Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Two Guns - Parting Thoughts


I had long intended to show a more vulnerable side to Mark while explaining why he is the way he is. The flashback in Just ‘cause literally came to me when I was listening to the song for that chapter – Things I’ve Seen, by The Spooks. It’s one of my favorite rap songs ever, almost a deconstruction of the gangster rap genre. The first part alone contains the two tidbits that informed the tone of Two Guns:

There ain’t gon’ be no revolution tonight!” kicks me in the stomach every time I hear it. There’s just so much anger behind this line, so much frustration and desperation. Things were supposed to change, things were supposed to get better – but they never did, and nothing we can do will change it. In fact, we’ll keep on doing what we do, hoping but without the will to get there. This was a picture I wanted to paint – a situation that is hellish in its inevitability, something that breaks the people who try to fight it. In a way, this was served by having the flashback establish even before the story starts that Mark will kill Sharon. It’s something that stays at the back of your mind, that this nice and competent woman is doomed, but how can Mark let this happen? There has to be a trick, a loophole, something to save her.

And then there isn’t.

“And I’ve tasted the bitter tragedy of lives wasted; men who glimpsed the darkness inside, but never faced it.” Lives wasted…there’s a lot of them here. True story: the very first version of Mark I wrote as a sort of deconstruction of the modern action hero. What kind of man can slaughter his way through dozens of people and still come out perfectly fine on the other end? And Mark is still there, in a way, as a guy who just kills and kills and seems like it doesn’t touch him at all – until he has to murder someone he cares about, and realizes just how ‘dark’ he is inside when, despite all this, he’s still standing at the end. When he turns away from Vincent and walks, he’s refusing to explain himself because he can’t. That would require going to that place inside that gives him this strength.

I believe I mentioned the idea of “fading scars” being a central point of Mark’s character before. He’s clearly not tearing himself apart over this in the present, angsting about it night and day. He’s moved on. Is that “healthy”? Should you be able to come back from this? An extension of this is Mark’s recuperative power, he just refuses to stay down. We cheer him on as he staggers out of the hospital, ready to fight again and again. There’s the Hemingway quote from A Farewell to Arms:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” The question is, are there places people aren’t supposed to be strong in?

Now, this is a dark part of Mark’s history. I don’t intend to keep putting him through the wringer like this; in fact, in a way, this is me getting all the bad and evil things out of the way. But while scars fade, they don’t disappear. And the things that happened here might not keep Mark awake any more, but there is no neat closure yet. That’s a different song, though…

You can run on for a long time

Run on for a long time

Run on for a long time

Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Sooner or later God’s gonna cut you down…



This is the hamartia of several characters, most notably Mark. The usual Aesop is that loyalty and integrity are good things, but I wanted to subvert that. The obvious route would be to have someone loyal to a bad person, but I think that’s venturing into Idiot Plot territory. So, Alex is worthy of the loyalty Mark has to her – she’s a good person, essentially, and the bad things she does follow from her inexperience and being placed in a situation that sucks. Sharon even helpfully brings up the focus on personal loyalty: all the crooks (Mark, Vincent, Boris) have a very character-focused idea of loyalty. Sharon, Whitton and Ayers are loyal to abstract ideas, namely the law (and in Whitton’s case, the “greater good”). Similarly, we see several characters (Done, Dollar, Berkovitz) whose chief characteristic is the absence of loyalty. Mark’s problem is trying to stay true to all his commitments when they are in conflict.


Two Guns is even more violent than the other Ultimates stories. Mark ends up fainting from trauma twice. People are killed in horrible ways – explosives, knives, being run over, set on fire or drowned. Mark and Boris absorb incredible amounts of punishment, Boris being made worse by the fact that most of it is deliberate torture. By the end of the story, his right hand is partially paralyzed, making him the first “heroic” character to get permanently crippled in some way. (I suppose one could count Freyr from Just ‘cause, but he got artificial replacement limbs. Boris effectively can’t use his right hand anymore, ever.)


Under the agreement with Whitton, the criminals have escaped legal consequences for their actions. Mark’s job involves overseeing the agreement and punishing transgressions. Boris is punished for his disloyalty by Nikolai. Mark doesn’t just kill Nikolai, he makes him suffer. Mark decides not to come down on Alex even though it’d be within his right. Whitton will presumably get what he deserves.

