unstable molecules

Heroes for Hire
  1. No. 2
    "Where No Merc Has Gone Before..."
  2. Close Commentary

    Where's Issue No. 1?
    I've opted not to bother posting the first issue. I was never totally happy with it, and for the most part, it's unnecessary. Here's the executive summary:

    Luke Cage flags down She-Hulk at the Avengers Holiday Party and introduces her to the idea that he and Iron Fist are reforming the Heroes for Hire, but on a totally different scale from their recent corporate effort (which had a giant, rotating cast). She-Hulk somewhat reluctantly agrees to this three-person partnership.

    Meanwhile, an off-world colonist prepares for a trip back to Earth in order to contract the Heroes for Hire. Iron Fist gets the call and decides that three people isn't enough in a Jaws-esque ("We're gonna need a bigger boat") realization.

    It's super dialogue-heavy, and not interesting enough, so why bother?

    Let me be honest with you: my representation of Luke Cage and Danny Rand here was patterned on the protagonists from the television series "Fastlane". I'm not going to apologize.

    As I look back on it now, it's a little embarassing, if only because I'm sort of bad at writing hip, urban-sounding dialogue, but to be sure, I still have some fondness for this interpretation. I really wanted to capture the sort of synergistic partnership between the characters, while at the same time making them easily likeable, so I borrowed from a white guy-black guy partnership that I enjoyed, while trying to retain the essence of Power Man and Iron Fist.

    I remember an Iron Fist series coming out maybe around this time in which Iron Fist was, like, super angsty. I didn't want that. I liked to play Danny as a pretty easy-going guy, who could maybe be a little fussy at times, but otherwise fun. Just my take.

    I have another confession to make. I almost don't give a crap how characters have been portrayed in the past. Before I write a character, I try to get inside that person's head, based on the character history. Like, Colleen Wing is essentially a modern-day samurai, so I chose to write her as fairly austere because...well, that's what samurais are like—disciplined.

    Misty Knight, on the other hand, was a cop, so I tried to show her as aggressive, though compassionate, very smart, and with a good sense of humor...because that's what a good cop should be like.

    I am vastly simplifying my thought processes here, of course. There was more that went into these portrayals than that, but you get the idea. I can't just write a character a certain way because he or she has been written like that in the past—it has to make sense to me that a person with such-and-such history would behave in such-and-such way.

  1. Loose Endings: Prologue
  2. No. 1
    "Down Time"
  3. Close Commentary

    Present Tense Narration
    At the time I had just finished reading Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which was one of the coolest books I've ever read, and it was all written in this sort of rambling present tense, close third-person narration. I liked it and stole that approach since Quasar, I thought, could benefit from a somewhat invested narrator and a sense of immediacy.

    I used the same narration style in my HEROES FOR HIRE series—with less, success, I'd say, though I got it working, I think, a little bit into it once I got a hand on the characters. Still, using a close, third-person perspective is pretty difficult with an ensemble cast, and I don't think I'd do it the same way again.

    Yes, I realize nothing really happens in this installment
    Even comic book fans don't tend to know anything about Quasar, so I really felt that I needed a low-key introduction to make the reader care about Quasar the man rather than Quasar the superhero who's sort of like Green Lantern.

    I think I wrote this prologue, at least in my head, even before I had a single other writer signed up for Unstable Molecules. Quasar had been floundering of late in the MU, kind of ushered off to the sidelines by writers who couldn't see where he fit in with the larger hero set. That's probably the reason I opened this story at an Avengers gathering in which Quasar had isolated himself from the group.

    The Avengers Holiday Party
    I used this Avengers holiday party as the divergence point for the entire Unstable Molecules universe. My HEROES FOR HIRE series began here as well (there's an in-joke in QUASAR No. 1 where the Thing briefly catches She-Hulk breaking the fourth wall and talking to the narrator, i.e. me), and it is also referenced in the prologue to an Avengers mini-series that I began co-writing later on with a talented writer named Steve Seinberg, who helped somewhat to bring my concept for the Avengers into focus.

