Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let's Talk About the First Of Stars and Swords Story

Last week, the comic that Caroline and I work on, Of Stars and Swords, ended its first story arc. It's been a long time coming and we're both very proud of it all, but we're not done! Not only is there more Of Stars and Swords to come, but I wanted to talk about the story and all of that.

So first off: There will be spoilers for Of Stars and Swords beyond this point. I want to talk about tone and choices and there's just no avoiding it. Consider yourself warned!

Second. Last year, I made a post about Seren and this is likely to touch on some of the same things. If you'd like to read that, here's a link.

Now. Let's get into this.

From the very beginning, Of Stars and Swords has been about one thing: revenge. It's a fairly typical story, really. Seren's family is killed and she grows up consumed by the desire for vengeance, gets her chance, and takes it. Generally, that's the end of the story. The hero succeeds and avenges the deaths of their loved ones, we get a nice scene of them finally able to move on, and that's that. It's not even necessarily a bad story concept, but it isn't where we were ever going.

Because Of Stars and Swords is also about the nature of revenge. In our very first issue, Seren's uncle, the man directly responsible for killing her family, dies. He loses his head right in front of her and she doesn't get to do it. And that's not good enough for her. So she sets her sights on the man that ordered it. And eventually, she gets that, too. She even gets to do the deed herself. But there's no dramatic speech or climactic fight. She just kills him.

And nothing changes.

In fact, Seren's single-minded focus arguably makes things worse. Now, her insistence that everything is her fault is probably a bit overblown, but if she'd taken a moment to look at the larger picture and stopped distracting everyone around her by running off to kill a man, maybe these weird evil creatures could have been stopped. There was definitely time and more than a few chances. There were even clues to them being around doing things for a while, but they were missed or ignored by Seren. Since the comic is (mostly) told through her point of view, it's easy for the reader to miss most of them, too.

And, really, that's the point of it all. Seren didn't see because she didn't want to.

Basically, I've found myself disliking revenge stories more and more as time goes on. There are quite a few good ones, but the vast majority of action movies and not a small number of comics are tales of revenge that end in a glorious moment of the evil character's death at the hero's hands. We cheer and consider it satisfying. But that bothers me. What good does it really do? And what would that kind of single minded focus really do to the hero? Not to say that's an unexplored area, either, but it is an area that's far more interesting to me.

That's the real story we wanted to tell. Seren and her series of bad decisions that lead to worse things. She kills people without a second thought and by the end three people sacrifice themselves to protect her. And two of those deaths she is pretty directly responsible for. As I've said before, she's not even all that likable. And that's okay. She's not really a bad person, but she does do quite a lot of bad things. She tries her best, but is misguided quite a lot. I like to think that she fails in ways that are understandable.

So where do we go from here? We already know, of course, and that's not something I want to talk about yet. But I will say this much: Seren started out at a very low point already. She was alone and very angry. Through the course of our first story, she was forced to work with other people, and even tried for a bit, but fell into old habits quickly. And at the end of it all, Seren has somehow managed to end up in an even worse place than where she started, which is definitely something she couldn't have believed previously. She hasn't exactly coped with similar situations well in the past, so we'll have to see how she handles this new one.

But hey, maybe she'll learn something. Anything's possible, right?