Infinite Prey

Infinite Prey!
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"It's the end of the world. It's the end of all worlds. Isn't it beautiful?"

Earth-399. Captain Lucas Davenport of the Minnesota State Police has a problem. A deranged killer vanishes from a secure cell, leaving behind only a message written in blood — "The Absolute is upon us."

Earth-425. Homicide Chief Lucas Davenport of the Minneapolis Police has a problem. Dozens of mutilated corpses appearing, seemingly out of nowhere. The cause of death: a weapon that can't possibly exist.

Earth-908. Investigator Lucas Davenport of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has a problem. A routine drug raid turns into a shoot-out, and in the aftermath, Lucas finds that one of the dead bodies is his own.

Earth-ΘΣ. Paradox Agent Lucas Davenport has a problem. Someone, somewhere, somewhen, is killing universes. And the only connection between them... is Lucas Davenport.
Now, as space and time start to unravel, Lucas has no choice but to team up with his other selves to find out why everything is pointing towards him, before it's too late.
And should he fail, nothing will happen. Ever, ever again.

April 1, 2013

Explaining the Joke Ruins the Joke
by Roswell Camp

This was the first "real" April Fools' Day cover. I'd made covers before, but they were usually placeholders for upcoming books for which I didn't yet have the official art [1]. This was different — something original, meant entirely to entertain [2].
It's sort of based on comic books [3], and so it's appropriate that it has an origin story. See, back in 2006, an issue of Superman [4] had Clark Kent on an airplane [5] reading a copy of Death Watch by John Sandford It was sort of like Dead Watch, but different — you can actually read some of the text, and there are references the Joker and to Checkmate.
It was amusing — Clark's review of Death Watch isn't that good, but I understand his reasoning — but there was just something that irked me about the plain-text Death Watch cover [6]. Surely, I thought, I could come up with something better than that [7].
So I came up with a Prey novel based on comic books, which seemed appropriate. At the time it was just the cover — not this final one, but very similar — and it's taken from similar images in D.C. Comic's huge crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths [8]. The title — Infinite Prey — is taken directly from that.
It took a bit of research to track down the writer for that issue of Superman, Kurt Buseik, but I sent him the cover I'd made and said, "Here, in case you want to put in another Sandford book." He laughed, I laughed, and that was the end of it.
Except not. A few years later, I decided to do a set of fake books for April Fools' Day, and this was the first one to come to mind. I already had a prototype version, so it'd be easy easy enough to redo. So... I did [9].
I'm still not completely satisfied with the text on the cover, but this was my first attempt at doing something like this. I've learned a lot since then. Still, it more-or-less looks like a Sandford book from the time [10], so I guess I'm okay with it.
The plot in the synopsis isn't completely taken from Crisis on Infinite Earths — there's no Superman, no Anti-Monitor, no Pariah — but it's still a huge crossover with all these parallel universes at stake. So Lucas Davenport of the Minnesota State Police (this is the Lucas from the TV movie starring Eriq LaSalle [11]) teams up with Lucas Davenport from the Minneapolis P.D. (Lucas from the TV movie starring Mark Harmon [12]), and they meet Lucas Davenport from the BCA (the version from the books)... and they're all being watched by some shadowy Lucas Davenport who works for a mysterious Time-monitoring agency [13].
The tone of this one — for better or worse — set the tone for the rest of them: have them be dry, but ridiculous. Try to be as deadpan as possible while selling a completely insane concept. It works for a few of them, but it fails other times. But this was early, so my one-approach-for-everything appealed to my sense of consistency. I had yet to really work on my sense of "but does it work. That would come later. Thankfully, this one works.

Footnotes

1. I say usually because when I think about it, I sorta hazily remember some old old April Fools' -style covers I did in the late 90s or early 2000s, back when the John Sandford message board was still active. They weren't very good, both in terms of art and in terms of textual content. I remember one of them was called Final Prey, and I had it as a temporary placeholder for whatever the current Prey book was plus one. So if someone saw that the current Prey book was #28, they might be curious and manually punch in what the URL for Prey book #29 should be — my naming system is consistent and predictable — and they'd find a cover for Final Prey and freak out. I eventually took it down [14].

2. Or at least to bewilder, or amuse with a half-whispered ha in an inoffensive way. What I don't want to do is annoy or anger, and I don't want to do anything disrespectful. It's all to easy to make fun of things in a mean-spirited way, and I just don't want to do that [15].

3. Or more accurately, it's entirely based on comic books, inspired by one specific comic book and shaped by one of the most famous cross-over series in comic book history. I really need to stop using adverbs [16].

4. Superman #655, October 2006. Part 2 of the Camelot Falls storyline by Kurt Buseik. I got Kurt to autograph the hardcovers of Camelot Falls for the author at Comic-Con, because that seemed appropriate. They were greatly appreciated [17].

