Monday, January 11, 2010

Burning Into Showbiz

I just heard a fascinating bit of news in the outro of the newest episode of Escape Pod, The Threnody of Johnny Toruko. The Union Dues series of short stories by Jeffrey DeRego, a frequent contributor to Escape Pod, has apparently been optioned for television and the big screen. This doesn't mean that Union Dues will appear in live action - as Escape Pod's alien master Stephen Eley points out, lots of things are optioned and never manifest in reality - but it does mean that it might.

What's fascinating about this piece of news is that it shows the growing influence of the new media in the old media. One of the selling points of Union Dues is that the universe already has a huge following in the 'tubes. In fact, this post is part of that effort - by writing this post, including lots of links, and writing the words "Unions Dues" in this context as many times as I can (Union Dues Union Dues Union Dues), I'm adding to that movement, in my own small way.

Anyway, the point is twofold. First of all, if you Hollywood types are reading this (hah!), know that Union Dues is an awesome series of short stories, set in a universe that is a truly fascinating take on super heroes. It's fresh, fun, and bold.

If you aren't a pipe dream (Hollywood dudes reading my tiny little blog? Get real!), you should know this: Union Dues is a series of short stories set in a world where the superheroes got representation... and it hasn't worked out so well. The organization that runs the superheroes certainly isn't on our side, and it isn't really on theirs, either. It pretty much is it's own side, and it exists to ensure that the spotlight stays on the supers and as much money and influence as possible stays in it's collective pocket.

The other fascinating thing about this development is that Escape Pod, Jeffrey DeRego, and Jeffrey's Hollywood backers are all requesting that tin-can fantastic fiction pundits (like myself) post their thoughts on what causes superhero shoes and series generally devolve into meaningless camp. Following is the email I wrote to Steve Eley and the Escape Pod team:


I just finished listening to The Threnody of Johnny Taruko and I'm overjoyed to hear about the possibility of the Union Dues universe making the leap to television and movies. I'm going to make a post to my blog with a lot of the same thoughts that you'll see in this email, which I hope will help a little. My blog isn't very well followed (calling my following "modest" would be anything but modest), but it's reached the "people read it who I don't already know" stage, which might make it useful.

Anyway, my thoughts are these: what makes super hero stories fail in the long run is pacing.
Super hero stories are based on being much, much larger than life. A cop or private detective fights crime... a super hero fights crime WITH LAZERS!. A spy fights foreign terror... a super hero fights ALIENS! An action hero comes back alive from certain death... a super hero comes back from ACTUAL DEATH! Everything in a good super hero story is turned up to eleven, pumped up to the max, and otherwise large and in charge. Here's the quandary: audiences get jaded. In order to maintain the feel of over the top action, the "top" has got to keep on moving up, so that the super heroes can continue to go over it. Eventually, when a super hero has saved the world for the twelfth time, come back from death five or six times, experienced several personality, physicality, and universe shifts, the story becomes absurd. The audience can no longer empathize with what the hero has become. The narrative no longer holds together coherently, devolving into a series of unrelated explosions and associated sound effects, with the occasional flash of super-heroin cleavage.

Consider Heroes. Isn't it a good thing they didn't try to make a third season? Seriously, though: the first season focused on the heroes and their personal problems, how their personal problems interacted with their growing powers, and so on. The second season had them fighting one of their own gone bad, which was also pretty cool because it dealt with their own doubts about what they were becoming and their place in the world. Later, though, and the heroes were dealing with alternate histories and apocalypse plagues, several of them were functionally immortal or basically gods of time and space, and I lost all interest.

The trick with super hero stories is all in pacing. You've got to build the action, bring the climax over the top, then take it down to a more manageable level, deal with the emotional and narrative fallout, then bring it back up again. You've got to resist the temptation to keep on building and building and building.

Hope that was helpful.


Anyway, I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are on this, as well. And if you're a fan of Union Dues who hasn't somehow heard and begun to spread the news, get on it! This is our opportunity to change the face of media forever, people. Let's not waste it.

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