tear both your pods apart. And being right under the engines, if you rip into that bay door, you could cause a catastrophic event.”

“Damn,” Stewart said.

“Maybe we should do what Control said and abort mission,” Marty said. “I can have us on the ground in–”

“Negative,” Stewart said. “We’re carrying on with the mission.”

“Want to tell me how that’s possible?”

Stewart looked out over the other pods. His team wasn’t hampered as he and the rookie were. 

“Lane.”

“Yessir,” she called back, a sense of urgency and concern in her voice.

“Restart the launch sequence. Get down there and kick some ass. The rookie will stay here until we get this sorted.”

“You got it, sir,” Lane said.

“You copy that, Rook?” Stewart said, making eye contact with the rookie.

The rookie nodded an affirmative.

“This sounds like a call to abandon you, sir,” Briggs said. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.”

“I’m not dying, Briggs. I’m just stuck. Get your ass down there and complete your mission. That’s an order!”

“On your mark, First Lieutenant,” Briggs said after a brief moment of silence.

Lane restarted the countdown. Stewart and the rookie watched the rest of the team launch, one by one –– a perfect execution.

“They just showed us how it’s done,” Stewart said, trying to keep the rookie talking, so he didn’t think about being stuck. “And how we’re about to do it.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“Colonel,” Marty said. “I’m getting some strong electromagnetic signals from that storm. I think it’s time for us to bug out of here.”

“Hang on a sec,” Stewart said, clicking through his pod’s touchscreen.

“Sir, I need to insist that we follow procedure and head back to base. I can’t close the bay doors, but you could–”

“What did I tell you about procedures, Marty.” Stewart found a ‘Help’ file that showed a digital overlay of how to manually eject a pod from the launch bay. It indicated a lever above the pods. He looked out his windshield and saw that his rockets had melted the switch above his pod, welded it right into the bulkhead, but the rookie’s lever was still intact.

“Sir, I–” Marty began but cut himself off. “Sir, your pod is registering an open hatch. I think you’ve got a breach.”

“It’s not a breach,” Stewart said, as he crawled out of his hatch and into open space, protected by his containment suit, which had oxygen for ten minutes of floating, or five minutes of strenuous work. “I let myself out.”

“What? Why–”

“Here’s the plan,” Stewart interrupted him again, not wanting the Captain to scare the rookie. “I’m going to pull the manual override on the Rook’s pod. The rockets won’t launch, so both pods should come loose nice and easy. Nothing breaks on your pretty ship.”

“And, then you come in the emergency hatch and ride home with me?” Marty said.

“No. I’ll jump in the Rook’s pod. We can share a seat all the way down to the LZ. It’ll be fun. Right, Rook?”

“Um,” the rookie’s uneven voice came back. “I guess?”

“That’s the spirit,” Stewart said, climbing to the end of his pod and transitioning to the other, careful not to lose his grip. He had some zero-G training, but not much.

Marty disengaged the plasma engines. “I’m going to slow our orbit so the pods don’t fly off out of control, but you’d better hurry. I’m getting electromagnetic interference with my comm signal with Control. That storm is going to hit any second.”

Stewart looked out the bay and saw the storm, closer than it was before he tried to launch. “Once we’re loose, you take off immediately. Understood?”

“Copy that.”

Stewart climbed over the rookie’s pod, noticing the young man’s nervousness through the windshield. “No worries, Rook. This is what we trained for.”

“Actually, sir, this is my first Orbital Drop. I trained with parachutes, like most PJs.”

Stewart climbed past the windshield. “An ‘OD’ is like a roller coaster with a really long drop. You’re going to love it.” He got to the manual override and pulled on the handle, which felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. He cursed the designers at Valiant Industries for the umpteenth time.

“Isn’t it a bad omen that they refer to this as ‘ODing?’”

“Probably.” Stewart gave up on pulling the handle. He got it halfway to the ‘Disengage’ label on the bulkhead, but his arms were exhausted.

“What’s going on out there, Colonel?” Marty said, urgency evident in his voice.

Stewart braced himself on the bulkhead and stomped on the override switch. “When I get back to base, I’m kicking someone’s ass for designing this hunk of junk!” A final kick sent the lever home.

The rookie’s pod unlatched and floated away, slightly toward the rear of the ship –– their momentum was slowed, but not stopped. It clumsily brought Stewart’s damaged pod along for the ride.

“Colonel,” Marty said. “We’ve only tested opening pods in space during situations of emergency extraction. Who knows what could happen if you try to shut it again outside of an atmosphere? It may not seal properly. Maybe you should let the Rook bug out, and you can ride back with me.”

