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October 24, 2012

Spirit Showdown #3: The Vigilante

I don’t know if I’ve made it clear yet, but I have a thing for heroes.

Maybe that’s why I have so many issues with gritty stories.  If you’ll let me make a blanket statement or two, they’re largely about terrible people in terrible situations and terrible places doing terrible things.  Why not give me amazing people in a terrible world?  Or amazing situations and terrible things?  Or terrible situations with people doing amazing things?  And why not have the entire story (bar a few dark moments) be geared towards a happy ending, rather than a gritty story that heaps on the doom and gloom only to go “hey, maybe things won’t be so bad after all!” at the very end?  I know there are exceptions (Looper, The Dark Knight, and…well, arguably True Grit), but I’m pretty friggin’ sure there are a lot of gritty missteps.  O hai Gears of War 3, Max Payne 3, and Resident Evil 6.

I don’t mean to harp on gritty stuff all the time -- sometimes, but not all the time -- but I just want to make it clear where I stand.  Ideas and themes can be explored in any way, not just through certain aesthetics and conventions.  The moment you start to limit yourself is the moment you start to fail -- as a writer, as a creator, or just as a human being.  A show that’s (ostensibly) for children can be as deep and subtle as any other story out there if it wants to be; all it takes is a little ingenuity, some effort, and of course a strong spirit.  And in my opinion, a surefire, almost-universal way to appeal to everyone’s sensibilities -- young or old, naïve or jaded, silly or sophisticated -- is through the lens of a hero.  They inspire.  They excite.  They struggle, yet succeed anyway.  They move toward a conclusion by their own power.  A hero done right can be a tour de force; they have the power to make any story more amazing, more special, more meaningful, and of course more memorable.

In a sense, a good hero IS the story itself.  And I intend to prove that -- with this series, and ESPECIALLY with this post.

Oh, damn.  Here we go again.
Well, you’re back, so I guess you’re ready to bear whatever punishment comes your way.

Is this going to be another ten thousand words?
Hey, it was more like seven thousand.  And no, I don’t think so.  The last two spirits required a lot more context and explanation to get the full effect because their worlds are a lot more in-depth.  There was a lot of stuff that needed to be explained, and there still is -- but I guarantee you that’s not the case here.  So this’ll likely be much shorter.

I’ll be expecting you to keep your word, then.
Don’t be too hard on me if I go over the limit.  Accidents happen.

Then let’s not delay.  Sell this guy in ten words.
A boy will become the world’s finest.  We're in trouble.

I don’t even know what to say to that.
You can start with “Eh wha?  What are you scheming in that cauliflower-styled head of yours?”

Not the description that I would use, but whatever.  Talk.  Don’t make this go longer than it has to.
Fine, fine.  I guess I should talk a bit about the origin of this character, right?

Origin, design philosophy, whatever.  Just talk.
Right, then.  I should probably start by saying that the “original” Ocelot V is nothing like his current incarnation…so to speak.  In all honesty, he’s one of the only characters to have barely changed in the decade or so since his creation -- which is to say that, arguably, there are two versions of the character.  There’s this one here, and the one that originated during a session of gaming with my buddies.

I’ve said many times that I’m pretty bad at shooters.  I can hit people (sometimes), but in the end I can never get the kill -- I’ll get close, maybe one bullet away, but all it takes is one enemy shot to shut me down.  Even if I’m in CONSTANT VIGILANCE mode when navigating the map, I’ll end up getting shot in the back -- even if I turn around to check behind me.  Most of my time is spent waiting to respawn, slinking around the map, or just waiting for someone to shoot me in the back or snipe me into a fine tomato sauce.  I’ve accepted my fate.  I don’t mind sucking at shooters, and my lack of skill isn’t the reason why I have a clear distaste for them.  But with that in mind, there was a certain incident in a certain game.

There was a game called 007: Nightfire for the GameCube -- one of several James Bond games that tried (and ultimately failed) to capture the spirit of Goldeneye.  But still, we played it, and had our fun with it.  I remember how out of a surprisingly large list of characters, I’d end up picking the white-garbed Snow Guard over and over, partly because we kept picking a snowy level…though not surprisingly, it didn’t help.  But I strove to do my best -- to be bold and aggressive, and fight back against my far-superior buddies, even if it killed me (and it did, many times).  But I wanted to prove myself as quickly and as thoroughly as I could -- and as such, I gave my Snow Guard a very distinct codename, in spite of his highly-generic appearance: Ocelot V.

