Posted by Ron Edwards
I spent quite a bit of 2019 with this guy, and this is the start of a series of posts all about it. Briefly: he’s called Intruder, his given name is Jay LeBeau, he is a joint creation by me and artist Scott LeMien, and we did a twelve-page comics story strictly for fun. The first two posts here will present the beginning of the process and the end, and then I’ll natter on through a bunch more about hows and whys and whatnots. For something done on a non-commercial whim, it prompts a remarkable number of thoughts through several different media.
So – on to the beginning. Scott provided some artwork for my game Trollbabe over a decade ago, and in later years we hitched up on Facebook, as you do. He posted cool comics pages and sketches, and one thing leading to another, about a year ago, we decided to do a little some comics. I was determined about the arrangement: just for fun, specifically our fun. I’m extremely done with comics as a business enterprise of any kind.
For those of you having little shit-fits already about ownership and IP and what-about-the-movie-money, and all such tediousness, it’s easy: he can do whatever he wants with it and I can do whatever I want with it. You know who you are – now go away.
I began with asking him to play my little game Supervillain You, which I love very much and am heartbroken that no one seems to want it, or if they even look at it, never to mention it again. It’s been through a few revisions, some very recent, so at least for purposes of understanding this post, here it is: Supervillain You.
I can’t say for sure whether Scott approached “SVY” with either seriousness or creative commitment; I get the impression that he was a little surprised by the fact that he came up with something at all, and also by my determination to stick with it as a creative act. Some of my latest rewrite is aimed at getting the reader to understand what this activity even is, which probably wasn’t immediately obvious when he played it. Regardless, his result intruder01 was strong: the character is a master of surveillance and information flow, a bit of a social organizer and thought-leader, somewhat mind-controllish, but rather than being into control, he’s determined to battle the individuals and organizations which channel information into narratives for purposes of profit and power. Very much into “information wants to be free,” essentially an anarchist, at a pretty powerful scale. Crucially, too, he is himself in a constant battle for control as his powers are partly derived from some kind of artificial-intelligence symbiote, which has ideas of its own. In fact, he’d be dead without it, as he suffers from fatal cancer and it’s partly replaced his own body.
Appropriately from an artist and very much as I desired, some of his resulting work was visual, with this inspiration from Steve Ditko and this sketch.
It should be pretty clear. Given the name “Intruder,” you have an “I” rather than Ditko’s “H,” and there are lots of indications about technology as well as the implication of at least some physical action, not merely thinky-brainy-computer stuff.
The game is supposed to result in names, places, characters, and some story-stuff worthy of either back-story or actual plot, and I realized Scott hadn’t gone that far, so I insisted on a conference mainly to walk him through finishing it. Part of that includes the “you” part, in that the character is supposed at least to start autobiographically for the person playing the game. It can soften up in that regard as you go along. So part of this conversation was a little interrogative, encouraging Scott to dig, even to admit, where and how Intruder might “be” or “speak to” him as a creator.
The result was … really strong, even to the point where Scott may have tried to wiggle out of it once or twice during the later work. He immediately produced what the comics people call the “crucible of crazy,” which is free-associative panels and sketches that may or may turn into story, but basically get all your notions skitchy-scratched down onto paper, with the necessary proviso that none of it has to be actually used as presented at the moment. I’m not going to provide them here in full, as much of the information is personal for Scott. But upon seeing the three crazy pages of teeny panels and free-associative, revealing text, I knew right then that we’d succeeded, that Intruder was a character with emotions and weight – and stories that could be told, both backstory and as yet unknown.
Here are a couple of important concepts that jumped out at me, which you may say I appropriated as the writer, turned into forms that spoke to me, and began to express as plot notes.
- The content indicated an extreme rejection of libertarianism, specifically the latter-day form, which is a mash-up of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and transnational media-political conglomerates. This is no small thing in terms of comics, as Ditko was famously an advocate of Objectivism, so to draw on him visually at the same time as rejecting these ideas is not only ambitious, it’s almost blasphemous in terms of comics fandom.
- It also tied the character’s younger embrace of these ideas to his cultural programming through 1980s teen-comedy cinema and his modest ambitions to be successful, normal, and happy. Given that the character was born in the mid-80s and thus encountered all of this as Reaganite holy-mythology, i.e., “reality,” and given that I am familiar with many a twenty-year-old bright-eyed little libertarian, this insight that he derived it from these stories, not merely intellectually, is critical.
- Critically, the character is not a resentful “I was abused as a kid and I have cancer so you all must suffer” asshole, but instead, a guy who overcame his harsh background and really had given his all in the name of the monomyth, only to realize how bad it was – he’s not driven by resentment and acting-out, but by cold, knowledgeable rage.
