Creators Corner: Creating Rebirth of the Gangster, Part 3 – Outline, Synopsis, & Chapter Breakdown
*Note: This is the third part of my series about creating Rebirth of the Gangster. The first part focused on brainstorming the big idea and plot, and the second part focused on brainstorming all the details and outlining them into a coherent whole. This one will focus on transforming the brainstorming and outline into a series synopsis and chapter/issue breakdown.
Now that I’d brainstormed possible story beats, I was ready to write the synopsis [I’ll also place peer feedback in brackets like this–I got the peer feedback after I wrote the synopsis and outline]]:
Synopsis for Rebirth of the Gangster (Of course spoiler alert, although things will change as I write the piece and already have changed in the five issues I’ve written so far.):
Rebirth of the Gangster
Two sons–one rich and one poor, one black and one white, one with both parents living and one with a dead father and a dying mother–get sucked into a world of crime as they are haunted by their families’ secrets and a murder as old as the sons themselves.
Rebirth of the Gangster is
- a long form narrative like 100 Bullets, also echoing its playful dialogue, ensemble cast, and shadowy visuals
- with seasons that explore many facets of society like The Wire
- and dripping in the noir-grounded reality of Criminal and Damages that marches characters towards an almost certain doom
(potentially released as a series of limited series that intertwine like Criminal does, if that’s a better commercial approach)
Marcus Thompson is a young African American man, a prosecutor for the state. His mom, a Hmong woman named Andrea, is a successful stockbroker and his dad, Curtis, owns a large, national business. When Marcus was born, his grandfather was killed. But that’s not the only murder that’s part of his family’s past, even if Marcus doesn’t know it: his dad used to be a criminal, before using his proceeds to fund his legal business ventures. And he was involved in a murder that’s going to haunt his whole family.Hunter Anderson is a young white man who works in a warehouse and struggles with anxiety and depression. His mom, Linda, is an administrative assistant; his dad, John, was killed by Curtis. Now, though, she’s trying to live a normal life: she’s remarried to a construction worker, a man who doesn’t treat her with as much respect as Hunter would like. Recently, she’s been diagnosed with cancer, and they’re struggling to afford her treatment. Hunter’s friends know this and convince Hunter to join them in a life of crime.
To open the story, Curtis receives an award for his work with his charity. Marcus walks home from the event with a co-worker, Alex. Alex gets in a fight with a homeless black man. Marcus stops the fight, always trying to play the peacemaker, but the homeless man accuses Marcus of betraying his race and history. The next day, these comments under his skin, he puts a young man (Devonte) in jail for drugs. Devonte says he’s innocent–the drugs were planted.
Although Marcus wins the case, he feels some guilt, as he flashes back to when he was a kid, giving into peer pressure to cheat for drugs: other black kids also played the race traitor card. They were all busted by the cops, but Curtis pulls some strings and Marcus has no consequences–the arrest is even erased from his criminal record. Because of events like this, he’s lately been feeling disillusioned with his role in prosecuting non-violent drug crimes. His coworker and friend, Kaitlyn–a black woman–tries to cheer him up, unsuccessfully.
Later, Marcus and his coworker, Alex, are at a gas station. A few men come in and rob the gas station. Marcus remains silent, hoping it will blow over, but Alex talks back. When one of the robbers (Hunter) comes over, Alex points out who Marcus is and warns Hunter. Hunter sees Marcus and Curtis’s pictures on the TV, and then cracks the gun on Marcus’s head. [Peer 2 Feedback: Love the premise so far. Hey, how does Hunter know that Curtis killed his dad, and why hasn’t he taken revenge yet? No opportunity?–My response–This made me have Hunter’s mom tell him the whole truth after this robbery; I also adjusted the plot, so that Randy’s dad was blamed for John’s death. That also gave Hunter greater reason to keep Randy around, even though Randy is a jerk: he’s trying to atone for the family legacy of a framed crime]
After the robbery, Hunter flashes back to what got him here (his mom’s depression and anger, his struggles in school, his dead end life, his mom’s sickness). At the same time as these flashbacks, he’s talking to his partners in crime, hiding the truth about why he hit Marcus. Angry at his emotional actions, they decide to stop working with him. He leaves and talks to his mom in the hospital, finding out the truth about his dad’s death: before, he thought the dad of a neighbor, Randy, killed John and that Curtis was only responsible for sucking John into the life of crime. He comes up with a plan and gets one of the robbers to do this as a last favor.
