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Hunting High and Low

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A-ha is the longest-running comic book series in Norway. For fifty-three years, fans have been thrilled and engrossed by the adventures of the Norwegian motorcycle racing world!

--International Graphic Novel Digest, 1987

Exposition

Once, Hero had cared about the race. He'd strived with every fiber of his being to win each one; he'd welcomed every new challenge.

But eventually, the challenges had begun to seem the same. Hero had noticed what amounted to a pattern: a race he nearly lost because of an opponent's under-handed cheating (but won through a display of consummate sportsmanship) was always followed by a race in which he was challenged by an up-and-coming racer with dangerous new abilities (who he defeated through a display of consummate skill). Then came the race where he was nearly defeated because he was being pursued by dangerous criminals, who he typically had to fight just seconds before the race. And then came the race that a betting syndicate tried to fix. That usually brought him back to the under-handed cheating, although once a year there was a combined one: an up-and-coming racer who was a member of a criminal syndicate, for example.

He'd been doing this a very long time.

One day, as he prepared to battle the usual gang of criminals, he asked himself, Why is there always a pipe wrench when I need one? It was true, he realized: no matter where he was, no matter what he was doing, if he needed one, there was always a pipe wrench to hand. He was fighting in the locker room, and there had never been a pipe wrench here before, but when he reached out, there it was.

He was distracted. Incredibly distracted. He still won the fight. And for him, that was the beginning of the end.

The Arrival of the Dei ex Machina

Hero brooded on the mystery of it: even when he did not try, he still succeeded. He spent a great deal of time brooding, walking the textured hallways of his world. Occasionally, he sighed. Time passed.

And then came the men in hoods. One moment, Hero was alone, walking the empty corridors, and the next, there were men all around him.

Reflexively, he reached for a pipe wrench.

"Hero," said one of the men. "You've taken the first step. You wonder about your world - about the repetition, the inevitability of the outcomes. You wonder why there are so many gradients and repeating textures. You wonder about the pipe wrench you hold in your hand." He gestured grandly.

Another stepped forward. "There are answers, Hero. They will change you forever, change your world forever."

The third chimed in. "You've got a choice. Live as you are now, happy and safe. Or take a risk."

Hero touched his artfully tousled hair. "The risk?"

The first man said, "Reality, Hero. It is not safe, like this world. It is not predictable."

Hero looked at the cross-hatched walls around him. "Is it interesting?"

The men in hoods smiled.

They were called the Brotherhood of the Frame. They taught him the rules of the reality, and the means to manipulate it: Frame Magic.

"Frame Magic allows you to control the very essence of your world," Brother Boundary told him. "Frames define the universe."

"What is beyond the frame?" Hero asked.

"The interstices. Beyond that, almost beyond our reach, the page. And beyond that, nothing." Brother Boundary said. "The frame is all there is."

Hero learned Frame Magic. He learned to move from frame to frame, to create holes between frames, even to peer into the interstice, fearful in its emptiness. He learned to meditate on the point of a frame, to balance and stare into the fold, which is the heart of the universe. He learned to combine frames, to separate them, even to create them.

The Arrival of the Antagonists

Hero stood in a dull, square frame, trying to shape it into a lightning fork, building the magic himself but relying on Brother Boundary for support and strength. Together, they worked at the very highest, most dangerous levels of Frame Magic, twisting their universe into a new, bizarre shape.

And then Brother Boundary fell out of the spell. Hero struggled to prevent a frame collapse, that dangerous condition that could leave them all unframed, open and exposed on the page. He fought valiantly, but the frame twisted and buckled out of his control. As if at a great distance, he heard Brother Boundary cry out, and he renewed his efforts.

At last, it stabilized. Hero staggered back into the frame, looked around - and saw Brother Boundary lying on the edge of the gradient. "Brother!" he cried, and ran to him. "What happened?"

"Hero," gasped Brother Boundary weakly.

"What is wrong with you? Why did you fall out of the spell? Why are you lying down?"

"I've been attacked. Hero ... I may be dying."

Hero stared at him in bewilderment. "I - I don't understand. Attacks never leave you lying on the ground - they leave you attractively bruised, or perhaps with just a tiny cut! And only people without names die."

Brother Boundary gasped for breath. He appeared to be leaking ink, turning grey. "The attackers ... could circumvent ... the rules." He gasped some more. "They had ... powers. The universe ... could not protect me."

Hero felt his heart race, his pulse pound. He'd wanted life to be interesting, but this was too interesting. "How can I help you?" Brother Boundary's lines were growing blurry and faint.

The Brother reached for his hand. "You must ... tell the Brothers. Tell ... them ... the Frame Consciousness ... has found us."

