Behind the Shades

So, what's it all about?
DAJB at 4:09AM, Nov. 18, 2007
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There are two main themes running through Shades. There are a lot of smaller ones too, but these are the big ones and they go a long way towards explaining why it is the way it is and why we bothered to do it at all.

It's super!

Firstly, it's a super hero story. Okay, given that we don't see any costumed fisticuffs for a long, long time, much of it probably fits better into the action/adventure genre but - to me - it started as and will always be a super hero story. A British super hero story.

Like many comic fans in the UK (and, presumably, elsewhere in the world) it's always been a source of bewilderment to me that almost all super heroes should live in the US. And about 50% - 60% of them in New York. Why? If these characters were real, NY should be the safest city on Earth and criminals (both super and otherwise) would choose to conduct their activities anywhere but in the US. Also, it just makes sense that - in a world in which super heroes can be created by chemical accidents, supernatural dabblings and plain old extra-terrestrial visitations - they would be everywhere. And for me, as a Brit, “everywhere” most definitely included dear old Blighty.

Stiff upper lips

Now, both DC and Marvel have paid lip service to expanding the global reach of their respective super hero universes. For the most part, however, they really haven't worked. Most non-US heroes are either explicitly or unintentionally spoof characters. Others, like Marvel's Captain Britain for example, just aren't British. Taking a clean-cut all-American sterotype and wrapping him in the Union flag, doesn't make a character British. It fails to understand so many things, not least that we Brits don't have the same feelings towards our national flag that the US has towards the Stars-and-Stripes. In fact, it makes the character a bit of a joke.

Not as much of a joke as DC's attempts, however. BeefEater, anyone? Shining Knight? How much research went into the creation of those characters? A quick half-hour lunch at the local Mediaeval theme-restaurant?

What I wanted to do with Shades was to create a cast of characters who looked and felt and acted as if they might have actually been born and raised in the UK. And, most importantly, as if they'd been shaped by that experience. Which brings me on to the second major theme.

This green and pleasant land

Once I'd decided I was going to write a super hero story set in the UK, I immediately ran into another question. Why? Wouldn't it just end up being a weak-minded spoof like Superman: True Brit? There is, after all, at least one valid reason why most super heroes live in New York. It's their natural habitat. Being able to leap (or swing between) tall buildings in a single bound looks pretty spectacular in a city where every building is a towering skyscraper. It's rather less impressive in a country where the tallest building in most towns is a multi-storey car park.

If Shades wasn't going to be either a spoof or, worse, a generic super hero story with less impressive scenery, why write it? Eventually I decided to bite the bullet and go for a big theme. The story itself would have to say something about what it means to be British; something about the British national character and what made it the way it is. (Or, at least, what made it the way it was while I was growing up!)

Peer pressure

The only question left, was could I strike the right balance? Comic books that tackle serious subjects (Palestine, Persepolis etc) have started to get a lot of publicity recently but I didn't want Shades to be grouped together with those. I wanted it to be fun.

What always impressed me about about The Dark Knight Returns is not just that it deals with a serious subject (I've always seen it first and foremost as the psychological portrait of a man coming to terms with the pain of midlife crisis), but that it did so within the conventions of one of the most derided comic book genres - the super hero story. Yes, the deeper stuff is all there if you want it. But, if you don't, it's still a lot of fun to read. And it looks a damn sight better than Palestine, too!

And that's what I wanted for Shades. Yes, I wanted it to have its serious undertones for anyone who could be bothered to look for them, but I also wanted it to be an action-led, fun-filled roller-coaster for anyone who just wanted to enjoy a bit of escapist entertainment. Hope I didn't miss the target by too much!


last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
Lemniskate at 12:11PM, Nov. 18, 2007
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That's something that bothered me for a long time, too: that all those supers should live in the US. Yes, there was nightcrawler, but what kind of message is that? The only prominent superHERO from Germany is a blue-furred demon-shaped mutant? Not to mention all the supernazis… ugh!

The things you wrote here about are valuable informations! I'm not sure, though, if non-Brits can decode your discreet hints. But a noble goal!
 VaƄmyz umoj.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
DAJB at 2:01AM, Nov. 19, 2007
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Lemniskate
That's something that bothered me for a long time, too: that all those supers should live in the US. Yes, there was nightcrawler, but what kind of message is that? The only prominent superHERO from Germany is a blue-furred demon-shaped mutant? Not to mention all the supernazis… ugh!
Yeah, the Germans get a pretty raw deal. Given that so many of the iconic super heroes were created in the 1930s and 1940s, it's not surprising that the classic bad guys (e.g. Red Skull) are often Nazis. (Strangely enough, though, there don't seem to be many Golden Age super villains from Japan!)

What's more disturbing is how often the Nazis are still used as bad guys today. There is a dreadful straight-to-video film on TV in the UK at the moment called SS Doomtrooper (essentially, a Nazi version of the Hulk) and, although HellBoy's nemesis - Rasputin - is Russian, it's interesting that all his companions are Nazis.

I read recently that video games often have Nazis because, in this age of political correctness, they and aliens are the only two groups the designers can cast as villains without upsetting some ethnic lobby group. Maybe that's got something to do with it!

Oh, well … Shades is about the British national psyche in the post-war period, so we do inevitably mention WW2 (hey, it's a huge part of Doug's back-story!) but I promise we have no German super villains. Both our good guys and our bad guys are all home-grown!

Lemniskate
I'm not sure, though, if non-Brits can decode your discreet hints.
I'm sure you're right. In fact, I doubt if many Brits will read it that closely, either!

But that's kind of the point. If one or two people realise there's more to Shades, then that's good. For me, though, it's just as important that everyone else can just enjoy the story!

last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
Adam Black at 10:46AM, Dec. 5, 2007
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DAJB
I read recently that video games often have Nazis because, in this age of political correctness, they and aliens are the only two groups the designers can cast as villains without upsetting some ethnic lobby group. Maybe that's got something to do with it!

I think that has *everything* to do with it, to tell you the truth. They're bad, they're safe to despise, and they're not around anymore. That's the perfect trifecta for “Bad Guys Who Won't Get Us Sued”.

I agree with your observation that there aren't enough British superheroes. I think you've found your niche, and I think that you're doing a hell of a job.

I always wondered why someone didn't do a superhero based upon Robin Hood. Maybe a little like Green Arrow, but he robs from the Megacorporations and redistributes to the starving in Africa or something.

No one's run with this because it's probably a very lame idea. ;)
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
DAJB at 11:26PM, Dec. 5, 2007
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joined: 2-23-2007
Adam Black
I agree with your observation that there aren't enough British superheroes. I think you've found your niche, and I think that you're doing a hell of a job.
Thanks, Adam!

Adam Black
I always wondered why someone didn't do a superhero based upon Robin Hood. Maybe a little like Green Arrow, but he robs from the Megacorporations and redistributes to the starving in Africa or something.

No one's run with this because it's probably a very lame idea. ;)
No, it's not a lame idea. I did actually have a Robin Hood based character among my initial list of possible heroes. He didn't make the final cut (or even the shortlist!) because, it's such a good idea that there are already super heroes based on Mr Locksley. Both Marvel's Hawkeye and, as you say, DC's rich old lefty Green Arrow are both Robin Hood-a-likes. How could you differentiate a new bow-master from those two?

If you're interested you can read about some more characters who didn't make it into Shades here.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM

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