The following is a guest post I did back in December for Josh Reynolds, creator/writer of Charles St. Cyprian, the Royal Occultist, a series I recommend highly. Visit his blog at the link below for further and better particulars:
A SORCERESS FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: Chuck Miller’s Dr. Unknown Jr.
Posted Dec. 12, 2012
Earth’s defenders come in many forms, just like they threats they face. And some forms are stranger–or more innocuous–than others.
Dr. Dana Marie Laveau Unknown, PhD, created by multi-talented author Chuck Miller, is a figure both strange AND innocuous. Her opponents are weird tales come to life, ranging from Jack the Ripper to old school chums gone bad.
And, as with last week’s post on Bob Freeman’s occult detective, Landon Connors, Chuck has stopped by the site to share his thoughts on his unique creation…
Dr. Dana Marie Laveau Unknown, PhD, is an incredibly accomplished practitioner of the mystic arts, having attained the status of Level Twelve Magus shortly after her 22nd birthday.
She is the daughter of Raoul Deveraux Unknown, the sorcerer/superhero/certified public accountant known as Dr. Unknown. The original Doctor Unknown retired several years ago, after a traumatic incident in which he accidentally destroyed the planet Earth and a large portion of the solar system. Though he and Dana were able to successfully reboot the time stream, more or less erasing the episode from history, the experience left him a shattered man.
Dana Unknown has taken over her father’s former duties as a mystical defender of earth, sometimes humorously referring to herself as “Doctor Unknown Junior.”
Dana started life in the same place the Black Centipede, Vionna Valis, and Mary Kelly did– as a supporting character in a proposed comic book called “The Optimist.” This never got off the ground, and went into cold storage for many years. I revived it a couple years ago, when I realized that these characters, with a few changes, could fit into the New Pulp scene. I wrote a novel based on the old comic book scripts I had done, and ended up making some sweeping changes in the story.
But, once I finished that novel, I just didn’t think “The Optimist” was quite right for New Pulp, so I put it on the back burner again, after extracting what I thought was the most interesting, and most pulp-derived,supporting character: The Black Centipede.
I did a couple of Centipede short stories, in which I established some ground rules for the character. This led to me doing the first novel, “Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede” for Pro Se Press in 2011. This was followed in 2012 by “Blood of the Centipede,” and I’m currently working on the third volume, “Black Centipede Confidential.”
Since the Centipede was successful, I am giving the rest of the erstwhile “Optimist” supporting cast a shot at their own adventures. The first to appear in print was Doctor Unknown Junior, in Pro Se Presents #13.
Doctor Unknown Senior popped up in both of the published Black Centipede novels, which take place many years before Dana’s birth. This brief biographical sketch appears in the original version of “The Optimist:”
The sorcery business is not very lucrative if you’re an honest and uncorrupted practitioner of white magic. You can do a real number on your karma if you use it to enrich yourself. So, it was as a certified public accountant that Doc Unknown had paid the bills. Accounting was, as he always said, his true passion. He had fallen ass-backward into the magic thing by being born the seventh son of a seventh son in a family of exceptionally powerful Druid mystics. That was on his father’s side. His mother was a mambo, or voodoo priestess, from New Orleans.
So, in spite of his best efforts, and an MBA from Harvard, Doc was unable to avoid going into the family business. Blood will tell, and the kind of blood he had just couldn’t shut up. The accounting was relegated to the status of day job.
“I could have been somebody,” I once heard him lament. “I could have won the Nobel Prize in economics, I just know it. I could have amounted to something!” (This, I should point out, was shortly after he had single-handedly prevented a coalition of demons and succubi, under the command of a 2000-year-old Black Witch, from flinging the earth into the heart of the sun, just for spite.)
Dana Unknown’s partner– or employee, depending on which of them you believe– is Jack Christian. Jack has an extremely checkered past. At one time, he was Kid Mercury, boy sidekick to superhero Captain Mercury. Mercury was killed in action 12 years ago. Jack’s life after that was a whirlwind of foster homes, petty crime, juvenile halls, alcohol, etc. He recently returned to Zenith to collect a mysterious, secret inheritance left to him by his late mentor. This is the basic premise of “The Optimist,” and I’m currently rewriting the novel to conform to the revised continuity I’ve established in the Black Centipede series.