“Negative,” Stewart said. “I’m finishing my mission.”

“Dammit, Cole. You’re putting your crew’s life in danger.”

Stewart ignored him, kicking off the ship and floating for a heart-wrenching distance before he was in range to grab onto the rookie’s pod. “You’re clear, Marty. Take off.”

The comms scratched back an incoherent response.

“Marty? Did you copy? I said take off.”

Stewart switched his position on the pod and looked back at the ship. The cosmic storm wasn’t far off, and electricity was arcing off the ship’s hull.

“Marty, do you copy?”

“The fzzzzssh storm fzzzzzsh,” Marty said.

“Colonel?” The rookie said, craning his neck to see the ship through his windshield. “Shouldn’t we–”

He cut himself off as the XS-9 silently exploded, sending debris flying in their direction.

“Oh, crap. Oh, crap.” The rookie was hyperventilating again. That got the Colonel worried, hanging outside of the pod as he was. He switched positions and looked down into the windshield.

“Get it together, Rook. We’re almost through this.”

“I can’t do it, Colonel. I can’t.” He was punching every button he could find. “I’m sorry, but I–” In his panic, the rookie hit the ejection button. The pod’s side panels flew off the pod, sending Stewart tumbling away from the core structure of the pod.

Stewart pushed the panel he was holding onto away from him, which slowed his uncontrolled movement a bit. He was able to see the rookie, helplessly floating in his seat. The distance between them expanded quickly, as Stewart’s momentum sent him in a descending orbit toward the Earth.

“Dammit, Rook!” Stewart regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. He knew they were the last words the rookie would ever hear.

The storm descended on the rookie’s pod. Electricity arced through the pod’s structure, where the rookie was sitting. Stewart watched his teammate fry.

“Rook!” He yelled, before realizing that no one was left to hear him.

Anxiety started to take over. Stewart’s armor wouldn’t survive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. And even if it did, he wouldn’t survive the impact that came a few minutes later.

Thoughts of his bride came to his mind. Regrets. He pushed them out, trying to get a grip, determined to find a way to back to her.

Debris from the XS-9 fell past Stewart. His orbit had taken him back toward the ship.

“Marty?” Stewart hoped against hope. He had no control of his movement, but he could turn his neck. And he tried as hard as he could to see behind him, where he thought his pilot might be.

What he saw sent a chill up his battle-hardened spine. One of the XS-9’s engines spun toward him as it descended, out of control, into Earth’s atmosphere.

Stewart was spared the quick death of being smashed by the engine, as it flew past a mere three feet from him. But he couldn’t avoid being engulfed by the cloud of superheated plasma the engine was spewing in every direction as it spun.

He panicked and tried to scrape the coating of plasma off his armor, but he knew that the only way to save himself from burning to death was to take the suit off and expose himself to the vacuum of space.

There were no good choices for Stewart, and as he tumbled toward Earth, he considered which death he preferred. But before he could choose, the cosmic storm surrounded him on its way to the planet.

Electricity arced through Stewart’s suit, shattering his weakened armor. He screamed through the pain until he couldn’t hear his cries anymore.

Stewart’s last thoughts before he blacked out were of his wife, and how sorry he was to have missed their honeymoon.

Intrepid Stories: Justice

Intrepid City 0:1

JUSTICE
By Ryan M. Danks

Aaron Adams sprinted down the alley, police sirens at his back. He shifted the semi-automatic pistol into his left hand and pulled the door to the chop shop open.

“C’mon,” Aaron called behind him.

Mal’s breath came hard as he ran through the door. Inside the garage, he struggled to catch his breath while checking the ammunition in his pistol.

Aaron, his breathing as steady as if he had taken a brisk walk, looked out the door, then shut and locked it.

“They staked the place out. How did they know?” Mal straightened up and put his gun in his belt. “We need to get the hell outta here. Reggie and Danny won’t talk, but when the police get an I.D., they’ll come here.”

Mal nodded toward a sedan parked in front of the closed garage door. “Load it up; I’ll grab the keys.”

Aaron didn’t move. “They already know to come here.”

“What? How would they–” Mal turned to face Aaron, his eyes narrowing.

Aaron set his gun on a push cart and looked around the chop shop. No weapons within reach – except for their firearms. The concrete had been cleaned of the oily grease stains that usually covered it. It was just as he left it; just as he planned it. He looked at a desk on the side of the room, beneath the only window in the garage, and nodded to himself.

