Street Heroes

The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom.
– Matthew 13:38


SH_Davis_shieldStreet Heroes
was originally published in December 1988 by Malibu Graphics as Street Heroes 2005.

Malibu’s publisher Dave Olbrich and creative director Tom Mason thought Street Heroes was too bland a title, but, try as we might, we could not think of a better one. Since the series was set many years in the future, “2005” was added to give the title a little science fiction zip.

Left: Christopher Jones’ March 20, 2005 sketch of Thomas Jefferson “Blood” Davis and Wyatt Wolverstone, the protagonists of Street Heroes. Right: Blood and Wyatt on Chris’ 1988 cover to Street Heroes 2005 #1.

The first issue of Street Heroes takes place on March 20, 2005. I chose that month and day for no better reason than it is my birthday, and when the actual date rolled around, series artist Christopher Jones drew a sketch of the main characters, Thomas Jefferson “Blood” Davis and Wyatt Wolverstone (a.k.a. Wolverstone Warrior) and gave it to me as a present. It remains one of my most cherished possessions.

Thanks again, Chris!

Now here we are in the year 2016, and it looks like Caliber Comics will be collecting all three issues of Street Heroes into a graphic novel in the  future. Technically, this is the twenty-eighth anniversary of the series, which is scary since I was twenty-seven when I sold Street Heroes to Malibu.

Tempus fugit, and how.

It is also the eleventh anniversary of March 20, 2005, and when you mix all of that together, it seems an appropriate moment to look back at how Street Heroes came to be, beginning with its series synopsis:

Street Heroes melds together the fantastical genre of superheroes with the urban procedural police drama.

The main characters are Thomas Jefferson “Blood” Davis and Wyatt Wolverstone. Blood is the commander of a metropolitan police tactical unit, while Wolverstone is a “fancy dan” (slang for “superhero”).

One grisly night, Blood barely escapes a trap in which two members of his unit are killed by a rogue dan. Blood’s superiors decide to fight fire with a dan of their own, Wolverstone, an over-the-hill mercenary farmed out by the FBI to bring the rogue to justice.

Problems:

  • Davis, like most unempowered folk, does not trust dans.
  • Davis does believe in obeying orders, so he has to accept Wolverstone.
  • Wolverstone, like most unempowered civilians, does not trust the police.

Wolverstone is assigned to Blood’s unit in the first issue of Street Heroes. The stories that follow will include Blood and Wyatt being hunted by the rogue who killed Davis’ men, Davis investigating a dan who brutally uses his powers to stop a mugging, and Wyatt confronting the omnipotent menace of Bob the Elder God.

I got the idea for Street Heroes while watching a commercial for Hill Street Blues (1981-1987). The year would have been 1983 or 1984.

Hill Street Blues was one of the most realistic police dramas to appear on television when it debuted, and may have done more than any program to usher in the violent and promiscuous programs that permeate television today.

SH_Police_StoryI do not remember what it was about the commercial that sparked my imagination, but I do remember wondering, “What if superheroes existed in a world like Hill Street Blues?”[1] In a way, I was asking, “What if superheroes existed in reality?” A common approach today, but still kind of radical in the early Eighties. The question also appealed to my love of cop shows, one of the most popular genres on television when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies. One of my favorites was an anthology series called Police Story (1973-1978), created by Los Angeles police detective turned bestselling author Joseph Wambaugh (The Onion Field, Lines and Shadows, Harbor Nocturne). A friend of mine also worked at the local police station as a dispatcher, so between what I watched, what I read, and what I learned while hanging out with my friend, my head was full of the background information I needed to create a series like Hill Street Blues with superheroes.

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1981: Det. Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz) meets Captain Freedom (Dennis Dugan) on Hill Street Blues.

Now, nothing is ever easy, but things started off pretty darn well with Street Heroes.

Take the title. I usually have a terrible time thinking up titles, but in one episode of Hill Street Blues an actor tags along with undercover detective Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz) as research for a new film called Street Dogs. Since my series would be about realistic superheroes, why not call the series Street Heroes? Seemed cool to me, although I appear to be in the minority. In 1996, Sundragon Comics asked to reprint Street Heroes 2005, but, like Malibu Graphics, they felt a different title would better serve the series. Someone, and I honestly do not remember who, suggested Wolverstone & Davis: Street Heroes, and we went with that. I like it, but still prefer just plain Street Heroes.

