Friday, June 23, 2006

Origins Part Three

The Mystery

Who Slew Mr. Mayhem?

Not just the title of our story, but also the central question of the plot. We establish early on that Matt Mayhem, the victim, is more than just an adventurer – he’s an all American, one-man crime fighting army. We establish that, in the greatest pulp traditions, Mayhem’s villains always end up being undone by their own evil. Perhaps they are too arrogant, or they make a critical miscalculation in one of their doomsday devices. Tom’s own creator, Dr. Proteus, is said to have been killed in just such an accident, “blown to bits” on Horror Island, his secret lair.

Of course, every one assumed Tom was destroyed in this same explosion, right? So maybe Proteus is alive as well. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if Tom lived, his creator might have survived as well.

Except that Tom acknowledges that Proteus is dead and, as evidence, points to his own freedom to pursue a career as a piano player as evidence of this.

So, if Proteus is dead, who does this leave as a suspect for our crime, the brutal slaying of Matt Mayhem?

Well, when I set up this little mystery, I knew that I was ignoring some central components of your traditional mystery – I didn’t want to Scooby-Doo this mystery and throw out a list of suspects for you to choose from. Ideally, you don’t know who killed Mayhem yet because, well, I haven’t given you enough clues to figure that out.

This would be a cheat, of course, if Who Slew Mr. Mayhem were really a murder mystery, but it’s not. It’s an adventure. That means that, first and foremost, I need to tell an entertaining adventure story – the mystery is just the thing that’s driving the adventure and the action. The truth is, I decided to make Tom’s origin story a mystery because the character is a detective and his roots should be in, well, detecting things. We needed to explain how Tom became a detective – where did he get his hat and overcoat, his detective agency, his side-kick. How did he go from being a doomsday device to a PI? These were questions I wanted to address in his origin. The mystery gives me that opportunity.

Ultimately, though, Tom is a comic action hero, a fish-out-of-water who thinks out of left field and is just as apt to solve a crime with a blast from his atomic eye-beams as he is with the power of his intellect.

Ultimately, Who Slew Mr. Mayhem isn’t really the important question. The real question is: are you having a good time waiting to find out?


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