October 12th, 2007

bizarro am drunk motherfucker

I've Tasted A Life Wasted

Once, a while back, I had this neat idea for a comic book. It would be centered on this elite CIA black ops squad, operating off the books, whose job it was to keep tabs on potentially dangerous superhumans -- heroes and villains alike -- and, when it looked as if they might be too great a threat to public safety or government control, to eliminate them. It would be a small outfit, consisting of various lowlifes (mercenaries, gangbangers, ex-spooks and other morally shady characters) and led by a mysterious figure whose motivations were far from pure. Because of their extremely covert nature, they would be housed in shabby offices and without any access to sophisticated technology, depending entirely on hard work and planning to accomplish their goals; we would come to feel for some of these characters, despite constantly having qualms about the moral probity of their activities. In tone, I hoped to achieve a nice balance between the moral bleakness of classic '40s noir and the labyrinthine complexity of '70s Cold War spy drama.

I always thought it was a good idea, and recently, since I've been vowing to finish a lot of long-term writing projects I've been working on for ages, I actually got around to tinkering with the script a bit. I had high hopes for it.

Then I found out someone's already done it. Worse still, the someone in question is Garth Ennis. The book is "The Boys", and it's just terrible. Worse yet, it's incredibly popular, which means it's now unthinkable that anyone would ever publish mine -- there's simply no way it wouldn't seem like a total rip-off. The plot elements are just way too similar. Every writer has had the experience of coming up with an idea, only to find someone more famous do something similar and get it published first; but I've never encountered something so doggedly similar as this.

Of course, there are some differences. For instance:

- I decided to rarely show the superhumans. I thought keeping them distant and mysterious would create better drama, as well as making it difficult for the reader to make a clean moral decision about whether or not they deserved to die.

- I also didn't want to give my CIA operatives superhuman powers themselves. I thought it undercut the dramatic conflict, turning it into just another superhero punch-up. Also, I wanted to emphasize how difficult it would be for normal humans to fight a superhuman, so that the reader would understand why the team sometimes used extremely questionable tactics in going after their targets. If they could just walk up to them on the street and start whaling on them, where's the conflict? Also, wouldn't that undercut the whole premise of the story, by making the operatives just another set of superhumans the government would have to worry about?

- And naturally, since I am not a brilliant cutting-edge comic book legend like Garth Ennis, I neglected to include a lot of plot elements that have made "The Boys" such a success. For instance, my story doesn't have any rape jokes. There's not a bunch of gratuitous, smirky, ha-ha-only-kidding gay-bashing. My only African-American character isn't a Magical Negro, and my female characters aren't all psychopaths or jizz-jars. I don't constantly portray America as the source of all the evil on Earth, and I don't portray all Americans as dimwitted morons or grotesque monsters from the id. And since my idea of a postmodernist take on the superhero comic doesn't involve hating the whole idea of superheroes, I didn't make pretty much every one of my superhero characters a cartoonishly evil, rampaging nightmare of abuse and depravity just to illustrate how above it all I am.

Other than that, though? Same book. Good work, Garth, thanks for saving me a lot of time.