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October 20, 2014

D.O.X. is Dead #5: Ideas and Power

Hey, welcome back to D.O.X. is Dead -- where the points don’t matter and everything is a reference to Whose Line Is It, Anyway.

It wasn’t exactly my intention to let this feature slip out of sight, but these things happen.  I’d say “blame Watch Dogs”, but it’s more my fault than anyone else’s; I’ve been pecking away at that little project for a while now, and setting aside the fact that it takes, you know, time to write a novel, it’d be for the best if I had something to show for my efforts besides empty hype.  And now that I have finished (in a sense) that little project, I’d say it’s time to switch gears.  I’d like to see how far I’ve come, if at all -- and I’m hoping that this “pulling back the veil” is entertaining for those of you reading this. 

If not?  Uhhhhhhh…well, I don’t know.  I’ll just double-up on the funny JPEGs, I guess.


So if you’re just joining me here, I’ll give a quick rundown.  Once upon a time I tried to write a story, that story became a novel (Dead over Two), I realized it was junk, edited the crap out of it until it practically became a new story (D.O.X.), realized that was junk, completely started over rebooted it Xrd’ed it, and finished the lion’s share of the work some weeks ago to the point where it’s a mostly-finished product (Dead on Prime).  Hopefully it will be distinctly not-junk.  The end.

As you can guess, there have been a lot of changes.  That’s largely what this miniseries is for -- to try and show the transformation from total junk to…most likely not, but still potentially junk.  But despite my fears, I’m still more than a little confident -- because there’s one change in particular I’ve picked up on.

In a nutshell, D.O.X. was about death.  In a nutshell, Dead on Prime is about life.

There are plenty of themes and ideas floating around the story, but death is a major factor -- which you’d expect when the thrust of the plot is finding a way to beat a guy so lovingly known as the Ghost Emperor.  In the case of Dead over Two (V1 of the story) and D.O.X. (V2), that’s doubly the case; both of those stories started with our hero Arc getting killed…only for the story to flash back to a couple of days prior, but you get the idea.

Death is a potent topic that can be explored in any number of ways, whether it involves the lord of the dead or not.  It has a huge impact on people, it carries incredible weight, and when you get down to it, there are plenty of unknowns surrounding a concept we’ve known about for thousands of years.  Where do we go when we die?  Are we even capable of accepting death?  What do we do when it’s our time?  How do we move past it?  All those things and more -- all ripe for exploring, even if it’s been done plenty of times before.  It’s a versatile topic, allowing for plenty of interpretations and permutations. 

It’s hard to say for sure if I did a good job of exploring that theme with V2.  I’d say that I at least gave it a good, honest try; Arc starts out as a cocky kid who thinks he has all the answers, but once he dies and goes through trials to regain his life, he realizes not only did he NOT know as much as he thought, but that he’s practically playing pack mule to his regrets.  His baggage.  He goes back and takes on the role of a hitman, and spends pretty much the rest of the story killing anything that threatens his perceived way of life -- his path to the truth, and more good times with his partner Katie. 

As these things go, he crosses a line and finds firsthand the weight of his actions -- and it’s not long after that he ends up utterly broken and abandoned.  But luckily, he manages to bounce back; from then on, he uses his fists to protect what needs protecting, and kill what needs killing.  Ghosts, mutated humans, evil Emperors, even whole concepts are fair game.  It’s all for the sake of his happy ending.

Well, bittersweet ending, at least.  But at least he tried.

Thinking back, there was something incongruent about V1/V2 that’s been ironed out here.  I’d assume that you’ve picked up on it already (because you’re an intelligent and also strikingly handsome/beautiful person), but I’ll go ahead and explain the road to that conclusion regardless.  See, one of the central conceits of V1, V2, and V3 is “the corruption” -- distorted coding that works its way into people and, true to its namesake, corrupts them in mind, body, and spirit.  (V3 also adds the “Black Vector”, AKA the Emperor’s corruption-delivery service.)  The more stressed out a person is, the more likely they are to be corrupted.  More to the point, it takes advantage of people’s weaknesses and issues -- the “scars of the heart” -- and uses them as a catalyst for…well, any number of things, really.