This plan, it turns out, involves the robber staging a fake mugging of Marcus where Hunter “saves” Marcus. Grateful, Marcus takes him out for a drink and the two start becoming friends. Marcus and Hunter start hanging out regularly. He even starts partying with Hunter and his friends, slipping back into his past drug use, even buying. While they’re hanging out one day, a Hispanic cop stops by to ask Hunter some questions about his recent robberies.
This cop, Lorena, grew up with Hunter and almost fell into a life of crime herself because of her struggles with a fractured family and faith, partly because she’s gay. She found her faith, closure with her family, and decided to become a cop to help others like her. Although her beat isn’t in Hunter’s neighborhood, she’s a workaholic who keeps in touch with her old life. She gets nowhere in the questioning, but vows to find out what he’s up to & why Marcus is there.Andrea & Curtis end up meeting Marcus with some of Hunter’s friends, but not Hunter. Although they run this charity, they still feel uncomfortable with these guys. Echoing what he said when Marcus was caught with drugs, Curtis worries that this might affect their image.
Andrea, however, isn’t as afraid of their past life. In fact, she’s been getting bored lately, and longs for more of the old life–her killer instinct is reawakened when someone attacks her while going home one night and she fights him off. There will be a few instances where women in this series are in danger. Like Andrea, they’ll be more than capable of fighting their way out.
This killer instinct isn’t new: in flashbacks it’s revealed that she has a wild streak, including helping Curtis kill Marcus’s grandfather, because he found out the truth of their activities and was going to turn them in. Andrea–in Lady Macbeth fashion–convinced Curtis to kill him. Similar to Curtis, Linda is trying to put her past anger behind her. She had always tried to get John to leave that life. After he died, she turned to drugs and petty crime to deal with her
depression and anger. Now, though, she starts seeing how Hunter is falling into the same trap,
and she’s going to do everything she can to help him avoid her mistakes before cancer kills her.
Two more characters close the beginning third of our series: Dennis, a friend of Hunter who was just released from prison, and Lizzeth, a Hispanic teacher who’s friends with Marcus.
Dennis is quickly pulled into Hunter’s plans, although Dennis isn’t certain he wants to re-enlist in a life of crime. Prison haunts him, including his time in solitary confinement, and he’ll do anything to avoid going back. Lizzeth meets Dennis through Marcus. There’s clear attraction between her and Dennis, but she doesn’t want to get involved with him because of his past.
As Marcus and Hunter continue to party more, Hunter asks Dennis to document (tape, photograph, etc…) Marcus’s illegal activities, eventually planning to blackmail Marcus. At first, Dennis doesn’t want to do this, but he’s eventually convinced and starts slipping back into the life that sentenced him to prison. While this is going on, Lorena busts one of their parties but gives them a pass, partly because she’s not interested in something that small, and partly because she knows Hunter is up to something and thinks he might crack if she’s playing the good cop. She starts to obsess over this, leading to another fight with a girlfriend.
Marcus starts to slip up at work because of the fast life; Kaitlyn tries to help him out. He at first wants to listen to her, but eventually gets too caught up in his partying and Hunter’s schemes. As Marcus continues his fall, Andrea does so too. She starts taking risks, like shoplifting and picking arguments with random people that almost lead to fights. Curtis notices this behavior, and at first tries to find out what’s going on. When Andrea says nothing, they start fighting and a distance grows between them that will last. Linda tries to talk to Marcus and warn him about Hunter’s intentions, but she backs out at the last minute, afraid of betraying her son. [Peer 2 Feedback: Getting a real Iago-Othello vibe here–minus Desdemona–and it’s pretty fascinating. Is there anything redeeming about Hunter, though? Iago’s always a character who’s absolutely evil–I mean, you like him because he’s so damn clever, but otherwise, he’s awful. How do we feel sympathy for Hunter beyond him losing his dad and, potentially, his mom? I mean, Marcus didn’t actually kill his dad–so why does he deserve to have his life ruined? Just throwing thoughts out there. I’m intrigued!–My response–I’ll add some sympathetic character traits as I write individual issues, but this was a good reminder.]