It also usually takes me a long time to develop a series. I typically have to feel my way towards what I want to do, experimenting with ideas to find out if they do or don’t work, but Street Heroes has changed very little from the original concept I pitched in the series synopsis. This may be because, except for its premise, I was not interested in doing anything screamingly original with Street Heroes, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by at last one contemporary reviewer. A police procedural is a police procedural, which is an eternally popular genre. Just look at the Law & Order and CSI franchises or The Closer and its follow-up series Major Crimes. So there is no point fixing something that is not broken. It also helped that one of my favorite police movies, Code of Silence (1985), was released about this time. As directed by Andrew Davis, who went on to helm blockbusters like Under Siege (1992) and The Fugitive (1993), Code of Silence has a palpable sense of place. It is set in Chicago and you feel it, the city as much a character as any of the people. Also, Code of Silence presents many of the tougher aspects about being a policeman, from trying to do the right thing in a system that can shield dirty cops to informing a person that a loved one is dead. Finally, while the action goes over the top at times, it always feels possible, never incredible.

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This 1988 sample piece Chris drew for Malibu Graphics shows how Blood and Wyatt were originally envisioned.

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Partners Eddie Cusak (Chuck Norris) and Det. Dorato (Dennis Farina) in Code of Silence (1985).

In these ways, Code of Silence gave me a rough template for Street Heroes, but it did not supply examples for everything I wanted to do. For instance, protagonist Eddie Cusak (Chuck Norris) loses his partner Det. Dorato (Dennis Farina) to an injury early in the movie and mainly works solo from that point, but I wanted two protagonists in Street Heroes. A buddy film, so to speak. No problem, though. Having a template helped, but even without one, I knew how I wanted to develop Street Heroes.It also usually takes me a long time to develop a series because I typically have to feel my way towards what I want to do, experimenting with ideas to find out if they work or not, but Street Heroes has changed very little from the original concept described in the synopsis. This may be because, except for the premise, I was not interested in doing anything screamingly original. A police procedural is a police procedural, which is an eternally popular genre. Just look at the Law & Order and CSI franchises or The Closer and its follow-up series Major Crimes. So there is no point fixing something that is not broken. It also helped that one of my favorite police movies, Code of Silence (1985), was released about this time. As directed by Andrew Davis, who went on to helm blockbusters like Under Siege (1992) and The Fugitive (1993), Code of Silence has a palpable sense of place. It is set in Chicago and you feel it, the city as much a character as any of the people. Also, Code of Silence doesn’t shy away from presenting some of the tougher aspects of being a policeman, from trying to do the right thing in a system that can shield dirty cops to informing a person that a loved one is dead. Finally, while the action goes over the top at times, it always feels possible, never incredible.

Some examples.

Superhero stories of any kind require big adventures, so Street Heroes focuses on a tactical unit, Davis’ Undercover Field Operatives (UFOs), whose duties include dealing with people who possess superpowers.

Since the members of many real-life tactical units are military veterans, I wanted to sprinkle some military elements into Street Heroes, such as the UFOs referring to their precinct as The Field and everything outside it as The World.

SH_Clarke_page

1988: Blood gives Wyatt a guided tour of the Field. Art for Street Heroes #1 by S. Clarke Hawbaker.

Policemen deal with human, often tragic, situations on a regular basis. Policemen see people on the worse day of their lives, which presents opportunities for very real drama.

Another opportunity for real drama is the fact that there is good and evil in the world, but there are very few people who are purely good or evil. People tend to oscillate from one extreme to the other, depending upon the situation, and this includes the police, ordinary men and women who must often make tough choices in difficult situations most of us never experience. The same can also be said for superheroes, who, like the police, do their best, but even the best of them do not always make the right choice, which can lead to conflict, and stories are nothing if not avatars of conflict.

On a more nuts and bolts level, I set the series a few years in the future to 1) prevent it from becoming dated too quickly, and 2) provide more freedom in creating a world where people with superpowers and the police must work together. To explain the latter, I gave the Constitution a new amendment.

No big deal.

