I know, took long enough. Let me explain why.
Manhattan Guardian was my favorite of the original Seven Soldiers series, and it was also the one with the clearest direction for an ongoing series. Disgraced ex-NYPD cop Jake Jordan gets a second chance to make something of himself when he answers an ad to become a reporter/mascot/superhero for the Manhattan Guardian, a tabloid newspaper that doesn’t just report the news … they make it. The first three issues of the series lay out a very clear blueprint, I believe, for how the series is supposed to work: one- to two-issue stories, largely self-contained, with ongoing personal sub-plots running in the background.
Theoretically, you’d think that would make it the easiest to write, but it’s not the case. See, the the other six protagonists, by and large, ended up in a different place than they were at in the beginning of the series (I think Morrison knew in his heart of hearts that Klarion or the Bulleteer were unlikely to win their own ongoing series, but figured there was a good chance Manhattan Guardian could actually be a commercial success; so he gave the rest a complete arc, knowing that would probably be all they’d ever get, but left Guardian open). So the other six series required some conceptual legwork, and the question of “where do we go form here?” generates its own storytelling springboards.
But the direction of Manhattan Guardian was extremely well-established to begin with. Since the main meat-and-potatoes conflicts are one-offs, that means you have to come up with a ton of ideas; you just need to work up big piles of conceptual coal to run this train. So I had to take some time to do just that. But first: overall details about the series.
Superheroism in the post-Spider-Man mold is, of course, often portrayed as equal parts blessing and curse. Sometimes the curse part of it seems oppressive to the heroes, but their unerring sense of responsibility makes them stick with it, right? Jake Jordan, then, is quite refreshing, because for him, being the Guardian is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him. An incredible opportunity giving him financial security, a sense of purpose and direction, and perhaps most importantly for him, pride. Jordan seems somewhat traditional-conservative, and I’d want this to be apparent in his characterization – the kind of guy where, not that he thinks his wife shouldn’t work, but that she shouldn’t have to. He’s also extremely level-headed, which is good for the high-pressure situations of his “job,” but it also makes him – well, it’s not “cynical” or “jaded” at all, but a kind of cool seen-it-all pragmatism. Idealistic but not romantic. He enjoys being a hero, but he’ll never let fame consume him. Right man for the job.
Jake’s fiancée, Carla, in the original series, was initially supportive but, following the death of her father during a Guardian “story,” found herself disapproving of the dangers inherent to the superhero lifestyle to the point where it nearly destroyed their relationship. It’s the one disappointment in Morrison’s series for me – “significant other who wants superhero to give up the life so she won’t have to worry that he’ll be killed in action” is a pretty well-worn cliché (basically Mary Jane’s schtick in Spider-Man since they were married), and there’s no fresh twist given in the series. So I have devised a solution. Though she’s taken Jake back and worked through her issues to some degree, she still has that nagging fear in the back of her mind. You would too. But she does something about it by forming Super Significant Others, a support group for wives/husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends of superheroes. And since, of course, it’s difficult for the significant others to get together without compromising the identities of the superheroes, they come to meetings dressed in costumes as well; this not only conceals their identities but also helps them get firsthand experience of what it’s like to lead a double identity.
Oh, and I want most of the stories to be New York-specific; “Manhattan” is in the title, after all. I live in Wisconsin USA, and I never been to New York, but I have seen an awful lot of movies and television shows that take place there. Since Grant Morrison’s DCU-version of New York is one in which a number of fantastic and exotic architectural projects that were never built in real life were actually completed, I feel this gives me license to set the series in a hyper-real version of New York – not authentic in any way, but the romanticized version that exists in my head from watching Ghostbusters, The Critic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Woody Allen movies and David Letterman’s shows; New York as American Narnia, sort of.
The DC Universe New York, as it happens, has never produced many costumed supervillains. Befitting an image of NYC gleaned from movies and TV, the city tends to be threatened by gangs and mobs; the subway pirates of the first two issues again establishes the blueprint to follow. Jorge Control from #3 appears as a recurring villain; not necessarily an “archenemy,” but a guy who shows up when we need him – an unscrupulous genius with an interest in social dynamics.
So, on with the plots:
- We are introduced to Three-Card Monty, who will be a recurring character throughout the series. A “street magician” or “urban mage” dressed in a firefighter’s jacket, he’s got no time for Aleister Crowley, uses Bicycle playing cards instead of the Tarot, and will kick your ass if you insist that magic should be spelled with a “k”. He tracks down Jake and informs him that the time has come for the myth of St. George to replay itself in the modern world – only the part of St. George will be played by the Guardian, and the role of the dragon will be played by one of the 100-foot long mutated alligators that rule the New York City sewers.
