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Guest Post: Adam Christopher on "The Masked Men of Empire State"

>>Friday, December 30, 2011

I'm pleased to introduce Adam Christopher, author of the newly released Empire State, published by Angry Robot. You know I love me some superhero fiction and Adam is here to talk about the superheroes in Empire State.


Adam Christopher was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn't a bad start for a child of the 80s. In 2006, Adam moved to the sunny North West of England, where he now lives in domestic bliss with his wife and cat in a house next to a canal, although he has yet to take up any fishing-related activities. Adam's short fiction has appeared in Pantechnicon, Hub, and Dark Fiction Magazine, and has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Association, British Fantasy Society, and Parsec awards. In 2010, as an editor, Adam won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand's highest science fiction honour. When not writing Adam can be found drinking tea and obsessing over DC Comics, Stephen King, and The Cure. He is also a strong advocate for social media, especially Twitter, which he spends far too much time on avoiding work.

You can visit Adam on the web by clicking here.

The Masked Men of Empire State
When the cover for my novel Empire State was revealed (created by the magnificent Will Staehle), a few people wondered – apparently genuinely – whether the book was going to star Wesley Dodds, aka the Golden Age version of the DC Comics superhero, The Sandman. Of course the answer was no, but I did wonder how they might have reacted had seen an early version of the cover which featured (purely to test figure positioning) the profile of Batman rather than the Skyguard…

Empire State is a science fiction noir with added superheroes – “Raymond Chandler meets The Rocketeer in Gotham City”, and given the strong comic book/graphic novel influence, I had a lot of visuals I wanted to work into the novel. One thing I’ve always loved about pulp fiction and comic books of the 1930s is their compelling, dramatic imagery: lots of scowling men in fedoras, guns at the ready, while bizarrely costumed superheroes flew through the air – and more often than not both types of character would even appear on the same cover.

There were some Golden Age superheroes who were slightly more subdued than, for example, the Golden Age Green Lantern. The Spirit wore a hat and trench coat with just a domino mask for disguise, as did the Crimson Avenger, albeit in bright red. Wesley Dodds – the Sandman – went a little further, adding a flowing cape over his double-breasted suit (later switched for a regular trench coat in the mid-90s Vertigo revival, Sandman Mystery Theatre) to go with the gas mask under his hat. But at least with Dodds, the gas mask had a purpose – he was armed, after all, with a gun full of sleeping gas.

In Empire State, Mr Grieves and Mr Jones wear gas masks, trench coats and fedoras, and one of them even wields a strange, fat-barrelled revolver not entirely dissimilar to the Sandman’s gas gun. But while the gun was an affectionate – and deliberate – nod to Mr Dodds, the mask, hat and trench coat actually came from somewhere else entirely.

Years ago I had a book, the title of which escapes me, about life on the home front in Britain during World War II. I found it fascinating, particularly the photographs which showed people going about their lives in as normal a way as possible. One such image leapt out at me, showing a man casually walking down the street, trench coat flapping and fedora at a jaunty angle… and gas mask firmly in place. It’s tempting to say this image, or one very like it, inspired writer Gardner Fox and artist Bert Christman to create Wesley Dodds in the first place, but as The Sandman first appeared in 1939 it’s hard to say for sure.

That wartime snapshot – which I discovered years before I started reading comics and knew anything at all about The Sandman – was so striking I knew I’d have to use it one day. And when Empire State came along, it fitted perfectly; I had two characters that needed some very special equipment, but being a period piece and the noir nature of the story, their gear couldn’t be too outlandish or it would be laughable. The remarkable juxtaposition of fedora and gas mask came to mind immediately, an image so powerful that it even made it to the book’s cover.

Wesley Dodds, eat your heart out.



More on Adam's book, Empire State:

The Empire State is the other New York. A parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our bustling Big Apple, a place where sinister characters lurk around every corner while the great superheroes that once kept the streets safe have fallen into dysfunctional rivalries and feuds. Not that its colourful residents know anything about the real New York… until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants.

“Adam Christopher’s debut novel is a noir, Philip K Dick-ish science fiction superhero story… As captivating as a kaleidoscope… just feel it in all its weird glory.” – Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother

“Stylish, sinister, and wickedly fun, Empire State is not your average sexy retro parallel universe superhero noir.” – Lauren Beukes, award-winning author of Zoo City

A big thank you to Adam for stopping by!

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