If there were people with superpowers, would any responsible government[2] permit them to run around like Spider-Man? I think not. More likely, such activity would be outlawed, regulated, or both. For the United States, I went with both.

But where in the U.S. was I going to set Street Heroes?

An interesting thing Hill Street Blues does is it never identifies the city where it is set so viewers can imagine it is taking place in a metropolis they live in or near. I liked this, but if I wanted Street Heroes to possess the sense of place that Code of Silence has, I felt it would be better to set it in a specified but fictional large city, ala Gotham City and Metropolis. In this case Kingston, Iowa.

Looking back, I am amazed how easily and how well Street Heroes came together, especially since I was not a particularly good writer when I created the series. I had talent, but I had yet to go to college and hone my craft, so most of what I wrote while in my early to middle twenties is terrible. There are a few exceptions, most notably Street Heroes, and I can only wonder why.

That said, I would like to focus a few moments on Blood and Wyatt.

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Chris’ most recent incarnations of Blood and Wyatt.

I will not deny that I succumbed to a little wish fulfillment when I created Blood. As a kid, I always imagined myself in those cop shows I watched, and even entertained thoughts about growing up and becoming a police detective. So when I created Blood, I modeled his appearance after myself. Tall. Slim. Brown hair with bushy mustache. Fond of blue jeans, black turtlenecks, and boots. I never took it any further than that, though, but when Chris joined me on the series and asked what Blood should look like, I told him, “Either like me or a little like Chuck Norris.” I do not think that was the hardest decision Chris ever had to make.

Wyatt was tougher. I knew almost instantly what his personality was like, but had no idea what he should look like. Oh, I knew I wanted him to be a big man. I often compared him to Hulk Hogan. I could just never get a clear picture of him in my mind. I did think he should be British–I’m an Anglophile–and in the Malibu series Blood even refers to Wyatt as a limey, but eventually it dawned on me that one of my favorite actors, Sam Elliott (Tombstone, We Were Soldiers), would make a fantastic Wyatt, which is why Blood calls Wyatt a Texan in the Sundragon reprint.

As for Blood and Wyatt’s names, this is one of the reasons I know Chris is the artist for Street Heroes.

With Davis, I wanted to pay tribute to my favorite television character at the time, Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda) from M*A*S*H (1972-1983). Instead of Benjamin Franklin, I went with Thomas Jefferson, and instead of Franklin Pierce, I went with Jefferson Davis. Instead of the nickname “Hawkeye,” the name of Pierce’s father’s favorite literary character, I went with “Blood,” after Captain Peter Blood, from Davis’ favorite book, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood (1922). This is one of my favorite books, too, so I also borrowed Wyatt’s last name from a character in Captain Blood.

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1986: The first concept sketches of Blood and Wyatt, drawn by Gordon Purcell. They are both very nice, but that one of Blood … uhm …

Now, when Malibu accepted Street Heroes in 1987, there was no artist associated with the series. Two years earlier Gordon Purcell (The Avengers, Deep Space Nine) and I were introduced by mutual acquaintance Dan Jurgens (Booster Gold, The Warlord), and we thought about pitching some comics proposals together, so Gordon drew the first concept sketches of Blood and Wyatt, but by 1987 we had sort of drifted apart. Nothing against Gordon, who is a fine artist, but Chris had always been my first choice to draw Street Heroes, and I remember asking him if I could submit his name to Malibu, but he turned me down, most probably because of school commitments. More on that in a moment, but I next asked another friend, S. Clarke Hawbaker (Nomad), if he would be interested. Clarke was, Malibu accepted his submission, but in the end Clarke was unable to work on the series, although he did draw a few marvelous pages as well as the Street Heroes 2005 logo. Malibu approached at least one artist working on another of their books to draw Street Heroes 2005, but when those attempts fell through the series found itself in danger of being scrapped. To say that I was desperate to find an artist is an understatement, so I decided to give Chris what I thought was one more try. I practiced a speech that laid out all the reasons why he should draw Street Heroes during the four and half hour drive from where I live in Iowa to Chris’ home in Minnesota. As soon as I started asking him, though, Chris said, “Yes.”

Steve_and_Chris_1988

1988: The day Chris said yes!