- Former Manhattan Guardian theatre critic “Playbill” Pete Petrowicz was fired when his reviews were deemed “too extreme,” so he became a gritty vigilante stalking Broadway in the name of good taste – a bad review from Petrowicz isn’t a thumbs down, it’s a bullet in the brain. So when Samson Frank Robbins’ new musical Sub-Rosa Subway, the story of Alfred Beech’s Victorian-era pneumatic subway system, opens, it’s the perfect target.
- The head of the Chicago Deep-Dish Syndicate is in town for a historic peace agreement with the New York Pizza Mafia. But when a delivery boy is found dead in the Bronx, the Guardian has to solve the murder to prevent all-out war. And the killer is not who you think…
- Twin brothers Romulus and Remus Parker are known as New York’s greatest criminal real estate barons – think Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the DC Universe – and they’re about to pull their greatest coup by building in New York’s greatest undeveloped and unexploited piece of real estate: a floating skyscraper that hovers 100 feet above Central Park.
- A giant monster from an unknown galaxy of terror attacks New York, but is placated when it falls in love with the Statue of Liberty. The rudimentary communication the government is able to receive from the creature indicates that he’ll return to his home planet if he can take the statue with him, and New York finds itself divided about whether or not to let the alien have her. Save the city at the cost of one its most enduring landmarks? What side will Jake Jordan take?
- Remember Bill Brazil, who owns an art-house cinema and whose life Jake saves in Manhattan Guardian #2? His theatre shows The Most Controversial Movie Ever Made, which has half of New York trying to burn down his theatre, and the other half literally killing each other for a chance to see what’s got everyone so worked up.
- In the wake of a number of tourist abductions in Manhattan, Jake Jordan goes undercover as an accordion salesman from Green Bay to get to the bottom of it. Will seeing the city from outside eyes help Jordan rekindle his love of the city his job has caused him to sour on, or will the shabby treatment he receives from his fellow New Yorkers cause him to write off NYC once and for all?
- How does The Manhattan Guardian cover sports? When the Giants are down by five in the NFC championship game and their quarterback is injured, Guardian reporter Champ Takamura forgoes any sense of journalistic integrity and joins the team, takes over under center, and wins the game. Only problem is, the team they were playing was the Hub City Knuckles, and they don’t take kindly to losing. Their revenge against the Guardian is to tie Takamura to the goalpost in a boobytrapped stadium and challenge Jake Jordan to rescue him – if he survives One Hundred Yards of Death.
- After eight issues of nonstop rock’em-sock’em action, I will ask the editors and readers very kindly for an issue’s worth of indulgence for Issue #9. In a story that can only be called Waiting For Johnny Moondog, Three-Card Monty convinces Jake on behalf of the newspaper to camp out in front of the former home of a rock ‘n’ roll legend on the anniversary of his assassination in the hopes that they’ll see his ghost. As they wait, Jake and Monty have a long conversation about the artist in question, and Jake will take quite a bit of convincing that this working class hero was anything but a complete hypocrite.
- The Guardian interviews Lois Lane for a position with the newspaper – after all, if any reporter knows about putting herself in harm’s way and making herself a part of the story, it’s Lois, right? – and they get themselves mixed up in Romulus and Remus Parker’s latest scheme. You know that urban legend about con artists selling the Brooklyn Bridge? The Parkers discover that one of those contracts is, in fact, valid and try to hijack the bridge when the city doesn’t recognize their seemingly legal right to it.
- Jake Jordan was once in the NYPD. Jordan’s former superior gets in touch with him and reveals that he and five other ex-cops are going to form a superhero vigilante team, and want Jake to help train them. Now, this story usually ends with the hero telling the vigilantes that laws are important, that they’re all we have, and that we should work within them. But the cops point out that half the Golden Age superheroes have the same motivation and they’re all looked at as heroes, so Jake finds this issue isn’t as black-and-white as the traditional superhero boilerplate.
- The Guardian finally puts The King’s Menaces, a bunch of former Shakespeare in the Park actors who’ve taken to crime after falling on hard times, behind bars. But a poorly planned sentencing puts them in the same prison that Playbill Pete is being kept in, and the Guardian has to prevent a Shakespearean tragedy from occurring at Attica prison.
- Following the story with Lois Lane, the Guardian is sent to Metropolis to do an expose on why Superman hasn’t been able to completely clean up Suicide Slum.
- And finally, as promised, the Reverse-Crazyface from my Bulleteer proposal gets mixed up in a gang war between Two-Face and Doctor No-Face, and Zatanna is drafted in when things threaten to go cosmic as the unfathomable Anti-Face makes its presence known.
So that’s somewhere around fourteen issues, which I think is a good start, and hopefully all that would be required to convince somebody that yes, I could totally sustain this thing. I couldn’t think of anything to do involving taxis; well, that’s not true, I could, but all the most obvious ideas were uncomfortably xenophobic, which you could make work, I just hadn’t found the proper angle at which to attack it.
I think I’ll have one more short post to wrap this up in a day or so, but for know I say only “THE CHALLENGE HAS BEEN MET,” and retire to the mead halls in celebration.