3rd SR Crapometer #4

Dear Miss Snark,

Below is my Crapometer submission, "Direct Current." It's a story of rivalry, friendship, and love among superheroes, in a world not so different from our own. Thank you for reading.


You mention superheroes, first thing I want to know is whether this is for grownups or kids. Word count is helpful, so is an idea of the plot. I'd probably keep reading cause superheroes are sort of cool right now but we're not off to a good start here.

Alex's eyes shot open when he heard the noise. Electricity crackled beneath his fingertips, and he shook his hand to dispel it; like a cold sweat, the sensation was never pleasant. He stood slowly, nervous despite the knowledge he was 30 floors up and about as well-protected as a semi-private citizen could be, and threw open the blinds.

Nightstalker was sitting on his balcony.

It had to be Nightstalker; it was too dark to see clearly, but even in the shadows, Alex could make out the ridiculous half-face helmet, the goggles, and the great billowing mass of a cape trailing behind the man as he crouched on the balcony railing. Alex was absolutely sure
he'd posed that way on purpose.

He was sorely tempted to close the blinds and go back to bed, but against his better judgement, he opened the door. "What the hell do you want, Nightstalker?"

"Nice place you've got here," Nightstalker replied. "It was a bitch and a half to climb, but the view's amazing. I guess being a corporate rentboy has its perks--hey, is that a jacuzzi?"

The apartment was pitch-black--so he was using nightvision, then. Alex flipped the switch by the door, flooding the balcony with light. Nightstalker swore loudly, nearly losing his balance as he punched a button on the side of the helmet. "Jesus, Surge, that was uncalled for. I could've fallen."

"Maybe you shouldn't be standing there, then. What are you doing here?"

"Have it your way." Nightstalker swung his legs down to sit on the railing. "I just came to tell you you're a prick."

Alex rolled his eyes. "Look, if this is about tonight--"

"You're damn right it is, Sparky. I told you to stay out of Westfield."

It was pure coincidence he'd seen the heist; he'd had an afternoon photo shoot, and was just trying to avoid the freeway. He couldn't always immobilize a perp on the first try, but stopping their getaway was easy enough; one quick jolt from his fingers blew every fuse in
their car. Nightstalker had appeared just as the first cops were congratulating Surge on his good work. "You don't own the neighborhood. I was there, and I saw something going down. This 'territory' thing you keep bitching about is childish and stupid."

"Yet you're the only one who doesn't respect it."

"Give me a break--"

"And if you try to deny it, you're full of it. Everybody knows Strongman's got downtown," said the shadow on the balcony, ticking off points on his fingers, "Lady Blade's covering the business district, you're uptown, and Captain Fancypants or whatever the hell he calls himself now has Harbor Village. And I take care of Westfield."

Alex snorted. "Like you did tonight? You should be thanking me."

"I had it covered." Nightstalker's voice was quiet, but something sharp and dangerous lurked beneath it. "I had surveillance; I'd have caught up in twenty minutes if someone hadn't had to swoop in and save the day."

"Whatever." Every major city had at least one Nightstalker: the rich heir or self-made millionaire who decides he's going to be a big famous hero by buying some expensive toys and living out his adolescent power fantasies. Usually they got ridiculed; sometimes they just got killed. They never noticed that their gadgets didn't make them invincible. Alex knew better than to argue. "I'm going back to bed. Go stop crime and defend the innocent, if it's so
important to you."

"Yeah, it's important to me, and I'll thank you to let me do my job," Nightstalker growled. "We can't all have million-dollar sports drink contracts--I work my ass off to be taken seriously around here, and it'd be a hell of a lot easier if you'd keep out of my territory. If I need your help, I'll fucking ask for it." He clipped a rappelling cartridge to his wrist, then took aim and fired at the condominium towers across the street. Giving the line a couple of sharp tugs, he
straightened and stood on the railing. "You'd better get your beauty sleep, Surge--I wouldn't want you to jeopardize your precious paycheck." And then he was gone, swinging away into the night.

Alex watched long after he'd disappeared, his cheeks burning. "Fuck you, nutjob."

I'd keep reading, and if I liked what I saw, I'd ask for more but I'd also ask for a synopsis just to make sure both the Green Shadow and I know what evil lurks in the heart of the novel. One thing you won't know but I do is that Harcourt is publishing a very funny book about the "real" lives of superheros. Third Class Hero I think it's called by Charles Yu. It got a big push in the Harcourt pr stuff for the upcoming season and it was announced at Publishers Lunch. I'd be looking at this to see how it compares.


LJCohen said...

I would love to read this one. If it turns out to be the YA read it feels like, my 8th grader son would also love this.

Quirky in a good way.

Good luck to the author.

Cathy said...

It becomes clear this is an adult novel. Parts of it are brilliant, IMHO.