Eventually, Hunter reveals his evidence to Marcus and blackmails him for a plea bargain–he’ll rat on a gang leader, even though that leader had nothing to do with the crime. And even though it’s against his code, Marcus, afraid of tarnishing his image, agrees to go along with it. Unknown to Marcus, Dennis is videotaping this interaction too.Marcus goes to work the next day and starts the plea bargaining process immediately. Kaitlyn starts getting suspicious and starts double checking the plea bargain documents and rifling through Marcus’s desk, while Marcus goes to visit Randy. At the prison, Marcus is confronted by Devonte, the prisoner he put away at the beginning of this story–the prisoner has heard from other inmates about what Marcus is doing (and why he’s doing it) and threatens to go to the warden. Flustered, Marcus calls Hunter and warns him about what’s going on; Hunter agrees to take care of it, and later that night, Devonte is found stabbed, close to death. Lorena comes to Hunter’s place shortly after this, partly to check up on Randy and partly to ask questions about this prison violence; they’ve been able to pin it down to Derek, one of Hunter’s friends that is in prison; he hasn’t talked, but she wants to pressure Hunter and see if he cracks.
Marcus gets back from visiting the prison, and is faced with a bunch of questions from Kaitlyn. Clearly rattled from confronting Devonte, he acts shady and makes Kaitlyn even more suspicious despite revealing nothing. She’s met Curtis & so she calls him with her worries, which leads to Marcus confronting Curtis again about professional behavior & the family image.
The next day Marcus finds out about Devonte. He goes to Hunter and gets into an argument with him, threatening to go to the authorities. Hunter brings up the phone call Marcus made from the prison and tells him that they’re both going down if Hunter goes to the
authorities. Shortly after this, Lorena confronts Marcus and he comes close to telling the truth. At the last second, though, he lies. After this he goes to talk to Hunter, who pushes him even more off balance: Hunter wants Marcus to help him rob Curtis, but he doesn’t reveal why yet.
While all this is going on, Dennis and Lizzeth have started a romantic relationship. Lizzeth is still uncertain about Dennis and Dennis is hiding how he works for Hunter. Eventually, LIzzeth finds out because Lorena tells her in hopes of getting an informant, and so LIzzeth tells him to make a choice; even though Dennis really likes LIzzeth, he walks out on her.
Linda is so worried about Hunter’s actions and possible plans with Marcus’s family that she does the unthinkable: she goes to see Andrea and warn her about Hunter and Marcus’s friendship. They fight about how important it is, but when Linda leaves, Andrea talks to Curtis about it, clearly worried. It’s also revealed in this fight that Andrea was the one who killed Marcus’s grandfather. Curtis is so worried that he forbids Marcus from hanging out with Hunter, but he won’t tell Marcus why. Although Marcus knows how dangerous Hunter is, he still gets in an argument with Curtis about not wanting his life dictated to him. Still, Marcus is unsure what to do: he’s dug himself a hole, but he’s not sure how to get out of it.
He goes to confront Hunter, trying to find a way to avoid both blackmail and the robbery: he’ll do another plea bargain, he’ll owe him, etc… An argument follows, and Hunter reveals part of John and Curtis’s past. He tells him about their dad’s being partners in crime but not about Curtis murdering John. However, he does reveal something shocking: while they were still partners, Curtis and John were going to be turned in by Curtis’s dad; Curtis came up with a plan and killed his own dad. Horrified, Marcus leaves without committing to anything.
After this conversation, Linda steps out of the shadows and confronts Hunter about his actions. She knows the hurt he’s going through, but she also knows that anger and revenge isn’t the way out. They get in a fight and Hunter storms out, still too focused on revenge. As he walks away, though, we can see that he’s lost in thought, second-guessing his own actions.