    As we began this fan fiction project, the Avengers organization in the actual MU was in a semi-transitional phase for various reasons. This was before the crapfest of DISASSEMBLED, and the biggest problem with the group was that they were simply...kind of boring.

    Here I was positing what would happen if at this turning point, the Avengers renewed and revamped their relationship with the U.N. as an official peacekeeping appendage to that organization. The end result was a lot more public transparency, and some readers and writers felt that the Avengers wouldn't go this way, but I thought that it could make for some interesting storytelling to portray the group as a little more organized and a little more proactive—not to mention succeptible to public scrutiny and opinion. It also opened to the door to a West Coast Avengers series that Steve wanted to do, so it was all good. We had some fun with this before I closed the door on the site.

    Why I felt Quasar needed some love
    One of the primary urges of fan fiction writers is a compulsion to "fix" what they feel is broken about a character. A lot of times this results in some piss-poor storytelling as a way to artificially restore some twenty year-old status quo that few people care about anymore.

    I knew from the start that I wanted to avoid at all costs designing a contrived tale in which everything works out exactly as it must in order to make everything "right". First and foremost I wanted, simply, to tell a good story, though at the same time, cleaning up some troublesome continuity.

    I intentionally built on an ending to the larger "Loose Endings" arc that could be perceived as ambiguous. In a lot of ways, the character comes full circle and nothing really changes, except that he gets a chance to make peace with some stuff in his life, which I thought Quasar deserved, since he never struck me as a particularly angsty character (except for when Mark Gruenwald started to get all bitter, apparently, towards the end of the solo series).

    Why real comic book writers don't like Quasar
    As I write this commentary now, I find it a bitter sweet experience since Quasar was killed off less than a week ago in Marvel's ANNIHILIATION event. Maybe he'll be back. Who knows? But the truth is that it isn't a huge loss for the Marvel Universe. Even though I dearly love the character, Marvel simply hasn't made much use of him in the past fifteen years or so.

    The problem stems, I think, from the fact that Quasar, as an everyman character, works better as the protagonist in his own book. He's sort of a difficult character to write, because he doesn't have, really, a distinctive personality in the way that guys like Captain America, Silver Surfer, the Thing, Luke Cage...well, basically the way that most comic book characters do.

    Usually comic book characters are sort of archetypes: like, the tough, tom-boyish female, the unimpeachable idealist, the conflicted anti-hero, the wiseguy troublemaker, the distracted intellectual, the sensitive loner, and so on and so forth. Wendell Vaughn, as he was defined by Mark Gruenwald (the definitive portrayal for me), functions somewhat as a mouthpiece for the writer. In essence, he's a pretty normal, down-to-earth guy who happens to have this incredible job of being the Protector of the Universe.

    A defining element of his character, for me, is that he was a wash-out from the S.H.I.E.L.D. special operations training. But the very character trait that kept him out—his lack of killer instinct and his reliance upon his rational mind over his gut—made him the ideal candidate to wear the quantum bands. It also, in my opinion, made him a different kind of hero: one who would always do his best to figure out all of the angles before seriously mixing it up. Let's face it—most heroes are punch first, ask questions later types.

    I read something on a blog somewhere (I think it was at When Will the Hurting Stop, or The Hurting, but I'm too lazy to look it up) asserting that Quasar disappeared from comics because, essentially, he was just too powerful, and it's difficult to write a character who can defeat any enemy in two seconds by teleporting him through the quantum zone into a black hole. Funny stuff. And true, I think. Quasar has all of the power of a Silver Surfer-type cosmic badass, without any of the accompanying weirdness that appeals to readers' curiosity. But anyway, I think he's a great character.

    What the hell is Moondragon doing here?
    One thing that I think Mark Gruenwald screwed up in his QUASAR run was his portrayal of Moondragon as a vicious bitch willing to do anything to get Quasar to fall in love with her. This was just a weird characterization. Also, I didn't really like the whole thing of Moondragon being a lesbian in Peter David's CAPTAIN MARVEL (Steve Seinberg, who used Moondragon in Avengers West Coast, and I just ignored this since it was recent enough at the time that we could effectively pretend it had never happened).

