We’re less than a week away from the final issue of S.H.O.O.T. First...it’s about time I do my writer’s notes for the penultimate issue! Full spoilers inside, including my favorite “a-ha” moment I’ve ever had as a writer!
This is the first issue not to start with a first-person shot of Ray’s hands, so I decided to start it with a first-person shot of Bett’s hands. That makes it a thing. Bett’s past has been unfolding slowly over the past couple of issues, and here we get our best look at her pre-abduction life. And also our first indication that this is going to be a S.H.O.O.T. First issue without any shooting!
Kenshin’s last moment to turn back. I think we can see here that he’s still feeling ambivalent, right up to the end.
I can’t overstate how gorgeous this issue is and how awestruck I was when the art started coming in. Both Nico and Marlac took it to the next level in this issue. Nico told me that this was when he felt like he truly hit his stride with the chatacters. And just look at the coloring on the forest in page 3. I want to eat it.
The character designs are a lot of fun, too. I wanted the Folklorics to be influenced by the designs of the great artist Brian Froud, who’s one of my favorites, and I think Nico did a great job incorporating that. These aren’t Disney fairies or LOTR elves. They’re weird looking. (If you don’t know Froud, by the way, you actually do. He did character designs for Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and he’s wonderful.)
I said a couple of times on Twitter that this issue is the silliest thing I’ve written since Twisted ToyFare Theatre, and this is where it starts to kick in. I love this elf guy getting his little poem interrupted.
I was a little nervous about how it would play, since the overall tone of S.H.O.O.T. First is reasonably serious, and there’s this weird little chunk of physical comedy here in the middle of it. But I really love this issue.
The biggest change between my initial draft of the issue and the way it finally turned out is that originally, this entire battle with the Folklorics took place on the “Psychic Plane,” which just shows that I’ve read too many X-Men comics. All of the same kinds of beats would have played out, but Mrs. Brookstone, for instance, would have found herself somehow physically separated from the team rather than unable to speak. I finally realized that having everything take place in the physical world would up the stakes and make it less confusing, so the concept of the “psychic fields” being distorted was born.
One of the great things about being a comics writer is you get to spend a few words describing a Dragon waking up and then getting tackled by a Robot, and then you get to see people with a much greater visual imagination than you bring it to life.
In an ideal world, the battle between Dragon and Robot would have played out much longer and not primarily off-panel, but there’s story to be told. Maybe I’ll do it as a short one day.
I really love the design of the Fairy Queen. And one of the things I thought was neat about the flashback, and it’s something Nico did on his own without my having anything to do with it, is that the 19th Century Folklorics look less weird. They look kind of like characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Basically, it’s a far more Victorian conception of what they would look like than our weird, 21st Century version. It just goes to show you how adaptable the Outside Actors are.
I wonder if anyone saw the unicorn here and thought, “Oh shit, that guy’s losing his horn any minute now.”
That panel of the Folkloric massacre is the most violent image we’ve had in the book so far. But I don’t think it’s gratuitous. The main point of the Angel showing up here is to establish that Angels are super badasses. We know Outside Actors are tough to kill, and this one is cutting through them like butter. So when you find out (full spoilers on!) that there’s an Angel coming after the team at the end of this issue, you should remember this moment and feel really nervous for them.
I have no idea if the physics of that toss off the unicorn would work, but let’s just go with it.
So here’s where Bett finds out the truth about what happened to her, and that it’s far less traumatic than she worried about in her darkest moments. It’s important to me to have a female character who, even though she has tragedy in her past, isn’t defined by trauma. She finds out everything was hunky dory and she’s still the same old Bett, as evidenced by her turning the unicorn horn on the Fairy Queen.
What I like about this sequence is that you get the sense that some of the true history of the Outside Actors has leaked into our mythology over the years. In this case it’s the fall of Angels, of course, but I’ve got a whole big backstory for the Outside Actors that you only see a bit of in the mini-series. Because of course I do.
One note here: remember in my issue 1 writer’s notes when I said I originally had no explanation for why the unicorn horn interacted weirdly with the Jinn, but that I later came up with one? Here it is! The Outside Actors have been kidnapping Folklorics to get them to develop “magical” defenses for them, which is why the defenses reacted so weirdly with the Folkloric unicorn horn. It all makes sense...to me.
Ready for a scoop, zero people reading this? Can’t get enough about the weirdass relationship between Bett and Byron? You’re in luck, because that’s what our three-part story in upcoming issues of Dark Horse Presents will be about. Plus monster-fighting. Y’all come back now, you hear?
Here we go...my favorite “a-ha” moment I’ve ever had as a writer.
Certain things were baked into the premise of S.H.O.O.T. First from the very first prototype story. I knew that there was a traitor selling the team out to the Vatican, and I knew that Mrs. Brookstone had a child who was half demon Outside Actor.
What I didn’t know was where either of those stories were going to go. Like, at all.
Then one day I was in the shower (it’s always in the shower...) and it hit me like a bolt of lightning: they’re going towards each other!
What would the Vatican find out when they get info about the team from the traitor? They’d find out they’re harboring an Antichrist child, and they’d launch an all-out attack. And that became the final act of the story.
It’s strikingly simple in retrospect, but putting it together was one of my most pleasurable moments as a writer.
Something else that should have been simple but totally wasn’t was who would carry out the attack. In the early draft of the outline, it was random Angels and Demons. It was my brilliant editor, Dave Marshall, who said, “Maybe it should be Mr. Brookstone?” Well, duh. Of course it should have been. Now it’s not just an action climax, it’s all about one family.
So I was not smart enough to put that together myself, shockingly obvious as it should have been. So once that was decided, we’ve got that panel reminding you what happened to Mr. Brookstone so you (hopefully) know who the hell he is when he comes back two pages later.
And how great is that final splash page? I love the friggin’ art in this issue.
So that’s it for the penultimate issue of the series. Please come back next issue when everything changes for S.H.O.O.T. And I know comics say that all the time...but this is serious. We blow shit up.