So in a sense, V1 and V2 were confused as to what they were trying to sell.  Death is a quick, singular event -- a prolonged one at best, but still ultimately infinitesimal.  Even if an eight-year-old boy were to (God forbid) drop dead right here and now, he’d still have eight years of experiences and memories to draw from.  There’s meaning and merit in a single day; plenty can happen in eight years.

What gave him happiness?  What brought him despair?  Who did he have beside him for those eight years?  What did he have beside him?  Did he get what he wanted?  Was he denied?  If those factors couldn’t offer up anything, then he’d be more likely to get corrupted -- or just die outright.  (You could argue that by turning into anything less than human, he’s already given up his life -- an idea touched on in V3.)  As such, it leads me to believe that in order for the story to work, it needs to take focus away from death.  Not completely ignore it; it just needs to recognize that there’s something just as important.  Maybe more.

And I think I’ve captured that.  The key thrust of Dead on Prime is about life, and the quality of it.

And that could very well be what makes it a truly dark story.

Oh God, no.  Not like that.  Never like that.

I’ve talked before about how I’ve updated the setting to give it a more consistent aesthetic -- an affect that makes for a cohesive whole.  So visually (for a given definition of “visually”), V3 has a somber air about it.  But that also comes from the characters, and the people shuffling through New Line City.  It’s called “the city of broken dreams” on occasion, and even when it isn’t, there’s something melancholy about the goings-on.  People are aimless.  Just trying to make it to tomorrow.  Clinging desperately to what they have -- however meager -- for fear of leaving it behind…or getting left behind in turn. 

It’s enough to keep them alive.  But it’s not enough to give them true happiness.

Each of the main characters -- The Core 8 -- has issues that need sorting out.  And even with the magic of character development, some of them are just inherent parts of their personas.  I’ve only talked about four of the eight, but I can tell you right now that plenty of them have suffered, are suffering, or will suffer. 

Arc is frustrated and unfulfilled, and feels like he’s trapped in a city that won’t even register the concept of hope -- and as such, is about ready at story’s outset to run away with a gang of bikers.  His partner Katie Kaylee is more socially conscious -- sweet and friendly to a fault -- but by putting so much emphasis on pleasing others, she’s in danger of forgetting her own desires…and even who she really is. 

Coil may be the chosen one, but that brings with it all sorts of baggage -- his struggle to prove that he’s a man worthy of his title, despite being the youngest of the cast (even if it’s just by a month).  On top of his destiny looming large over him -- a destiny which may or may not be a bunch of bull -- he has to contend with the fact that he might not even have an aptitude for saving the world…or himself, if the going gets tough.  And V3’s version of Kath may leave plenty unsaid, but the mere implications -- the fact that a boisterous, buxom bruiser like her could even THINK of taking on a fatalistic view and then some -- is proof that no matter who you are or what you can do, you’re always going to be vulnerable.  Weak.  One bad day can ruin everything.  

And believe it or not, they’re not even the worst off.  But I’ll get to those two next time.

What’s important is that all of these people -- Core 8 or otherwise -- are increasingly aware of their poor lots.  Some people are willing to do something about it.  Others take up arms to try and help others.  But there are those who just can’t -- or if not that, then they’ll have to struggle to see anything beyond a bad end.  In that sense, V3 is a lot meaner than its predecessors; it’s written proof that things don’t always go the way you hoped.  Sometimes things weigh you down, and force you into one bad situation after another.  Sometimes all the willpower and good feelings in the world can’t change a thing.

And that’s where power comes in.

These people -- and people in real life -- are all trying to do what they can to make the world, and the lives, they want.  In the case of V3, that’s incredibly overt.  Another one of its conceits is “the Primes” -- those whose internal, spiritual coding has allowed them to gain special abilities and properties.  (One character calls them “humans that have shifted beyond humanity”, which is a pretty apt description.)  Before story’s end, each of The Core 8 gains the power to try and change the fortune of the city and their lives -- and indeed, what Primes do with that power becomes an important talking point.