So many things! For example, the “I” itself is now recognizable as a defiant re-claiming of the central concept in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, i.e., reclaimed from her abuse of it; it’s about individuality without using it as a mask for profiteering. Scott was very clear about this, and chose the “I” as meaning “ideal” and “insurgent” from the character’s point of view. Intruder is what his enemies call him (that’s part of the game, actually; you don’t name yourself as you please).
I realized we were talking about serious cultural and political statements, framed almost as a cry of agony, a stark rebellion against Happy-Reagan prosperity theology, presented in the most appropriate comics form imaginable: a Ditko-style anti-establishment anti-hero, or at least understandable semi-villain. This is right out of Daniel Boorstin’s 1961 book The Image: A guide to pseudo-events in America – Intruder is a champion for battling pseudo-events right on the front lines, which makes him, basically, what is now called a terrorist or worse. On my end, I determined to turn the Ditko style up to 11, including infographics, rants, and basically underground comix sensibility, rather than “clean” cinematic-style storyboarding. All of this takes on remarkable power when you consider the full case of Julian Assange; Intruder would consider WikiLeaks a wuss endeavor for trusting that getting the information out to the press would accomplish anything, as the press is itself fully compromised.
I set to work and turned the ideas and notes into a character. I transliterated Scott’s name into an equivalent, changed-up some biographical details and specs, and decided upon a location. I chose which form of cancer we were talking about, which suggested to me one of my favorite comics visual concepts, facial disfigurement. Through back-and-forth, the fifteen-angle facial study (the images above are three of those) emerged, and I instantly made it my computer screen background. Scott had also suggested that Intruder had some interesting helpers or lieutenants, who were at risk through the extremity and unpredictability of his powers, so I made them up too. I chose a bunch of visual references and put it all together, adding Scott’s responding riffs to arrive at this Intruder concept document, including the art direction.
The time for scripting had arrived, but instead of forcing you to relive the next few months with me, my next post will provide the entirely-finished result.
About Ron EdwardsGame author, publisher, consultant, teacher
Posted on February 27, 2020, in Adept Comics, Supers role-playing and tagged Daniel Boorstin, H, Intruder, Scott LeMien, Steve Ditko, Supervillain You, The Image. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.
“[…] my little game Supervillain You […] at least for purposes of understanding this post, it’s attached here.”
I consider this teasing! Where is it? The game sounds very interesting. 🙂
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Whoops! I meant it to be a link in the text, like the others. I’ll add it!
As far as I can tell, this is your first mention of SVY (at least on the blog), else I would have checked it out earlier.
It is! I had to think a bit about why that’s so. Let’s see … I wrote the first version in 2015 and asked a friend to help with some of the content and the artistic design. For whatever reason, the result didn’t come together as well as I’d hoped, and I became busy with other things. When I got back to it, in part due to diving so hard into this blog, I decided to rewrite it fully and to work with an artist so it’d have a full-on, from-scratch example. Instead of hunting anyone down, I decided to treat it a little more playfully as I described above, and so didn’t get rolling until just under a year ago. The road to finishing this was also a little rocky (plus being distracted, and I mean that clinically, by Champions Now), but here it is.
More importantly, though, I’d like to know what happens when you try it! Especially if you can put aside anything you see here from me and Scott, and just work with it your way for whatever seems right.
I’m curious about any anecdotes from past stories of your other comic projects, particularly as they pertain to differences and similarities to your Intruder experience, but that may be too private of a request.
It looks like you had a supervillain imprint here: https://xaoscomics.wordpress.com – did Xaos comics ever come up between us? I don’t think it did.
Which reminds me that I liked Supervillain Team Up, and got some backissues on it at one time. Where else would I learn details like the Red Skull doesn’t like to shower after a workout, he digs his man-stink, and that’s off memory. He may have also been smoking while exercising.
One thing I remember about Supervillain You was that last roll, the final fate of the villain, that scared me, mainly because I wanted him to win but I also kinda wanted the world to win, to better show the opposition.
I’m psyched for the next blog post!
That site is total legacy, and I started that series over with a different artist. I tried to get three series going for a while, and only one really clicked, Sword of God. You can find them all at this blog through the tags: One Plus One, Sword of God, and Ophite. I made the colored pages available to backers at the Patreon. I really liked all the concepts. We can talk some time about how it went and why it stopped.
You might like my post about Super-Villain Team-Up, Bare-chested villainy.
