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!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Astounding Annotations - Week 8

So here we go again 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. This is the comics equivalent of director's commentary, so if you've just stumbled upon our little site you might want to check out the story itself first (I recommend starting here). And yes, I'm aware this is all pretty damn self-indulgent, so I'll try not to go on and on. And away we go...

Day 22


Panel 1a: This day's setup was something I had in mind pretty much from the beginning of the strip. There's only so much you can do to play around with the stylistic conventions of a comic strip, but I thought cramming in eight diagonal panels was something worth trying. There are two main things I wanted it to achieve. First, the smaller panels are meant to quicken the pacing - hopefully, people will read this strip faster, which was meant to match the frenetic nature of this day's events. Second, it's meant to suggest the fact that we're quickly cutting back and forth between Mr. Astounding and his alternate version.

Panel 1b: I wanted to remind people (including myself) that just as our hero leaves his body behind in the regular universe when he becomes Mr. Astounding, so too does he leave a normal Mr. Astounding behind when he returns to his original universe. Thus, this "other" Mr. Astounding (all a bit confusing, I know) was having a nice dinner with Nora before our hero jumped back into that world.

Panel 2a: I don't really have anything to say here, but I want to have a comment for every panel. What? Eight panels in a day is a lot! Oh, OK...that's some great acting that Joe drew, particularly for Nora's concern. It really brings out the depth of their relationship in the instant that we have to devote to that subplot. Huh. Guess I really did have something to say after all.

Panel 2b: The doctor in this panel is based on Doc Cottle from Battlestar Galactica. No real reason other than the fact that I love the new BSG. (I suppose one might remember that Mr. Astounding himself is visually based on Jamie Bamber, who played Apollo on the show, but honestly I think Mr. Astounding is pretty much his own distinct visual at this point.)

Panel 3a: I have no idea if any of this really makes sense. I mean, I think somebody who reads this relatively carefully can work out what is going on, but I don't really think the alternate version of our hero - eh, screw this, let's jump ahead and just call him the Corpsman already - I don't really think the Corpsman's plan really works. He's set up a system where the second he sits up - something he won't do but he assumes Mr. Astounding will do - he will be electrocuted, killing him.

Panel 3b: This causes Mr. Astounding to sever his mental link because he assumes he's dead back in this universe. Well, that body does die, but only for a minute or so. I think my medical science here is dubious at best, but hopefully it works in a comic book context.

Panel 4a: That panel is based on Lois cradling the dead Superman at the end of, well, The Death of Superman, which is pretty much where you'd expect to find a dead Superman.

Panel 4b: And that is based on a very early Superman comic where they showed a doctor trying and failing to puncture Clark Kent's skin with a hypodermic needle. The difference in scenarios makes it far from an exact match, but even if Joe didn't exactly quote the original panel, he certainly paraphrased it. (Does that make sense?)

Day 23


Panel 1: And so another day of mountainous exposition begins. I tried to mitigate this a bit by throwing in the "three weeks later" gag and the "yes/no/yes" run (which I don't think can honestly be called a joke, but at least it's almost something). Joe also has some fun with the Corpsman's hairstyle and the progression of him bulking up. Nora's also still wearing a Windmill Club shirt.

Panel 2: "This isn't all some sort of weird, kinky thing you're doing on the taxpayer's dime, is it?" Ooh, that is some top drawer writing there and no mistake. This panel in particular has to do a ton of heavy lifting in terms of explaining how the hell everything that happens in the next couple of weeks even vaguely makes sense.

Panel 3: You know, considering what we ultimately learn about Agents Byrne and Campbell in Week 14, I'm not actually sure their actions make a lot of sense here. In particular, I'm not sure why Campbell would wait nine weeks to give the Corpsman the Mentor's video when he was never really working for an agency at all. Of course, the gods in Week 14 do say they were working undercover, so perhaps they actually were planted in some official capacity and had to go through a certain amount of red tape. Maybe. This is what happens when you go for crazy twists in the last week, I guess. Not everything is going to make perfect sense anymore.

Panel 4: I think that panel is where I really decided the Mentor is religious. I thought that was an interesting way for the Mentor to frame the discussion - after all, Agent Campbell had referred to Mr. Astounding as the Corpsman's "soul" the previous week - and I think it tapped into the ideas of "destiny" that the Mentor had thrown around in previous weeks. The Corpsman is very much a man without a destiny or a proper place. For now.

Day 24


Panel 1: Wow, the Corpsman is ripped. One of the vague thematic notions I kept in mind while I wrote Astounding was that this was a very twisted take on the Superman/Batman relationship, with one of the heroes just getting his powers handed to him and the other having to actually work for even a fraction of those abilities. In previous planned incarnations of this story that would have had more time for dialogue (like one version where I thought of trying to do this as a radio play, which would have been pretty much impossible because the story is so fundamentally visual), this would have been more explicitly acknowledged, with the Corpsman's character actually saying the Astounding character was Superman and he was Batman, "just without all the angst" (this was back when I thought the Corpsman character would be a more lighthearted character than the fairly grim person he ultimately became). To this, the Astounding character would say, "So, what, you're the Blue Beetle?", which would prompt the Corpsman character to quip back, "So you're not completely lost." Ah, shameless geekiness. You people have no idea how hard I worked to make Astounding as accessible as it was. Yes, I said accessible.

Panel 2: I wanted to make it clear that time had also passed in the Astounding Universe. I suppose it might be interesting to wonder precisely what happened between Mr. Astounding, the Mentor, and Nora during those three months. Hmm...maybe that's something for Astounding Returns - coming in two weeks!

Panel 3: Joe thought it would be funny if Mr. Astounding kept a giant picture of him and Nora in his mansion. I think he's correct.

Panel 4: Ah, the Corpsman. Probably my favorite character. There's a lot to talk about here, but I'll save my thoughts for tomorrow. For now, here's Joe's description of his design: "Classic Captain America boots, New Captain America sidearm, Captain Midlands mask/helmet, caduceus/ouroboros on chest, a military-ish vest, and a ring of thigh pouches as an homage to Rob Liefeld." Put that all together and what do you get? Awesomeness, that's what.

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