Saturday, March 30, 2019

For Mature Readers: The Narrative Voice of Ms. Megaton Man

Telling the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series in the first-person voice of Clarissa James solved a number of problems for me as I grappled with attempting to turn what had been a comic book series into a prose narrative. (As of this writing, six chapters have been posted online.)

Pteranoman, Ms. Megaton Man, the Phantom Jungle Girl, B-50 the Hybrid Man, and the Slick from the back cover of Bizarre Heroes #4 (Fiasco Comics Inc., August 1994).

Megaton Man from the beginning always dealt with mature themes. From the very first issue, Megaton Man, a visitor from another comic book dimension, openly flirted with Stella Starlight, the See-Thru Girl, wife of Rex Rigid and member of the Megatropolis Quartet. Like most things in Megaton Man, this was presented as a joke--it simply struck me as funny--but then the serious implications of the situation became something I wanted to explore.

What if Megaton Man and the See-Thru Girl actually had an affair? What would it say about the sham marriage of Rex and Stella? I explored this theme in Megaton Man #4 and #5, even going so far as depicting the abusive marriage Stella felt trapped in. I showed Megaton Man and Stella all but explicitly hooking up on the rooftops of New York--going "On Patrol"--a scene Alan Moore later played dramatically between Dr. Manhattan and Nightshade in Watchmen #4.

Stella's abusive marriage to Rex. Megaton Man #5 (Kitchen Sink Press, August 1985).

Stella's abusive marriage to Rex. Megaton Man #5 (Kitchen Sink Press, August 1985).

Stella's abusive marriage to Rex. Megaton Man #5 (Kitchen Sink Press, August 1985).

The end of her marriage propelled Stella to leave Megatropolis at the end of Megaton Man #1 and seek refuge in Ann Arbor.

What, then, if Stella realized she was pregnant? This became another absurdist gag I threw into Megaton Man #9--without thinking any further ahead--but again, the implications of this new revelation captured my imagination. I had no choice but to explore it further.

Stella reveals she is pregnant with Megaton Man's love-child in Megaton Man #9 (Kitchen Sink Press,

When Megaton Man loses his Megapowers, and is reduced to Civilian Trent Phloog again at the end of Megaton Man #10, he realizes his baby is about to born back in Ann Arbor. In Return of Megaton Man #1, Trent is back in Ann Arbor, living in the same rented house with Stella as well as Pamela Jointly--the woman Trent really has the hots for--and Clarissa James, the college co-ed Stella met in Megaton Man #4.

Clarissa becomes Ms. Megaton Man in Megaton Man Meets the Uncategorizable X+Thems #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, April 1989). Colorized; originally appeared in black and white.

Clarissa James would eventually undergo the most extreme and unpremeditated evolution of any of my characters, starting out as a studious student and staunch Megahero skeptic, becoming a Yarn Man-obsessed groupie, and finally emerging as a full-blown Megahero in her own right: Ms. Megaton Man.

Clarissa James, Yarn Man groupie, from Return of Megaton Man #3 (Kitchen Sink Press, September 1988).

At one time, when the Megaton Man series had been reduced to a series of one-shots, a Ms. Megaton Man issue was planned--a cover was drawn and even advertised in the back of Yarn Man #1, but was never realized. Instead, a very truncated episode appeared in Pteranoman #1, showing Megaton Man and Ms. Megaton Man hooking up in the Dork Cave, with Stella emphatically indifferent.

Some of the problematic material from Pteranoman #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, August 1990).

Ms. Megaton Man and Megaton Man in the Dork Cave. Pteranoman #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, August 1990).

Understanding this bizarre scenario took me years. Several spotty sexual relationships and a ten-year marriage did much to inform me and give me insight into the Trent-Stella-Pammy-Clarissa dynamic, and other life experience did much to shed light on other characters, relationships, and life situations I had stumbled into--mostly for their humorous fascination--in those 1980s and 1990s comics.

Anyone who has followed my social media knows I like drawing Ms. Megaton Man more than any other character--I've posted hundreds of drawings and sketches of her. Proportionally and temperamentally, she occupies a space between the more overt caricatural world of Megaton Man and the more off-beat of essentially dramatic superhero world of Bizarre Heroes. Like the Phantom Jungle Girl, Clarissa could function in comedic or dramatic adventures.

Civilian Trent returns to Ann Arbor and finds himself living with three women, including Clarissa James. From Return of Megaton Man #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, July 1988).

Clarissa also, starting out as a Civilian and evolving into a Megahero, and meeting Trent and Stella while they are normal Civilians, offers the perfect perspective to tell the Megaton Man narrative in a number of ways. For one thing, she is there before the beginning--the birth of Simon, who will emerge as the central character in the Megaverse; for another, Clarissa has a sardonic sense of humor and an uninhibited approach to living that gives her an objectivity and a critical distance. She's smart, funny, analytical at moments, and she doesn't take herself too seriously.

Clarissa gets the munchies in Megaton Man Meets the Uncategorizable X+Thems #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, April 1989). Colorized; originally appeared in black and white.

I don't think another character could serve as a first-person narrator to the extent that Clarissa can. I told Stella's story in the first person in Megaton Man #5, and although she is a rich character in her own right (she evolves into the Earth Mother in the Bizarre Heroes series), she also has a number of limitations.

Pamela Jointly shares her new book, Megasomething, with the Ann Street crowd in Yarn Man #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1989).
Pammy's thinly fictionalized Megasomething is a snoozer without sex. From Yarn Man #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1989).

Pamela Jointly, the controversial columnist who later writes Megasomething (a highly fictionalized Big Chill-like account of the early days in the communal house on Ann Street) in Yarn Man #1, would also be a good candidate for a first-person narrator; snippets of her perspective appeared in Megaton Man #4. But Pammy is a bit too much the hard-bitten media type, too objective and aloof, to really sympathize with her subjects.

Pamela Jointly's first-person narration from Megaton Man #3 (Kitchen Sink Press, April 1985)

Although I may utilize different first-person voices over time, as well as the third person, I feel that I can use Clarissa's voice for a very long stretch. The downside of this, considering her sexual history and penchant for honesty, is a YA narrative that skews to the more mature side of the spectrum--hardly the squeaky-clean all-ages variety a publisher might find more inviting.

The parenting partnership of Trent and Stella--conceiving a child (Simon) out of wedlock and raising him without benefit of marriage--could only have been presented as satire in the 1980s. It made a prospective licensor so uncomfortable it scuttled a potentially lucrative deal in 1992 to make Megaton Man into a media adaptation of some kind as well as a line of toys (the same licensor had better luck bringing Pokémon to America--I have the correspondence to prove this little anecdote).

Clarissa straining, in a 2012 pencil sketch.

Today, such a parenting partnership--ahead of its time, perhaps, thirty years ago--hardly seems scandalous in the twenty-first century; rather, it could probably stand as a model of decency and responsibility. Still, the account of Clarissa James--a sexually active African-American woman--will likely prove problematic in today's media environment. But it's the story, at long last, I need to tell.

The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series | First Chapter | All Chapters | Latest Chapter
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All characters, character names, likenesses, words and pictures on this page are ™ and © Don Simpson 2019, all rights reserved.

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