A Heleos Primer
By Atom Mudman Bezecny
Most of us who are alive today are children of late-stage capitalism. Regardless of our individual philosophies and political beliefs, it is undeniable that corporations and corporate decision-making shape and affect our lives more than ever before. As a leftist, I could go on for eternity about how corporate society and the ever-increasing hunger for profit has negatively impacted our day-to-day lives—however, I will exercise restraint and limit myself to the subject of how late-stage capitalism has affected storytelling within my lifetime.
I, like most people born after the 1980s, grew up in the shadow of the merchandising boom which many pop culture historians attribute to Star Wars. George Lucas anticipated that Star Wars as a film may not be a huge financial success, but it might be a good platform from which to sell toys. His prediction was correct, for the first released batch of Star Wars received a copious amount of preorders, to the point where some kits had to be shipped empty with IOU certificates for the real toys pending a second production run. To this day, Star Wars' merchandising empire (no pun intended) is an integral part of its continued financial survival, to the point where the official toys often contain canonical story information as part of their packaging. It is certainly not the only modern franchise to use toys as a storytelling opportunity, and it may not have even been the first franchise to take this approach, but it is the first one I encountered. I have embarrassed myself time and again by explaining to disinterested friends how the villain Zeta Magnus from Abel G. Peña's 2015 novel SkyeWalkers: A Clone Wars Story represents literal decades of Star Wars creators attempting to canonize the evil clone master Atha Prime from a canceled 1984 Kenner toy line.
Star Wars' unique methods of storytelling usually delight me, but there are of course negative examples of this sort of thing as well. DC Comics has been spending the last ten years stretching themselves too thin on increasingly subpar movies and video games. DC and its ancient rival Marvel are both guilty of repeatedly saturating their universes with massive Crisis Crossover events which inevitably involve the purchase of dozens if not hundreds of tie-in issues—with many of which having little or no impact on the central story arc. In their attempt to diversify brands which grow staler by the day, they have created stories so complex as to be impenetrable to outsiders, replicating the problem DC strove to undo with their 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths event. The need to occupy as much shelf space as possible has alienated many fans who grew up with these stories since childhood. But, it makes money, and that matters so much more than telling stories that matter.
Regardless of my own personal biases on the matter, I've grown up fascinated by the way in which “traditional” storytelling has been distorted and advanced under this unique lens. I am fascinated by how almost absurdly complicated the DC and Marvel Universes are; I am fascinated by how the text on the back of action figure boxes has opened up new areas of the Star Wars Galaxy. These franchises serve as treasure troves for do's and don't's of experimental fiction.
I feel all of what I've been talking about is strongly tied in with another consequence of late-stage capitalism, and the marketing boom of the '80s—the American struggle for identity.
Geekdom is clearly no longer what it once was. While the rise of sexist and racist behavior from nerds indicates that perhaps we should never have left the shadows of our gym class bullies, nerd culture has created a multi-billionaire industry, which is born directly out of the Star Wars-influenced toy boom of the '80s. And the more money a pop culture fixture possesses, the more people it can attract. Pop culture invariably influences identity; it has since long before the first Superman t-shirts were sold; it has since long before the first young man killed himself for love in imitation of Goethe's Werther in 18th Century Germany. Corporations now bank on that impulse, for better or worse. Given that most corporations have the express goal of maintaining and increasing their profits at all costs—damn the consequences to civil rights and economic stability—I consider this to be on the “for worse” side of things. While pop culture invariably shapes who we are as people, it pays to be skeptical of the corporate sources modern pop culture emerges from.
I believe that a great deal of modern-day existential dread comes from the seemingly irreconcilable differences between increasing poverty and fictional ideals. The very same entities which provide us with our circuses are the ones keeping bread out of our mouths. They forever tease us with superhuman beings blessed by accidents, or fictive millennials who live in mansion-sized apartments on one part-time job. They place dreams of ascendance within our reach but also reserve those freedoms exclusively for the upper echelons. All while disguising and numbing us against the issues of capitalist greed which put us in this position to begin with.
And so many people today are left with the same ontological confusion and disappointment as the modernists in the wake of the First World War. Like those authors from almost exactly a hundred years ago, our culture is wracked with a drive to seek out individual identity within a society whose own sense of identity has been corrupted. In both instances, it has been the greed of the upper classes that's led to this disillusionment, for indeed there would have been no Great War without the insatiable gluttony of the European aristocracy and their ties to global imperialism.
Heleos emerges from these twin impulses. As a character, they are both a way to explore and deconstruct experimental storytelling in the franchise mode and a way to study the cultural expectations of identity. Heleos does not have a fixed identity. Every time their story changes, they become someone else, with a new body, persona, and history. They remember all that they were before—but they can never fully go back to who they once were. Any story is possible for them, as they can appear in any time or place across the Multiverse. And in addition to exploring genre, these stories will study less conventional ways of storytelling, such as the aforementioned toy material, as well as stage plays, ARGs, tabletop games, and more.
All of this theory surely sounds dry and dusty! Rest assured, the part I'm looking forward to is the adventure—the villains—the battles—and the exciting beauty of a vast and wild Multiverse!
To help build hype, I will be conducting polls on my social media so that you, the reader, can have influence on this story as it develops. This is your Multiverse, and you deserve a chance to shape it! This is the first of what I hope will be many fun experiments with this character and their adventures.
So get ready to join Heleos—they're waiting for you.
The journey is just beginning.