Friday, April 21, 2006

Origins Part Two

One of the things we knew right off the bat was that we wanted a robot private eye. What he would look like and what his personality would be like was up in the air, though.

Joey did some designs, which I never saw until well after we’d started working on the book.

I’m a big fan of the big, lunky automatons that lumber around with stiff joints and talk-in-stilted-electronic-voices. Still, something told me that working with a robot like that wouldn’t be practical for all the action we wanted to have.

As I worked on the script, I began picturing a slimmer, more agile metal man, one that would have been designed to serve as the model for a future superman. I looked up some prior robot designs on-line and found quite a few that would work as starting points for our robot sleuth’s design. Some of the more obvious references include SCUD the Disposable Assassin and the SuperPatriot.

While writing the initial story, I had this idea that the robot should be a reluctant doomsday robot, someone that never liked being forced to commit crimes – which is why he went to such lengths to distance himself from that life once he believed his mad scientist creator was dead. I thought he should be more like an everyman, more in the mold of Jimmy Stewart or even Gary Cooper – the noble old-fashioned good guy who, when push came to shove, would do the right thing.

Next, I needed a name. Throughout the script, the robot was referred to as Atomo, plain and simple. While it was true that in a place like B-City, a robot piano player named Atomo would hardly raise an eyebrow, I still felt we needed a more detective-flavored name.

Joey and I put our heads together and mulled over the possibilities. The one that stuck was Tom Sparks. Tom comes from Atomo, obviously, and I blatantly took the last name from Jenny Sparks of The Authority.

I did a Google search, saw that the name belonged to a comic character already (A Boy Genius, no less) and used it anyway. Why? Because there are also real people named Tom Sparks. The name alone is not enforceable copyright and I felt our character was sufficiently different from DC’s Tom Sparks and the Tom Sparks who owns a car dealership in Chicago (although I’ve never met him, so maybe I’m off).

Truth is, if I had it to do over, I might name him something catchier and less derivative, but, hey, the whole dang comic is derivative!

So, there you have it – Tom’s true secret origin.

The thing is, that incarnation of Tom isn’t the one who’s appearing in the current on-line version of “Who Slew Mr. Mayhem?” Oh, that stand-up guy still exists in our stories “Hare today, Dead Tomorrow,” and “Mystery of the Cemetery Drum,” both in the Archive section on-line – both of which we completed prior to this current story.

It was while working on those two stories, however, that I started to find the character a little…well, blah. While we may all admire the everyman hero, he’s a bore to write. It makes all the supporting cast infinitely more interesting. To make Tom stand out and make him the most interesting character in the story, I had to rethink his personality.

As much as I love robots, I’m even loopier for mad scientists and evil geniuses. Dr. Doom is one of my all-time favorite comic creations – all that arrogance and contempt for mankind. I knew all along that Dr. Proteus, Tom’s creator, was an old school evil genius, like Doom – so, what if I made Tom more or less exactly like that – a mirror image of his maker – no longer the reluctant monster, but merely a reluctant servant?

Of course, I’m also a big fan of Sideshow Bob. Tom owes as much to Sideshow Bob as he does to anyone else. So, when it came time to rewite "Who Slew Mr. Mayhem?" for the web, I decided to make Tom more like these two characters, Doom and Sideshow Bob, his 'spiritual' godfathers - with a little bit of Professor Farnsworth and C-3PO thrown in for good measure. Turns out now that Tom has become my favorite character to write - even I don't know what fresh insult or random free association he'll toss out there.

NEXT: The Mystery


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