Thoughts on Astra, and A New Drawing!

There is something about a real book that feels more, well, real. Today my first box of Villains Inc. trade paperbacks arrived, and they look awesome. Two are going on display at Alternate Reality Comics, the store that provides me with my comic-book fix, one is going to Viktoria Gavrilenko, my most excellent cover artist, and one is going on my bookshelf for me to see whenever I doubt I’m really a writer.

BTW, for all those Astra fans who already purchased the book and want the new cover, you can contact and arrange for them to replace the old edition with the new one in your Kindle archives, then re-download it!

Actually, just looking at the new cover made me think about Astra’s character and how she’s changed. I believe I’ve mentioned it before, but in many ways Hope/Astra was an accidental character; the original WtC drafts had Atlas as the POV character. A weary and somewhat cynical version of Superman, he’d been fighting the good fight for too long and was about ready to hang it up. Astra appeared as a young, idealistic foil for his character, and the story was all about him recapturing his earlier idealism in the course of training this newbie.

And it didn’t go anywhere. First, it was nearly impossible for me to feed the reader the details of the post-Event world in any natural way. After all, Atlas already knew all about it; some of it he could explain to Astra, but most of it came across as obvious info-dumps. Second, Atlas was too good at his job; I’d set him up as the world’s premier hero, and then found it impossible to challenge him without breaking something. I’m sure a more experienced writer could have handled him better.

But Astra was in a different situation. Starting at the bottom of the learning curve, for her nearly everything was new and overwhelming. I’d initially made her a bit older, a college fourth-year instead of a college first-year, and she originally resembled Megan (the snarkier of the Bees), but once I decided to use her as the POV character she became progressively younger and more innocent to better mirror Atlas’ character traits.

Which made fleshing out Hope’s character an interesting balancing act. I knew what I didn’t want: the stereotypical angst-ridden teen. For one thing, any teen who gains The Coolest Powers Ever is likely to be very annoying if they cry about it too much (see Angst Dissonance and Cursed with Awesome at TV Tropes). I also discarded some of the more obvious teen tropes: the Emo Teen, the Brat, and the Pollyanna. I decided to make her a budding Plucky Girl, since sheer determination seems to be a basic job-requirement for true superheroes (as opposed to media superheroes), but tried to steer clear of the kind of hyper-competence  or Good Golly niceness that creates a Mary Sue.

Results have varied. One reviewer complained of a lack of edginess or dark undercurrents. Another found Hope to be a kind of “wish fulfillment,” by which I assume he meant she was too perfect and her background was too privileged. Another thought there were far more interesting characters he would have liked to read about, and quite a few readers have expressed a preference for Artemis! (I can certainly understand this last bit–Artemis started out as a stock Dark Vigilante, an angry Action Girl, but her back-story captured my imagination and her more blunt personality is fun to write.) Another reviewer found Hope refreshingly down-to-Earth and a nice change.

Still, in many ways, Wearing the Cape is as much about the post-Event world as it is about Hope (one of my sisters called the setting the main character). This has led me to worry that Hope may not be a strong enough character to continue to carry the story once the newness of her world has worn off with the readers.

Which brings me back to the cover-art and what it says about Astra. In WtC, although she had her proactive moments, Hope/Astra was mainly reactive. And this was okay–she was just starting out, and towards the end she certainly took the initiative (with ambiguous results). VI, on the other hand, was largely about the fallout from WtC; Hope experiences some character growth–unsubtly symbolized by her many costume-changes–and she does end the second story-arc in a happier place, but other characters experience much greater transformations. I would hate to think that Hope/Astra is “complete” as a character–after all, she’s only nineteen–and I don’t want to simply churn out a series of adventures that have little or no effect on her from here on, but it’s hard to see a creative way forward from here.

Fortunately, I have a while to think on it; I’ve decided to return to the Wearing the Cape books after finishing Bite Me, but for now I can let thoughts of Hope’s story wait. Often inspiration strikes while you’re thinking of someone else. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what readers of WtC and VI think of Hope/Astra as a character–past, present, and possible future. I have also decided to hold another drawing.

