A guide to the humor in Mighty Mighty. Nobody’s going to get every joke.
Spoiler alert: Before you read on, read the book. (Before you read the book, buy the book.)
- ALLITERATIVE NAMES. The names of the many protagonists — Orville Ortley, Kevin Kiley, Mindy Maguire, Shel Shapiro, Bobby Botler, Bella Brock, Olivia Ortley — are a tribute to a form popularized by Stan Lee. Of course, the convention has been around as long as superhero comics (“Clark Kent”?).
- OTHER INSIDE JOKES WITH NAMES. Orville Ortley and Brigitte LaValette owe their surnames to towns along the Jersey Shore. In early drafts, Kevin’s last name was Keller. Then Archie Comics named Riverdale High’s first openly gay student Kevin Keller, so thank Gates for MS Word’s find/replace function! “Botler” is a nod to Sam Huntington’s character in the Kyle Newman’s 2009 film Fanboys. “Seth Hill” is a reference to both Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill, either of whom would be great in just about any male role if they made a Mighty2 movie.
POWERS AND IDENTITIES.
- MUCUS-MAN and LOOKER. Mucus-Man’s power is based loosely on the X-Men’s Cyclops; the oddball hyphen is pays tribute to Spider-Man. His mother’s is much more directly based on the eye blasts. But as my vision changed as I got older, I wondered why Scott Summers’s didn’t. Also, as the name of Orville’s biological father is revealed, you should catch the foreshadow cast by his “theme music” at the beginning of Chapter 3 being Counting Crows’ “The Rain King,” and subsequent references to blackbirds.
- COUNT KARMA, COMMA, MASTER OF ARTS. This is based on Dr. Strange, particularly as Steve Gerber wrote him for The Defenders. Maybe this is based on fuzzy memory, but it occurs to me that every time Valkyrie and Nighthawk were getting the crap kicked out of them, Dr. Strange would go into a trance, fight the Big Bad on the astral plane and, as a result, the battle tide would turn in favor of the Defenders. From the point of view of his teammates, though, it must have looked like Strange was a narcoleptic who took a nap whenever they needed him most. I wanted Count Karma to appear as useless as possible. (I make no apologies to real-world masters of arts).
- GEORGIANA. You have to stick with this character’s arc over the course of the book. If you just take her at face value, you’ve missed the whole point.
- THE BLUR. It’s got to be boring as hell to be that much faster than everybody else. I also wondered why Barry Allen and Wally West didn’t age faster than the rest of us, nor why they could run circles around the world rather than when, regardless of my speed, I’d be coughing up my own lungs after 10 miles.
- THE BADGER. This origin story is, of course, a goof on Spider-Man’s. The power is more like the Hulk, Man-Thing, Wendigo, or other chaotic rather than evil forces of nature. That Bella Brock is from Wisconsin, the Badger State, had to be. By the way, “brock” is an old word for badger. Also, the goddess “Tamora” who imbued Bella with her powers is a bow to YA fantasy author Tamora Pierce, who writes lots of great adventures for badgers.
- LUGH: This is a play on Thor, obviously. One thing that always appealed to me about the character as presented in the 1970s was how much the writers enjoyed throwing those Jacobean flourishes into his dialogue. I always wondered what he’d say if he ever hit his thumb with that hammer.
- LIEUTENANT COLONEL NEBRASKA and MAJOR RHODE ISLAND: If there’s a Colonel America, there’s got to be a career path toward that top job.
- BLACK MAN: Based on Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. Like Georgiana, you really have to stick with him to overcome the initial offensiveness of the caricature and learn to identify with the character. Also, the surname “Masters” serves a couple purposes. First, it’s the most offensive last name I could think to give a fictional African-American, with apologies to anyone of that heritage who bears that name in reality. Second, the offense had already been given. Remember when they did that first Fantastic Four movie (not the Roger Corman train wreck, the first one released)? The producers decided, correctly, that they needed to add some diversity to the white-as-Wonder-Bread cast, but that’s where they took a creative wrong turn. Out of all the characters in the extended FF family, who did they make black? Ben Grimm’s girlfriend, Alicia. Alicia Masters.
- CHRIST THE SON: We’ve had comic book deities based on Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu, Native American, African, and assorted animist mythologies. So why not?
- DR. RUDY GOLDMAN: Mashup of Dr. Rudy Wells and SIA Director Oscar Goldman. Straight out of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
- SHEL SHAPIRO: While we’re on the subject of the Bionic duo, ever wonder why they can throw cars overhand when it’s only their arms and legs that are enhanced? I mean, they have their original spines, don’t they?
- LOU NOBLE: He’s Humphrey Bogart. I’d like to say I borrowed from Mickey Spillane or Dashielle Hammett or some other master of noir fiction, but I never read any of that. I have seen Bogie in enough roles, though, and a lot of other black-and-white crime dramas with John Garfield, James Cagney, and many lesser heavies. But this character is definitely Spade/Marlowe: tough-talking, yet smarter and more highly educated than he likes to let on. More selflessly heroic, too. His revival story is reminiscent of Captain America’s and, if I were Steve Rogers, my first thought upon awakening after two decades is, “How much back pay and seniority am I owed?”