If only it were that simple, Uncle Ben…

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I’ve raised a stink about power dynamics on multiple occasions.  I don’t think I’m wrong for doing so; if they’re skewed, then it makes for a poorer product, no matter the medium.  So I’ve been very careful about what power means in terms of V3, and how I can use it in the story effectively.  It’s hard to say whether or not I’ve pulled it off perfectly, but I think I’m in a good place right now.

Still, there are some things I have to note.  For one thing, the order in which the characters first tap into their powers differs wildly compared to V2.  Example: the character who showed off her powers fourth in V2 (about a third of the way in, I’d say) ends up being the first to show them off in V3…and accidentally destroys several city blocks in the process, thus spurring a major part of a character arc.

Despite wishing desperately for power in V2, Kath was the very LAST to show anything off, and even then, only at the halfway mark…and even then, only once.  Comparatively, V3 Kath is already a competent enough wrestler to battle creepy-crawlies without powers; despite that, she’s the sixth to level-up, and reach an extreme plateau.  And the less said about who and what got buffed/nerfed from version to version, the better.

So can you guess who gets their powers last?  If you can, then you know exactly how different of a story Dead on Prime is -- without even reading it.

If only...

Every character has to consider what power is, and how to use it.  (Pro tip: there’s a difference between “power” and “strength”.)  The Core 8 draws closer to their individual answers over time -- some more than others, given the degree and nature of their particulars.  Despite all that, there’s some nasty business involved -- namely, that even if they get some fantastic powers before tale’s end, the best of skill sets isn’t enough to stop the inevitable.

The big baddie -- the Ghost Emperor -- is the one responsible for the corruption, the outbreak of creepy-crawlies, and the slow-but-certain degradation of New Line City.  But here’s the thing: he doesn’t have to be out and about to wreak havoc.  He’s locked away in a magic prison, but even then he’s exerting his power to A) corrupt the city and make his plans come to pass, and B) break free from his prison so he can REALLY get to work.  As such, The Core 8 -- once they’re all assembled -- are all doing their very best to figure out what to do, how to stop the Emperor conclusively, and keep the city safe.

The problem is that they’re fighting against the inevitable.  And by and large, they know it.

They’re almost literally fighting against death itself.  I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like a pretty bad matchup to me.  So what do you do, knowing that you’ve got pretty much no shot at victory?  I know that in the realm of fiction, the heroes always manage to overcome million-to-one odds, but what happens when even the world’s finest can’t save the day?  What happens when nothing is guaranteed just because the plot says so? 

Well, presumably that’s a signal that you got yourself a real match story. 

The gang manages to reason -- and agree, however indirectly -- that they need to have power.  Everyone needs to have power.  Not just to fight monsters, or save the day, or even survive; people need power so that they can make the best lives they can.  THEIR lives.  If they can get it, they can come one step closer to finding personal happiness.  If they can’t, then they’re that much more likely to falter and fail -- and that’s in the best-case scenario.  Given that, “power” in Dead on Prime is about more than the ability to punch some ghosts in the face.  Life demands power.  Power begets life. 

It’s little wonder, then, that there’s a divine edict built into the world:

Living is not enough
Rise and rebel

…That’ll make sense in context.  Probably.

And that’s just about all I’ve got for now.  Bit of a short post this time, but oh well.  This feels like as good a place as any to stop.  V3 has its ideas set, and -- assuming my execution is up to par -- it’ll make for a stronger story than before.  Life and power alike mean much more in V3’s context than V1 or V2; it’s true that it’ll potentially lead to some more thrilling battles, but more importantly it’ll contribute to some real thematic density.  Go deep or go home, as I…well, as I never say, but I should probably start saying it.  Might help my case.

So that’ll do it, then.  Just as well, though, because now I get to talk about a couple more of the characters.  That’s cool.  I’m actually excited for it, because they’re two of the characters that have made a drastic change.  I’ll stay quiet on them for now, but here’s a quick preview: one of them is normal.  One of them is not-so-normal.

Look forward to that next time.  Here’s hoping that it’s not another six months before it happens!

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