I got a lot of good feedback on the first drawing, and I have an extra Villains Inc. copy sitting on my shelf, so…

Anyone who has not yet posted reviews of Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc. on Amazon, who puts up a review in the next few weeks, will go into the drawing. Note that the review’s star-rating will have no effect on your chances in the drawing (although it might affect what I write inside the cover…). Each review earns a spot in the drawing, so reviews of both WtC and VI will be worth two spots. Both books are now available through Barnes and Noble as well, so reviews posted/duplicated there will also count; in theory a new reviewer could “enter” the drawing four times, but someone who has already reviewed both on Amazon can still enter twice.

So have at it, and I will return my attention to Artemis. “Hopefully” her story will fulfill the many reader expectations the announcement of Bite Me has built.


12 thoughts on “Thoughts on Astra, and A New Drawing!

  1. I have to admit I am not one of those who find Artemis a more interesting character. I Love vampire stories, but I am a little burnt out with them. I was disappointed that you were going to do an Artemis story next, since you are essentially jumping from the super hero genre to the vampire genre. That said I will get the new book when it comes out and hope you can put a new spin on the vampire genre. I have heard other authors say once an idea gets into their head they just need to get it out.

    As I have said before I enjoy the Hope/Astra character. I believe it is because I like characters that are innately good and are striving to fulfill their full potential. And I think a lot of us wish we could do something to fix/save the world around us and imagine what we could do with powers as she has.

    You wonder if her character is strong and complex enough to support further stories I believe she is. You have already laid the ground work to create further conflict (emotional, political, and physical) for her character to overcome. In story time you have only covered about a year of her life. One possible direction is to move a few years forward in time and get some of that training that she needs out of the way. This will also allow the registration act stuff going on in the political arena to reach a head. You stated in the last story that Astra had come out in public strongly against it. What will she do to try to prevent it from happening? Another possible idea is what would happen if she lost her secret identity to the public? And she suffered from cancer as a child what happens if it actually comes back. Has a super hero from the event ever lost their powers? How would she cope? It seems like she is being groomed to become the true new leader of the Sentinels how does she handle that?

    She must be making a ton of money from her endorsement deals what does she do with her money? Probably gives it to her sister’s foundation, but it would be interesting to see if she has a better way to use it to affect the world around her. For example, Superman affected the world physically around him as opposed to Batman who not only used his fighting abilities but also leveraged his wealth to make an impact be it donating money or using it to create technologies or buy information to create a result. She has access to the Tea Time Anarchists data files. She already cheated once does she continue that trend and try to develop those vectors that will help the World survive what she was warned is coming? If I told you 20 years in the future a plague will wipe out most of the World’s population what would you do? Some information about it must be in that data base and you have money to burn.

    The Tea Time Anarchist spoke about Astra as if she was very instrumental in helping the World make it through that dark period, so I would like you to show me how she does it. How great a person, leader, and hero can you make her that she could do something like that. TTA asked Atlas to keep her from going to Washington and he took the full brunt of Seif-Al-Din to make sure she survived not only out of his love for her, but to make sure she meets that great destiny I feel you hinted at in the first book.

    1. These are all good thoughts, thank you! It does remind me of some of my earlier thoughts on Hope’s future. One consideration is that an individual can have a tremendous impact in more than one way; Abraham Lincoln was a pivotal president, but John Brown (of Harper’s Ferry fame) may have been just as resposible for the eventual abolition of slavery. The Anarchist admitted that Hope was responsible for changing the tragectory of Atas’ future career–but she may also be the reason he died, too. But regardless of her own virtues and weaknesses, she has been put in a position (a popular Sentinel and Atlas’ heir, a budding supercelebrity) where she can be pivotal. Not quite nineteen, Hope still has a long way to go, and tne thing I’m not going to do is make her the driver of unfolding events; at most she might nudge them here or there, generally in ways she doesn’t anticipate while she’s trying to do something else.

  2. By the way I love the new cover. The new suit is exactly how I pictured it from your description. Although the design of Mallus is a little underwhelming not what I was expecting.

