My latest work in progress, a bit of a palate cleanser between Heroes Unleashed novels and you have already checked out the KickStarter, right? – has flown from fevered brain to page at an impressive rate. What started as an attempt to recapture two old pulp conceits, that of the modern man flung into another world, and one of the usual love triangles, has resolved itself into a novel with the elevator pitch, ‘Gladiator, if Maximus wasn’t a whiny little bitch’.
Gladiator is a fun movie, but I’ve never understood the way so many hold Maximus up as a paragon of manly heroism. Sure, he’s good with a sword and an inspiring leader, but he’s not very heroic. He can’t save his woman. He trusts all the wrong people. He is outsmarted over and over by a lazy Emperor who only has the job because the Roman army doesn’t know what death by strangulation looks like.
Think about it. He kills a bunch of half-starved slave warriors and one over the hill Gaul, then gets shanked and dies, but at least he beats up a nerd. Compare that to a pre-cancer Star Wars. They killed Luke’s family and he didn’t mope around until he got shivved. He sweet talked the Dark Lord into hucking his scarred Emperor down a mine shaft.
That’s the sort of tale that inspires me – regular guys training and working and striving to accomplish something a little more profound than revenge, and who succeed at their task. And don’t tell me Maximus was working toward re-establishing the Senate or democracy or any other such nonsense. That was a just tool he used to rally support for his true cause of vengeance.
I’ll take a hero like Master and Commander‘s Captain Aubrey over Maximus any day of the week. Now there’s a man who understands a higher duty, and who delights in the service to a greater cause, even as he laments the difficult decisions that duty forces him to make. He’s a winner whose mistakes result from incomplete information, and who instantly sets about rectifying his mistakes when a clearer picture arises. He is bold and courageous and everything that a man should strive to be – provided we stick to the film and not the books where his Achilles heels rears their lovely heads again and again.
Imagine if Maximus managed to claw his way from the arena and onto the throne, how much more satisfying and inspirational Gladiator would have been. Now imagine if he had done so just as the Carthaginians had amassed a great fleet to assail Rome while Emperor Sisterkisser dithered with his games, and you’re getting some idea of what my next published work will look like.
If you love action and adventure, you’re going to love it.