- FLARE STAR: Am I the only one who had trouble with the Superman origin myth? Or that having superpowers somehow made you able to live comfortably in a vacuum?
“PLAQUET BOX”: A 17th-century vulgar synonym for “vagina”. Research, research, research.
“TRIPLE-A” or “AMERICAN WITH ABILITIES ACT”: A slow reveal, but essentially legislation written by the American Malevolence Institute that requires all non-Crusader super beings to work dead-end jobs with the Civil Service. The name is a play, of course, on the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the resemblance ends there.
“AMERICAN MALEVOLENCE INSTITUTE”: In the Mighty-verse (as Chris DeFelippis named it), the locus of evil is a cabal of K Street lobbyists — just like it is here.
INTERLUDES: This structure allows me to tell two equally compelling and interlinked tales simultaneously. Moore & Gibbons’s The Watchmen was structured this way to great effect, and J.J. Abrams’s Lost was structured this way to disappointing effect. (He could have ended up wasting only three years of my time rather than six.) Some of my first readers thought I should just take these all out, saying it’s all just well-imagined backstory. I think they missed the point.
- GAYLEN ROSS: The screen name of the actress who starred in George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. When Zack Snyder did the remake, he gave that name to one the stores in the Crossroads Mall.
- SAVINI & NICOTERO: The funeral home is named, of course, after Tom “Sex Machine” Savini, the original zombie makeup man, and Greg Nicotero, the apt apprentice whom many would say has since exceeded his master.
- FORREST: Christine Forrest, Romero’s ex-wife, mother of his children, and muse through the most creative times in his life.
- GRANT MAZZY: The AM talk radio personality from Pontypool Changes Everything. Thanks for the blurb, Tony Burgess!
- (Author’s note: I began work on Mighty Mighty before having heard of Peter Clines’s Ex-Heroes. I didn’t know superheroes-versus-zombies fiction was a thing at the time. Since completing M2, I have read the first two books in that series and highly recommend them. I was, of course, familiar with Marvel Zombies, but I leave it to the reader to determine if there’s any detectable influence.)
- ROGER CHADWICK: The decent, humble, professional, post-Vietnam Colonel, based very much on Steve Rogers. In early drafts, he’s Roger Stevens. He also takes on the role of Professor X, raising the next generation of heroes, making him an important bridge between the main story and the interludes.
- ELIAS O’NEIL: In early drafts, he’s Elias Barnes, intended as a play on the two senior sergeants in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. That had to change for two reasons. Most obviously, it would present an unintended reference to Bucky Barnes. Less obviously, you can’t have two characters in one book, one named “Barnes” and the other named “Noble”. O’Neil was the name of the other sergeant in the unit. As with Georgiana and Black Man, you need to follow this character’s arc as he comes to grips with realizing he’s gay. He is over-the-top at first, admittedly, but what I’m trying to present is his interpretation of how gay men are “supposed to” act.
- MARISOL RIVERA: Each era gets the Colonel that fits it. America is getting browner and women are increasingly more successful than the men in their lives. It’s time for a Spanish-speaking, female Colonel marked by courage, competence, and a willingness to sacrifice.
HAWK’S: The bar is an homage to Matt Hawk, the classic Two-Gun Kid, the original masked hero.
THE KEVIN-MINDY RELATIONSHIP: Remember the second time you watched the original Star Wars, after you found out that Luke and Leia were siblings? Remember that kiss? Awkward, huh? Not awkward enough for me, apparently. But this gimmick owes as much to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall than to George Lucas’s signature work. I wanted the romantic tension destroyed as early on in the book as possible because I resent that it’s requisite at all. One more thing about this non-couple that ought to be explained. Their birth surname, Reid, is taken from the First Family of heroics: John Reid, who donned a mask cut from the vest of his slain brother to become the Lone Ranger, and his great-nephew Britt Reid, who fought the criminal underground from inside as the Green Hornet.
’64 PHILLIES/ ’67 ARABS: An analogy that originated with Red Sox relief pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee. When I worked at a newspaper, the fellows in the pre-press room used to call me “Spaceman” because I reminded them of him.
GMC CONVERSION VAN: Just like B.A. Baracus drove on The A-Team.
MOHAMMED ATTA JOKE: Too soon? My beta readers all thought so.
CHAUVINAUTS. A how-do-you-do to John Norman.
THE WHOLE THING ABOUT THE BADGER AND CHEESE. This is a Three Stooges riff. In the 1935 two-reeler Horses’ Collars, the boys … dang, just watch it yourself. You think I’d name a detective Hyden Zeke?
SINGULARITY. I read Vinge, Doctorow, Stross, Banks, Brand. I still have no freakin’ clue.
“I’M YOUR FATHER, ORVILLE.” You’re imagining James Earl Jones’s voice and scuba gear, right? Although it’s Mucus-Man’s parentage is a secondary plot point, there’s some misdirection here. I don’t know why this is true, but it seems to me that everyone who ever wrote heroic fiction had daddy issues, and part of their heroes’ quests have always been to slay their fathers or live up to their fathers or some other Oedipal bullshit. Orville doesn’t need that. When Lugh slays the Carbon Avenger, Orville’s only response is that it was “bad form.” Kevin Kiley actually has these issues and they are left unresolved, just like in our universe.