I have to admit that I probably wouldn't read it, however, simply because it's not my thing, but I imagine such a story could garner a movie deal.

December Quinn said...

As a bit of a comic geek myself, I'd totally keep reading--although the "interpersonal rivalry" has been done a lot in comics I still really like it.

K.L. said...

This is the downside of the crapometer--the handful of books I want to finish reading.

Wabi Sabi said...

Have read all the entries posted (so far - about 10) and liked this the best. I could imagine the teenagers I teach reading this and enjoying it (YA), equally I would enjoy it too (adult) - touch of the old Harry Potters?

River Falls said...

This is entertaining, but I hope it gets quirkier and funnier or it might seem like a SKY HIGH/THE INCREDIBLES derivative.

Eviltwin said...

As a librarian, comics fan, and somewhat grumpy reader of lit. fic., I loved it! The story gets moving right away, and the superhero names were well-chosen. It's true that the real lives of superheroes have been thoroughly explored in comics (like the classic Watchmen), but there's probably room out there for a fresh literary perspective.

Anonymous said...

I saw Nightstalker and my mental pic was of Carl Kolchak going after Barry Atwater with a stake and hammer in the last minutes of one of my fav movies.

Then I thought of the dude in CA who strangled people.

Then I recalled how I funded my way through college posing as a caped superhero in tights and cape at kid parties and mall openings. Capes are really hard to manage, getting caught in doors, ripping off your shoulders, strangling you at the neck with the ties, blowing over your head in a wind. How in heck had George Reeves managed? I have much respect for that dude.

Then my eyes glazed over, skimming but not reading until I saw the word "bitch" and figured this wasn't aimed at 8 year olds.

Then I wrote this mail.

Not even a comic book fan said...

I love this one. I'd keep reading, and if I'd picked this one up in stores, I'd probably buy it.

o said...

Too bad if it's already been done, because it's witty and well-written. This writer knows his/her way around the page.

JRBrown said...

Of the entries posed so far (up to #25), this is the one I'd most like to keep reading.

Couple of small problems:

The paragraph that starts "It was pure coincidence he'd seen the heist" confused me for a moment; I thought that Nightstalker had seen the heist and had to go back and rethink. It also took a minute to get the Alex/Surge connection.

As previous posters have mentioned, the "ordinary lives of superheroes" ground has been pretty well covered, so this book would have to be really funny or have something new to add, or preferably both.

Also, the name "Nightstalker" has been used before, and it may carry some baggage for many readers.

Anonymous said...

Great concept, great use of language. I would read on.

THRILL said...

Not what I normally read. Didn't look like young adult to me.

Love the voice, the dialogue. I'd keep reading--until it became predictable. Which I don't think it will!

Frainstorm said...

Loved this so far.

Not sure if the name Nightstalker carries baggage from the old Darren McGavin (?) series or not. If this is YA (seems like you might tone down the language if it's YA, but what do I know, I'm not even near the 212), you wouldn't have to worry about that. If it's adult, which was my guess, then some people would remember that character, but he wasn't a superhero of any sorts.

This is great stuff. I'd just wonder one thing: is there an actual plot to it or is it just a snapshot of the lives of superheroes? Likely there's a plot that the synopsis would capture more than the query. Or maybe I just don't remember it well from the query, I forget now.

Either way, nice job.

Anonymous said...

The query, imo, is terrible... but the first page is readable. Not sure it'd be my thing, but I'd read a couple pages into it and see.

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept. Vivid, clear language. Caught my attention right away. Moved quickly. Agree that "Nightstalker" name sounds too familiar, could be changed.

Concerned about the vulgarity. Not offended by it, but want to know whether it's really needed, as it would offend some readers. Also, assume adult readers are intended. To broaden the readership and include younger readers, drop the heavier vulgarity.

A couple of minor suggestions for tightening the text:

He was sorely tempted to close the blinds and go back to bed, but against his better judgement, he opened the door.

Could be split into two sentences:

He was sorely tempted to close the blinds and go back to bed. Against his better judgement, he opened the door.

The apartment was pitch-black--so he was using nightvision, then.

This sounds spoken, not written, a little too informal. Again, I'd split it into two:

The apartment was pitch-black. He used his nightvision.

Good start to what looks like it might be a good story!

BradyDale said...

Umm... okay, I'm something of a connoisseur in this area and this is so bad.

A) superheroes aren't fun to read about when they don't sound like humans. In comics, super-peers never refer to each other by their super-names unless in fun, in public or because they don't actually know each other.

I will believe a man can fly. I will not believe that a man will call another man "Nightstalker" in conversation if he knows his name is "Ray."

B) Superheroes would be way pissed if one showed up at the others house in costume in themiddle of the night and sat in the effing window.