I’m reading SVY, and it’s giving me feelings. In some sense it’s the exact opposite of my Heliophage game, which is about the difficulty of doing good even with overwhelming, inexorable power. And in other senses it’s similar- it expects the world to react realistically and authentically to the player character’s actions. I’d definitely give it a shot, but you’re probably not flying out for Forge Midwest next month, eh?
Also this 2d6(+2 on match) thing yields a really weird distribution! Makes me want to see how it’d work with other dice sizes/combinations. Might do a spreadsheet.
This description of the mythology of the 80s cuts deep, man. Some of my biggest damage comes out of the “second place is the first loser” mentality that says if you’re not the best, why bother even showing up?
Good stuff. Looking forward to the rest of the posts.
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Great to see you checking this out. I was just thinking, though, that 3d6 would be better (same rules: take the highest, +2 for one match, +3 for three of a kind).
The rules for re-rolling made a lot more sense for an earlier version of the resolution. They may not be quite right any more; I’m seeing how it goes for a while.
My age/perspective is weird on the 80s mentality. It’s one of those things where the reality is so different from the myth, yet the myth took on such powerful force, that you can find two people of just about the same age, but one was never affected by it, and the other became a complete adherent.
I feel like the ones who adhered are mostly likely the ones for whom it paid off. But it’s just a hunch.
Here’s my quick and dirty spreadsheet for the 3d6 version, although by quick and dirty I mean I just wasted half an hour of my life doing this by hand so it’s probably not even right but it sure is bonkers.a
Eh, it’s on the second tab, sorry- I dunno how to make it link directly to that.
I think you might be mis-applying the mechanic? The value begins with the highest die showing, not their sum. Therefore (using 3d6),
1 1 1 = 1 + 3 = 4
1 1 2 = 2 (the matches of the 1’s don’t matter)
1 2 2 = 2 + 2 = 4
2 2 2 = 2 + 3 = 5
and to clarify the matching issue,
1 1 3 / 1 2 3 / 2 2 3 all give the same result = 3
and at the high end,
4 5 6 = 6
5 5 6 = 6 (the matches of the 5’s don’t matter)
5 6 6 = 6 + 2 = 8
6 6 6 = 6 + 3 = 9 for the maximum value
You are perfectly free to assign more dots than the dice can reach – that’s a feature.
I can see that the rules need examples to clarify this point, and also that as written, they aren’t clear at all that matches only apply to the highest value, not to any matches of any dice.
Spitball distribution for 2d6 (rounded to tenth of a percent):
2 = 5.6%
3 = 13.9%
4 = 19.4%
5 = 25%
6 = 30.6%
7 = 2.8%
8 = 2.8%
I’d found that this is too clumped. It’s nice that the choice of “how many dots,” assuming you want to nail it, is split almost 50-50, so there is no optimal strategy, but the choice of using either 5 or 6 dots is still close to such a thing. I want a bit more spray.
Making it 3d6 only adds one more increment (9) but spreads out the distribution. I’ll may not get to mapping out the percentages tonight as it’s getting late in the nordic lands, but maybe you can.
Well, I figured it out but I’m not sure I like it. It’s not meshing with the choices. Maybe a little rebooting over the next day or two.
Ah, yeah, seems like I misread how the resolution works. Glad I spent all the effort for nothing! But maybe someone else can use it for something, who knows.
I do dig the element where you have to buy “flaws” equal to your power.
The file was helpful! I used it as a model to work out a number of different options.
I decided I went off on a wrong road for the recent revisions. I’m putting together an alternate dice system now which is much simpler and better. It requires a teeny bit of retooling of the related mechanics about scope of action and the process for rolling again.
Cool! I look forward to seeing what the next version looks like.
Here’s my 200 Word RPG take on the perils of world-changing power, Heliophage:
Because nobody asked:
WHAT’S WRONG IN THIS WORLD?
The NYPD. You know why.
The institution is beyond fixing, so it will be annihilated. Which is to say, its leadership will be murdered, one by one. Not sadistically, but with absolute certainty. And with no eye on anything better taking its place.
This is done for hate’s sake.
WHO ARE YOU REALLY?
I’m a middle-aged, middle-class cishet German-Irish American professional in NYC, semi-attached. I’m reasonably healthy, reasonably smart, reasonably good at things I care enough to focus on.
It may just be the case that I’ve been assaulted a few times by NYPD officers, and currently walk with a slight limp because of it.
WHO’S THIS FICTIONAL GUY?
At this stage it’s just a rough scribble, but it’s a mixture of adult Franklin Richards meets Longshot, as an extremely overpowered street-level villain.