Shortly after his arrival, Jack meets someone from his past, Vionna Valis, and the two of them become entangled in a web of mystery and misdirection. In the course of their adventure, they meet the notorious Black Centipede, and another old acquaintance of Jack's– Doctor Dana Unknown. She lends a mystical hand to Jack and his friends, who have landed in a nasty stew of supernatural trouble. This involves Jack the Ripper, a recurring villain throughout the history of the Black Centipede’s world. Dana sustains a serious “psychic injury” and finds herself unable to use most of her powers. Jack, who feels responsible, agrees to work with (or for) her until she recovers.
Dana is supremely self-assured, and not without good reason, but she hasn’t got what you’d call the greatest personality in the world. She tends to be aloof and supercilious. But, to be fair, she is incredibly intelligent– genius-level at the very least– and accomplished. She is accustomed to being smarter and more capable than everyone else around her. So, without being arrogant exactly, she tends to unconsciously talk down to people. This causes a lot of friction with Jack, who is also well above average intellectually, though not quite in Dana’s class. But Jack is an egotist, and he chafes under what he sees as Dana’s superior attitude.
After the loss of her powers, a few cracks start to appear in Dana’s emotional armor. Self-doubt and uncertainty are two things she has never had occasion to experience, so this is one of the few things in the world for which she is completely unprepared. In the early days of her partnership with Jack, she grows increasingly testy, defensive and sarcastic. Jack, of course, responds in kind.
Things come to a head between them in a story called “The Abominable Myra Linsky Rises Again,” in which Jack and Dana are drawn into a posthumous plot by Dana’s “arch-enemy,” Myra Linsky, an old schoolmate who took some bad turns in life. During the course of this adventure, tempers get frayed, emotions boil over, and hidden feelings are revealed. It isn’t a love story, but they come to understand one another– and themselves– better, and the hostility is drained out of their relationship. These are two strong, complex characters, and I don’t know what will happen between them in the future. They still can’t bring themselves to be civil to one another, but it’s a lot more tongue-in-cheek from that point on.
Jack, though he would never admit it, has always felt inferior to Dana, even when they were kids. So he has been able to find a silver lining in the current situation. He’s found the one area in which he is superior to Dana: Failure. He has experienced it many times in his life, and learned to roll with the punches, more or less. He does his best to guide her through the minefield of human fallibility. This will be explored further in the first Doctor Unknown Junior novel, “The Return of Little Precious,” which I’m working on right now.
Poor Jack! He started out as my signature hero/protagonist, and now he’s lucky to get a gig as Dana’s “Watson.”
“Myra Linsky” also introduces two new members of Dana’s supporting cast: Virgil, the talking, immortal, giant tortoise; and the bizarre Clay Man. Both of them have interesting stories, which I’ll be telling later on. They make a brief appearance in the upcoming novel, “Vionna and the Vampires,” the first installment in “The Incredible Adventures of Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly.” This new series is also firmly grounded in the Centipede’s Zenith universe. Vionna is Jack’s adopted sister, and Mary Kelly is the Jack the Ripper victim who played a large part in “Blood of the Centipede.”
Little is known about Dana’s mother; it’s a subject she avoids. What we do know is that Mrs. Unknown was– like Dana’s paternal grandmother– a powerful Voodoo practitioner from New Orleans. In “Myra Linsky,” we learn that she died fifteen years ago, but Dana still “talks with her once or twice a week.” No further information is available at this time. But I’m sure that, like most dark family secrets, this one will eventually boil over into some kind of world-threatening catastrophe.
As for her father, Doctor Unknown Senior, Dana describes his catastrophic experiment in this excerpt from “The Optimist:”
“Dad got into some really weird mathemagical stuff, Jack,” Dana said. “Science and magic do not mix, I tried to tell him. Science has very strict laws. Magic has a lot of laws, but those laws do not obey any ultimate law. It’s like with city councils all over the country. They have their own local laws, and in most instances they are not obligated to conform to any strict federal standard. It’s all very arbitrary.”
“I always thought magic and science were the same thing, on some level,” I said.
“Well, they aren’t,” she replied flatly. “Not at all. The best way I can explain it is to say that science is strictly cause-and-effect. Magic, on the other hand, is effect-without-cause. It’s so simple, most people never grasp it.
“Mixing the two… It’s like formulating algebra problems where every factor is an unknown variable. No, worse than that. Every variable is a chicken or a checkerboard or a can of lima beans or something else random and unthinkable. You try imposing incompatible systems on one another and weird stuff starts to happen. They reject one another like an interspecies transplant, and when they rupture it is always messy. At best you drive yourself nuts, at worst you warp reality in small, localized areas.
“He never let go of the belief that magic was, at some level, as organized a system as math. He became obsessed with Zeno’s Paradox. You know, the one that says you can never actually reach a destination because you are constantly covering one-half of the remaining distance.
