Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Champions Project: Moondragon #1

Moondragon #1: Plague of Apes

Page one: a small starship lands on the outskirts of South Bend, Indiana. We read narration: “I return to the planet of my birth.” Out of the ship strides a six-foot tall white woman dressed in nondescript jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. She is bald as can be. The narration continues, “Though it is not my home.”

The bald woman surveys a suburban housing development in the distance as she pulls on a brunette wig. “Nor am I one of them.” A gentle breeze blows as she watches a school bus roll past and laughing children run by. Disgust flits across her face.

“A plague of apes,” she fumes. The woman introduces herself to the reader. She is Heather Douglas, known as Moondragon.

Pages two and three: Double splash. The scene is inside a giant metal dome. Smooth metal sculptures and wild green plants curve throughout it. A bolt of Kirby Crackle energy arcs across two poles in the background. Stone sculptures that resemble tiki gods occupy key portions of the floor, fountains of mercury pouring down the sculptures, forming gleaming rivers and pools. Strange and beautiful humanoid beings costumed in garish outfits fly and run around the scene. The scene is big, bold, and striking. The goal is to make the reader think “woo, that sure is somethin’.”

In the foreground of this magnificent scene, we see Moondragon walking straight towards the reader in her normal attire (the science-fictiony thing depicted here). She is also big, bold, and striking.

Her narration explains that her home is on Titan, a moon of Saturn, where she was raised by the Priests of Shao-Lom. Yesterday, she tells us, she came to the Dome of Pama, a great unease weighing upon her.

We see her talk to the High Priestess of Shao-Lom, seeking to understand her disquiet. The Priestess suggests Moondragon meditate for six hundred years. She then points to a quiet corner of the Dome, where a collection of Titanians sit, lost in nigh-eternal trances. “They grow wise, and over the centuries the disquiet in their minds returns to silence. Join them and know peace, my daughter.”

Moondragon grows angry. She reminds the priestess that her human lifespan is measured in decades, not millennia. The priestess, confused, begins to spit out non sequitur homilies. Moondragon leaves, seething. The Titanians cannot understand the problem, she decides, much less provide an answer.

A montage shows us her life as she remembers it. Orphaned as a child by the insane space god Thanos, she was rescued by his father, Mentor, and brought to Titan. She was raised in a city hidden below the surface of that distant moon, where she was trained in the arts of the mind and the body. Upon reaching maturity, she fought Thanos himself, stood alongside the superheroes of Earth against cosmic menaces, tried and failed to become the Celestial Madonna, declared herself a goddess of an alien world, suffered punishment for her hubris from the Norse Gods, defeated the monster known as the Dragon of the Moon, died, was reborn, and returned to Titan, a great and mysterious hunger gnawing at her.

(Yeah, she has a convoluted and wacky history, even by comic book standards.)

Her narration continues as we jump back to the present. Moondragon is walking through a residential American neighborhood, watching the people. Human nature, she notes, is alien to her. Yet she herself is human. Life among the primitives, she decides, may provide an insight to her problem. She selected the city of South Bend, Indiana, because it was her mother's ancestral homeland.

Her stroll stops at a house. In its yard is a sign: “Madame Alice: Psychic.” Moondragon’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she enters the house. Perhaps another telepath like her might be of aid?

Inside she finds Alice Coughlin, “psychic,” offering advice to an elderly woman. A quick mind-scan by Moondragon tells her that Alice is a giant fraud. A big-haired, ugly-sweatered, too-tight-jeans-wearing, fraud. Moondragon takes a seat to wait for her “reading” and fumes. “Ridiculous,” Moondragon thinks. “Humans. They let themselves be fooled by—“

Before she can complete her thought, four orangutans bearing spearguns, their pelts smeared with peanut butter, burst into the house. The four apes wear hardhats with speakers mounted on them.

Their speakers boom out in unison: “ALICE! WE’VE COME FOR YOU! SOCK HOP TIME!”

One ape fires a spear at Alice. It creases the air and flies towards the woman’s heart.

Until it is caught by Moondragon.

Still dressed in normal clothes, Moondragon unloads one standard barrel of industrial-grade, kung fu-flavored whoopass upon the orangutans. Spears fly through the air, and she either catches or deflects them all. She uses the cords trailing from the spears to tangle and trip the apes as she flies around and punches the animals out. The old woman and Alice are paralyzed by fear.

