Friday, June 18, 2010

Making of "A Nightmare Made Flesh"

Urban Nightmare is possibly the most misunderstood character I've ever created. I chalk this up to a couple of deficiencies in my original presentation of him. "A Nightmare Made Flesh" is my attempt at correcting this problem.

Even when I was unsure if Captain Satellite's world needed other heroes like the Invincible Alliance, I was already convinced that Urban Nightmare filled a vital role in that setting. He is the "normal" hero who fights "normal" crimes. I guess you could compare him to Batman (and I have), but Bats has never been a prime source of inspiration for him. He owes far more to the masked heroes who otherwise eschewed spandex costumes. I could make a big list, but the two most important for our purposes are the Question and Mr. A.

Steve Ditko is primarily revered for his work on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but he has had a lengthy career in comics, and since the 1960s he has often created stories influenced by his belief in Objectivism. The Question served as a vehicle for those types of tales when Ditko was at Charlton, but the character that really and truly embodied that philosophy was Ditko's creator-owned champion Mr. A. I have always been fascinated by both of these heroes, their stories, and their striking visuals. In developing Urban Nightmare, I became enthralled with the idea of him filling a similar role as the Question/Mr. A - only NOT as an Objectivist mouthpiece, but rather as someone who guarded the city streets.

In many ways, I consider Urban Nightmare the most moral and capable of my heroes. His motive is simply to protect people, and he's doing it the best way he can. He has no powers or gimmicks, but fights with just his strength, his skills, and his wits. Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons started with the Question and gave us Rorschach; I started with the Question and came up with Urban Nightmare. Same beginning, radically different result.

Unfortunately, the Urban Nightmare's look is one that is harder to get across through my art than your typical superhero spandex suit. So my version looks a little ridiculous at first glance with his yellow rain jacket and pimp hat. That was why I hatched the scheme to commission my friend Kabuki Katze to reimagine the character with her typical flair. But I didn't leave her at sea with the project, oh no. She can testify to the fact that I sent her a bunch of visual references beyond just pointing to my original profile picture and asking her to improve it. I am really pleased with the job she did on this project - one of the more atypical works she's created in the last couple of years.

The other issue I had with Urban Nightmare was that I was deliberately vague in sketching out his original profile. Though expanded from the 2007 version, his backstory was still a little nebulous. I had some ideas, but they really required thought and care before I was comfortable presenting them to an audience. One thing that needed addressing was deciding on a new name for the character's alter ego, because the old one had to go. I consulted this site on Zulu culture to develop a name that conveyed some of my notions about Urban Nightmare's other identity. "Xolani Shabangu" was my choice, and if you look up the meaning of "xolani" on that site, you may understand why.

I realize it may be hard for some to reconcile a world that features superhero craziness with the events described in "A Nightmare Made Flesh." What can I say? It's a big, self-contradictory world that we occupy in real life, so I don't have difficulty imagining a fictional world where the real and the unreal co-exist. I also have no trouble believing that Neil Gaiman's Sandman occurs in the same world where the Justice League fought a giant starfish.

"A Nightmare Made Flesh" was another interesting effort in writing a first-person narrative for a character that was unlike me. It's brief, but I like to think it gets its point across. Hopefully, it will serve as a foundation for establishing Urban Nightmare's place in my world.

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