Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Hope Spot #2: Super-Slashers

This post originally appeared in the July issue of Sanitarium Magazine
Batman. Jason Vorhees. Similarities? More than a few, especially in the days before Batman stopped using a gun.
Many masked hero stories involve a wronged individual being presumed dead and then coming back to wreak terrible vengeance on xir enemies, who are doing some bad thing.
Many slasher stories involve a killer who was killed (or who is taking the persona of somebody that was killed) and is exacting vengeance on those responsible.
A few other points of convergence: As Vorhees, Myers, and Leslie Vernon demonstrate, a slasher can wear a costume or gimmick appearance as well as any superhero.
The main difference is the point of view. Imagine Batman from the perspective of his enemies. Even if he isn’t killing anybody (and there are more than a few stories where he’s done just that), it’s been well-demonstrated that Batman still manages to inspire terror. Imagine what a story would be like from their perspective.
And an avenging slasher’s logic may be twisted, but about the only thing that separates classic Batman from Jason Vorhees is that Batman usually doesn’t kill people. Get rid of that, and I think I might take my chances with Jason.
Hell, the Punisher pretty much already is a slasher. Change his modus operandi just a little and change the point of view, and you’ve got another golden example of what I’m talking about. Or Watchmen’s Rorschach. Kid Miracleman is more “supervillain slasher” if anything, but that’s still alright.
Basically, we can stand to take some lessons from Alan Moore on this thing.

In Practice: For Endless is My Name

Let’s imagine a world of superheroes. Maybe they have superpowers, maybe they don’t. If there are powers then it’s a mystery as to whether the kill has any or is simply really scary-effective and well-prepared with nasty tricks. And if the killer does have a superpower, then the most fitting scenario is probably for the killer to have gotten it at the edge of death. Maybe it was the stress of dying, or a deal made with some horrible (or not so horrible) entity.
Don’t assume that the killer needs to have superpowers, though.
It wouldn’t be more than “Your usual slasher story, albeit in a setting with superheroes” if this were all there was, though. We should at the very least have an antihero (your mileage may vary, whether we could have a conservative no-qualifiers hero antagonist in this kind of story). Remember, the killer was wronged in some way. Who did this? And what was done? Murder isn’t the only option, though it is the most common.
By the way, was this situation actually what the killer imagines it to have been? Don’t neglect the possibility that the victims know what the killer wants revenge for, know that it was all a misunderstanding… and aren’t able to dissuade the killer because there isn’t sufficient evidence available.
Coming from an LDS background, what comes to mind for this story is a scriptural excerpt stating, “For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name.” It’s a pretty good example of how taking things out of context is silly because it doesn’t mean what it seems to, on its own, but don’t you worry about that.
As it is, the excerpt can give us some more ideas. Does the killer come from a religious, probably Mormon background? Don’t discount the importance of a slasher’s past, or even what they’re doing presently if they aren’t dedicated murderhobos. Even if most of the character’s depth is never revealed, a reader can tell the difference between cardboard and flesh.
Don’t just look at where the quote is coming from, though. Look at what it says. “Endless punishment,” it says. Does this mean that each kill is stretched out, a slow-working poison or a death by a thousand cuts? “I am endless.” What does that say about how the killer perceives xir mortality? Does the killer’s power bestow something like immortality, or has the killer made arrangements for someone else to take up the mantle when the killer dies?
And where does the quote come in, by the way? The story could open with it. The killer could repeat part or all of it under certain circumstances (or all the time). Someone could beg the killer for xir name and be answered with “Endless,” leaving the reference obscure. If you want to give an extra hint on where to look then at another time the killer could, in response to the same question, reply “I am what I am: I am death” or something similarly both scriptural and slasher-y. Or you could simply build the story around the quote but leave it unmentioned, a secret idea quarry.
How long is this story going to be, by the way? Personally I think that a comic format would work best, something visual, in order to strengthen the idea, visually, that this is as much a superhero story as it is a slasher, but you go with what you can.
As a one-shot or short story, though, it’s probably best to not try to depict every death. Instead, why don’t you focus on just one? Somewhere in the middle or near the end would be best so that you can up the tension. The victim you’re focusing on knows that the killer (whose spree could be unfolding over hours, days, or months) is coming, which gives it a different feel than if this were the first attack. The victim knows why the killer is coming, or at least has reason to expect the attack (which means you can play up the anticipation).

And there you go, the bones of a superhero/slasher fusion. Play around with the victims’ motivations. Swap out the quote with another one and mine it just like we did “For, behold, I am endless.”
Even choosing the extent of the collateral damage can have interesting effects. “The killer will chop up anybody who’s in the way” seems like the default, but a killer who leaves only certain bodies will clearly declare who xir target is and, more importantly, send a message that there is always a hole in the victims’ defenses that the killer can exploit without even needing to kill anyone. Imagine sitting at your desk, armed guards patrolling your entire facility, and knowing none of it matters at all, because your colleague was still found dead under the same kind of protection.

But even knowing it’s useless, who could stand to see the face of death and do otherwise? (Perhaps the one who can will also be the one who fills the “Survivor Girl” role, if there is one in this story). 

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