As you can imagine, the name stuck.  And I’d like to think that I actually got more kills as Ocelot V than I did as just your old expendable Snow Guard.  Of course, it probably would have helped if I knew what an ocelot was at the time…

But you do now, right?
Hey, what kind of idiot do you take me for?

You really don’t want me to answer that.
Well, if there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t have a commanding knowledge of the animal kingdom (or just hasn’t Googled it yet), an ocelot is a medium-sized wildcat.  They certainly have nothing to do with some breed of crustacean.

But in any case, the lessons I learned and the persona I created stuck with me.  It reached a point where, the very next day, I decided to take Ocelot V, the lowly Snow Guard, and give him the makeover -- and respect -- he deserved.  And thus, Ocelot V the Snow Guard became Ocelot V, the superhero.

That’s quite the origin story.
Yeah.  And over the years, Ocelot V -- just like everyone else -- has grown an evolved in ways the younger me would never have envisioned.  Like I said, he’s still the same basic character deep down, but he’s changed juuuuuuuust enough to make me think he stands a chance, AND can succeed in his lofty goal of becoming “the world’s finest hero.”  And to that end, his spirit is…


You know it as well as I do -- the unyielding, unbending force of will deep inside our cores.  It’s the strength within that grows mightier with each day and each triumph; it’s the power to have faith in oneself, and use it to spring headfirst toward glory!

Is that right?  Because I’m pretty sure there are at least half a dozen adages warning against the use of pride -- that, and the whole “seven deadly sins” thing.
True, true, but it’s an important part of OV’s character and his world.  It’s a quality that brings with it chances for great triumph, great calamity, and in the case of this tale, fantastic comedy.

So your plan is to take the silliness to a whole new level.  Fitting.
Yep.  And the world itself reflects that; it’s much more understandable than the previous two, mostly because it’s so akin to our own.  The key difference?  It’s a pastiche of the nineties.

The year is 199X, with all the trappings you’d expect.  The clothes.  The music.  The technology (or lack thereof).  All of it, encapsulated within the confines of the coastal Hard Rock City.  It’s a mixture of sun and suburbia, beaches and rollerblading, arcades and trolleys and giant cell phones and flannel shirts -- the works.  It’s a very active, very energetic world -- one that mixes absurdities with commonalities, invoking nostalgia in some and confusion in others.  And given that it’ll focus on the misadventures of a few high school students, you can bet that it’ll get even wilder.

It also helps that there are things like Dr. Rhesus and his Gorill Army, the lobster commandoes, the Necronomi-Comic-Con, and a mayor who’s so ridiculously evil that he plans to extort money from the city so he can build himself a giant revolver and carve his name into the moon.  And he calls it the Dirty Harry.

And that’s ignoring the alien invasion.

Well then, I suppose it’s a good thing that there’s a superhero out to handle whatever comes his way.
Yup.  Good thing Joe Nerves is around.

I’m sorry -- did you say Joe Nerves?
Yeah.  Joe Nerves is the hero of Hard Rock City -- a war veteran from…well, no one knows which war he fought in (he just calls it “The War”) and since then has used his soldier skills to take down any threat that plagues the city.  He’s a much-adored face in town; even if he has a bad habit of mumbling and growling everything he says through clenched-teeth, it’s hard to hate a guy who can, has, and will put his life on the line to take down the baddies.  His efforts are so thorough that he ends up reducing the crime rate to its lowest point in decades: negative seventeen percent.

All is well in the city -- so well that the people decide to offer Joe a fully-paid cruise to celebrate so many well-done jobs…and of course, to spend a little time with his mom.  He reluctantly accepts (and by reluctantly I mean is pretty much forced to go), and as such the city is largely unguarded.  The HRPD think they can handle things while he’s away, but of course, they can’t.  It’s a good thing that Joe’s ship doesn’t get swept up into a storm, he and his mother are lost at sea, and stranded on an island that inexplicably gets sucked into an alternate dimension, thereby turning what should have been a brief vacation into a months-long struggle just to be able to blink freely.

Oh wait.  That’s exactly what happens.

So I suppose that’s where this Ocelot V comes in.
More or less.  Oliver “Ollie” Vance isn’t exactly your average high school kid.  Even if he’s just days away from becoming a junior, he’s got aspirations well beyond those his age.  He outright declares he wants to be a superhero -- as if his normal life wasn’t quite enough for him.  His mother is one of the biggest names in Hollywood, with all the riches that entails.  His grandpa’s a brilliant scientist who makes Nikola Tesla look like a dunce.  He has a race car bed.  But all that isn’t quite enough for him; once known as the King of Pranksters at his school, he’s out to make a new name for himself after gaining inspiration from a wealth of collected comic books.  All he needs is one big chance.