Meanwhile, Marcus confronts Curtis about his grandpa’s murder. At first Curtis looks like he’s going to tell Marcus the truth about Andrea, but he ends up saying that it was him that killed his own father, arguing that it was for the good of the family. Marcus and Curtis get in a fight and Marcus storms out, lost in thought. He eventually calls Hunter & tells them that he’s ready to help. Marcus, Hunter, Randy, and Dennis start planning the robbery. Marcus and Randy clearly have some tension, but are able to pretend to put it aside. Things are looking good, until Dennis backs out at the last minute. Dennis has been going through a personal struggle with falling back into his old life, but losing Lizzeth pushed him in the right direction. Hunter tries to talk him out of leaving, but Dennis is finally helping himself out and thinking long-term.
Desperate, Lorena has been doing some investigation into Marcus’s life, looking into the murder of Marcus’s grandfather. She stumbles on photos that show John and Curtis together. At the same time, Kaitlyn finds some questionable financial reports from when Curtis started his business,brings it to the police, and partners up with Lorena on the case.
Reeling from the loss of Dennis, Marcus and Hunter try to find a replacement. Marcus has an idea: he’ll offer a plea bargain to Devonte (further implicating the rival gang member that
Randy ratted on) in exchange for his help. When he goes to the prison to offer this plea bargain,
though, Marcus makes it clear that Devonte is only going to answer to him and that they’re going to sabotage the plan–keeping the money for themselves and killing Hunter and Randy.
The night of the robbery, Lorena and Kaitlyn have managed to secure a warrant to search Hunter, Marcus, Linda and Curtis’s houses. They start at Marcus’s house and find nothing; they go to Linda’s house, where they find her collapsed on the floor and rush her to the hospital; at Hunter’s place they find some of the plans for the robbery and rush to Curtis’s house.
The night of the robbery–everybody in masks, wearing gloves–Randy goes to secure Curtis and bring him to the room with Curtis’s safe; Devonte does the same for Andrea. Hunter and Marcus are waiting, safe open and valuables packed away. At the same time, Lorena pulls up to Curtis’s house. When she gets no answer, she enters, radioing for back-up.
Hunter removes his mask and explains why he’s there. He’s hesitant to kill Curtis, though, his mom’s words are ringing in his head. Before he can make a choice either way, Lorena barges in, warning them that more police are on their way. Lorena and Hunter talk, Lorena reminding him of the times he helped her when they grew up, appealing to his good nature. It’s working. [Peer 2 Feedback: This is what I hope to see flashes of throughout–it’ll make Hunter ripe to be talked out of this…maybe!]
Randy’s been watching this with growing unease: he shoots Lorena in the side (which we’ll later see wasn’t a mortal wound). Hunter breaks down and kills Randy, then rushes to Lorena’s side. Sensing an opportunity, Curtis grabs Randy’s gun and shoots Devonte, killing him. He turns to Marcus, about to fire, but before he can, Marcus pulls off his mask.
Now, it’s time for Marcus to launches into a tirade against Curtis. Curtis tries to placate him. Andrea joins in, but keeps her distance. Sirens start to wail as tension mounts and Lorena’s back-up finally arrives. With the sirens echoing in his head, blood tainting his vision, and memories assaulting him, Marcus shoots his dad, killing him. He points the gun at his mom but can’t pull the trigger. Aware of the sirens again, he places the gun in Randy’s hands and brings his mom into a corner, huddling together as if they’re both victims.
The cops break in, see Hunter with a gun in his hand crouching over Lorena and open fire. Hunter dies quickly, but takes one last look at Marcus, tears staining both their faces. The cops rush to Marcus and Andrea’s side, shepherding them out of the room.
