Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ripples in the Substrate: or, Where Did SHADRACH STONE come from?

Part One: Lies, Damn Lies, and Dick Grayson

Note: Part of this entry appeared on an earlier incarnation of this blog. So if you think you’ve seen it before, you haven’t slipped into an alternate reality. Or maybe you have…


I’d been playing with the basic idea for SHADRACH STONE for a while, letting it simmer on the back burner. I don’t think of myself as particularly skilled at the art of Hollywood-style pitches, but I’d run this one by several people: The biggest liar in America winds up dead center of a national tragedy, and finds himself inexplicably drawn toward the center of the disaster while everyone else runs away. He undergoes a mysterious trauma, which changes him profoundly. Afterward, he can no longer abide lying in himself or in others -- which destroys his career in record time. (I’m omitting one important detail here, to avoid spoiling the story.) The pitch always held people’s interest -- which told me I was on to something.

The trouble was: I had a powerful “origin,” but nowhere to go after that. In my initial notes, Shadrach opened up a sort of psychic detective agency with a former priest known only as Father. I tried merging SHADRACH with another story called Flicker, which had been in development with Humanoids, as Shadrach’s first case; but that was never a good fit. (I’m slowly developing Flicker, separately, as a series of prose novellas.)


Then, in mid-2006, DC asked me to revamp Nightwing. They’d been struggling with what to do with the character since Infinite Crisis; it was felt that Dick Grayson wasn’t important enough, and needed to be at the center of cosmic forces. I sat down and devised a whole cosmology centering around Nightwing himself, including a secret organization called Force Majeure that had been watching him for years. Editor Nachie Castro liked it, and I wrote one script.

DC elected to go in a different direction with Nightwing, which is of course their prerogative. But I felt like I’d stumbled onto something kind of special, a weird mix of street-level adventure and the sort of cosmic comics I’d loved at 1970s Marvel, which had, in turn, inspired some of the Vertigo books I used to edit. It played to two of my favorite genres.

Plus I had a hell of a lot of notes on Force Majeure.


Where Flickers was a bad match with SHADRACH, Force Majeure was perfect. The group’s peculiar vision of the universe gave the whole project a forward momentum that made the whole thing take off. Most of all, the new element really allowed me to explore the meaning of lies -- the damage they cause, both to victims and perpetrators -- in a dramatic, allegorical setting.

I had a number of comics projects ongoing or in the works, and I wanted to try something different. So I decided to write up a TV pilot for SHADRACH STONE. I deliberately kept it cheap to film -- probably too cheap, as I discovered when I converted it back to comics. More on that next time.

I probably would have shopped it around in that format first, except that something else dropped into my lap. Something with the suspiciously Biblical name of Jon Proctor.

To be continued...


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