The Time I Didn’t Write Superman
Have you or have you considered writing comics or graphic novels?
I once pitched a story to DC Comics where LexCorp tries to sponsor Superman. They make a mockup of his supersuit covered in ads, like a racing car driver. Also they infect their own employees via the water coolers, creating an army of flaming-handed psychopaths. Lois Lane is one of those because she’s working undercover on a story. Then it turns out it’s not Lex Luthor behind all this but LexCorp itself, the corporation, which gained self-awareness and wants to literally consume human resources. So Superman and Lex have to trust each other to stop it. DC didn’t pick this up for some reason.
This came about because legendary comic book writer Kurt Busiek decided to have Clark Kent read one of my novels in Action Comics #838. Which is still a major life highlight, by the way. We swapped a few emails and Kurt asked if I was interested in writing for comics and of course I said, WHO WOULDN’T BE INTERESTED IN THAT, KURT, TELL ME, and he hooked me up for the pitch.
So I was sad that didn’t work out. As well as loving comics, I like the idea of some really talented artist having to draw what I want. Like, I might say, “I’m kind of thinking a guy who’s half-human, half-corporation,” and they think, “Arrghh, what does that even mean,” and then they figure it out. Because they’re talented. So then I’m looking at an awesome drawing of my idea and I’m like, “I came up with that.”
If you blink really fast it kind of moves
Who do I have to hug to get a Jennifer Government movie made, that’s what I want to know. It’s been like seven years. Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to make a story work in 100 minutes when you’ve got six major characters and nine interconnected plots. Boo hoo. You know what that sounds like? “I’m a crappy screenwriter.”
In the meantime, here’s something almost as good: a wallpaper! I stumbled across this a year ago but it took that long to track down the original artist: it started as a sketch by Patrick Shettlesworth that had nothing to do with Jennifer Government until lordkelvos of deviantART reworked it and added a barcode tattoo, which I stuck in front of a background designed by Michael J. Windsor. That’s three different people who can now sue me for copyright infringement. But at least two of them said it was okay so here you go:
It may help you enjoy this image if you imagine you’re a teenage boy. I don’t need to do that. But you might. Here it is in different sizes: 1920x1200 (widescreen), 1280x800 (widescreen), 1440x900 (widescreen), 1600x1200, 1024x768.
The United Nations vs Me
The other day I was digging through my Junk folder when I found an e-mail from the United Nations. I know what you’re thinking: “Wow! That is one politically astute mail filter.” But pretty much all email to my public address without the word “duck” in the subject, as per my contact page, gets flagged as spam, and the UN chose not to do that. Apparently arbitrary yet effective protocols for ensuring open communication aren’t something the UN wants anything to do with. Or maybe they have something against ducks. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, they went with the subject, “Notice of cease and desist.”
Naturally, it was about NationStates. It’s always about NationStates. I have Nike shooting teenagers and Coke marketing Fukk, that’s no problem. But one player says something mean to another in my web game and they’re going to sue me into oblivion. Anyway, what upset the United Nations was that I put them into NationStates. It’s the place where players come together to debate and pass international law; in the five years the game has been running, they’ve implemented privacy safeguards, promoted religious tolerance, passed a universal bill of rights, and outlawed child labor, amongst 240 other resolutions.
Clearly this wasn’t anything the real UN wanted to be associated with:
Dear Mr. Barry,
It has come to our attention that you are operating an online game called “NationStates”, www.nationstates.net, and that this game uses the UN name and emblem, without authorization…
We therefore demand that you immediately cease and desist from using the United Nations name and emblem in the above-referenced online game, and that in the future you refrain from using or making any reference to them in connection with your activities.
[ Full Letter ]
My first reaction was pride. Receiving a threatening letter from the United Nations; I finally felt like I’d done something with my life. Also, there is something inherently amusing about UN threats. I mean, I think the UN does a lot of great work, but let’s face it, they tend to specialize in demands backed by the threat of further, even more stridently voiced demands. Frankly, “You are hereby ordered to cease and desist” was a lot scarier before I got to “says the UN.”
But they did have a point. In 2002, I whacked the United Nations into my game, complete with copyrighted emblem, not so much in parody as to say, “Hey, look, this is just like the real UN.” I can’t remember ever thinking about the legal consequences; I probably assumed that even if the UN noticed, they’d have plenty of blood-thirsty dictators and international war crimes to prosecute before me. But what with Saddam behind bars and all that world peace you’ve been hearing so much about, I guess they worked their way down to me.