  3. I think the cover for Wearing The Cape is a perfect design for that book. I have a hard copy of the book facing outward on my bookshelf at eye level for display. Now that I see the cover for Villains Inc, I want to display that book too. I am ordering two hard copies of Villains Inc as soon as I finish typing this reply. One copy is for me and the other is for my lady, Linda, who also enjoyed these books as much as I did. I do have to say that the maul in Astra’s right hand is not what I pictured in my mind when I was reading the book. However, having read a few texts on Homeric tradition and others on mythology, the maul (or mace) in Astra’s hand vaguely reminds me of a few hand held weapons I pictured from those writings. So, then I saw the maul design as a symbolic tie to Atlas and Ajax, since their namesakes stem from the Homeric era and mythology. The bottom line is I am good with the maul and I love the cover as a whole. This just keeps getting better and better. Go George, go! Oh, and thank you for sharing the thought process and development path that led to Wearing The Cape, It was enlightening and fun to learn about.

    1. Glad you appreciate the new VI cover, Dennis! And yes, the armor and maul is a direct homage to her first teacher, her own acknowledgement of the debt she owes him (Atlas taught her strategy, but Ajax taught her to fight to win or go home).

  4. I really like Hope as a character. I understand what your saying here and you have to go where the inspiration takes you so if Astra doesn’t come back around for a while it will be a little sad, but ok. I’m not sure if this is a product of the environment I grew up in but Hope having the good relationship with her parents and being a good student and coming from a successful family all made her feel real to me. I feel like I could have gone to high school with her or something. I’m not saying that I grew up with all of those things but (possibly due to how well it was written) it just felt real. Anyway I’m excited about the new book and I can’t wait to see where this is going. I agree with your sister that life after the event is the main character of this series and I love how endless the possibilities are.

    Thanks for all your hard work

  5. Well, first off, let me tell you – those little banner ads below online comic pages WORK! I found your book “Wearing The cape” below the Kevin and Kell strip and meandered over to Amazon and bought the Kindle edition. Read it in two days and am back for more!

    I LOVE Astra! She reminds me of a kid I knew when I was a little girl: Mary M. who was Catholic. THANK YOU for making a hero religious, and then NOT making a big deal out of it. Thank you for NOT ignoring OR shoving religion. It’s just one of the little facts about Hope-Astra that make her REAL!

    She’s a “good girl” and she sticks to it. Oh how EASILY you could have had that sequence in the cabin with her “giving in” and having that ONE sexual encounter as the thing she can cling to in the days following her loss. But you didn’t. And THAT makes it REAL.

    The supporting characters are well drawn, their motivations valid and convincing. The villains are well done and their motivations also are convincing. The way the world HANDLED the Event rings true to life and this makes it all REAL.

    If you know the sensation of going to a really GOOD movie, and coming out of the theater half expecting the world you had just been immersed in to be THERE – then you know MY reaction to the first book. I would set my Kindle aside and ZAP! I half expected to cock my ear and hear someone flying past overhead.

    THANK YOU for a VERY good read! I’m anticipating another one today! 🙂
    You make it all very real!


    1. Thank you for sharing your enjoyment; I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of VI, which is a bit different. And don’t forget to enter your reviews for the drawing!

  6. I’ve just recently found this blog (recently found your books!) and I’m working my way through it beginning to end. I’ll have a LOT more to say to you, but thought I’d quickly add something here: As an atheist, and someone who finds it jarring and off-putting when an author uses his work as a soapbox for religion or politics – even when they’re my own – I think you handle Hope’s Catholicism *very* well. It’s a deftly and seamlessly woven element of her characterization, and I think a very appropriate one. I understand and usually appreciate most genre authors’ reluctance to alienate potential readers by making religion visible at all, much less in a protagonist and viewpoint character. Just wanted to let you know that I think you aced it here, in case you worried. 🙂

    1. I always appreciate hearing that I handled the religious element appropriately, thank you. Also more than one reader has commented on how refreshing it is to see a teen protagonist who has a good relationship with her parents! I hope you enjoy all the books as much as you obviously enjoyed the first one.

  7. And I can’t even express my delight at finding a well-adjusted, happy, completely angst-free teen protagonist, surrounded and supported by loving friends and family. 🙂

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