OK, you can debate this one... but that part really put me off as forced.

C) The tone if this is just all awful.

D) So she's managed to do a reverse batman and steal the latest version of Booster Gold which is stolen from Mystery Men in order to create a Corporate Hero and a bboring rivalry, inter-office grumblematch, whatever. By the way, what rings hollow about a sponsored hero making fun of a trust-fund hero? Hmm?

E) I did like the part about him unconsciously crackling with electricity and it hurting. It's always cool when powers have consequences, but John Byrne already covered that territory pretty thoroughly and better with the NEXT MEN, so oh well.

but HARK! I say... SUPERHEROES are HOT NOW!! Miss Snark! I should drop everything I'm doing! I live for superheroes, I just don't really write books about them because,
i didn't really think there was an audience.

I bet a dollar that this book you speak of as coming from HARCOURT is just a total ripoff of a thousand jokes that were old for comic book readers 15 years ago (anyone seen THE INCREDIBLES - booooorrring. Old news).

Man. I gotta churn out a superhero book. Why didn't somebody send me a memo???

Crystal said...

Wow, I'm the only one who didn't like it...Shows how much I know.

I liked the part about the electricity at Alex’s fingertips. Good description, could almost feel it myself. Other than that, I didn’t care for the voice. It was very much like reading a comic book, which is bad in this instance, since you don’t have the pictures to back you up and tell the rest of the story.

I don’t care about the fact that he’s 30 stories up. Unnecessary fact that interrupts the tension, rather than builds it.

I wouldn’t know enough about Nightstalker to picture him just by reading his name. A description of the figure he presents, “ridiculous half-face helmet, the goggles, and the great billowing mass of a cape trailing behind the man as he crouched on the balcony railing” is good as an intro to the intruder, and then naming him in conversation would work better for someone who is not a comic book fan.

For the rest, stick to dialogue and action for the first page; describe why they’re fighting (turf wars) later.

The Author said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments (even the negative ones), and thanks to Miss Snark for running this event. It's very insightful--I've already got some ideas on how I'm going to work this over.

bradydale, at the risk of sounding like an over-sensitive writer-type, I'd like to respond to some of your points.
A) I agree with you--as it happens, Alex doesn't know Nightstalker's real name.
B) Are you saying that Alex doesn't come across as angry in this scene? The intention was there, but maybe the execution fell short.
D) I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at with your question here. But thank you for pointing out the similarities to existing superheroes--believe it or not, I've never read a superhero comic in my life, so this gives me a good jumping-off point for my research while I'm revising. Still, with the sheer volume of superhero comics that have been published over the years, I doubt it's possible to come up with a completely original superhero--it's just like they say: there's no such thing as a story that's never been done before.

BradyDale said...

wow, I don't really understand how you can deal with the concept of superheros and never having read them! That's crazy talk. That's like writing a book about the greek gods without every reading any myth. You know?

There are millions of pages of comics out there, but there is still a sort of canon. Start poking around and you'll figure it out. THE WATCHMEN helps, but you can't understand it until you've read a lot of other stuff. CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN, BATMAN: YEAR ONE... God, too many to list. Go to your local library. They usually have more than you'd think.

But let's go to the thing about names... How does Nightstalker know where Surge lives if Surge doesn't know Nightstalker's name?? I can't imagine this is an arrangement the latter would be thrilled about.

In this case, he'd most likely have a nickname. Like all the other superheroes call Daredevil "DD" or captain America "Cap."

As to my question... it's pretty hypocritical for Electic Dude to make fun of a hero who's got inherited wealth. They are both rich guys. Rich guys don't usually hate on other rich guys for being rich. It rings hollow. You peter parker style hero might hate on a Batman type, but Tony Stark is never going to mock Bruce Wayne's BMW.


BradyDale said...

By the way, in terms of comic books that have stood the test of time, very few heroes that really get a following strike out a neighborhood turf. There are exceptions. Daredevil in Hell's Kitchen, of course, but in all of Marvel, all the heroes get along in New York, where most of them are located.

that said, the turf they tend to stake out is the KIND of villain the go after. Shadow Hawk stopped violent crimes in progress. Solo goes after terrorists. the new warriors sought the truth. The Question sought out political corruption. Green Lantern looks out for extra planetary threats.

blah blah blah

Even when there was a lead character for a city (The Flash in Center City, StarMan in Opal city, The Question in Hub City and Gren Arrow in Seattle), they weren't protective of it. It's not very Hero'ish.

By the way, for humor about heroes on their off days, check out the live action TICK shows. Those were great.

Anonymous said...

Point of fact, I do believe the term 'superhero' (one word) is held in duel copywrite by Marvel and DC comics. I think to get around that, you -technically- have to type super hero, of all the sillness.