PREPOSTEROUS LUCK *** Subconciously editing reality / moving between parallel realities, perhaps as an autonomic function. This shows up most often as run-of-the-mill good fortune: the grease stain on his nice shirt lifts out, despite bad traffic he gets to the post office right before it closes, etc. But in extremis, this goes into overdrive. A door doesn’t quite latch. Someone looks the other way at a critical moment. An pick-up truck full of mattresses passes by when jumping off a three story building, etc.
WEAPONRY ** Radio clipped to the left rear of the duty belt with the mike cord reaching up to the left shoulder to be used with one hand. Duty firearm on strong side at the waist: Glock 19 Gen4 modified to a 12-pound trigger pull. Two pairs of hand cuffs attached on either hip on belt. Two or three spare ammunition magazines in the front of the belt, mounted horizontally for rapid magazine changes. Medical gloves and hand sanitizer in rear pocket of belt. Phone with camera ability. Telescoping metal baton on opposite side from firearm. LED flashlight on belt. Taser on belt, or on lower portion of vest, with handle facing outwards to enable cross draw with strong hand.
The supervillain could give you a heart attack or a stroke just by looking at you. But his is more sporting.
The gun never jams.
CHANGE REALITY BY THINKING ** Straight-up Cosmic Cube type reality alteration by creating a papier-mache of alternate universes. This is normally limited to stuff that’s possible under the laws of physics–i.e., people don’t change into talking candle sticks–but with sufficient psychotropic pharmaceuticals that too is possible, though it’s extremely exhausting.
IMPOSSIBLE ANTICIPATION ** Gut-level perception of branching timelines / low-level precognition.
GETTING THERE ON TIME ** Unmarked Dodge Charger pursuit vehicle modified for milisecond bursts of interdimensional travel, permitting travel through objects, people, and buildings as if they don’t exist. The dashboard flasher strobes in classic supervillain green and purple.
LEGITIMATE WEALTH ** Commodies trading. Owns his East Village apartment with an extra bedroom; several tailored suits; original art. Enough money left over to fund his other operations.
INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS ** Ongoing, or amicably ended, affairs with fine artists, novelists, scientists. Viewed instrumentally, cultural capital.
REAL ORGANIZATIONS * Donor and former board member several police reform & prison abolition organizations, e.g., Communities United for Police Reform, the Bronx Defenders, CAIR, NYCLU, FAMM. Personally familiar with the more visible activists and academics up and down the East Coast, e.g., DeRay McKeeson, Michelle Alexander, Ijea Oluo.
Heroic Physique 5:
DETAINED UNOFFICIALLY BY POWERFUL OFFICIAL FORCES: See “powerful entites,” below, but law enforcement has struck a deal with extra-dimensional entities to slam this character with a Strange Attractor–a sort of probabilistic anchor / glue trap that, the more he uses his powers, the fewer and fewer options become available to him. He’s beginning to run dry, and knows it. This ends with him in a cell.
ACTIONS INTOLERABLE TO POWERFUL BEINGS: As a placeholder until a better idea comes along, Omega Point beings from the end of time have concluded that the supervillain’s mucking around aimlessly in the quantum flux is a threat to their timeline, 10^80 years from now. They’re going to squash him like a bug.
Real Power 5:
PEOPLE EXPLOIT YOUR IMAGE: The supervillain’s vendetta against one of the most controversial and hated organizations in the city has made him something of a folk hero, put on T-shirts like Che (and by the same types of people). He’s become a culture-war flash point, as politicians try to score points by denouncing him and others project their own long-term goals.
COMPLEX SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS: The supervillain has an extremely delicate social life, between current and ex lovers, a special needs step-child, and a very thorny relationship with his father.
This post is too long already.
The difficulty with “Supervillain You” is that it’s impossible to discuss any social wrong without it ramifying out in to a thousand different institutions and historical contributions. You can’t condemn the NYPD without implicating the Mayor’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, City Council, the New York Unified Court System, the governor, the state assembly, the Department of Corrections, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Bureau of Prisons, Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court of the United States, etc. Then there’s 500 years of cultural baggage infecting our society at every level.
But all of that eventually comes down to the collective decisions of 8 million of people.
Or maybe 330 million people. Or, if you get down to it, 8 billion people.
It sure would be a shame if, say, an angry demigod destroyed the language centers of the human brain of every person on Earth.
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Fun! You’re using an old draft though. I finally racked the dice into meaningful use but only patrons have seen it. Please forgive the crap results you’ll get.
I have played the game more myself and have also “sat in” with people playing i, more or less as “now do this, now do that” as they go along. So far, every one of them has paused at one point or another to deliver a savage, expository, unstoppable rant. Win!
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Man, when I wrote all that, some part of me was saying, “Ehhh, that’s maybe a little unfair. Or at least, it’s hyperbolic.”
Not so much now!
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