BLOOD SYNDICATE: RERUN
When Dwayne gave me a shot to write for the Milestone Bible, I was asked to focus on
and the Blood Syndicate’s playing ground. Being raised in the Paris Island South Bronx at the height of the gang system and a crumbling infra-structure (the 60s to the 70s was not funny on Vyse Avenue) gave me a little heads up on writing realistic disenfranchised teen gang members. I felt like I knew what I was writing about. The thing about the gangs of NY back then is that each neighborhood had their own flavors and colors. The Irish, the German, the South American, the Puerto Ricans, the Blacks, the Chinese, the South Asian, the Caribbean blacks… they all had their ‘brand’, and that’s what they fought about; turf and identity. When I saw the sketches and names of the Blood Syndicate (all Black and without personality), I knew I had some work to do. If Milestone was going to be about diversity, then I better get to work on diversifying the Blood Syndicate.
When Dwayne gave me a shot to write for the Milestone Bible, I was asked to focus on
By the way, I didn’t know that I couldn’t and shouldn’t change things around. I just did, and the bosses didn’t seem to mind. Everything went by them, and I was enjoying a really big swell of inspiration and artistic freedom. When I see how things are done these days, I realize how unusual and frowned upon that is for a newcomer like me. I was very lucky.
So, I changed some of the characters around. The giant male Brick became the giant female Brickhouse, complete with steel rods out of her hair. Denys Cowan, the designer of the Milestone team, created the final look for her, but I contrived the future storyline to make her revert closer to my original sketches. Brick was a big force of nature that was too angry and confused to be really effective on her own. Fade and Flashback became dark Dominicans who each had an overwhelming secret which caused them to act out. Tech-9 became a cocky and charismatic Puerto Rican who was beloved and hated by the others (the mandate to kill him off was decided even before the bible was finished, since his power of undying pistol fire was reprehensible). Third Rail’s first name was Livewire, but I think another character had been created in one of the Batman or Supes cartoons, so we changed it. Third Rail turned out to be Korean, and had father issues, and was secretly a small kid who used his power to be a big powerful kid. The whole team was going to become about secrets. I changed his look to be less 90s rocker and more like a kid who uses a lot of black electrical tape to see how far he can stretch it. Wise Son did not change much (at least his look). I had seen this guy around the block most of my life. It was going to be a pleasure to write him. There was a drippy, zombie type in the background who was going to be joining the group later on. I liked the monster idea, but his look was not fun, I thought. I was hoping we’d never really use him, so I avoided him until the end. Masquerade looked like a Bob Marley type complete with overgrown dreads, colorful hat and shades. I kept him
Then I started adding.
I liked the idea of a talking dog. In the Dakota-verse, anything was possible, and the bratty mutt from A BOY AND HIS DOG was one of my favorite characters. Dwayne seemed into him as well. Dogg’s original name was going to be Mutt, and he was going to be a black German Sheppard type, but I wanted him to be more puppy-like so the words out of his mouth would be more jarring. The final look came for Dogg after Chris Cross (the guy who drew more BS than anyone) just decided on the generic brown dog look. It worked really well.
Kwai came from a team that I was toying with before I met Dwayne and the others came after my first experience tabling at one of the NYC comic conventions. My friend, Howard Cruse, asked me to sit with him and show off my TALES books. I noticed that, while there were many people of color in the audience, the professionals were almost 100 percent white. Then I made the connections about the amount of characters in comics who were of color, and realized that there was a deep connection. People write about what they know. People must also hire the same way. Of course I was working for Hetrick-Martin, the gay youth agency, at the time, and I was so deep in that social worker souped-up-enlightenment frame of mind. For fun, I sketched my own team up and started playing with a 20s look, and a superhero history that included characters of color, and how they dealt with the same repression and racism their non-powered counterparts would feel. The Color Purple was fresh on my mind. Man… I was so influenced by pop culture back then. Still am. The kung fu flicks of my childhood were being replaced by the Wuxia magic power of the
Uh, ok, moving on.
