Thursday, September 06, 2007


Captain Action proposal

Maybe yesterday's Firefly post was just the first in a series of dead proposal posts. Here's another to pass the time.

A few months back Moonstone Books announced a contest, inviting pitches for a relaunch of the Captain Action character, best known as an action figure in the sixties. It was too tempting to pass up, so I spent an afternoon putting together a pitch and sent it off to them. So far as I know Moonstone never officially announced the winner, and a search of their website doesn't turn up any references to the contest at all, but a while back Fabian Nicieza mentioned in an interview that he would be scripting Captain Action for them, so apparently he "won." I thought maybe that Moonstone would make some kind of announcement to their mailing list or put a note on their website, but hey, what do I know?

Anyway, here's my pitch for Captain Action, which is kind of like Last Action Hero mixed with The Matrix by way of Megazone 23, with a bit of Captain Marvel tossed in for flavoring. Or something like that.

Captain Action proposal
Imagination Unshackled
by Chris Roberson

The central appeal of the Captain Action character, which the short-lived DC Comics series unfortunately abandoned, was his ability to become other heroes. Of course, licensing would prevent any new Captain Action series from using the same characters that the original Ideal action figure could become, but the use of surrogates—close enough to be recognized as specific archetypes without crossing the line into actionable infringement—could fill that need: the Superhero, the Pulp Avenger, the Jungle Lord, the Masked Gunslinger, the Spaceman.

The question is, then, what sort of world would need a hero that could turn into other heroes? The answer is, a world completely without heroes, real or imagined. A gray world, a world without imagination, a world without hope. A world that needs one thing: Action!

Conceived as a kind of Dial-H-For-Hero in The Matrix, this Captain Action is an allegory for the power of the imagination in an unreal world overdosed on reality.

The Setting

In the near future, Earth is rendered uninhabitable by a devastating asteroid impact. Only a few million survivors huddle in underground bunkers. Humanity’s only hope for long-term survival is to journey to another habitable planet, but the nearest one detected by astronomers is dozens of light-years away. The journey will take hundreds, even thousands of years. Worse, the amount of fuel required to propel even a small spacecraft across the interstellar distances is prohibitively high. The best that can be managed is to send a starwisp, a small robotic craft not much larger than a soda can, propelled by light-waves.

Scientists devise a solution. They have perfected a means of uploading human minds as digital consciousnesses. All of Earth’s survivors can be uploaded into a computer, which can then be integrated into the starwisp and sent to the distant star, along with nanoscopic machinery that will use available organic material at their destination to fabricate new bodies for the digital survivors. After a journey of centuries, the survivors will be downloaded into new bodies on another world, and a new home for humanity can be built. On their arrival they’ll have access to a complete library of all human knowledge, every book ever written, every discovery ever made, stored within the starwisp itself.

There is, however, a problem. The scientists have determined that a human mind in digital form cannot be kept in storage, simply saved as a file, but must be kept active to keep it from corrupting. As a result, the minds stored within the starwisp are kept in a simulated virtual environment, that seems to them as real as the physical world they have left. Early tests of digitally uploaded consciousness revealed that minds which became aware of their true nature, and of the unreality of their virtual environment, inevitably went insane and became unusable. To prevent this, in the starwisp computers safeguards have been put into place, to stifle any stimulus that could trigger such realizations. The survivors memories are edited, such that they remember nothing of the asteroid that devastated Earth, or their own desperate attempt at survival. So far as they know, they live in an early 21st century city, carrying on normal lives.

The safeguards the scientists put in place include a complete prohibition against any flight of fancy, any entertainment that could lead the survivors to contemplate the unreality of their situation. There is no fantasy, no use of the imagination, and no heroes.

Until Captain Action comes along.

The Story

Stanley Weston is a television scriptwriter. Like everyone he knows, he lives in the City. It is a dreary, drag, gray place. Weston works on shows about the cops that patrol the city streets, or the doctors that work its hospitals, or the lawyers that plead their cases in its courtrooms. Weston often feels that he keeps writing the same sorts of shows, over and over again, because that is the only thing the networks will allow.

But Weston has dreams of doing something a little more colorful, a little more experimental. All about a man who wears a colorful uniform and has adventures, travels to exotic locales, fights against evils and injustice. A man called Captain Action. No matter how hard he tries, though, he can’t interest any of the networks or any producer in his idea. He’s shown the door, time and again. And worse, his repeated attempts have brought him to the attention of the Monitors.

The Monitors are responsible for reviewing all of the programming on all the networks, all of the content of books, magazines, and newspapers, ensuring that it all accords with the City Standards. Weston knows that his Captain Action concept threatens to violate several of the Standards, but he’s convinced that the regulations are too restrictive, and that the audience would respond to his ideas, if given a chance.

He won’t be given that chance. The Monitors come for him. Weston has known people who have come to the attention of the Monitors. When the Monitors get through with someone, they’re not the same ever again, but seem as though something has been erased from their minds. They’re more walking zombies than thinking human beings.

Weston doesn’t want that to happen to him. He runs. He flees into the City’s subway system, and finds himself in an abandoned station. There is an ancient old man there, who knows his name. The ancient man says that he has a secret to share with Weston. He turns on lights, and the darkened station is revealed to contain an incredible library, full of books with striking covers, pulp magazines featuring masked heroes, comic books with colorful superheroes, movie posters, film reels, and more. Weston doesn’t remember ever seeing a book or movie or show that was about anything but the drab gray City that surrounds him. Where did all of this come from?

The ancient man reveals to Weston that his world is not the world. It tells him about how the Earth died, and the survivors were encoded as digital incarnations in a computer and sent to the stars. It explains that his mind and memories, like those of everyone else in the virtual City, has been edited to remove any trace of imagination which might threaten the stability of the City. The library he sees around him is a representation of the digital archive stored deep within the starwisp, to be retrieved when they arrive at their destination.

The ancient man, moreover, is not a human at all. He’s a subprogram of the starwisp computer, tasked with maintaining the digital archive. But the subprogram has become convinced that the Monitors, the programs responsible for enforcing the prohibitions against imagination, are removing everything that is vital and vibrant about the human minds they are supposed to be protecting. The archive subprogram has become convinced that if things continue as they have, the survivors who reach the distant star won’t really be human at all, and not worth saving. It has found Weston, then, to give him the ability to fight against the Monitors.

Now that Weston knows that his world is only virtual, and his capacity for imagination has been restored, he can use his own imaginative capacity to change the world around him. He can change into the characters from the books and comics in the hidden library, and call upon superhuman powers. Taking the forms of the forgotten heroes of a more colorful world, and the name of his cherished fantasy, Captain Action struggles against the gray forces of the Monitors, to free the minds of his fellow humans.

Chris, this was a great proposal! Don't understand why it wasn't picked up.
Thanks, Stu. But I wasn't that surprised it didn't get selected. I was just disappointed that they didn't seem to bother making any kind of official announcement.
As a Captain Action fan since I was a kid in the 60s, that's great.

You need to file the serial numbers off of it (i.e., create a new name), find an artist, and release it as a big fat Monkeybrain graphic novel! With a Picacio cover!!!
Berin, if you know of a terrific artist willing to work for less than peanuts (ie. "nothing"), I'll see what I can do!
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