“I told him Zeno’s Paradox was actually more like a rhetorical exercise, or a Zen riddle, not a genuine mathematical construct. But nooooo, he wasn’t having that. He thought he could break it down by creating his own system of what he called ‘subnumerical numbers.’ But the numbers just flat refused to crunch, so he went and pilfered some junk from the Necronumericon– a little-known companion volume to the Necronomicon– and plugged that into his equations. He turned all this crap into a program, then tried to run it on his computer. Long story short, a hybrid Black Virus was generated, and it got out and infected the entire Internet. Google started giving quantum search results—responding to all queries with an infinite number of possible matches, responding to an infinite number of queries each user might have asked. Hard drives everywhere did not merely crash, they literally ceased ever to have existed. All the data in the Defense Department’s operating system spontaneously rewrote itself into a virtual clone of Cthulhu, forcibly uploaded itself into every military computer system on earth, and took control of every nuclear arsenal in the world.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I felt obliged to say. “None whatsoever.”
“I know you don’t,” she snapped. “Nobody does. That’s why I never get a chance to vent. If you want me to help you with your ghost, you have to listen to me and pretend to be sympathetic. That’s my fee. So, anyhow, the infection got into everything. The Internet itself shifted on its dimensional axis, so to speak, and tried to expand itself into 12 different fractal dimensions at once. The data stream became infinite, then tried to go beyond that. Bad news. The sheer etheric weight of the data, which increased exponentially to a factor of ten to the infinite power– yes, I know that’s impossible, there’s no such number, but it happened– caused everything to collapse in on itself and form a singularity—a black hole. In a fraction of a nanosecond it consumed the earth and began swallowing the rest of the solar system.”
She stopped for a moment and looked at me, daring me to say something. I did.
“Obviously,” I said, “I don’t need to point out to you that the earth is still here, and so, apparently, is the rest of the solar system.”
“That’s right. Remember what I said earlier, that this stuff could warp reality in a small area? Well, the area that got warped was our computer room. We were not quite in phase with the rest of the universe, so nothing happened to us. Dad and I wrote some code based on tachyon theory and fed it into our computer, which was still connected to an infinite number of identical computers in an infinite number of quantum realities. Long story short, our program, an inverted-algorithm tachyon virus, spread backward through time and infected AOL’s billing database. Our internet access got cut off ten seconds before Dad ran that damn program of his.”
“Well,” I said, “I hope you realize you just destroyed your credibility completely.”
“That’s the reaction I was expecting from you,” she said sourly.
“I mean, who the hell uses AOL?”
She produced a very small smile.
“So,” I continued, “then all that other stuff ended up never having actually happened? The world getting destroyed and that.”
“And yet, you remember it.”
“I said ‘sort of.’ The other half of sort of is sort of not.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding. “Believe it or not, I understand that. Sort of. So, what happened to your dad then? He get sucked into some sidereal dimensional limbo or something?”
“In a way. He retired and moved to Florida. He drinks a lot.”
This incident will be addressed in a future story, as will Dana’s efforts to regain her powers. Maybe the same story.
And as for the family name, “Unknown,” this final excerpt from “The Optimist” answers the obvious question:
We got into Dana’s car and started off. We had what they call an uncomfortable silence going on, and I hate those, so I asked her a question, just to be saying something.
“So, is your family name really ‘Unknown?’ I’ve always wondered about that.”
“No, Jack” she replied. “I mean, yeah it is now, but Dad had his name legally changed to that a long time ago. Before I was born. When he decided he wanted to be a superhero as well as a Magus and a CPA. He was a notary public, too. Anyhow, he wanted something that said ‘superhero sorcerer.’ He was big into marketing.”
“That’s what I figured. As superhero sorcerer names go, it isn’t a bad one. It’s a little awkward, but I suppose all the obvious ones were taken. So what was the original family name?”
“I’d rather not tell you.”
“I would not.”
“You would. I know you would.”
“I won’t, I swear to God. If I do, you can kill me. I won’t laugh, Dana.”
“Oh, okay, if you’ll shut up! The original family name was Macabre.”
Of course, I immediately proved that Dana had been right about what I would do. I had to hand it to her. Fortunately, before she could take me up on my earlier offer, we arrived at our destination.
To date, the first instalment of Dr. Unknown Jr.’s adventures can be found in issue 13 of Pro Se Presents, available via Amazon. The above-mentioned Black Centipede novels (which you are most heartily encouraged to check out) are also both available via Amazon as well. To check out Chuck Miller’s complete line of work, visit his Amazon Page.