Once it’s over, she looks at Alice and scans her mind. Alice has no idea what’s going on. The apes are impervious to Moondragon’s powers, what with being apes and all.

The old woman coughs and asks Moondragon what she was doing there, and if she’d like a mint.

“I’m here to…get advice from Madame Alice. And no, thank you.”

Alice and Moondragon decamp to a nearby chain diner. They mention that Animal Control took away the apes, and wonder at the strangeness of the attack. “That was incredible,” Alice says. “And where did you learn that karate stuff, Heather? That was amazing!”

“I grew up...abroad,” Moondragon explains. An incurious Alice considers this explanation enough.

As the sun goes down, Moondragon’s contempt meets with her curiosity, and she prompts to Alice perform an impromptu “psychic reading” in the diner.

Alice isn’t just wrong, she’s hilariously wrong. (“You are a kind and humble person…You should go back to your boyfriend. He is sorry, and he loves you very much.” Moondragon, a lesbian who is anything but kind or humble, says nothing and tries to look astonished at Alice’s “insights.”)

As Alice yaps, Moondragon ponders the mystery of the orangutan attack. A deep scan of Alice’s mind produced nothing that would be a clue as to the apes’ master. She sees that Alice’s daughter Stacey is estranged, and rightfully so, but not dangerous. Alice's ex-husband Bob wouldn’t bother to train and dispatch a hit squad of apes; he’d just yell at her.

The scene jumps to the outside of the diner, across the street to a Studebaker museum. We see the silhouettes of orangutans messing with the cars.

Back in the diner, Moondragon discovers the wonder that is strawberry rhubarb pie. Humanity, she realizes, has its charms.

Then a pair of 1955 Studebakers crash into the front of the diner. The cars are filled with orangutans, all wearing hardhats with head-mounted speakers and vests made of plastic explosive. All of the speakers cry out “HEEEE-WACK! EVERYBODY DIES NOW!”

Alice rises from her seat. “Tommy?”

Then the diner explodes, desecrating the Indiana night with fire, debris, and small chunks of roasted ape.

To be continued next Friday in Moondragon #2: The Strange Secret of Tommy Callahan!

NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.


  • You've got my attention!

    By Blogger plok, at 4:36 AM  

  • Putting on my professional hat for a moment, I'd recommend two changes.

    The first would be to lose the montage giving us Moondragon's backstory. Having this sort of exposition in a new comic about a previously existing character basically tells new readers who aren't already familiar with the character that "these are a whole bunch of stories you haven't read" which only acts as a barrier to accepting the narrative...and it runs the risk of boring those readers who already know the history and just want to get down to the action. But the crucial point is that it isn't necessary for the story...and if some historical detail becomes necessary to the plot later on, it can be divulged later on.

    In fact, I'd go even further and suggest deleting the opening on Titan altogether, and open with the image of a weird bald woman walking down the street in a small town and stopping at the home of "Madame Alice, Psychic." Let the new reader become acquainted with this strange woman as the other characters do, and let older readers who already know Moondragon see her anew, with her strangeness and mystery restored.

    You already have ample opportunity in this plot to demonstrate the essential points about Moondragon: that she has alien martial arts and psychic abilities, and that she's arrogant and disdainful of humanity. At some later point, you can find time for a flashback to Titan to demonstrate how she got to be this way -- a kind of reversal on the lead character of Stranger in a Strange Land, a human whose upbringing by aliens has made her dispassionate rather than compassionate -- when it's necessary to delineate some specific aspect of her nature.

    Frankly, the setup you've written here is so strong that I could really see this working as the introduction of an entirely new character all your own, written and drawn for real rather than just as a fun exercise for a blog. Give her a new name and revise the backstory to not use any Marvel-owned elements and this is still a great story opening. Please note that many pros have done this successfully -- taking a premise that was originally meant for a company-owned character(s) and reworking it to be a new creator-owned character -- including the likes of Steve Gerber and Peter David more than once.

    I know that goes against the point of the exercise...but the definition of serendipity is finding something unexpectedly cool when you were trying for something else...

    By Blogger RAB, at 4:19 PM  

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