And then he disappeared.

Stunned, Hero reached out with all of his might and warped the frames around him, seeking the Brotherhood.

The Introduction of the Plot Device

Brother Border wept when he heard of the loss of Brother Boundary. "He was my mentor," he said, wiping his eyes. "He was my best friend, and now he's gone. Erased. Oh my god, this sucks so much."

Brother Window clenched his fist. "The Frame Consciousness has found us. We must fight them with all we have."

Brother Border gasped. "Brother Window, we can't."

"Wait," Hero interrupted. "What is the Frame Consciousness?"

"We don't know," Brother Border said. "We only know that it follows us everywhere we go. It takes over characters in whatever universe we find. It makes them act weird. It can make them aggressive, fighting and abusing even those of the universe with names. It can make them amorous, so that they get - well, it doesn't matter, Hero. Your universe is all ages; you wouldn't know the terms if I explained them to you.

"But the Frame Consciousness is very dangerous. It's not just that it can control the characters around us. It understands the Wall and the Magic Frame."

"Our two greatest mysteries - and now we have no choice but to master them!" Brother Window cried.

"Please. Now, when we're in imminent danger, is no time to deal with the mysteries. We don't know how the Frame Consciousness controls its victims, or even how it came to be. What if we fell into its grasp?" Brother Border shook his head. "No. It's too risky. We have to run, just like we always have. We have to find a new book."

Brother Window thumped the shaded wall. "And I say we stand and fight!"

Hero looked at them. "Let me see these mysteries."

The brothers looked at each other. Brother Border bowed his head. Brother Window performed a spell of reaching, and brought forward - a frame.

"This is the only example we have, Hero," Brother Window told him.

Hero walked around it dubiously. "I don't understand. What is it?"

"It is the Magic Frame. The frame consciousness can create them."

"It seems to me to be simply a frame within a frame," Hero said doubtfully. He knew how to create those and had for some time.

"No, see." Brother Border came forward. "When I stand here, on this side, and you stand there -" Hero stared. Looking back at him was a being the like of which he had never seen before. It was oddly bright, and entirely without texture, and absolutely unlike the beings Hero knew.

The being poked its head around the side of the frame, and became, once again, Brother Border. Hero looked at Brother Border's head, cowled in its usual style, and at the Brother's body. His legs were encased in some dark material, and he was wearing a black turtleneck. Somehow, Brother Border looked smaller in the Magic Frame, especially when Brother Window joined him on the other side. In the Magic Frame, Brother Window's form-fitting uniform was bright and vibrant, his cape no longer a suggestion created by a few lines but a solid-looking object flowing behind him. Hero raised his hand to reach through the frame and touch these strange new Brothers - and instead found his hand touching a barrier.

"This is one of the two great mysteries, Hero," Brother Border said.

"What is the other?"

The two brothers silently pointed. Hero looked where they were pointing. "I don't understand."

Brother Window drew a square on the wall. "This is a frame, right?"

"Of course," Hero said impatiently. This was basic.

"These are the sides of the frame." Brother Window touched each in turn. "And this -" he poked it in the center "- is the Wall. Interstices are beyond the sides of the frame. But nothing is beyond the Wall. It is Outside the Page, Outside the Book. Sometimes it is called the Fifth Wall."

Brother Border shivered. "The Fifth Wall is the greatest mystery, Hero. You're totally not ready to master it."

"But unless we understand it, we cannot fight the Frame Consciousness," Hero said.

"True," Brother Border said, "but we don't need to fight. The Brotherhood's been through this before. Once the Frame Consciousness finds a book, there's no hope. We have to run."

"Will I go with you, when you flee?"

The Brothers exchanged looks. "You can't, Hero. We were minor characters; when we disappeared, it had no effect on our books. But if you leave this book, it will collapse. The universe will end."

Hero stared at them. "Then I'll be left here, competing in the same cycle of motorcycle races, while you visit new universes I can never explore?"

The brothers nodded sadly.

"No," Hero said. "I'll learn to control the Wall and the Magic Frame, and we'll fight."

"Agreed!" said Brother Window, raising his fist.

"Well," said Brother Border, looking at them. "I guess we can always run later."

The Arrival of the Love Interest

Hero worked as never before. He spent endless time in front of the Wall, staring into it, trying to understand its nature. He forced himself to meditate far beyond his tolerance. He spent days moving from frame to frame, driving himself to move faster, to move farther. He spent countless hours ripping open holes in frames, stretching to interstices and beyond, until he could make one in seconds and hold it open indefinitely. He paused in his training only to compete in the races his universe demanded of him, and even as he battled criminal syndicates with pipe wrenches, he was considering the great mysteries. And then, one day, he thought he saw movement beyond the Wall.