    As I understood the character, I figured she'd be more asexual than anything else, but mostly because she's so hauty and wouldn't deem anybody else worthy of her. And that's kind of how I wrote her, except taking her down a notch on the obnoxiousness scale and making her slightly more vulnerable (I did more with this in QUASAR No. 6).

    I like my portrayal of Moondragon here since I think that I've added a bit of depth to her character, and a few others said that it really changed the way they thought about Moondragon, but I'll let you be the judge.

    Is Quasar really Jewish?
    Honestly, I already forget. I can't remember if that was stated explicitly in the series, or if I simply made it up because I'm half Jewish.

    Actually, if you want to know the truth, I think I came up with this solely based on the fact that Wendell's mother always called him "Sonner", which somehow seemed like a Yiddish-ism to me. Others seem to think that was just his nickname back in Wisconsin, but I always read it as her cute way of calling him, "son".

  4. Loose Endings (2–5)
  5. No. 2
    "Close Encounters of the Thanos Kind"
  6. Close Commentary

    Is this a Thanos story or a Quasar story?
    Well...both, sort of. I really would rather that readers not think of Thanos as a plot device in this arc. I mean, he kind of is, but I think the reason that he works here is because Thanos, for all of his intelligence, doesn't really get what it means to love somebody.

    Isn't Thanos just a poor man's Darkseid?
    People say that, but I call shenanigans. I don't deny, of course, that there are similarities, but as Thanos has evolved, largely under the guidance of Jim Starlin, he has become perhaps the most nuanced and complex of cosmic characters. Unfortunately there are only about two comic book writers who understand this.

    I remember a few years back when fandom was taking Starlin to task for using retroactive continuity to claim that Thanos's exploits as penned by other writers were merely the work of defective clones. But me, I say, "Thank you, Jim," because there had been some utterly shitty characterizations written in recent years, and getting rid of that and reintroducing Thanos as the inscutable, brilliant demi-god rather than an irrational and insane bruiser paved the way for me to write this story about him.

    The first few paragraphs in QUASAR No. 2 pretty much describe Thanos as I understand him, and he is a favorite of mine to be sure (he currently posts at my blog). I always think about the untold millenia during which Thanos lived prior to his introduction in Iron Man No. 55. Nobody ever really talks about it or knows exactly how long he has survived (though suffice it to say, "a long time"), but my personal read on the character was that this was a guy with some seriously deep thoughts, whose endless probing into the mysteries of the universe ultimately led him for some time, erroneously, to the conclusion that nothing mattered, only life and death. Which is where we picked him up.

    I think one of my favorite moments comes at the end of the INFINITY GAUNTLET series in which Adam Warlock confesses that he was only able to defeat Thanos because in the deepest recesses of the Titan's mind, Thanos sowed the seeds of his own defeat. Why would he do that?

    I don't really get into that so much here, but it factors into my portrayal of him.

    On the return of Magneto...
    When I penned this, he had recently died at Genosha. You knew he would have to come back, right? I wanted to give his return a cosmic twist and play a little bit with the meta-concept of comic book limbo.

    Magneto has been portrayed a lot of different ways over the years, from good guy to full-blown madman. Whatever you think of him, he's done a lot of bad stuff, and I wanted to use that to provide some sort of moral conflict for Quasar in making a decision to aid Thanos. This was also meant to illustrate Quasar's level head in considering all of the factors before making an important choice.

  7. No. 3
    "Deeper into the Heart of Darkness"
  8. Close Commentary

    The Infinity Watch
    One of my favorite concepts to come out of comic books in the 1990s. Though the series itself didn't always live up to what it might have been, I loved the cast, and I loved the larger storyline of the infinity gems. I wish they'd stuck around longer, though to be sure, Jim Starlin's stuff got kind of bleak towards the end of his run.