“Cool!” Pause. “So why did you turn me down the first time?”

“You’ve never asked me before.”

Who is right?

The world may never know.

But I do know this. Before Street Heroes 2005 was published, it did not matter if I described Blood to someone or not, people always assumed Davis was a Negro. Including Gordon (see concept sketch.) But not Chris. And when I first described Wyatt to Chris, he said, “You got Wolverstone’s name from Captain Blood, didn’t you?”

What can I say?

Great minds think alike.

Anyway … Malibu contracted Chris and I to create eight issues of Street Heroes 2005, but orders for the first issue were low and got lower and lower for the second and third issues in spite of good reviews, leaving Malibu no choice but to cancel the series before issue four.

SH_cover_02

1996: Chris’ cover art for Sundragon’s Comics Wolverstone & Davis: Street Heroes #2.

As disappointing as this was, Chris and I had got our foot in the door as comics creators, and Malibu wanted to team us up on other properties, starting with an adaptation of the 1953 film Invaders from Mars. Before that could happen, though, Chris had the chance to pursue other opportunities, like Jack the Ripper (1989) for Malibu’s Eternity Comics line and Boston Bombers (1990) at Caliber Comics, so I worked on Invaders from Mars (1990) and other projects for Malibu with other artists. For a while it looked like Chris and I would get to work on a mini-series inspired by the film Alien Nation (1988), but things did not pan out; however, we did hook up in 1991 on an adaptation of the 1985 cult film Re-Animator for Malibu, and eventually followed that with an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “Statement of Randolph Carter” (1996) for Caliber. In 1997 we collaborated on the premiere story for Dave Arnold’s awesome superheroine Mighty 1 and on a story for my Vanguard superhero character for Sundragon Comics, who, as mentioned earlier, reprinted the first issue of Street Heroes 2005. Their intention was to reprint all three issues with new covers by Chris, but Sundragon was forced to close its doors before the second issue could be reprinted, which is sad because Chris’ cover for the second issue reprint is not only a knockout, it captures the essence of the story arc that runs through the three issues Malibu published.

Speaking of that story arc, I have written a number of novels since working on Street Heroes 2005, including Bushwhackers (2004), King of Harlem (2005), and, with Barb Jacobs, Talismen: The Knightmare Knife (2009), but, as far as I am concerned, Street Heroes 2005 is my first published novel. Those three issues published by Malibu tell a complete story, forming a true graphic novel, one that I am as proud of as I am any of my prose books.

Nevertheless, I have always regretted that Chris did not get to draw the series’ fourth issue, a self-contained tale called “The Lonesome Death of Bob the Elder God” which is teased at the end of the third issue. People have asked me over the years what would have happened in the “Bob” story, but I am keeping mum in case Chris and I ever get the chance to tell it.

Fingers crossed!

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Hey! That’s just nasty! The infamous teaser ending from Street Heroes #3 for (the as yet unpublished) fourth issue. FYI – 1989 was pre-computer, so that fancy title and those fancy credits had to be drawn by hand.

I would like to end with a couple of thank you’s.

SH_Davis_helmetI have always been grateful that Chris is not only the artist but my partner on Street Heroes, and I have always been honored we made our professional comics debut together. I have been blessed to work with some incredible comics artists, but everyone has a favorite collaborator, and Chris is mine. Not only because, if I could draw, I believe my stories would look a lot like the way Chris draws them, but it is great to work with one of my oldest friends. Chris is the younger brother I never knew I wanted but am glad to have, and no artist understands my writing like he does.

I am also grateful to Gary Reed. Not only for bringing Street Heroes back into publication, but, more, for always being supportive of my writing, and for being a good friend. I wouldn’t be where I am today as a writer without Gary.

That said, if you would like more information about the origins of Street Heroes, as well as hear Chris’ and my thoughts on the series, check out the First Issue Review panel interview with the two of us from CONVergence 2012.

 

[1] A superhero actually appeared on Hill Street Blues for four episodes. Captain Freedom (Dennis Dugan) is a man with a lot of heart, but not the firmest grip on reality, who made life miserable for Detective Belker until being shot while trying to assist Belker during a robbery.

[2] I realize the term “responsible government” is often an oxymoron. Just run with it, okay?

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