Mal drew his weapon and aimed it at Aaron. “You set this up?” Sunlight from the window glinted off the gun’s chrome finish.

“The dealership was never the job.” Aaron’s hands were a blur as he disarmed Mal and struck him in the face with his palm, sending the bigger man reeling. The gun clanked on the ground. Aaron ignored it and stepped toward Mal. “You were.”

Shaking his head, Mal recovered from the hit and adopted a rudimentary boxer’s stance. “I’m gonna–”

He was interrupted by a jab to the mouth. Aaron followed up the attack with a round kick to Mal’s knee, then went back up to the face with a right cross. His moves were fluid, practiced – a stark contrast to Mal’s street-learned brawling.

Mal hit the ground, blood trickling from a fat lip. He spotted the gun a few feet away and crawled for it, but Aaron kicked it away. Then he snapped his foot across Mal’s jaw, knocking him on his back.

The sounds of his opponent moaning in pain were sweet music to Aaron’s ears. He mounted Mal and began pounding away. The wet sound of flesh hitting flesh echoed throughout the chop shop.

Lost in the moment, Aaron kept at it. He knew he had won, and now was simply being cruel, but he didn’t care. He had waited too long for this. Even after Mal’s guard dropped –– when he was utterly defeated –– Aaron didn’t stop. His rage consumed him.

Mal reached a weak hand up to push his attacker back. Aaron trapped the arm with lightning fast hands and punched Mal one last time. Then he stood, blood dripping from his dark knuckles. 

Looking at his handiwork: the blood covered canvas of Mal’s face, Aaron decided that he wasn’t proud of it. He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath, taking a step back to let Mal roll on his side and spit blood and teeth onto the concrete.

“Why?” Mal said.

Mal’s broken voice was exactly how Aaron had imagined it. But hearing it for real frightened him. Was he becoming like Mal? Never.

“Two years ago, you tried to rob a store in East Lake, but a man stopped you. He told you there was a better way to make a living.”

Aaron grabbed a work rag that hung from the push cart he left his gun on and wiped Mal’s blood from his knuckles.

“He tried to help you. And for his trouble, you found him at a bus stop a week later and drove by with your friends; the same friends who are getting arrested right now.”

Aaron picked up his gun and wiped his fingerprints off of it.

“So,” Mal said, getting his knees under him so he could sit up. “I popped a few caps in a good Samaritan who didn’t know enough to keep out of business. Why the hell do you care?”

Aaron’s eyes narrowed. He wanted to hit Mal again. Kill him. “As your bullets tore up the bus stop, my father covered me and my mom with his body,” He lifted his shirt. A circular scar marred a wall of otherwise perfect abs.  “But he didn’t stop all of them.”

Mal’s mouth fell open. “Look, man. I–“

“His last words to me were to take care of my mother, but she succumbed to her gunshot wounds that same night.”

Still covering the grip of the gun with the towel, Aaron cocked the hammer back and looked down the front sights at Mal. “Since then, I’ve devoted every waking thought to taking you down, dreaming about what it would feel like to wipe you off the face of this planet.”

The metal door behind Aaron quaked as a fist pounded on its other side. “Police, open up!”

Mal looked from the door to Aaron, a glimmer of hope in his eye. “All they’ve got on us is attempted Grand Theft. You really want to go down for Murder One?”

Aaron grabbed Mal by the collar and stuck the gun in his eye. It would only take an instant to avenge his family and ensure the protection of any victims Mal might hurt in the future. He was a criminal of the worst sort. He deserved it – and Aaron deserved this. His hand shook with elation, and fear.

Then Mal whimpered, and Aaron was reminded of his humanity. He wasn’t the young man his father had demanded, with a stern hand and a warm smile, that he turn out to be. He yelled and threw the gun across the garage.

Mal sighed in relief, “Thank God.” But Aaron wasn’t done with him. He dragged Mal to the desk at the side of the room. Mal slipped in his blood as he struggled to get his feet under him.

The sound of a battering ram hitting the door shook the walls. The locked bent, but didn’t break.

Aaron slammed Mal against the side of the desk and pulled the top drawer open. Then he pulled Mal’s face up to his. “It was never about me.”

Aaron leaped onto the desk, slid the window open, and leaped out as the police knocked the door open.

Mal looked down at the open drawer. There were photos and material evidence of several crimes that he had committed over the last few months – since Aaron had joined the gang. It was enough evidence to put him away for a decade, maybe longer.

