Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Camelot 3000

First up, sorry for the spotty posting schedule. August is the month where I realize that the idle days of summer are almost over so take as much vacation as humanly possible in order to prevent madness come September. Still, only 6 more titles to go after today!

Back in the early 80s, DC went out on a limb and tried something new: the maxi-series. Today, we'd look at Camelot 3000's limited 12 issue run as nothing so strange. There are a host of titles today conceived and written as finite stories, rather than the ongoing sagas most conventional stories become. Some of these limited series sort of shift into the later category as they become popular before overstaying their welcome (Marvel Zombies, I'm looking at you), while some unlimited series suddenly get limits due to poor sales.

One interesting thing to note about Camelot 3000 is that as an out-of-continuity run it is in some way a precursor to titles like Gaiman's Sandman or the rest of the Vertigo titles. Of course, for our reboot of Camelot, we'll need it to be in-continuity, otherwise it wouldn't actually be part of the Drewniverse. This raises some problems- the series can't be set in the future (for the same reason Legion titles can't) and it would need to have a story engine capable of driving the plot on for more than 12 issues.

While I recognize characters like Knight and Squire exist (and may still exist in the Drewniverse, were it not for the riots in London. The idea of a hoodie-wearing yoof being taken under the wing as the Squire of an upperclass Knight had some attraction.), having a host of dudes running around with swords doing battle would stick out like a sore thumb in a modern setting. Plus, I would be concerned that they wouldn't stay their "own thing" for long - we'd end up with Superman/Arthur teamups. So we have to find a way for our Camelot to be of the Drewniverse, but not totally part of it. Tricky, tricky.

Turning to recent history, this of-not-part status has recently been achieved in the death/rebirth of the New Gods. Darkseid the planetary tyrant was reborn as Dark Side the crime boss, for example. We're skipping that in the Drewniverse, obviously, as we have Intergang running around supplying weapons to the criminal element and Barda running for her life from the Furies, but surely we could take the idea that there is a secret world, a secret struggle that exists just a half-step from our own? We could even tie in a few legacy DC characters, giving them roles in the Secret World of the Drewniverse.

At the conjunction of secret worlds and Arthurian characters sits the works of Tim Powers, specifically The Drawing of the Dark, Last Call, Expiration Date, and Earthquake Weather. I heartily recommend the first two (ED and ER are demi-sequels to Last Call). The Drawing of the Dark is about beer, Arthur, and the battle between East and West set in the Siege of Vienna during the 16th century. Last Call is about the battle to become the spiritual king of the American West via a mystical card game. Both works focus on the symbiotic relationship between a king and the land. When one prospers, so does the other. When one falters, the same.

Hey, that sounds a lot like Uncle Sam, the embodiment of the American Idea, that's been running around the DC universe with the Freedom Fighters for several decades. I think we have our hook!

Okay, so something that our Founding Fathers understood was that for a nation to succeed, it needs some sort of mystical zeitgeist to provide a sort of spiritual underpinning to the idea of national identity. So after winning the Revolution, they were quick to use their Masonic rites to establish an embodiment of their new nation, otherwise they'd risk getting rolled over by the identities of the other nations whose tired and hungry would become Americans. So it was not enough for the Americans to beat the British and then defend against later counterattacks, they also had to somehow defeat the idea of Rule Britannia and then keep her out. Otherwise, the nation would naturally drift back into the English fold. Britannia herself was defeated (or at least, kept from meddling too much in the Revolution) by the involvement of French and Native American zeitgeists that the Founding Fathers were able to rally/bribe to their cause when those allies physically joined the fight. Obviously, these zeitgeists got the short end of the stick as a reward for their troubles - the French power was changed by contact with the revolutionary ideals and soon split into the triumvirate of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité while the Native American spirits got sort of stomped on.

Anyways, Uncle Sam, or at least the Spirit of America who would become Uncle Sam was created. The Founding Fathers didn't quite grasp what they were doing, so the door through which the spirit entered our world remained open, thus allowing future incarnations to enter and take form. I'm not sure what these entities are, although the whole "beings shaped by will or belief" does sound pretty similar to Ion and Parallax and that set. Something to think about for the future - what if there is indeed an Entity sleeping beneath the Earth and it's these national zeitgeists that are bleeding off its power, keeping it down? So the End of Days would really be a one-world government, which would kill off the zeitgeists and rouse the slumbering Outer God.

Still, that'd be far in the future. For the time being, let's focus on our Arthur, Uncle Sam. At this point in America's history, we've moved beyond the Once and Future King days of Young Wart and into the more established period of the Chansons de Geste where the knights of the round table go out and do great deeds, fight great evils, and love great loves. So our Uncle Sam rules his Court of America from his mountain fastness located in Mount Rushmore. He's still advised by his Merlin, the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, who helped bring him into the world in the first place.

His knights represent cultural movements, geographical identities, and other American concepts and they travel the nation questing for adventure in their own particular idioms. The knights and courtiers don't really change, but they do evolve over time. So Lancelot, a cowboy representation of the American West, doesn't ride a horse anymore - instead he has a motorcycle. Kay, Arthur's older irascible brother and representation of New England, has been a John Adams-like gentleman farmer, a whaler, and is currently a Southie bravo straight out of The Town. Guinevere is the Heartland and when she fell out of love with her Arthur, the nation suffered through the Dust Bowl.

Mordred is a greasy lobbying politico, the worm at the heart of court. The Black Knight, who in Arthurian legend chained his wife up, was the incarnation of slavery and was defeated by Percival, freedom, who has been an abolitionist and civil rights leader on his quest for the American Grail (aka the American Dream). Galahad came into existence as a suffragette and continues to strive for women's rights and equality between the sexes ("Never shall a man take me hence.." begins the inscription on her sword). Gawain, who is both tamer and steward of the the Green Knight that is the American Wilderness, has shed his Teddy Roosevelt mustache for the dreadlocks of an eco-warrior. Tristan and Isolde, the Mississippi and Delta, continue their love affair, and the knight seeks to redress the wrongs visited upon his love. Dagonet, the court jester, is a reality TV star of Jersey Shore proportions (That's Dago-dot-net, yo). Gareth is industry, Bedivere is science, and so on. Each character will have abilities, sometimes supernatural, in accordance with their particular idiom.

Obviously, in the comic, we'll be changing the names where we can. Lancelot's role as the Vigilante could be a surprise reveal kept until later. We'd let Vigilante appear in other comics as a guest or team-up, while in Camelot (#45/52) he'll be spoken of as "out questing." Other characters, such as Mordred, could appear in other comics with little need to reveal who they really are.

Our point of view character will be a newly incarnated zeitgeist - she'll start her existence as a street urchin named Lenore before it's revealed that she's Sir Pellinore, spirit of the quest. Her incarnation will be a direct result to the inclusion of superheroes into the American cultural mindset and as such, she'd have a pretty decent powerset - strength, speed, durability, and most importantly, the ability to locate people and objects, which will quickly make her in demand both at court and in the Drewniverse at large.

Story-wise, we'll be looking to Sandman for inspiration and titles such as Hawk and Dove for commentary. The fundamental question of this title is What Makes Up America? And while I can see how this may be a big question for comics to tackle, given all the recent fooferaw about new Spider-Men, Superman's citizenship, and so on, I think there is at least room in comicbook pages to ask the question.

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