I wrote a bunch of stuff for your eyeballs. If you're a fan of words, check it out.
ARENA MODE (2013)
Suspended two miles above The Arena I was waiting to be dropped from a hovercraft. If the fall didn’t kill me, someone at the bottom certainly would. Anyone in the competition could melt me with a plasma bolt, incinerate me with their heat vision, or simply pummel me to death with their bare hands. But if I managed to survive all of that, and those chances were slim, the time bomb ticking away inside my head would eventually do me in. Either way I was toast ... it was just a matter of time.
Staring down at the sharp translucent spires that adorned the top of each megatower, all I could think about was the possibility of being impaled on one as I parachuted in. That would look pretty ridiculous, especially during the slow-motion replays. When people discussed the biggest tournament in history, it’s not exactly how I wanted to be remembered: as the guy who lasted fifteen seconds because he fell chest-first onto a pointy building, getting skewered like a human shish kebab.
As soon as the producer shouted, “Three minutes until show time!” and clapped her hands like an over-caffeinated cheerleader, I looked back at my life. Nothing epic or mind-blowing, just random stuff. Like stepping up to bat at my first little league game. My shopping trips to the retro comic book store. And things old people told me that I wished I’d paid more attention to.
My grandfather used to bore the shit out of me with stories about monumental events from his generation – events that happened fifty years before I was born. “I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated,” he would say, or, “I know what kind of sandwich I was eating when I saw the moon landing,” or, “I crapped my pants and passed out the first time I heard The Beatles.” Okay, I don’t exactly remember him saying the last one, but he certainly could have. I tended to space out when he was spinning his longer yarns.
I shouldn’t be so hard on the old guy. If by some miracle I survived all of this, that’s exactly what I wanted – to be able to bore the shit out of my grandkids one day with grandiose tales from my youth.
And I had a few good ones.
“I remember where I was,” I would say, sitting in an oversized leather chair in my book-lined study, surrounded by the awestruck faces of the children gathered at my feet. “I remember who I was with, and what I was doing when the President of the United States made the speech that changed everything. It was the day he announced that superhumans were real.”
At first I didn’t know how to react. No one did. But we sure as hell didn’t expect any of the newly-discovered super-powered beings to put on a cape and try to save the world. Just the fact that they existed was an implied threat as far as the government was concerned, and most of them hid their abilities for fear of persecution. If one of them was crazy enough to try and fight for truth, justice and the long forgotten ideals of yesteryear, it would be too little, too late. For most of us there wasn’t much of a world left to save.
In 2041 when wars raged, disease spread and the deepening recession crippled all but the elite, there wasn’t a lot to look forward to. Except for The Tournaments. Internationally viewed sporting events where citizens volunteered to participate in dangerous competitions for huge cash prizes, all with the hope of clawing their way out of abject poverty. If you wanted to move from a one-bedroom roach motel into a shimmering mega-tower, you needed a small fortune, and for most of us, the only way to get that was to compete. And to survive.
The world was always watching when media magnate Cameron Frost unveiled the rules of an upcoming tournament, and this time the stakes were higher than ever. This season’s rules, or lack thereof, were brutally simple: thirteen people test their skills inside a secured urban battlefield, fighting each other ‘arena mode’. It sounded tasteful, but anyone familiar with video games knew that ‘arena mode’ was just a clever euphemism for ‘death match’. This was all or nothing – no reset button, and no extra lives. Twelve die in no-holds-barred combat, and one walks away with enough money to not just move into a mega-tower, but to buy one of their own.
Despite the inherent dangers of participating in one of the increasingly-violent events, it was an attractive opportunity for millions who faced an otherwise inescapable lifetime of misery. For the largest cash prize ever awarded, there would no doubt be a record number of volunteers, but this particular tournament had one little caveat: If you wanted to take a crack at surviving The Arena, you had to be a superhuman.
When Frost said the words you could almost hear the entire planet’s jaw hit the floor.
We’d get to see an actual comic book battle unfold on a live simulcast. I know it sounds morbid, but this was a dream come true. Ever since I could remember, forums, video lounges and holo-sessions were aflame with arguments about who would win in a fight; Could Iron Man take out Batman? What if Thor battled Superman to the death? And how much ass could Wonder Woman really kick while wearing those ridiculous eight-inch stilettos? These were the questions that occupied my thoughts and dominated way too many of my daily conversations (primarily online, where I did the majority of my socializing.)
And soon – very soon – these questions were going to be answered; what the greatest superpowers were, and how they would stack up against each other in combat – not just across the panels of a digital comic or in a CGI-enhanced action sequence, but in real life.
This was it. The flame wars were about to end.
I never aspired to live among the privileged; I was content to live out the rest of my lower-class existence consumed with my collection of vintage graphic novels and tabletop RPGs. Like everyone else I occasionally watched the tournaments, and was especially excited about this one, but I was always just a casual observer. I’d never even considered entering one as a competitor, regardless of the potential for riches. But life is funny like that ... it has a way of turning you upside down and dropping you on your head right when you least expect it.
I craned my neck to the left and saw the producer smiling, holding up a single digit. One minute left. Sixty seconds until I was about to skydive for the very first time, hoping I didn’t collide with a building on the way down. And that was the easiest task I had on my morning agenda.
At least I took comfort in the fact that the other competitors likely had the same reservations – the same panic attacks, sweat drenched palms and nervous ticks as the clock wound down towards show time. Although I had a feeling my anxieties were a little more pronounced than theirs – because unlike them, I couldn’t fly. I couldn’t shoot lasers from my hands or rip lamp posts from the ground. In a life-or-death battle to determine the ultimate superhuman, I was the only competitor without a super power.
