A comic strip by Alasdair Wilkins and Joseph Shivers, as seen in The Harvard Crimson!

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Astounding Returns is our latest ongoing story. Due to our busy schedules, we will update whenever we are able to complete additional pages!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Astounding Annotations - Week 6

So here we go with what I'm calling "Astounding Annotations." Basically, this is an opportunity to explain some of the more obscure references I threw in (and there were a bunch of them), and to give some idea as to why I did this in the first place. Yeah, I'm aware this is pretty damn self-indulgent, so I'll try not to go on and on. And away we go...

Day 16


Panel 1: The Mentor is wearing the Fing-longer, an incredible device invented by Professor Farnsworth on Futurama. I have no idea why I included this, other than (a) I thought it was a cool visual (b) it sort of created a loose motif along with the electrostatic glove he wore back in week 4 (c) this seemed like the most absurdly obscure reference I could come up with and (d) I thought it was amusing to imply the Mentor's society was impossibly advanced because he had in 2010 something it took until the 31st century to develop in its original incarnation. OK, I guess I had a bunch of ideas as to why I included it. My mistake.

Oh, and the Mentor saying "Hush" is totally a shout-out to Batman: Hush, which just might be my favorite Batman story of all time.

Panel 2: I think the introduction of "telepathic hacking" is when Astounding finally and irretrievably moves into absurd comic book science. Not that it hadn't been going that way for awhile.

Panel 3: This explanation clears up a few more things about our hero's powers, although there's still way more to find out, as we'll see in coming weeks. By the way, the degree to which Joe burned our hero's hands is almost disturbing. That thing looks like a charred skeleton. Not that I disapprove.

Panel 4: Incidentally, the Mentor's constant insistence on calling his Astounding counterpart a "god" is meant to indicate the Mentor's spiritual and religious side. I'm an atheist myself, and I've never really thought much about the possible beliefs of my characters, but I thought it seemed interesting to make one of my characters fairly spiritual, even if it wasn't something that was ever concretely mentioned. The fact that I made my religious character the smartest person in the multiverse is just my way of saying there's no hard feelings between me and religion. And for the record, any of his negative character traits were conceived of long before I decided he should also be spiritual, so I imply no correlation between the two.

Day 17


Panel 1: Ah yes, the Superman shirt rip (which has recently become possibly better known as the Spider-Man shirt rip). I would have felt Astounding was hopelessly incomplete if it wasn't included, although I'd like to think we came up with a relatively novel way of working that image in there. This partially came about because I thought it was important to show our hero could do more than simply transport injuries and energy - we needed to make it clear he could bring matter through as well, and after going through a lot of frustrating possibilities that I couldn't incorporate easily (the best I could come up with was alt-Nora's baseball bat), I realized the suit he was wearing actually made a ton of sense, and could even be used to explain some stuff that happens later.

Panel 2: I realized this was a bit of a plot hole (and one of the problems I alluded to when I first discussed the Mentor in Week 3) - why couldn't Mr. Astounding simply travel between universes with his powers intact by using the Mentor's machine? This panel is the beginning of an explanation, although I'll say right now there's more going on here.

Panel 3: By the way, if you're wondering why the medical staff didn't remove his Astounding suit, it's because it's DNA-locked - it can only be opened by Mr. Astounding himself (or someone with identical DNA, like any of his parallel universe counterparts).

Panel 4: The debut of alt-Nora as a superhero. She's modeled visually on certainly outfits worn by female Kryptonians (I think the headband also recalls Majestic). There's already a superhero by this name, so I don't think I can technically call her it in the strip itself, but as far as I'm concerned, her codename is Nova.

Oh, and her line is meant as a minor rebuke to the ridiculous amount of exposition I've had to cram in lately.

Day 18


Panel 1: This whole panel is my homage to Grant Morrison's Final Crisis. I also rather liked the idea that the most exciting thing that happened in the entire story was reduced to a throwaway reference in one panel. By the way, the dude helping out Mr. Astounding with the dual uppercuts is Captain Turbo. The Cap is another character who first appeared in Mental Man, the radio play I mentioned in last week's annotations. Oh, and Space Ape was first mentioned in that play as well.

Panel 2: We pushed Nova and Mr. Astounding off to the side partially to emphasize their separation from other heroes, but the much less pretentious reason was we wanted to cram a bunch of other heroes in there. From Mental Man, there's the previously mentioned Captain Turbo, Josiah Phelps, and Psyclone, along with Turbo Boy, who is standing next to the Cap. Between Turbo Boy and Josiah Phelps is the Voice, a superhero originally from Centaur Comics that was mentioned in Mental Man and actually appeared in yet another radio play I had a hand in, the "Men are on Venus!" segment of The Wondrous Exploits of Archibald Blair. Confused yet? No? Good, because the two embracing and the dude to their right are, in order, the Fash, Barbara, and Zendar, three characters based on three Harvard archaeology professors who appeared in my other comic book, Archaeology's Finest, which I first wrote when I attended a Field School in Honduras that they were teaching. The other three - the dude with the oar, the anthropomorphic fox, and the rather eccentric-looking woman - are of Joe's creation. He's told me that the Oarsman is like the Silver Surfer or the Black Racer, another cosmically powerful character who uses a ridiculously human mode of transport. The other two don't exactly have a clear backstory yet, but they'll get one when Joe and I return to this universe for another story (more on that later).

Panel 3: You want to catch your breath after all that? Well I sure do.

Panel 4: Wait...what? What on earth is happening in this crazy strip? Sorry folks, I have no explanation to offer for this shocking turn of events...but I suspect that next week's Astounding just might. Till next time!

Well, that was the first batch of Astounding Annotations. I'll do another round of these once the entire story is complete. Thanks for sticking with us while we took the week off, and get ready - things are only getting crazier from here on out!

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