(Yeah, writting about the caped crusaders myself, so I've been watching my butt on the matter.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a comic book geek, I'm engaged to another, and his best friend is a third... and we all LOVED The Incredibles. Not boring at all. And no more "familiar" than any fairy tale, snappily told.

I like the author's take, especially the idea that there's an angsty Batman type in every city. (Though I'm with whoever said they need to find a different name.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Author,
Enjoy your first experience with a fanboy. If you continue to write, it won't be your last.

JRBrown said...

Anonymous said...
Dear Author,
Enjoy your first experience with a fanboy. If you continue to write, it won't be your last.

Er, that sentence need to have an "about superheroes" (or "about comics") between the "write" and the comma. Comics fans, especially "mainstream" (superhero) fans, do tend to be highly critical and protective of their genre. Be warned.

Author, if you have no comics exposure I would suggest reading a few, starting with Alan Moore's Watchmen (a very well-known "ordinary lives of superheroes" book with a very vocal fan community). Since there are a large number of in-jokes/metatextual references you may find these sites helpful:

Just in case the negative comments are getting you down, I would like to reiterate that I quite liked it and would like to read more. Since you don't provide a plot description I can't comment on whether the storyline is overworked, which would be the biggest problem I would be afraid of here.

BradyDale said...

Wow, fanboy. Sheesh, that's about the harshest thing you can say.

Look, I'm just saying that if you want to do a superhero story that goes under the surface, you really, really gotta know your stuff. You can tell that this isn't by someone who knows their stuff and since the market is going to be mainly comics fans, I'm saying this rings hollow and won't sell.

No way can you START with WATCHMEN. It won't make any sense. that's like Starting Sharkespeare by reading all of Harold Bloom's research notes or something.

by the way, did you really not know that Direct Current parodies D.C., one of the two big publishers (who actually even calls their preview periodical Direct Current).

And, yes, superhero fans are protective. If you're going to parody something, you've got to know what you're parodying.

(and I still maintain that if Night Stalker and Surge aren't buddies, they'd meet somewhere if they needed to talk... Surge would blast someone in a cape who showed up in his window... can't you imagine being a little touchy if you had a secret identity and fought crime)

luna_the_cat said...

Ok, I'm another person who loved this.

I thought the query was a bit too brief, too lacking in info. But (a) I'm a comics fan, too, and (b) I was definitely hooked with that first page.

I agree that you ought to read more superhero comics. Amazing that you captured the tone so well on this page without having done so! However, if you aren't familiar with the literature out there, you run too much risk in the course of a whole book of running over tired bits of plot or characterisation which have been done elsewhere and shouldn't be repeated.

For the record, though, I don't agree with what bradydale said about how the two would react to each other, or where they would meet and how -- I mean, that's his take on it, fine, but I don't think it's necessary and I like what you've got. Not everyone would react the same way, in-book or in Real Life™. I like how you've framed the encounter, and I like how you've phrased it. The people sounded "real" to me. IMO, the part about Nighthawk's nightvision goggles doesn't need to be changed into two sentences, either. Just IMO. The only thing I wasn't clear about, though, was -- if Nightstalker is a rich heir or whatever, why the reaction to Alex's nice apartment? Why would he be impressed and/or resentful?

This IS part of a real manuscript, right? You ARE trying to get this published for real, right? *holds breath and crosses fingers for you*

The Author said...

jrbrown: Oh, it's not getting me down. Nearly all the negative comments here are coming from bradydale, and it's becoming increasingly obvious he's filling in the blanks in my story fragment with his own internal mythology. For what it's worth, I found your comments quite helpful.

I've actually read Watchmen--great book! It's the "classic" superhero comics that I've never been exposed to: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc. Thanks for those links--Watchmen is such a dense story, I'm sure there's a ton of stuff I missed there.

bradydale: You're making an awful lot of assumptions about story themes and character motivations based on 712 words. Maybe I don't know as much about superhero comics as you, but I sure as heck know more about my novel...so why don't you let me tell you whether it's a parody, or whether so-and-so would react a certain way to a specific event?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I loved this. I am not a comic book fan (although I was guilty of reading the occasional Batman when I was a kid), but would definitely, absolutely buy this if I found it in a shop.

If I were you, I would ignore the criticism about not knowing anything about superheroes. The story isn't about Batman or Superman etc., it's about *your* super heroes and, therefore, they can act in whichever way *you* think best.

As long as they are believable and rapport-inducing, that's really all you need.

Just my 2p worth... :-)

Loriba said...

One other thing: it might be an idea to check your facts with regards to using electricity to blow the fuses in a car. I don't know if you're aware of this but a car is the safest place to be in the event of a lightning strike. The current simply goes around the outside to earth.

You'd have to explain how he manages to get around this.