There can be a fine line between inspiration and theft. Okay -- maybe not a fine one. It can be pretty thick, actually -- but we'll say it can be adjusted based on the clout and execution of it's practitioner. It's been my opinion that through Invincible, Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley became masters of this. From the word go, you can rack up a number of comparatives, and by the time we got to that pivotal twelfth issue (where the entire story dynamic got a kick in the pants), the list of homages and lifts ran a gamut of comic icons:
Invincible = Superboy
Omni-Man = Superman
Teen Team = Teen Titans
Guardians of the Globe = Justice League of America (Complete with analogues!)
Darkwing = Batman
Red Rush = Flash
War Woman = Wonder Woman
Aquarus = Aqua Man
Green Ghost = Green Lantern
Martian Man = Martian Manhunter
The character list goes on and on, and even the names of the story-arcs are references to classic and current television sitcoms (Family Matters, Eight is Enough, Friends, & Modern Family...just to name a few).
So, it should be no question that Kirkman & Co inspired some...(ahem) repetition of their own. When Invincible first graced the newsstand, I was just getting it into my heart and mind that my lifelong pursuit of being a comic book artist was OVER. Instead, I wanted to be a writer, turning my vocabulary of "if-then" equations and scaled conflicts into stories that anyone else might like to read. Finding Invincible, when I did, may have been vital to me writing, not only today -- but at all! It's kind of humbling to look at it that way, and still quite inspiring all the same.
Entering the HOTSHOT Era:As it was, the opportunity to put my words to the test came that summer, when I arrogantly decided I should rewrite the script for Hotshot #1! Hotshot was the precious, brainchild of my (then) somewhat rival and newfound friend (that's a LOOOOOONG story of its own), Michael Watson -- a remarkably talented creator who hailed from Cleveland, OH. Now, when I say Hotshot was Mike's baby, I'm not just picking at him -- he literally kept this character a secret for nearly two to three years while he built up the story he wanted to tell. Quite frankly, the way he kept it under wraps, it was nothing short of an act of God that I got ahold of it AND with permission to write it.
At any rate, after MONTHS of toiling on it, quitting at least once when it felt like there were too many OTHER cooks in the kitchen, I handed in a treatment for the first five issues of an arc called Hero's Welcome (now available for purchase in tpb!). I can honestly say that at the time, I don't THINK I specifically used Invincible as the basis (in fact, the character comparison I wrote put him up against Spider-man...who Invincible teamed up with in 2006), but looking back all these years later (and doing some side by sides...), Kirkman's hand was all up the skirt of my writing ideas...wait, that sounded crude. My bad.
But it's there!
For the sake of not belittling my own career, I'll call it a creative simpatico! But from how we told stories (both series start in the midst of an action sequence, then flashback, taking literal issues to build to that initial moment), to our character portrayals and storylines (critical event caused the death/disappearance of the major hero group) -- there we were following in the footsteps of who we considered (and to a big degree, still do), the BEST superhero comic makers in the game.
We fantasized that we were on their radar. When Invincible made his costume change to the black and blue suit (Invincible #51, July 2008) or giving the mantle to Zandale Randolph, we MAY have played that it was a wink and nod towards us. Okay...we did, but really only in closed circles and NEVER in a malicious or accusatory way!
We wanted to earn their level so badly...that we incurred the wrath of Savage Dragon creator (and then Image Publisher), Erik Larsen, with our Dare To Compare Challenge*! The whole experience was as uplifting, as it was humbling. And while Robert, nor Ryan never made any mention of it, Cory Walker had kind things to say about our effort and drive.
*The Dare to Compare Challenge was a marketing campaign we ran in the summer of 2009. We had begun making slight headway getting our work seen through our convention appearances, but we wanted a spot on the shelves of every comic shop we knew. Our plan was simple: if you had Invincible on your pull list on May 20th, you were going to get a print copy of Hotshot #1 FOR FREE, included with it. As expensive as this gesture could've been, we were excited to share the word and posted about it on the Image Comics Forums (remember those?!), where it quickly got attention from people who couldn't take part because they didn't live in Columbus. At their request, we put up a .pdf copy of the book and that's when Larsen went OFF -- saying that we didn't have the right (or the skill) to challenge a book like Invincible. That we weren't even in the same league.
As harsh as that may sound, he was 100% correct. We weren't. Not even close. We were neophytes at best, throwing stones at a giant. But...you don't get better by playing against people at or below your own level. We wanted to rise, so we challenged who we thought was THE BEST, hoping that our follow up (Dare to Share), would provide us with some clues, insights, if not mentors, for how to make our work eventually get there.
Together, Mike and I did some great work. And while our partnership didn't last, our friendship and brotherhood has. Definitely check out Hotshot and the rest of the Hotshot Universe titles, now published through Legacy
READ Pt. 1: Here
READ Pt. 3: Here