I wondered whether it was worth fighting. It would probably be eight years before they got inspections organized, and by then I could keep moving my UN references around where they wouldn’t find them. And it could be great fun. I could represent myself and wear cheap suits and tell the court that it was on trial. But for that to work, I would need an opponent who might actually be embarrassed by the expense and public profile involved in a petty IP lawsuit, and I just wasn’t confident the UN falls into that category. That the single biggest label on the front page of the UN web site is “Copyright, United Nations, 2008” struck me as an ill omen. Also, I do support the UN. I mean, sure, it’s about as functional as a cat with 192 heads, and a lot of those heads are corrupt. But at least they’re trying. At least the heads have to look at each other. I feel like if I’m going into legal battle with somebody, it probably shouldn’t be an organization whose foremost goal is world peace.
Plus I got a lawyer’s opinion, and he said I was blatantly in the wrong. So I decided to cave.
So now I have to rename my UN. I was tempted to go with something a little insulting, like “Discordant Nations,” or “Ridiculously Petty Bureaucracy of Nations Who Should Have Better Things To Do.” But no, that would be sinking to their level. NationStates now has a “World Assembly.”
Zap zap bang bang
By now four thousand people have told me about the shooting at the Playstation 3 launch. Well, all right, it wasn’t four thousand. It was sixteen. Fifteen, if you don’t count the guy who thought it was over an XBox. (I love it when people remember everything about a marketing promotion except the product. Just knowing that some marketing executive signed off on a million-dollar campaign only to boost his competition gives me a warm feeling inside.)
Not that I’m saying Sony deliberately engineered a stock shortage and then hired an assassin to shoot someone in the stampede in order to build up the hype. That would be unspeakably immoral. To rip off the opening of Jennifer Government so blatantly, I mean.
I’m thinking about creating a special section on this site: “Stuff that happened in real life that’s kind of like one of Max’s books.” That way I won’t feel the need to salute each individual event: I can just add it to the list. Then on cold, quiet nights when I’m feeling insecure, I can browse that list and feel good about myself again. The best part is there need never be a list of “Things that were predicted in one of Max’s books and, boy, was he off-base.” Those things just haven’t come true yet.
Of course, it’s not that hard to predict advances in marketing. You just imagine what you’d do if you wanted to sell something and had absolutely no morals, self-respect, or dignity. Wait six months, and bing! There it is.
Now you know I hate blowing my own trumpet every time something happens in the real world that’s straight out of one of my books. Well, maybe “hate” is too strong a word. I mean, “enjoy on a deep, almost sexual level.” Yeah. That’s more like it.
Anyway, I think this one is worth mentioning because it’s at the more extreme end: it’s that thing in Jennifer Government where everyone takes their surname from their employer. John Nike. Billy NRA. Violet ExxonMobil. And so on.
There’s a historical precedent for this: in centuries past, John Smith was the town blacksmith, Tim Baker really was a baker, and Geoff Wang was… well, let’s not think. In the Jennifer Government world, where a person’s job is the most important thing about them, returning to that concept made sense to me. Also, when I worked in sales, I’d get a call from “Michael Jamieson” or whoever, and frantically think, “Jamieson, Jamieson… who the hell is that?” It would have been so much simpler if he was “Michael McDonald’s.”
Now, we’ve already seen people selling their surnames to corporations, and even a particularly disturbing case of parents auctioning naming rights to their baby. But does it really count as a fulfilled prophesy when the people doing the fulfilling are missing some essential part of their brain? I dunno. I think that’s a little like saying, “I foresee a day when people will smack themselves in the face with hammers for fun,” and then claiming it came true because of my cousin Donny. Poor Donny. Well, you pity his parents, mostly. But back to the issue. For me to feel like I really nailed this one, it has to be done in all seriousness. Nobody should even see anything wrong with it.
So here we are. Lately companies have been stampeding into Second Life, a virtual reality of the kind that everyone thought the internet would be, before discovering it was just typing and clicking on links. In Second Life, you create an avatar—a little person to be—and run around… um, doing stuff. You know, like walking around… or going shopping… or building a house. But without having to stand up.
So. The news agency Reuters just opened an office there and assigned reporter Adam Pasick to the beat. So now there’s an avatar that looks like Adam in Second Life, reporting on news. Only what’s his name? Adam Reuters.
Oh yes. Innocuous. That’s how it starts.
Okay, this is too funny not to mention. I offered to send some signed books to Kurt Busiek—the writer who put Jennifer Government in Clark Kent’s hands in Action Comics #838—and he kindly sent me some of his stuff in return.
Included in the stack of goodies that arrived on my doorstop was a signed copy of that issue—with this modified cover.