The next few weeks pass by, and we next see Marcus visiting Linda in the hospital. He tells her that Hunter changed his mind at the last minute, and then leaves her, clearly haunted by this whole experience. Lorena is in the next room over, her girlfriend visiting her and forgiving her. Lorena resolves to retire to a desk job and give up her investigation of Marcus; we learn some of this from Kaitlyn’s visit to Lorena. Marcus holds a press conference announcing his promotion to CEO and his renewed dedication to Curtis’s charity from the beginning of the book. Dennis and Lizzeth happily cook dinner as they both talk about their day, Dennis raving about his new job. The story ends with Marcus talking to Andrea, trying to figure out how she coped with her past. She gives him advice, but he’s clearly haunted by it, and the series closes on him reflecting, unsure if he’ll ever be redeemed.
[Peer 2 Feedback: Based only on the synopsis, this reward doesn’t seem just, but that’s only because Marcus doesn’t seem likable yet. He’s so conflicted all the time and seems easily manipulated–but I expect he’ll be a lot more complex than that once he gets some dialogue time. Wild ending, man–I’m impressed! The characters all come together in a final clash I can see being really epic in graphic form. Looking forward to seeing it all come together!–My response–I agree that the reward isn’t just, but part of the thematic point of this comic is that we live in an unjust world, where some suffer more for past sins than others because of the status they have.]
Chapter/Issue Outlines (spoiler alert again!):
Outline of Chapter/Issue Order, Rebirth of the Gangster, CJ Standal
(Of course I’m flexible, given market conditions and demands of the story as it’s created)
Meet the Family (all 24 issues/chapters are going to be around 22 pages)
1–Marcus: In which we meet Marcus at a gala honoring his dad, followed by a close encounter with a homeless man that unearths old memories and new doubts at work until we finally witness his assault from a masked Hunter.
2–Hunter: In which we meet Hunter after his assault of Marcus, clearly shaken, haunted by his mom’s battle with cancer and his own fall into crime, and then end with a resolution from Hunter and a call to arms.
3–Lorena: In which we meet Lorena in her element–chasing criminals–see her flashback to relationship ending fights with her girlfriend about her obsession with her job–partly due to her harsh childhood–and close on her trailing Hunter on one of his clandestine meetings.
4–Marcus and Hunter: In which we find the fruits of Hunter’s scheming and the unexpected wrench in his plans, Marcus’s ability to fight back hints at his dark nature and violence, and the first “friendly” meeting between Marcus and Hunter.
5–Andrea: In which we see Andrea’s growing concerns over Marcus’s friendship with Hunter, a flashback to a youth spent learning how to curb her anger and put on a pretty face, and a robbery that reawakens her second face: one of violence, lies, and greed.
6–Lorena, Marcus, & Hunter: In which we see Marcus and Hunter partying at breakneck speeds, [Peer 1 Feedback: NICE! – this is the best example how you told me a situation without flat out saying it. Go through and make more sound like this] witness Lorena launching an investigation against Hunter–and shortly, Marcus–watch cracks appearing in Marcus’s professionalism as his coworker Kaitliyn tries to help , and learn that Hunter has been compiling evidence to blackmail Marcus.
|After this story arc, it might be a good time to have a Rebirth of the Gangster Month, almost like Vertigo’s Sandman month, which drove up sales and recruited new readers. It could include:
What’s Old Is New Again
7–Linda: In which we are reintroduced to Linda as she starts to challenge Hunter’s new decisions, reflecting on her past experiences abusing drugs after John’s death, and see her try to warn Marcus away.
8–Dennis and Lizzeth: In which we join Dennis on his first day home from prison, watch him face the fork in the road that divides the old and the new life; in which we join Lizzeth as she offers Marcus a helping hand and recoils away from Dennis’s advances.
9–Marcus and Hunter: In which Curtis and Andrea meet Hunter’s friends and express disapproval, and Hunter blackmails Marcus, leaving Marcus unsure what to do.
10–Andrea and Linda: In which Andrea continues to feed her wild side and Linda attempts to curb Hunter’s.
11: Lorena and Kaitlyn: In which Lorena busts a party that Hunter is holding, but doesn’t press charges in the hopes of finding out more information on the bigger score, and Kaitlyn starts digging into Marcus’s professional and personal life.
