I feel compelled to point out that I spent more time looking up a possible picture to use as this article’s featured image than I am likely to spend on the actual article, and… that is what I went with? What the heck even is that? They look like Little People toys having a conference, but they had their faces wiped off before they got there. It took me several minutes to settle on THAT! The guy at the head of the table IS raising a valid point, though, so there’s that.
If you joined me last week, I cribbed from some older articles Andy and Ethan wrote by revealing some of my origin story; the history of my life as a writer and someone who has always enjoyed working with others to create content. When we left off with that article, I was about to enter my college years.
So at this point, it’s the turn of the millennium, and one of my favorite things to do was futz about online because I
was am cool and social. I spent most of my time at WizardWorld.com in the wake of Wizard Magazine having a fan-voted Superhero Showdown tournament to crown the most powerful hero of all-time. The forums were abuzz with activity in the ensuing months, discussing various comic book goings on and imagining various scenarios. Could Thanos defeat the Saint of Killers? Will another Thor vs Superman thread get to, like, 30 pages? That kind of stuff. Eventually, a user by the name of “Joe Chill” would postulate something that would become a huge influence for me going forward.
(And yep, I am wrestling real hard with how to address everyone I am going to talk about going forward because while I met them all as their on-screen identities, years of time and the advent of social media has helped me know them as actual human beings, as well. I am still friends with almost the lot of them, such as GotS contributor Jabroniville, and calling him that feels both natural and awkward since I also know him as Grant. Look, the Internet from a certain period in time made everything hard; I don’t know what to tell you)
Anyway, what was posed by Joe was a call for “something unique” wherein instead of arguing over real comic book characters, anyone who wanted to could create a character, and we would have a tournament to see which creation would win. There were stipulations early on (your character could only have 2-3 powers, had to have weaknesses, nothing too uber, etc), and a lot of folks dug the idea. I introduced a villain from my The Chosen stories, rechristened him “Alabaster” because why not, and threw him into the mix. In the immediate aftermath of the first tournament, more were held with new challengers, and the whole idea really took off at the Superhero Showdown forum, brother! But that’s all it was to start: anyone with a loose idea sharing it and then everyone voting. Not much to it.
Ultimately, though, someone (I do not remember who, but it must have been a Dragon Ball fan because our forum address was dbzheaven96793, and it’s both awesome and sad that I remember that) had a grander vision for this idea, and a separate EZBoard forum was created for “Something Unique” where we could design and run a shared universe for all of our creations. Guys, it was literally like a comic book company except all in prose because so few of us could draw! There were probably about a dozen of us churning out ideas and characters and locations, and figuring out how it all tied together and coming up with a shared history. What we couldn’t hash out on the forums, we discussed on MSN Messenger into the wee hours of the morning.
We had a JLA/Avengers analog of a primary heroic organization known as Infinity Force. We gave them a legion of foes to combat in The “why-did-we-let-them-be-called-this” Violators. All the core contributors of Something Unique–shorthanded to SU–had at least someone on either team so they were invested in the universe’s primary stakes; I offered up Alabaster to The Violators. As everything developed, entire other teams and solo characters sprung up around the eternal Infinity Force / Violators struggle to supplement the world.
In the extreme early going of SU, we decided to shoot for our first EPIC WORLD ALTERING STORYTM, The Age of Syn, in which a demon named Syn brings about hell on Earth for a while. My contribution to this was a series of short stories wherein Alabaster and fellow Violator Pain-Man (who had the worst name ever, but was a character I delighted in writing) traveled across the hellscape country in an attempt to get to Las Vegas and rebuild Pain-Man’s criminal empire as Al went progressively more cartoonishly crazy. I genuinely loved those tales despite the fact that I’m sure they were objectively garbage, and if I could do nothing but write Alabaster and Pain-Man buddy crook books until I die, I’d be a contented man.
Did I mention Epic World Altering Stories? Because that brings me to one of the two arguably major issues with SU throughout its multi-year run. The first being that post-2000’s Marvel seemed to take heavy influence directly from us in that we had a CONSTANT stream of “Event Stories” going, pretty much one after the other. There was a lot of base-level groundwork going on between those of us doing regular series or one-shots, but SU was never for want of a current huge story that was going to “shake everything up” after we all pretty much thought Age of Syn was the greatest idea ever put to computer screen. Hilariously obviously, no event story after AoS ever reached its height of influence or universal SU acceptance.
The second primary issue with our little universe was the fact that we were a bunch of folks in our very early 20’s who all wanted to be heard, thought we knew what was best, and were figuring out how opinions worked. In short, we were constantly warring and in-fighting. The only thing you could depend on Something Unique for more than churning out stories is that at least two of us hated each other at any given time. Just… bloodfeuds for days! The remarkable and oddly most mature aspect of it all was that while everyone hated everyone else, and everyone was splitting off into splinter groups on MSN Messenger to lambast their perceived foes… we all kept working together! There was precious little in the way of “I’M LEAVING FOREVER!” declarations, and at worst, some people would step away for a few weeks to cool off before they would return. We had some firecrackers who were ALWAYS fighting with someone, and we had our level-headed ones who almost never did (and I feel no obligation whatsoever to mention which I was, so LET IT GO, OKAY?), but ultimately, everyone worked together for the greater good.
Negatives aside, Something Unique was a wildly positive experience for me. I was gifted ownership of a character from one of our contributors who wasn’t much of a writer, but wanted to see his creation from the first Something Unique tournament develop (remember in last week’s article where I mentioned having a second perpetual story idea that haunts me? This is where it came from). I wrote an ongoing series on that idea for a while as my main contribution to our shared world until I idiotically killed him off when it was my turn to do an Epic World Altering Story. It was a really fun series about a character with a mystic weapon and having escaped a society of zealots. He was trying to adapt to the outside world, and I swear I am going to write more modern concrete stuff on his story, too, just like with The Chosen! Quit grinding my gears.
I also saw characters I created get used by others and adapted into the universe, and that was both joyful and gave me a weird sense of pride. I will remember a scene written by another creator with The Entity (a character of mine) singing The Beatles’ “Come Together” until I die because it was so perfect for him. It’s tough to give up control and to compromise within a system, but I saw that what other writers did with some of my designs was even better than what I could have done. I also found out my ability for writing others’ characters is often better than I have for writing my own, and that gives me mixed feelings.
As we grew up and left college and entered the ominous real life world, Something Unique just crumbled. I don’t recall it having a definitive ending of any sort; ongoing projects just seemed to taper off into nothingness. An occasional half-hearted attempt to restart it would spring up every so often (including once at my hands when I tried rebooting Infinity Force), but nothing stuck. There is some moral here about “Well, the FRIENDSHIPS stuck!”, as I still regularly talk to people like Grant and Scott and Chris and Aaron and Ryan and Damien and Sean, who I genuinely care about in life. They are all wonderful people and most of them were far more talented than my ass ever was, and I am happy to know them. So there’s your positive takeaway.
I was going to end the article there, but Jabroniville and I were talking as I was writing this, and he reminded me there is an SU Facebook page with a Google Drive where a lot of old works HAVE been salvaged. So it turns out that I’m going to spend the rest of the night feeling both good AND bad about myself! Huzzah!