5. Yes, Clark Kent is on an airplane. It makes sense in context. Every now and then Superman loses his powers — the reasons depend on who's writing, but "Superman loses his powers" is a classic trope — and he's only slowly getting them back... and I don't know why I'm talking about this. Anyway, he's on a plane. The end.

6. I know that comic books have relatively low print quality, and I might be asking too much for something that's not even an inch tall on the final page, but the cover in the comic looks like a brown paper wrapper with "DEATH WATCH" front and center and "by John Sandford" in smaller print below. The only book covers I've seen like that are bound PhD dissertations.

7. And unlike all the other times that I think that sort of thing, I went out and did it. It just goes to show you: if you think you can do something better than someone else, and then you don't bother, you've just demonstrated that you probably can't. Bothering to do something at all is part of the process.

8. The series was from the mid-80s, when the idea of a super-giant-mega crossover in comics was still new. Crisis on Infinite Earths wasn't first — Marvel did Secret Wars (the first one) the year before — but I don't know of any crossovers of that scale before it [18].

9. In case you're wondering about all the Earths in the cover — I mean, you aren't, but just in case — they were all separately rendered in a 3D rendering program called Bryce because I had it and it worked. I rotated the Earth a bit each time between each rendering, so you see a slightly different view in every image. I think it's eight Earths to get a single rotation.

10. All of the Sandford hardcovers from Chosen Prey to Phantom Prey look like this. My only problem is that I screwed up the shading. I tried to 3D-ify it and it didn't work so well.

11. He's from Earth-399 because 399 is the ISBN publisher code for Putnam hardcovers.

12. He's from Earth-425 because 425 is the ISBN publisher code for Berkley paperbacks (now Putnam paperbacks).

13. Some Doctor Who -related jokes here. Paradox Agent Lucas Davenport hails from Earth-ΘΣ, and Theta-Sigma was the Doctor's signature when he was in college on Gallifrey. As for Paradox Agent, that's taken from the Faction Paradox spin-off series created by Lawrence Miles [19].

14. I took it down because some Angry Lady found the secret page — remember, these were not linked anywhere, and not meant to be found except by people snooping around — and wrote me a long, vitriol-filled letter about how ashamed my dad must be at how disrespectfully I'm treating the series, with the fake Final Prey being there. She was so angry that it didn't matter to me that she was insane — I took it down anyway because I feared she might have a point [20].

15. The older you get, the more out-of-touch you get with "the youth" and what they're into. As a result, you end up with people criticizing things they've never read / watched / listened to, with no experience except that anything that "kids today" listen to is bad by default. A few years ago, I thought, "That's deeply unfair" and decided to not criticize things unless I had some clue what I was talking about. So I started listening to newer stuff and reading newer stuff and... you know what? It's not that bad. It's certainly not as bad as people who have never experienced it claim it is. This means something [21].

16. There's one in that sentence, and I didn't notice until after I typed it. That's what I'm talking about.

17. John Sandford doesn't regularly read comics — that's my thing — but he does read them when he's at my house, and he (usually) enjoys them. They're not the deepest of entertainment, but they can have more depth than the nay-sayers would... um... say.

18. And both series were successful enough that huge-mega-epic crossovers became the thing to do, with the regular comics a secondary concern. That directly contributed to the comics crash of the 1990s. Not joking. And now the comics companies seem hell-bent on doing it again. Please. No. Just stop.

19. The Star Wars extended-universe books were usually pretty mediocre affairs [22]. The same is true of most of the Star Trek extended-universe books (and I say that as a Star Trek fan). But the Doctor Who extended-universe books... whooo... those were just insane. The quality was wildly inconsistent, and the writing was all over the place. Some were content with "Look! Daleks! You like Daleks!" and call it done. But others actually tried to be literary. So yeah, they reached some pretty abysmal depths, but they also reached some heights that I don't think the other media-tie-in novels ever attained.

20. Nowadays, when I receive an angry letter like that, it goes directly into the Do Not Engage pile. I do not respond. Sometimes I really, really want to fire back an email starting with, "Fuck you, you ignorant moron," but while that desire is familiar to most people, actually doing it would be bad.

21. When you hear about things like this, the most common example is "the boomers" complaining about what "those millennials" are listening to. And while that's what's gotten a lot of media play, that's not the be-all and end-all of it. I've encountered people of my generation — I'm solidly Gen-X — complaining about "kids these days" and about their music, without ever having listened to it. And, again, the stuff "kids these days" are listening to isn't bad, it's just different, just as it was for you and your parents, and their parents before them, and so on. If, by some crazy coincidence, the best music ever made just happens to be the exact same music you listened to when you were growing up and everything else is trash... the problem is probably with you.

22. In my opinion, the Star Wars extended-universe novel Slave I is probably the worst piece of media-tie-in fiction ever written by anyone, anywhere. Just my opinion.