I thought we needed a Spanish speaker… someone with no English to reflect the immigrant experience, especially since I established that
I created a villain for the book, someone to really work them. The team was so enamored of their ‘rep’ and secrets, so what better foil than a creature who can ‘read them to shreds’.Demon Fox came out of those great HK flicks which presented demons as beautiful temptress foxes… but her real form would be as hideous and puny as her/his soul. And why make her/him a woman…why not a dual-gendered creature? Thus, he/she was spoken about in dual terms. I was very proud of my design for him/her… and Chris did a great job of making her/him majestic and scary.
Other characters I was proud of were Wise Son’s family, especially Cornelia, his little sister, and his not much younger son, Edmund. They were a great team, and had powers as well (sort of a combo of the purple crayon and the wardrobe). I would have loved to spin them off or do a storyline that featured them a bit more. I was planning a whole OZ storyline too. Sigh. ORO came out of the Shadow Cabinet crossover we did around #10. It was a great chance to create another Latino character (Cuban to fit his pride), and someone I could imagine would be hot enough to cause confusion between Fade and Flashback. He had my second best costume design ever. Bad Betty was a sort of Astro Boy as a lesbian construct.She was designed after Sharon Cho, the coolest comic book agent ever. Iotacame from the same storyline, and she was my version of an adventuring Atom slash Catwoman ala Penelope Pitstop. I was very proud of her, because every little aspect of her just seemed to work. Chris did a great design for her. Kuka was one of my finest creations. She was a transgendered
So let’s see… who’s left?
Ah… besides some characters for S.Y.S.T.E.M. and creating the matriarchal structure for their org, and designing some of the other later members who never got to shine(TEMPLO and MISTRESS MERCY), I guess we should talk about Boogieman. He was that sewer crawling creepy guy that was kept in the background. Well… it was time to add him since he was going to debut in the 3rd issue. There was a mandate from DC that we needed a white character. Of course that was going to happen, but it was surprising to hear it said out loud. So, we started thinking. I came up with some sketches and a werewolf type guy…make him a rat man. He was going to be the ‘stereotype’ of a hip hop character. He would carry a boom box with him as he travelled the sewers, and that how we knew he was coming, because we’d hear his music. I wanted to make him Marky Mark… and Jewish… all the more to deal with his issues and the whole ‘vermin’ thing from the Holocaust. His issues would be as messed up as everyone else. He’d be a self hating white Jewish boy who would hide his identity to be down with everyone. No one would know but his little buddies, the sewer rats who were enhanced by the Big Bang event (thank you, Secret of Nimh). I was dreading writing this character… but after I sketched him out, I realized that it would be a lot of fun. I gave him the backwards cap, gold chains and biker shorts (thank you, Vanilla Ice). Denys looked at the sketch and made him beefier and scarier and Boogieman was born.
Thus, the BS was born.We had a hard time finding the right artist. Trevor Von Eden was the first guy, and he did a great job, but he pulled out after it. I don’t know quite why. I hoped that it wasn’t because there was an openly gay writer on the book, or that there would be gay characters on it as well. It probably had to do with the working schedule and the relationship between him and the partners. James Fry was nice, and interesting. Flashback had real booty… but he wasn’t picked as the leader. Chris Cross came on at the 3rd book, and did a pretty good job. I voted hard for him, since his characters looked closer to my vision, and they emoted so well... and they were so beautiful. His Fade was more Chris Williams than Ice Tea, and that was fine with me. He was on the book by the time I got full writing credit.Ah, writing credit. Me and the boss were figuring out the storyline and timeline. Marvel style was more about plot and adding dialogue after the art. I liked DC style, which was full script and embellishment after the art. Dwayne was teaching me well, and had me do the dialogue on the second book. By the third I was doing more of everything, and was solo by number 5.
It was some of the best times in my life. Even now, with all the sour relationships behind me, I understand how lucky I was to be in the industry at that time, and how very miraculous it was for a nobody like me to work in the company of Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan on such important work.
More stories about my life at Milestone later on… like the infamous Archie Syndicate story, and the in-house newspaper that blew up race relations in DC Comics all over the place.
And that was Ivan Velez Jr. I can't thank him, ChrisCross and other members of Milestone for all their work for them making me believe I can write comics and that diversity isn't just some mandate. More on what Ivan is doing now, check his Facebook page out. Thank you again.