And he gets his big chance.  A trip to the zoo turns into a disaster as Dr. Rhesus goes to town, unleashing a horde of neo-genetic beasts to wreak havoc.  Ollie almost immediately jumps into the fray…and almost immediately gets mauled by a neo-genetic ocelot.

You can probably guess what happens next.

A little on-the-nose, don’t you think?
Hardly.  If anything, OV is more like Liu Kang than Viewtiful Joe.

So the gist of his origin story is that his utter failure is rewarded with superpowers.
I wouldn’t have used “failure”, but yeah.

 Once he learns the ins and outs of his powers, Ollie -- taking up the mantle of Ocelot V -- becomes a verifiable whirlwind of destruction.  He’s what you’d call a lightning bruiser: he’s quick on his feet, extremely agile, almost always lands on his feet, and is more or less a parkour maniac.  He also gets a certain degree of super strength -- nowhere near as strong as, say, Superman, but still more than powerful enough to punch and kick his way through anything.  And failing that, he’s got the expected skills of a wildcat: retractable claws, enhanced sight, smell, and hearing, and given enough time he can grow a really nice beard.

There are some drawbacks, though.  He’s a lot stronger than the average man, but he doesn’t get the super anchoring power that Superman would have.  As a result, if he tries to lift anything too heavy -- like a car or a bus -- it would fall apart around him, or just drive him straight into the ground.  Likewise, he doesn’t exactly have the combat savvy that Joe Nerves would; most of what he knows about fighting comes from a mixture of comic books and badly-dubbed kung fu movies.  And his superpowers come with a very serious drawback: dogs now hate him, and will gladly try to rip him apart if they cross paths.

Consider it “canine Kryptonite.”

Ha ha.  Very cute.
Even with that in mind, OV’s dedicated to becoming the hero the city needs in lieu of Joe Nerves’ extended absence.  He’s crazy for thinking that he can handle it all on his own, but in his eyes it’s little more than a challenge.  He’s ready.  He’s eager.  He’s exploding with energy.  He genuinely believes that he’s the only man for the job.  His belief in his own strength and skill and will prevents him from giving it any less than a hundred percent.

It’s just a shame that he’s so hilariously stupid.

It’s a miracle that he’s been able to live for as long as he has.  He’s a remarkably poor student.  The subtleties of most conversations, from sarcasm to most three-syllable words, are lost on him.  He’ll come to a completely wrong or utterly insane conclusion even if evidence to the contrary is right in front of his face.  Reason and logic, in his eyes, amount to “hitting people in the face with the biggest fish you can get your hands on”.  In one proto-short story I wrote, Ocelot V met Spider-Man in a New York subway station…and immediately assumed he was a supervillain named The Human Lasso.

Ocelot V is at first (and to a lesser extent, up to the end of his career) kind of a crappy hero.  He’ll beat up the bad guys, but he won’t make sure that they end up getting sent to jail.  He’ll do huge amounts of property damage, often times for no reason other than “the wall was in his way.”  He’ll bust up any gear his grandpa makes for him, requiring many, many, many reproductions.  In one instance, he actually creates a whole army of new supervillains after accidentally contaminating the city’s water supply with a mutagen created by Dr. Rhesus.  But there’s a bright side, at least; at least his offenses are localized in Hard Rock City, and he’s not doing anything to disrupt the space-time continuum by both reckless epoch-jumping, interference with peoples across the timeline, and ultimately becoming a chronological anomaly merely by existing.

Oh wait.  That’s exactly what happens.

I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of that joke recently.

You know, I think I’m starting to see a recurring trend here.  First you talk about a would-be samurai whose journey breaks him physically and mentally…

Then you introduce a heroine who is more likely to destroy the world than save it thanks to her own selfish whims…

And now you’ve got a hero who is so ridiculously inept that he does more harm than good to everything he touches.
Uh-huh.  Can’t say I see where you’re going with this, though.

Are you sure you’re actually writing heroes and not…you know…villains?  Or at the very least, failures?  Or barring that, empowered people with severe psychological issues?

…Engineer, you wanna take this one?

Well, I suppose you would be a bit blind to your creations’ foibles.
Really, I don’t think it’s that big an issue.  Even if OV’s story is a comedy, there’s still plenty of room for depth, don’t you think?