“No.” Defiance turned to a drawn out whine of despair as the police grabbed Mal’s arms and forced them behind his back. He struggled with all his broken might as they read him his rights.

Aaron walked into his apartment and dropped his keys next to a happy picture of his family. He picked the frame up and admired his parents.

“Justice,” he said, aware of the fact that he had almost gone too far. But this time was personal. Next time would be easier.

He put the picture back on the end table and looked at the wall in front of his couch. Most people would mount a television there, but Aaron had covered the wall with newspaper clippings and photographs, connected by relevance with colored strings. Other than the picture of his family, the “Wall of Crime” was the only form of decoration in the room.

Aaron pulled the cap off a marker and drew an X over a picture of “Malcolm ‘Mal’ Matthews.” Then he followed a string that led from Mal’s picture to a newspaper clipping with multiple strings branching from it, a small web of interconnected criminal activity. The article was titled: Gang War: East Lake Boys at Odds with The Shadow Mafia.

“Time for something a little more ambitious,” Aaron said, capping his marker.

Why Reactive Superhero Stories Make Good Movies

Why is it that many superhero movies and comics that focus on the awesome character fail to make it past issue 9 (or a very ill-made, and ill-funded, sequel)? The reason is because superheroes are reactive characters. They aren’t meant to be the action takers.

Since their first appearance in the dark ages of the early 1900’s, superhero stories have followed a formula: a threat puts people in danger, the hero learns about the threat and then shows up and neutralizes it. The hero didn’t take any story action other than deciding to go help.

The superhero genre, at its core, is full of plot-driven stories. And that’s a good thing.

I feel there needs to be an exception stated at this point: origin stories. Origins usually have a reactive element in the same way that every other story has, but they’re also full of character driven action as the hero makes decisions to act in ways that ordinary people wouldn’t – this is the moment we get to see them become heroes.

Why are origin stories different?

Think about the differences in the Batman and Iron Man movie franchises.

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So many people love Batman Begins and Iron Man 1. Their favorite heroes are on screen in amazing ways. “There has never been a superhero movie (better/more accurate) than this,” fans say. But what changed with the second and third movies? Many comic book fans say they didn’t like Iron Man 2 or 3 (I loved them, for the record), but those same fans say that The Dark Knight is possibly the best superhero movie of all time.

Why did Batman work with the fans while Iron Man had mixed reviews with diehard fans? Because we already knew Batman’s story. It was told in the first movie. In fact, it was the only Batman movie that was about Batman. In the second movie we get to see a story about Batman’s villains. This may also be the reason that Batman’s villains are often given such high regard – they have whole movies made about them.

Iron Man was rightfully about Iron Man. We needed to learn his story, who he is, why he does what he does. But we knew all that going into the second movie. What’s different in the second and third movies? The new tech and the new threat. Let’s see that! Instead we get to see more into the head of Tony Stark (which is awesome, but then Iron Man movies are a different type of movie than Batman, they’re more about Tony’s arc of character growth, which the Batman movies tried to include but everyone was more interested in the villains).

Unless the subsequent movies are solely about the character’s growth, like Iron Man 3, a hero almost always needs to be reactive to make future stories compelling.

So, after the first story arc of a comic book/movie, do we need to see a reactive character forever?

No. While it is a successful formula that has carried franchises such as Batman and Spider-man on for decades, it isn’t necessary, provided there are other elements at play.

What are the exceptions?

  • Origin stories (as already pointed out, this is when we learn why the hero is a hero. I has to be about them).
  • Stories about how difficult it is, or what it means, to be a hero (this is the premise of Arrow, the TV show about Green Arrow that is fantastic for many, many reasons).
  • Investigative stories (many Batman comics use this method to keep the focus on Batman and not on the villains).
  • Value testing (when the hero’s values are to be tested, and that is the climax of the story, the villain can remain a side-element).
  • Team-ups (the focus is on the interaction between the heroes. Villains become the glue that sticks them together).

There may be others, but the crux of it is this: if it’s about the hero, it better show something new (BIG and new). If it’s just about the hero with a new love interest/complication and maybe getting some new technology, those are called sub-plots. Shift the focus on what is complicating that love interest (or threatening the new one) and what the hero will need that new technology for. This is why The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 worked so well. Now that we know about the hero, tell us a story about a villain who would test their resolve. Who would put them through hell and show us their absolute limits. Show us what it takes, and means, to be a hero.

In the end, the subject of a superhero story is not the hero, nor the villain. It’s the human condition. It’s about the choices we make and why we make them. It’s about us.