Intruding Reality

Much of the story concerns itself with shattered illusions. Sharon has to ask herself whether she can love Mark when he’s a killer and working for the people who are the enemies of her boss, and little by little the nice little slice of life she and Mark carved out for themselves falls apart under this pressure. Mark has to face what Alfredo couldn’t…they’re the last people in the city playing by the rules. Dreams and plans are constantly laid low by events as everyone tries to hold on and get the now under control, leaving no room to consider the future.

Sic transit gloria mundi

The decay is inevitable. As the Eastern Block dies, so does the agreement. Chaos sweeps the city in the guises of Silvestro (coldly calculating only for his own profit) and Nikolai (who intends to put the Russian criminals back on top and will stop at nothing to do it). Mark sacrifices his health, his love and finally even his family just to hold things together somehow. Whitton overextends himself and is sure to get shot down. Boris is broken in body. Alex is broken in spirit. And the carefree days when Mark and Vincent and Alex were like brothers and sister are over, too.

Recurring Motifs


Apparently, I love writing about footsteps. To me, they have multiple connotations. First, they are somewhat indistinct – you don’t really know who’s making that sound. Consequently, when Vincent recognizes Mark by his footsteps in the last chapter, it shows that he knows him really well. Second, footsteps have a pattern. They are regular, rhythmic, and as such they suggest regularity, order and a touch of the inevitable. Further, footsteps are one of the sound cues I like working with. Sound has interesting properties for humans, who are primarily vision-based animals. As such, there’s a certain awkwardness and imprecision in this. You think it’s something, but you’re not sure.

Pairs of Guns

The most literal reading of “Two Guns” might be Mark’s two-fisted combat style, but pairs are everywhere in the story. Let’s just look at guns for this one. Aside from Mark’s armament, there are Sharon’s Berettas (a symbolic “gift” from Mark), Sharon’s choice of Beretta versus Glock, the contrast between Mark’s suppressed .45 Colt and Nikolai’s Makarov, Vincent’s pairing of pistol and sniper rifle. Done presents a semi-subversion with his assault rifle during The Trooper, wielding a rifle with a second weapon attached. He’s also the most self-sufficient character, not particularly attached to anyone.

The Cold

It’s winter in many characters’ hearts, too, as they choose cold obligations over their emotions. Cold is also professional – note how descriptions of warmth and comfort appear mostly in conjunction with Sharon, who’s not quite as ridiculously competent as the criminals. Mark slips on ice…laid low by his refusal to go with his heart.


It seems nobody’s really at home in this New York City. Mark’s from West Virginia (I don’t think I officially mentioned that anywhere yet) and came to NYC as a teenager. Sharon’s first-gen American to Irish immigrants. Vincent’s Italian. Nikolai, Boris and Berkovitz managed to get out of the Soviet Union, obviously. Alfredo and Alex are from Colombia, as is Silvestro. Whitton and Karen are more squarely American, though.

Weapons of Choice


Mark has Browning Hi-Power pistols up his sleeves in this timeframe. This actually presents an upgrade from the earliest rig, which used Colt .45…but then upgraded to the Hi-Power because reloading the sleeve-holstered guns was a hassle and he needed the capacity. He stayed with a Browning design, though – Mark needs reliability and ruggedness in his weapons. The Hi-Power is single-action only and doesn’t qualify for the “Wonder Nine” trend of the 80s, and put together with the age of the design it gives Mark a distinct old-school flavor. Also, Mark doesn’t like double-action pistols because the heavier trigger pull on the first shot throws him off. (Though not heavy trigger pulls in general, just the variation. It would be fairly bad if he couldn’t use a gun with heavy pull, since stock Hi-Power pistols are pretty stiff. And he eventually relents with the USPs, though those go back to .45.) Fortunately for him, the Hi-Power got an update in the 80s to have an ambidextrous safety, among other things, so he didn’t need to go hunting for a custom “lefty”. Also, we see the beginning of a trend here – last generation’s main weapon becomes backup in the next iteration. Hi-Power pistols have a magazine disconnect, which – as we recall from Rising Son – will go on to bite Mark’s “brother” in the ass. On a future note, the Hi-Power uses essentially the same operating principle as the Heckler & Koch USP (which is arguably Mark’s signature weapon), so the Browning legacy lives on in Mark’s choice of handgun.

