Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chatting with author, Joe Sergi

Being a teenage girl is hard enough, but for DeDe Christopher, it is proving impossible. In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. Last year, DeDe discovered that she possessed fantastic abilities that were strangely similar to those of a comic book character named SkyBoy.
With the help of her best friend Jason, a self-professed comic geek, DeDe accepted her legacy and became Sky Girl. Now, DeDe must learn what it means to be a heroine as Sky Girl faces the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy, including the clever Quizmaster, the beautiful Penny Pound, the enigmatic Jersey Devil, and the magical MissTick. DeDe must also face personal challenges as she discovers the secrets of her late father and his connection to Skyboy -secrets that will affect Sky Girl's destiny.
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What makes superheroes great
By Joe Sergi, author of Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures
I remember the day I fell in love with superheroes. I sat in a red velvet seat in the Woodbridge Center Cinema next to my mother. The theater only had one movie theater and I was in it. On the screen a larger than life Lois Lane clutched on to the seat belt of a crashed helicopter as it dangled what seemed hundreds of stories above the street of the Metropolis. Slowly her grip slipped lower and lower on the seat belt. I leaned forward, not even realizing I was holding my breath. As she did, mild mannered Clark Kent rushed to a nearby phone booth, and through a revolving door where he changed into a red and blue costume. All the while, the music a slow march, played "dun dun dun dun" Then Lois fell.
The music picked up the pace.
All seemed lost.
And then, Superman caught Lois Lane.
He caught her as his anthem played. With a smile, Superman announced, "Don’t worry, Miss, I’ve got you." She shrieked back, "You’ve got me? . . . Who’s got you?" The precipitately angled helicopter chose this moment to give way. I gasped again. But neither Superman nor that anthem could be beaten; he merely held Lois in one hand and caught the copter in his other. He gently flew them both to the roof and then, after making sure Lois and the pilot were okay, politely smiled and said, "I hope this experience hasn’t put you off flying, Miss Lane. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel." With that he took off into the night sky.
For the remainder of the one hundred forty three minute movie, I watched as Superman captured a burglar, foiled a robbery, caught Air Force One, saved a train, changed the course of mighty rivers, and turned the earth on its axis to save Lois Lane from an earthquake that nearly destroyed California. (He first stopped the other rocket from destroying my neighbor, Hackensack, New Jersey, where Miss Teschmacher’s mother lived, because he promised her he would and Superman always kept his promises.)
Afterwards, my mother took me into the nearby Toys R Us, where she bought me Superman comics, a poster, a cape, and a superman action figure, (who was quite content to fly with Han and Luke in my Millennium Falcon.)
I was eight years old and I was hooked.
Thirty-six years later, I am still hooked. In fact, I have just released the latest book, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, in my Sky Girl trilogy, which has been called "A love letter to comics and superheroes." The new book is the sequel to Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy. The first book introduced DeDe Christopher, an ordinary teen with an extraordinary destiny to become Sky Girl. Being a teenage girl is hard enough, but for DeDe, it is proving impossible. In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. When we last left DeDe, she had just adopted the mantle of Sky Girl at the end of her sophomore year of high school.In this book, DeDe must learn what it means to be a heroine as Sky Girl faces the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy, including the clever Quizmaster, the beautiful Penny Pound, the enigmatic Jersey Devil, and the magical MissTick. DeDe must also face personal challenges as she discovers the secrets of her late father and his connection to SkyBoy--secrets that will affect Sky Girl’s destiny.
So, what is it that makes these characters so great? I thought I would take a moment and walk through my thoughts on the subject and why I love to write about them.
In some ways, I think what makes superheroes great traces back to that scene from Superman the Movie that I described above. I’ll call it the theme song moment. All superheroes have them. Michael Keaton’s Batman drops through the roof in time to save Kim Basinger’s Vicky Vale. Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man saves Kirsten Dunst’s MJ at the parade and then again in the alleyway. But, this moment isn’t relegated to the big screen. If you read comics, you can hear it (even though comics are silent). It happens when all seems lost and the hero shows up at the last moment, with a heroic stance and a superhero quip. Sometimes, these one-liners are replaced with a great catch phrase. People know that "it’s clobbering time" when the Thing cocks his fist or when the Human Torch yells "Flame On!" And you better look for cover when you hear, "Hulk Smash!" No one can doubt that the bad guys are in for it when Captain America yells, "Avengers Assemble!" or (a little more obscure) Nightwing announced, "Titans Together!" and later "Titans Go!"
But, the quips don’t stop at the entrance line. Superheroes are also experts in the field of witty banter. Spider-Man is clearly the master of this. But, every hero is responsible for learning how to crack wise in the face of danger. Perhaps these jokes provide a psychological advantage, throwing their adversaries off guard by making them angry. Maybe, the humor is their only weapon against the dark world of evil they inhabit. I did a panel at Balticon about humor in paranormal romance, and someone mentioned that humor is a subtle way to show the strength of the hero—so perhaps that is the reason. Sky Girl is still relatively new to the proper way to converse with the enemy. Luckily, Jason is there to show her the ropes and help her with the comic timing. As her confidence improves, so will the banter.
But it requires more than a great entrance and witty banter to be a superhero. A hero must also overcome great odds. If someone overcomes adversity and defeats the villain, they are a hero. But, to be a superhero, a person must face super overwhelming odds to defeat a supervillain. Batman would just be a man in tights without the Joker. With a few exceptions (like Venom), Spider-Man’s major villains were all introduced in the first year of the book. They still appear in his book to this day. Batman consistently faces the same insane criminals month after month (as if Arkham Asylum has a revolving door). In fact, the Flash’s enemies actually refer to themselves as The Rogues. Stan Lee, in the early days of Marvel Comics, added another dimension to this concept by adding real world problems. So Spider-Man does not only have to face off against the Green Goblin, but he also needed to make enough money to buy medicine for his Aunt May. I rtied to do the same with Sky Girl. She must not only face off against Sky Boy’s own rogues gallery called the Retallion Battalion, which Sky Girl inherits, but also has to do her math homework and clean up the kitchen table.
Of course, it could be that superheroes have an unerring moral compass and sense of responsibility. Superman is the world’s biggest Boy Scout. Shazam (nee Captain Marvel) is the big red cheese. Spider-Man remembers the lesson about responsibility taught to him by his Uncle Ben’s death. Admittedly, DeDe has some growing pains when her powers first develop and she realizes that with great power comes great opportunity. But, she comes around when faced with her heroic moment of choice—the moment when she must decide to become Sky Girl.
Of course, that ties into the next reason that I think superheroes are great. And that is because good heroes always triumph over evil villains. It is the never ending battle. Everyone who looks forward to their weekly Wednesday comic book delivery knows who is going to win that battle. And no matter how dark the reign gets or even in the blackest of night, the heroes will fight the siege of that final crisis and ensure that they will have their brightest day and enter a heroic age. Things look pretty bleak for the world of SkyBoy. But, we all know Sky Girl can save the day. Don’t we?
Let’s not forget the superpowers. Firemen, policemen and teachers are all heroes--but, they are not superheroes. This is because they do not possess that metahuman gene that gives them powers. (Except for my sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. Lucas--that woman had eyes in the back of her head!) Some like Batman get their powers the old fashioned way, through study exercise, but he is still the world’s greatest detective; others through birth (the X-men), environment (Superman), radiation (Hulk and Spider-Man), or drugs (if you think about it, Captain America is the poster child for steroids). Sky Girl has several powers, which she discovers throughout the first book. The mysterious origin of these fantastic powers will be explored in the second and third books of the series.
Finally, there is the costume. Superheroes wear costumes. In the current age of comics, I believe the correct term is uniform. Generally, good guys wear primary colors and bad guys wear purple, green and black. Of course the primary reason for this is that in the early days of publishing, the printing process was not very good. So, it helped if the reader knew that the little red and blue blur was Superman and the purple and green one was Lex Luthor. In my book, Sky Girl’s costume is based on her male counterpart SkyBoy and is purple and black. That costume, and the color scheme, was a deliberate choice. Then again, the Phantom, one of the original pulp heroes, wore purple and black, so it could be an homage to him. Plus, the Hulk, himself, is green with black hair and wears purple pants and he’s a hero . . . Isn’t he?

