Thursday, July 10, 2014
If you’ve ever read comic books, or been part of a fandom, or been a writer or reader of a shared world anthology, you know how much fun a universe shared by several writers can be. You get to swap characters, make outrageous team-ups and pair-ups and hookups, and enjoy another writer’s take on your brainchildren. Remember all those Marvel movies that culminated in The Avengers? There’s a shared universe done right.
And then sometimes you hit potholes.
Over on my other blog, Shapeshifter Seductions (www.shapeshifterseductions.blogspot.com), my serial story is moving into the home stretch. The hero is racing to the rescue of his damsel in distress, who’s an unwilling passenger on the back of a mutated mammoth bent on major destruction. The hero’s way out of his league here, but he’s determined to stop the monster before it goes Godzilla on the town of Talbot’s Peak.
Here’s where the problems kick in. Talbot’s Peak is a shared universe, collectively created by four other writers and me. Over the years we’ve come up with all sorts of characters, some paranormal, some human, some alien. We’ve got dragons and interstellar superwolves and kickass women from other dimensions with weapons that could take out the Terminator. You think they’re going to sit on their hands while Talbot’s Peak is threatened?
Well, yeah. They’re going to have to, because this isn’t their story.
This happens all the time in comic books. It’s been established for years that pretty much every superhero in the Marvel universe hangs out in or around New York City. So when Ultron drops by and starts leveling Manhattan, why is Spider-Man going against him all by himself? Where’s the Fantastic Four? The Avengers? Is Thor on a coffee break or what?
Over in the DC universe, the Thanagarians are invading Earth again, and only the Flash can stop them. What, just him? Can’t he call his buddies in the Justice League? Or send an SOS to the Green Lantern Corps? They were supposed to be watching the Thanagarians in the first place. This is their problem. The least they could do is lend a hand.
The usual explanation is that every other hero in the city is “unavailable,” or off on a mission or something. The real reason is that the name of the book is The Amazing Spider-Man, not The Amazing Spider-Man Gets His Ass Hauled Out of the Fire by a Guest Star. In spite of the dozens of heroes, mutants and gods on hand, Spidey’s got to face the menace by himself. That’s the way the story has to go.
Ditto for the Flash. Sure, he can go whining to Superman, if he wants to look like an ineffectual wuss in his own book. No point in calling Batman; he always has his phone turned off. It’s okay if he calls Hawkman, because Hawkman’s a Thanagarian and would know how to fight them. But in the end the Flash has to defeat them on his own, because it’s his name on the cover.
And what about Harry Potter? He went to Hogwarts for seven years and faced death practically on a daily basis. Where were the teachers? That school was crawling with fully-trained adult magicians. Why wasn’t Dumbledore dealing with Voldemort? Why leave the fate of the world to a trio of underaged kids? And you thought your school district had lax anti-bullying policies.
One look at the title answers all these concerns. It’s not Dumbledore and the Prisoner of Azkaban, after all. Whoever’s name is on the front of the book is the one who has to deal with the problems. That’s why they’re the hero, after all. Even in a shared universe.
And that’s why (no offense to the gods and demigods and dragons and aliens and whatnot living in Talbot’s Peak and created by my fellow writers) it’s Ewan the coyote shifter who’s going to have to deal with the giant mammoth and save the town and rescue the girl. It may end up being a group effort, but in the end he’s the one doing the heavy lifting. It’s his story. He needs to be the hero. If you’ve read the entire Hunger Games trilogy and not just the first book, you know exactly where I’m coming from.
Don’t worry. Ewan's got a few tricks up his sleeve. And sometimes pantsers can haul themselves out of their comfort zone and plot something. It’ll all work out. I’m on top of this. Trust me, I’m a writer.
And please don’t shoot me emails wondering, “But you’ve got a freakin’ dragon there! Why couldn’t the dragon snatch the girl off the mammoth’s back and save the day?” Welllll … the dragon wasn’t available. He was on a mission. He was out in space with Superman or something. Just willingly suspend your disbelief and go with it. Nobody ever said a shared universe had to be a perfect universe.