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…Ask Questions Later

So today’s the day. I am now officially published by Dark Horse Comics, as my short story with artist Ben Bates, “S.H.O.O.T. First: The Wooden Saint,” is online as part of MySpace Dark Horse Presents #35, along with short stories by the wonderful Stan Sakai, Gabriel Ba and Art Baltazar. You can find it online here.

It’s been quite a ride to get to this point—just over 8 months (as opposed to the just over 5 years it took Hero House to come together, of course) since I first had the idea. So first and foremost, I need to thank my wife Brooke for being my initial reader and telling me she thought it was a good idea. I want to thank my editor at Dark Horse, Dave Marshall, who’s an incredible editor and has never given me a bad note; Dark Horse Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie, who is a legend and who kindly gave the project the greenlight; and Ben Bates, who injected an awful lot of life into the idea with his awesome art.

The last couple of weeks have also been really wild, starting with this interview with Comics Alliance that first revealed the concept behind S.H.O.O.T. First (they’re the Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce—a team of atheist commandos who hunt down supernatural and especially religious creatures that they don’t believe in). That led to this article on the Robot 6 blog, which then got picked up by FARK, The Examiner and Discover’s Bad Astronomy blog, which led to a lot of discussion of the idea. Which is a good thing. I was kind of expecting the core of the concept to take some religious people aback, but so far, at least, nearly all of the controversy over it has come from atheists! I’m hoping to keep the conversation going now that the story is out (it premiered online yesterday at Comic Book Resources, along with another interview with me) and people can hopefully see how the idea works in execution (heh), not just in theory.

You can also find interviews with me that touch on both S.H.O.O.T. First and Hero House here at Mapcidy (where I also answer the legendary questions of Bernard Pivot), and one at The Fwoosh.

Now, as I keep mentioning in these interviews, there are more S.H.O.O.T. First stories to tell, if I get the chance. I wrote out an outline for a mini-series with the characters that I’m really excited about. If you’re interested in seeing it, do me a favor and drop Dark Horse a line on Twitter or Facebook and let them know. Or, if you’re a comic publisher who’d be interested in seeing the outline, drop me a line on Facebook, on Twitter or at herohousecomic [at] gmail [dot] com.

So, because I’m always interested in process and I know a lot of other people are too, here’s the original outline for the 8-pager that I submitted to Dark Horse. I’ll probably put up the script and the character descriptions I sent to Ben as well in the near future. But here’s the document that started it all…

S.H.O.O.T. First

Short story proposal by Justin Aclin

“They don’t believe in the supernatural…they’re just here to kick its ass.”

“The exorcism was going just fine,” the narrator tells us. We’re in a country farmhouse where a young girl is confined to a bed, sickly looking and screaming in tongues. A priest is admonishing a demon to leave her in the name of yadda yadda…we know this drill. The priest, however, is brandishing a holy relic to help him in his crusade—the Acadian Driftwood, whose knots have been known to resemble different saints at different times.

All was going according to script, until they kicked down the girl’s bedroom door. S.H.O.O.T.: the Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce. To S.H.O.O.T. there are no saints or demons or angels or yetis or what have you. There are just humans, and then the Outside Actors who are playing a game and using humans as their checkers. And it is S.H.O.O.T.’s sole mission to track down these Outside Actors and hit them with bullets.

They’re a motley crew. There’s Kenshin, a former Shinto practitioner who saw the ancestors he revered return as ghosts to prey upon the living and lost his faith in anything he couldn’t see. There’s Bett, who as a child in the late 19th century wandered into a field of fairies and unicorns and disappeared, only to turn up 100 years later, unaged and with no memory of the intervening century, clutching a bloody unicorn horn she still uses as a weapon. There’s the new recruit, Codename: Infidel. He was a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan until he saw things that made him question everything he believed. Now he lives without a name to protect his family from the death sentence he’s brought upon himself. There’s Lord Byron, an aging punk nihilist who enjoys trampling upon the sacred and inflicting violence and finally found a vocation that combines them both. There’s the team’s field leader, Mrs. Brookstone, a [redacted]. And there’s Robot. He’s a robot.

The Outside Actors are powerful, but the assumptions and importance that people of faith put on them empower them even more. S.H.O.O.T.’s secret weapon is that they think it’s all bullshit, robbing their adversaries of an advantage. When they enter the room, Lord Byron brandishes a gun and tells the priest to screw, because his belief is interfering with their powerful cynicism field. The priest starts to flee, but Bett blocks his path and tells him to leave the log. Suddenly a humanoid figure made out of wood springs out of the Driftwood—it’s the Wooden Saint, the spirit who had been inhabiting the relic, and it’s making a break for it down the hall. Mrs. Brookstone barks orders for Kenshin, Infidel and Robot to chase it with her and for Bett and Lord Byron to stay behind and take care of the possession.

Lord Byron tries to convince the demon to leave the girl willingly, but it’s understandably reluctant. So Bett pulls out the big guns—literally. They’re guns that shoot metaphysical bullets, which should pass harmlessly through a human and injure the demon residing within. The demon doesn’t buy it, but rather than risk being a sitting duck it jumps out of the girl and tries to jump through the second story window to freedom, but Bett is able to grab it and execute it.

Meanwhile in the farmhouse den, the rest of S.H.O.O.T. searches for the Wooden Saint. As Kenshin passes by a portion of the wood-paneled wall, the disguised Saint peels itself off the wall and makes a run directly through the middle of the team, so that they’re unable to shoot at it. It nearly escapes and the team pursues, guns blazing. Just as it’s about to clear the door and make it outside, Robot smashes through a nearby wall and clotheslines it, enabling the bullets to find their marks. As it lies dying, the Saint asks, “Why? I’m just doing the Lord’s work.” Mrs. Brookstone informs it that they’re just doing humanity’s work, and tells Robot to get a tissue sample to take back to the lab.

We then cut to the narrator, in shadows, on his cell phone. He or she has been relaying the entire story so far to someone on the other end, who says, “This is excellent intelligence. I know it can’t be easy for you to betray your friends like this. How do I know I can continue to trust you?” The narrator says, “I’ve come to realize that sometimes you need to have a little faith.” The man on the other end of the phone, from his office in the Vatican, knows exactly what the narrator is talking about.

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