He still carries the .45 Colt as a suppressed weapon. The Colt’s a fairly good choice for that, on account of being a very common and easy to procure weapon. (Of course, as we find out, Mark didn’t take advantage of that. He didn’t rotate this gun – possibly as a consequence of using it as secondary and simply forgetting about it.) Also, the .45 caliber is good for suppressing since its normal load is subsonic – one of Mark’s great annoyances is keeping separate stockpiles of cold-loaded ammo for suppressed weapons with normally supersonic calibers and the reliability problems that brings. (One of the reasons he doesn’t use a suppressed 9mm.) Added benefit with the Colt: The heavy suppressor keeps the slide from unlocking after firing, reducing sound and not throwing incriminating shell cases all over the place. It does have the disadvantage that you have to rack the slide manually, but hey, this isn’t a gun for an open firefight.


Vincent prefers the battlefield ruggedness of Soviet weapons, acquiring them via Boris. He’s got the CZ 85 as his sidearm, which is an update of the more famous CZ 75. That is a double-action, double-stack magazine “Wonder Nine”, all steel and very reliable. The Czechs make good pistols. Understandably, Vincent carries only one in a cross-draw holster with a few spare magazines as he’s not a front-line fighter.

The Dragunov isn’t really a “sniper rifle”, it doesn’t have the range for it. But it’s good for medium-distance “reach out and touch someone” jobs, and as Vincent famously exploits, built like every Russian infantry weapon. The caliber it uses is a relatively old one, the 7.62x54R, which used to be used for machineguns and such. Consequently, while precision loads are the norm for the Dragunov, it’s capable of firing some…interesting bullet types. Like the explosive-tipped bullets that lead to flamethrower KABOOM for Nikolai’s henchman. As the Mythbusters showed, normal bullets don’t have the oomph to set off most flammables, and apparently the result of Done’s shot (hole in the tank, no explosion) was fairly typical for when flamethrowers were actually carried into battle.


Sharon packs two the great “Wonder Nine” contenders of the 80s, as a sort of representation of her shaking up the establishment. Her official duty weapon is the Glock 17, which was filtering into the NYPD through the 80s. Glock pistols are double-action only and feature no external safety. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em. It’s not my cup of tea, personally, but you have to admire the resilience of the little buggers.

She also grabs two Beretta 92 pistols from the armory at the hotel and uses those on Silvestro’s yacht, as well as when she confronts Mark. The 92 is kind of a strange weapon, if you ask me. It was obviously good enough to become the US Military sidearm, but it gets a lot of flak over supposed reliability issues. And a lot of people didn’t want to give up their Colts for it. It’s also fairly large and heavy, but that helps the accuracy and recoil. It’s the iconic John Woo weapon. Also of note is that this means both of Sharon’s gun models are European in origin but fairly well “Americanized”, paralleling her character.


Shown with a Makarov PB. If you look at the stats in the 2.0 Core, you might think that it’s just a normal Makarov with a suppressor tacked on to the muzzle, but the pistol was actually significantly reworked. Part of the suppressor is permanently integrated into the body, the other part can be removed. It makes for a pretty good assassin’s weapon, but is far from the only gun the Russians tried to whip up in that mold. Somewhat held back by the low capacity and the fact that it has to slow down a supersonic round, but eh. Nikolai has the finesse to go with it and it makes for a good backup weapon, but in the end it can’t stand up to Mark’s raw firepower.

1 comment:

Valentina said...

Love the identity-and-firearms-analysis. The tools certainly inform the tradesman. Certainly makes interesting food for thought.
...I sort of wish I had more to say here.
(Besides that New York is a fucked-up city. When you're that comfortable with your level of corruption that you make _rules_ to manage it, it's time to move to Texas.)

My own affection for the De.50AE is like that -we're both big, bulky, distinct, and kind of a thing no-one asked for.
A solution looking for a problem.
I guess if I were to be paired with another weapon...maybe one of those lunatic 4-gauge Soviet anti-vehicle shotguns? Rediculous body-pulverizing power created less by the need for a thing, and more by the oppurtunity to have them; "those defective 20mm cannon barrels were expensive! Find a use for them, comrades."

Of course I'm far more reliable, but I also aren't nearly so neat about decapitation with just my natural attributes. =]

And god bless John Browning. The .45ACP and it's assorted platforms are a thing of continued lethal consistency.