Sample Comic Book Script
EXT - NIGHT. A DIM, DEBRIS-COVERED ALLEY, ILLUMINATED BY OVERHEAD LIGHTS
A live YouTube stream is being filmed in an alley, and HIT-GIRL is adjusting her camera. The hit counter shows only a few hundred viewers.
In the POV shot she’s directly addressing the audience.
“Trigger warning: things are about to get very R-rated, so if you’re one of those assholes who gets PTSD from reading a Tweet, or needs therapy after receiving a nasty Facebook reply, this is going to be a rough fucking ride.
“I suggest turning off this live stream and retreating to your ‘safe space’ …kinda now-ish.”
INT – A BEDROOM FILLED WITH 'MY LITTLE PONIES’ AND CANDY-COLORED WALLPAPER
A pudgy, balding man with a goatee clutches a pink stuffed pony as he watches his computer screen in horror.
(Voice coming from computer speakers)
“Operating in secret used to be the heroic thing to do - selflessly helping the helpless without ever taking credit, never asking for anything in return.”
INT – A COFFEE SHOP
Two women watch an iPhone, fascinated and horrified
(Voice coming from the smart phone)
“But that was the old me. The new me is sick and tired of being overlooked, and now I want some goddamned recognition.
“After all the good I’ve done it’s the least I deserve.”
INT - A WAREHOUSE FILLED WITH BOXING AND FIGHTING EQUIPMENT
A laptop is set up and a teenage kid wearing MMA/boxing gloves is watching the live stream.
(Shouting over his shoulder to someone out of view)
“Um, coach? I think you should come see this…”
EXT - NIGHT. A DIM, DEBRIS-COVERED ALLEY, ILLUMINATED BY OVERHEAD LIGHTS
HIT-GIRL adjusts the camera so it faces down the alley. Over her shoulder a CRIMINAL is visible - a stereotypical street thug wearing an old jacket, boots, ripped jeans and a wool cap. His face is unshaven and his cheekbone is swollen and bloody.
He’s backed against a chain link fence and looks terrified.
“Besides, if some illiterate Barbie Doll can score ten million views for a fucking make-up tutorial, I figure I can double those numbers with a live execution.”
HIT-GIRL pulls one of the katanas from the scabbard on her back and tosses it. It clangs to the pavement at the CRIMINAL’s feet.
“W-what am I supposed to do with this?”
“You didn’t think I was just going to slit your throat, did you? I’m not a monster.
“I’m going to give you a fighting chance. If you get past me you’re in the clear. Clean slate.”
The CRIMINAL holds his hands up in surrender, and cowers against the chain link.
“Look, I didn’t want to rob that gas station but I’m broke, my benefits have run out, and I have three kids to feed.
“My gun wasn’t even loaded! I’ve never hurt anyone in my life!”
(Growing more agitated)
“Oh give me a break! You think you’re the first asshole with a sob-story? Take some responsibility!”
“B-but I’m not avoiding responsibility! I admit it – I’m guilty! I stole a hundred bucks! Call the cops. I’ll sign a confession!”
“The system has far too many shades of gray, and that’s the problem. You terrorized and robbed some poor woman who was just trying to make a living, and now that you got caught you’re begging for leniency. You want to play the victim.”
(Turning to face the camera)
“Please, someone, send cops! We’re in an alley at the corner of—”
HIT-GIRL cuts the CRIMINAL off with a jumping right hook, sending a stream of blood from his mouth (THOCK!)
(Punching the CRIMINAL again)
“You think these people care? You think anyone out there gives two shits about some low-life scumbag?
“The world is binary, now - black and white. It doesn’t matter what the crime is, because if you’re guilty, you’re a bad guy - period.
“And bad guys need to pay.”
(On his knees, coughing up blood onto the pavement)
“My name is Arthur Tate. I was an accountant until I was laid off.
“M-my wife skipped town and left me with three girls to raise…Annabelle is only in kinder—”
HIT-GIRL kicks the CRIMINAL in the gut while he’s down.
“Oh, I’m sorry, were you whining about your issues? Trying to put the situation in context? I told you, it doesn’t work that way anymore.
“Now grow a pair and fight me.”
“N-no…I won’t do it. I told you, I’ve never hurt anyone before, and I’m not starting with you.”
“Wow maybe you’re not such a bad guy after all.”
HIT-GIRL impales the CRIMINAL with her other katana, and the blade protrudes from his spine.
“But maybe you’re just a lying sack of shit like the rest of them.”
Smiling broadly at the camera, HIT-GIRL gives a ‘thumbs up’, and has a spatter of blood across her face.
“Sorry guys, I was hoping that would be a lot more competitive. But stay tuned for live weekly episodes, because this city is just filled with bad guys, and I’m here to protect you.
“Hit-Girl, signing off.
“Oh! And don’t forget to Like and Subscribe!”
INT -A WAREHOUSE FILLED WITH BOXING AND FIGHTING EQUIPMENT
The TEENAGE KID is growing more impatient, and is now shouting frantically.
TEENAGE KID (PAUL McQUE)
“Coach McCready! You really need to get over here and see this!”
(Taping her hand with an athletic wrap)
“Hey you little prick, I told you, when we’re training it’s just ‘Mindy’.
"Now what’s the emergency?”
Mindy McCready is about to discover that while she trains the next generation of heroes, an unstable vigilante has taken up the mantle of Hit-Girl - someone who has very different views about justice.