Right.  Let me guess -- this is the part where you try and justify everything, right?  Something along the lines of “He’s got his problems, but…”?
You catch on quickly.  I like that.

There is no shortage of…well, let’s call them “mishaps” whenever Ocelot V springs into action.  But even so, there’s a reason why he’s the star of the show.  He screws up, but he’s also pretty competent when it comes down to it.  He’ll save the children.  He’ll stop bank robberies.  He’ll beat up bad guys.  And he’ll do it all with a wild smile.  So yes, he actually earns a bit of respect as the story progresses -- and ultimately, it’s by his wildcat-born strength that the story’s main villains are defeated.  You’d expect as much from the main character.

But here’s the kicker: even if OV is responsible for creating about half of his rogues’ gallery, he’s also responsible for creating a whole new generation of potential superheroes in Hard Rock City.  They come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and from all walks of life; whatever they may look like and whatever they can do, they each start off from the same point as Ollie did.  Each one has aspirations to become THE protector of the city.  And as you can imagine, OV is not having that shit.  It’s going to be his city, and it’s going to be his story -- a sentiment mirrored by many would-be heroes.  So essentially, there are not only a bunch of villains running around, but heroes of varying levels of strength, skill, and smarts.  Some of them are noble, and in some cases even nobler than OV.  Other times they’re walking headaches for insurance companies everywhere.  One thing’s for sure: all these vigilantes are not going to be allowed to roam free, not as long as the HRPD is kicking around.

As a wise man once said, there can be only one.  And there’s one major way to decide who commands the town: whoever can bring the story’s big bad to justice is the one who’ll be crowned the one and only hero.   

And this major villain would be…?
I’ll spare you a long explanation (for spoilers’ sake), but in a nutshell, imagine a guy who’s kind of like this, only with an animal-themed costume.  And more muscles.  And more guns.  And more over-the-top one liners.

So basically, not much like this guy.
Well, their costumes are a little similar.

Except your villain is animal-themed.  What kind of animal?
The liger.  As you can imagine, OV does not take kindly to having another feline-costumed fighter knocking around his city.

But I’m guessing your hero is just the man for the job -- or at least he thinks he is.
True enough.  Though in all honesty, Ocelot V has no reason to be as proud as he is.

That statement was in no way an invitation to --
Even though he’s oblivious to his issues, Ollie’s life is actually remarkably sad.  The riches I mentioned earlier?  He has zero access to them; he’s been banned from tapping the family reserves because he’d spend it recklessly and on stupid, city-leveling items.  His movie star mom?  Never home -- and when she is, she utterly refuses to spend time with Ollie, even going so far as to avoid eye contact.  His grandpa?  Forced into house arrest indefinitely, and lives in a mansion all by himself…and refuses to let Ollie even live there because he doesn’t want his inventions disturbed.  That race car bed of Ollie’s?  It’s a key fixture of his room -- a basement under a particularly ramshackle apartment complex in the noisiest block of town.  In spite of his reputation as the King of Pranksters, he actually has about three friends total -- his best bud, a fangirl who latches onto him because he’s Ocelot V, and a rival who’s a rigid believer in law and order and school rules.  Hell, even his backstory focuses on him spending his childhood trying to survive a debilitating disease.

And it doesn’t end there.  Ocelot V gets his hands on a pocket-sized time machine, allowing him to travel as long as the device has a high enough charge (which is rarely).  It only transports him to a certain time period and back, but that’s all he needs; he needs to keep visiting the bleak future of the year 19XX -- pronounced nineteen-exty-ex -- to figure out what went wrong in his time and set things right.  Problem is, every time he tries to fix a problem, it either has no effect or just makes things worse.  That kind of thing can wear a guy down after a while, especially when fixing the future is vital for giving the story a happy ending.  It certainly doesn’t help that other fledgling superheroes actively play a part in wrecking the future, or that he has to break their spirits (and their bodies, by extension) to keep them from donning a suit and mask.  And it certainly doesn’t help that the struggle to become the city’s number one hero becomes little more than a popularity contest -- one that OV, in spite of his best efforts and actual superhero credibility, begins losing triumphantly.

He’s gonna have a bad time, is the gist of my argument.

Yet another consistent theme.
That may be true -- but surely you’ve noticed another trend, o eagle-eyed reader.