    Also, at the time that I wrote this, Starlin's Infinity Abyss had more or less just happened. I loved it, though a lot of people seemed to be saying, "Enough already, Jim. We get it." But in my opinion, you almost can't write a good Thanos story without using at least one other member of the Infinity Watch. If you include Moondragon, I ended up using four of them (only Drax is absent). I had a lot of fun with Pip the Troll, especially. I liked the idea of Quasar having to do something to curry Pip's favor. Needless to say it would have to be something violent.

    I don't know what people will make of the way I portrayed Gamora's feelings about her foster father, Thanos. If this story had been written back during the 70s or even the early 90s when Gamora was still working that "most dangerous woman in the galaxy" thing, it probably wouldn't have worked, but it seemed to me that Starlin was mellowing her, and so I ran with that. I wanted to make her a softer, more feminine character as a contrast to her role as an instrument of death. That's an interesting dichotomy for me. Could be it wouldn't make sense to anybody else.

  9. No. 4
    "Familiar Faces"
  10. Close Commentary

    The Timeless One
    The Timeless One is a character that I invented, sort of patterned off of some of the more whimsical cosmic entities introduced over the years. He functions perfectly within this role because his particular ability creates an intellectual challenge for Thanos and Quasar to overcome rather than a brute force problem: how do you trick a being who, in essence, already knows everything that's going to happen?

    And I liked the idea that even though it was a ruse, Thanos would still be curious to test his might against The Timeless One...just to know.

    Can Quasar really do something that elaborate with his Q bands?
    I'm going to go with "why not"? We've seen him create some rather complex structures before. I'm of the opinion that he's only limited by his imagination...which is pretty good.

    I hate when characters like Quasar or the Green Lanterns are reduced to simple energy discharges (*cough* Justice League animated series *cough*)—it defeats the purpose of having a cool-ass weapon that can create anything that comes into your mind!

    The Cliff-hanger
    This is the only real cliff-hanger that I got to do in this arc (though I love the way I set up the one at the end of QUASAR No. 6, as well), and frankly, I think it kicks ass. Yeah, I'm not above telling you how awesome something in my story was. I mean, I spent the entire time up until now putting the idea into your head that Thanos is actually on the level, and then...oh snap!

    Thanos is a dick, but at least he's reliable. Of course, the next issue will reveal that the truth is rather more complex...though he's still a dick.

  11. No. 5
    "Dirty Tricks for Dirty Players"
  12. Close Commentary

    There's a lot of exposition in the first half of this story, and some of it is a little bit sketchy, perhaps, though no more silly than anything else that happens in comics. Hopefully nobody will scrutinize it too closely, since it is all more or less a hook to move the players into place for the plot to progress as it should.

    Could Magneto really have removed the quantum bands (I read something that said that the q bands actually fuse with Quasar's nervous system)? Who the hell knows? What I do know is that it was important for the story that he should lose them, so that's what happens. Write your own no-prize-winning explanation if you don't like my in-story one.

    Ego, the Living Planet
    Could anybody really begrudge me removing this bit of continuity? Actually, I planned to use this later in the series. Thanos was going to trade Ego to the Stranger I think...for a reason that I no longer remember. Even if I never got around to writing that story, I just loved that Thanos had plans coming out the yin-yang, and it left a dangling thread at the end of this installment.

    Magneto's a little over the top here, isn't he?
    Probably. To myself I always used the rationale that the massacre at Genosha pushed him over the edge. Actually, I had some ideas for how he could be used in a hero capacity after his fate in this issue. It probably would have involved amnesia. Yeah, I'm a hack, but it would have been cool. Trust me. Suffice to say he was going to be very far from Earth.

    Displaced Paranormals
    A reference to Gruenwald's New Universe title, DP7, the characters from which showed up in a few issues of QUASAR. Total in-joke and one that in retrospect, I sort of wish I had left out. I do like the idea of Kayla being a premier super-heroine over on the New Universe Earth, however.

  13. The Many Loves of Wendell Vaughn
  14. No. 6
    "Kindling Old Flames"