12: Marcus, Hunter, and Lorena: In which Marcus gives in and creates the plea bargain leading to a discussion with Devonte, Hunter puts a hit on Devonte, Marcus and Hunter fight, while Lorena waits in the wings for them to slip up.
A Family Affair (first idea for the story arc title was Turnabout is Fair Play)
13: Lorena and Kaitlyn: In which Kaitlyn finds something shady in the plea bargain Marcus just did, starts investigating Marcus and her family, and Lorena investigates the prison hit against Devonte while also telling Lizzeth the truth about Dennis.
14: Hunter and Marcus: In which Marcus finds out about the hit on Devonte, argues with Hunter, makes Kaitlyn suspicious, and Hunter tries to get Marcus to join him in robbing Curtis.
15. Randy, Dennis and Lizzeth: In which Randy joins Hunter’s crew again, clashes with Dennis over his recent doubts, and Dennis visits Lizzeth for a second chance, both with her and with reformed life.
16: Hunter and Marcus: In which Hunter tells Marcus some of the truth about Curtis, Marcus confronts Curtis about his grandfather’s death, and Marcus reluctantly agrees to side with Hunter.
17: Andrea and Linda: In which Linda tries to get Andrea’s help after Hunter refuses to change his ways, and Andrea confers with Curtis about this new wrinkle in Marcus’s life.
18: Hunter, Marcus, Lorena, Kaitlyn, and Devonte: In which Marcus enlists Devonte’s help in the robbery because of Dennis’s second thoughts, Hunter plots with Randy, and Kaitlyn finds out about Curtis and John’s connections, causing her to go to Lorena for help.
A Little More Than Kin and Less Than Kind
19. Marcus, Hunter, Devonte, and Randy: In which Marcus, Hunter, Devonte, and Randy all plan the robbery, pretending to be working together when there are actually plots within plots, betrayals abounding.
20. Lorena and Kaitlyn: In which Lorena and Kaitlyn continue to unearth clues, finding enough to get a warrant to Hunter, Marcus, Linda and Curtis’s houses.
21. Andrea and Linda: In which Andrea tries to get Marcus to change his ways, and when that doesn’t work, she redirects his anger towards Curtis, and Linda’s failing health place her in a hospital bed.
22: Beginning of Robbery (Everybody other than Dennis and Lizzeth): In which Hunter, Marcus, and more start their robbery, and Hunter unmasks himself to confront Curtis, while Lorena and Kaitlyn find clues but no crime in Hunter, Linda, and Marcus’s house, finally rushing to Curtis’s house.
23: End of Robbery (Everybody other than Dennis and Lizzeth): In which motivations are laid bare, and the intrusion of Lorena and second doubts causes the plan to go off the rails, leading to more violence and death.
24: Falling Action (Marcus, Andrea, Lorena, Kaitlyn, Linda, Dennis and Lizzeth): In which we see, Lorena and Kaitlyn trying to return to their life with a new work-life balance, and Marcus visiting Linda, Dennis and Lizzeth adjusting to their new life together, and Marcus and Andrea trying to cope with the events of the robbery and the new mantles of business leadership.
[Peer 1 Feedback: Overall, fucking awesome, really want to read where it’s headed. I have some overall notes below.
Be less on the nose, give me 9/10 of the pie, let me wonder about the 10th – for example, don’t tell me outright who he is blackmailing – a good reference point for these intros is reading one of Tarantino’s screenplays. His character descriptions are great because:
1. The writing is tight and punchy. Short sentences. Every line better than the last.
2. He focuses on the character’s attitude, drilling into their core, and less so on the events of their life.
Right now I’d say you’re about 70% background events – 30% emotional characteristics
I would bump up the emotional side to 50/50, if not higher.
My response: Yeah, I will show and hint more in the actual comic. This is more of an outline for what I want to happen/be hinted at in each chapter.]
That’s it for part three folks! Stay tuned for the part four, in which I’ll discuss writing my first script; like part three, I’ll show you the product, along with some peer comments and my own reflection.
*Note* To see more behind the scenes, check out “First Shot: The Making of Rebirth of the Gangster“ for sale on Amazon!