Every character in this story operates on the basis of pride.  Ocelot V went from knuckle-headed troublemaker to crapshoot champion of the people -- all because he thought he was the best man for the job (and in some depressing ways, still is).  His chief rival, Dr. Rhesus, has no shortage of pride either; he’s out to take over the world and continue his mad experiments, believing that he has more than enough smarts to bend the world’s rules to his will.  A huge number of inexperienced heroes chases after dreams of becoming the best around, believing that with their new skills they can do what no one else can.  The main villain is out to cause a revolution in his own right, ensuring that the past, present and future and in a form he approves of.  Even the city itself has its own pride; even though we of the present may look down on the nineties as an era with lots of silly trends, for those of Hard Rock City it’s the best, and ONLY life worth living.  It has a character of its own, one that endears and offers so much to its denizens.

In a sense, you can consider the actions of every character as a means to fulfill and stroke the ego.  Each character’s pride -- OV’s most of all -- is like a sapling.  It’s young and unimpressive for outsiders looking in, but for each person it’s an unflappable, unmistakable source of strength.  With each action taken, with each villain vanquished, or robbery routed, or parade of praise, it gets nourished and has a better chance of growing into a mighty tree.  That’s what OV wants.  That’s what Dr. Rhesus wants.  That’s what damn near every person, fictional or not, wants.  They’re looking to prove themselves, and gain the recognition they want and need -- to be able to stand tall and proud, and prove themselves as the ultimate in whatever venture they take on.

Ocelot V has his vocation.  He wants to be a hero -- not because he can, but because he has to.  He’s in it to satisfy his own pride, but in a sense to ensure that everyone around him -- the people, and the city itself -- gets a chance to nurture their pride as well.  And to that end, he’ll punch and kick and yell his way to the highest plateau.  He’ll claw his way to the top, and stand tall atop a pile of his K.O.ed rivals. 

He’s on a mission to become the world’s finest -- and there’s not a force in the universe that’ll stop him.

He sounds like a simple character, for better or worse.
Because he is.  What you see is what you get; he may stumble a few times, but he’s a hero through and through.

Well, I can tell you this much: I’m glad you managed to pull in the reins this time around.  This may be the internet, but people have their limits.  Strain their patience too much, and --
Huh?  Oh sorry, I couldn’t hear you over OV’s AMAZING theme song.

If he’s from the nineties, shouldn’t he have a song that came from --?
Cripes, you just can’t enjoy anything, can you?

Considering what’s coming next, can you blame me?
Hmmm?  Oh, you mean another teaser?  Yeah, not this time.  In fact, you don’t even have to show up next week.

What?  Why not?
I want to do something a bit different next time.  So there’s no reason for you to subject yourself to this “torment” that I’m putting you through.  You can go…uh…do whatever it is you do all day when I’m not doing one of these Showdown posts.  Or go eat some hot dogs.  They’re delicious.

So, yeah.  Guess I’ll see you in a couple of weeks or something.  Later.

Huh.  Well, I guess I’d better find something to do in the meantime.  The internet is a big place, after all…

<< Back to The Monster.
Next: Something different.


  1. I like Ocelot V already. He seems like a pretty cool guy and to be perfectly honest, I'd like to try profiling a couple characters from a dream project of mine.

    From one aspiring writer to another, thank you Mr. Payne. You've inspired me.

    On another note, The Touch is fucking awesome for a theme song. Fuck the cynic in bold, he doesn't know what he's talking about. I mean, if it was a good enough theme for St. Optimus Prime, it's great for everyone.

  2. St. Optimus Prime? Is that what they're calling him? Well, not that it doesn't fit; it's just a bit of a surprise. Though I've heard that in Japanese iterations of the franchise he's called "Galaxy Convoy" so...yeah, a bit more dignity as a saint.

    In any case, good to hear that you enjoyed OV -- and even better to hear that I got you inspired. I wouldn't mind seeing your profiles one of these days.

    So go ahead. Do it. Do it. Do it do it do it do it doitdoitdoitdoitdoitdoitdoit.

    It'll be fun.

  3. I love him! I think a REAL character is one that has depth no one is perfect! and to read about a perfect hero is too unreal. I want a hero that is like us... flawed, imperfect but still the hero. still willing to do what needs to be done for the greater good!!
    Anyways, the 90's rocked! haha

  4. Hell yeah they did! Power Rangers all day every day!

    Ahem. Yes, I certainly agree that flaws imperfections make for a more interesting character. In OV's case, pride is both his strong suit and one of his greatest failings, so it'll be interesting to see just how many ways I can play with that little facet in the future. I imagine it'll have something to do with fangirls.

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by. Always nice to know I can brighten a reader's day.