Of course, there is a new trend in comic book movies whereby they have all become gritty and realistic. This worked amazingly well in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. (Although, despite its convoluted plot twists and dark scenes, the trilogy all came down to what Adam West succinctly stated in one line from the 1966 film, Batman the Movie: "Sometimes you just can’t get rid of a bomb!" But, despite the Dark Knight’s success, this gritty style did not work for me in Man of Steel. And although I count myself one of the biggest Superman fans on the planet, I personally wasn’t a fan of the Man of Steel movie because I felt it lacked those theme song moments. Similarly, the end left me stunned. The Superman I know wouldn’t act like that. It just felt anti-heroic and wrong. Similarly, if you go to the Youtube video for the Arrow panel at last year’s New York ComicCon, you will see me debating with the cast of Arrow on why a superhero shouldn’t kill. And while others love this realistic trend in superhero movies and television, it feels out of place to me. I want my escapism to take me to bright worlds. I hopefully was able to create a brighter place in the Sky Girl universe.
I hope this discussion has helped flesh out the world of Superheroes in general, and Sky Girl in specific. Did I miss anything? Please let me know. And I would like to thank Cheryl’s Book Nook for allowing me to come on and talk about a topic that I love.


Joe Sergi is a life-long comic fan who lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife and daughter. Joe writes on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Joe is an attorney and a Haller Award winning author who has written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, scifi, and young adult genres. His first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. The second book in the series, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, was released this year from Martin Sisters Publishing. Joe has also edited a comic anthology, Great Zombies in History through McFarland Press. Look for his next project, Comic Book Law for the Comics Creator, should be released early next year from McFarland Press.  A complete list of Joe’s titles is available at his website, www.JoeSergi.net.

When he doesn’t   write about zombies, aliens, and superheroes, Joe work as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed government agency and is also a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law where he taught Unincorporated Entities.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Thanks for hosting Joe today. I greatly appreciate it. Hope your readers will check it out.