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Superman's Neighbor: How Collateral Damage was Created

This probably goes without saying, given the topic of my upcoming book, but I like superheroes.

I like going to the premiere of MCU movies. I like reading comic books. I like watching reruns of Teen Titans (the original, obviously); I like talking about why The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series was the best superhero cartoon adaptation ever created; I like mooning over supersuit cosplay patterns that I don't have the skill to make yet. I like The Incredibles, and I REALLY like Miraculous Ladybug, the French kids' cartoon about teenage superheroes living in Paris.

So because I like superheroes, naturally, I went and saw Man of Steel the day it came out back in 2013. It was already a tremendously mediocre movie, and then, suddenly, this happened:

This literally woke me up. I swear to you, I was falling asleep into my popcorn bucket, and suddenly this happened and I think I hit the friend I was sitting next to.

I was like, "I'm sorry, did you SEE that? Did you see how many buildings they just knocked down? Look at- oh my god, look at that truck! If Superman had just BLOCKED that truck instead of stepping out of the way of it, that building wouldn't be on fire right now. How is no one-"

And I'm sure my friend was like, "Dude, can you just watch the movie?" But then I couldn't stop thinking about it. I started picking random background citizens and narrating for them in my head, making up stories about normal people who were just trying to get to work but now couldn't because an alien had just set their car on fire.

And then I started thinking about something that I hadn't really thought about, because when people imagine themselves into superhero stories, they imagine themselves as the SUPERHEROES: if you were just a normal person without powers, living in the same city as Superman or Flash or Hulk, it. Would. SUCK.

What would that be like? Would you have to load yourself up with safety equipment anytime you wanted to leave your house, just in case? Would you be confused and annoyed about how everyone else seemed to love the superheroes, when you knew firsthand that okay, maybe they save the world, but they cause a LOT of avoidable damage in the process? What if you were one of their neighbors or co-workers, close enough to a superhero to get caught in the chaos of their battles but not close enough to be a rescue priority (like a love interest or family member would be)?

I actually came up with the title before I came up with anything else, which ended up really helping me out focus-wise. I always knew that Collateral Damage (the general term for unintentional death or damage inflicted during a battle) was going to be a "reverse-perspective" retelling of a traditional superhero story, one that took the typical plotlines, characters, and tropes of comic books and ran them through the cynical lens of a background character--the kind of character who could very easily become collateral damage themselves in a normal superhero movie.

I'm what writers call a "pantser," meaning I write without an outline and hope that my brain will figure out what I want it to do later, which means that it took a while for these questions to become developed enough to actually create a story. But eventually, after scrapping the garbage draft that I started in high school (when I first came up with the idea), I came up with Meg Sawyer: a sarcastic, perpetually annoyed teenage orphan with an arsenal of safety equipment who lives in an apartment with a missing wall and works at a coffee shop, trying to save enough money to move and spending every day hoping she won't die in the wreckage of a citywide battle. Here she is, by the way (art by @artoflore):

The next step, of course, was to watch every superhero movie/TV show I could get my hands on and imagine Meg into various background-character situations (for example, as the person driving the car that gets smashed at around 1:13 in the above video, or a waitress at the cafe in this scene from Spider-Man 2; also a veritable lookalike of her is an unassuming student at Peter's school at :30 in this scene from Spider-Man: Homecoming). The idea was to create a character who was feeling trapped in her life, but who had also adapted to the skills she needed to safely (well, as safely as possible), strategically survive it.

And then I made her find one of the superheroes dead.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE will be coming to bookshops and e-stores everywhere in 2019 from Parliament House Press!

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