It was just a flicker, but it brought him hope, hope that he was beginning to understand the Wall. He continued his meditation and his training, and the flickers grew more frequent. They took on form and shape, and suddenly Hero understood the connection between the Magic Frame and the Wall. What he saw beyond the Wall looked just like what he saw when he looked through the Magic Frame.

Brother Border told him these were visions, brought on by the extreme meditation he'd been practicing. "There is nothing beyond the wall," Brother Border said. But Hero believed there was. He called it the World beyond the Wall.

He watched the World beyond the Wall in fascination. For the World beyond the Wall contained the most alluring man he'd ever seen - fascinating, soft and rounded, with hair even more artfully tousled than his own. He could gaze forever on this man; his expressions as he looked into the comic book world riveted Hero as he looked out of it.

Eventually, he told Brother Border that the visions he saw through the Wall had taken this form. He described the man on the other side, carefully and haltingly, and Brother Border nodded. "That's a woman."

"No," Hero said. "We have girls here. They are strangely-shaped creatures who say 'Oh' and 'Hero, I love you!' They never have expressions on their faces, and they never wear so many clothes."

Brother Border sighed. "Look, trust me. I come from an independent press book, okay? I've seen real women, so I know: what you're seeing is a woman. You just don't recognize her for what she is because the girls in your book are - well, they're like nameless characters, even when they have a name."

A Woman. But that meant - "Brother Border," he said. "You say what I see beyond the Wall are visions, hallucinations."

"It's true."

"How could I have a vision of something I did not know existed?"

Brother Border said, "The Wall does strange things to us all, Hero." But Hero believed in the World beyond the Wall all the more, and watched with ever greater fascination. until the day when he looked at the Woman, longing for her to know who he was, and she seemed to see him.

To see him, not the comic book. He thought of all he had learned of the Magic Frame and the Wall, and he reached with his mind and his heart - and his hand. He strained with all his might to reach that other place, to reach the Woman, driving with all his force of will and all his might.

And then his hand was through the Wall. And she took his hand. And he brought her through.

The Resolution of the B-Plot

Ever since he'd seen the Woman, he'd been fascinated by her appearance - but he'd also longed to know how she would look in his world. When she came through, he finally knew - she was beautiful. Brother Border had told him that he was handsome - heroes were apparently always handsome - so he led the Woman to the Magic Frame, so that she could see for herself.

She seemed very impressed with his Magic appearance. Hero wasn't sure what he wanted to do with her, but he definitely wanted her to stay impressed. He danced a little, and showed off the Magic Frame. He really thought he was on the verge of figuring out whatever it was he wanted. And then the Magic Frame shattered.

The Frame Consciousness had returned, in the shape of two minor villains from the current issue.

Hero was horrified; he'd been so distracted by the Woman he'd forgotten the Frame Consciousness, how it had erased Brother Boundary and was ready to attack again. He'd brought the Woman into his world before it was safe for her!

He grabbed her hand and ran. They needed to find a quiet place where he could return her to her world. Fortunately, this world was full of textured, empty corridors. He selected one at random - it wouldn't matter; they all went through a handful of turns before they ended in a wall.

It took him only moments this time to open a portal to the World beyond the Wall. He pushed her through, closed it, and turned to face the men embodying the Frame Consciousness.

His trusty pipe wrench came ready to hand, and he fought for the Woman and the memory of Brother Boundary and the universe itself. His strength was as the strength of ten.

The Frame Consciousness villains fell before him.

The Lovers United

The Brothers were delighted. "We've scored a signal victory against the Frame Consciousness!" declared Brother Window.

"I really didn't think you could do it," said Brother Border. "Wow."

Hero tried to share their pleasure, but he could only droop helplessly, flat against the background. "I've lost her," he moaned. "I'll have to wait a whole month to see her again, and what if she doesn't keep reading?"

"Of course she will!" said Brother Windows. "She will be inspired by your heroics! She will be more devoted to you than ever before!"

"Look," Brother Border said. "Things get way more complicated when women show up. Trust me on this. It's better this way."

Hero couldn't take them at their word, and he couldn't wait for the next month. He returned to the Wall and stared out it more intensely than ever, hoping desperately for the Woman's face to reappear.

And when it did, he wanted nothing more than to reach her. He prepared to push another hand into the World beyond the Wall, wishing that he could go to her, and suddenly it struck him: if he could affect that world through his art - and he had, before, with his hand - then Frame Magic worked in that world. Obviously, that world was just another kind of frame. Which meant he could open a portal and visit it.

It was the most powerful and challenging Frame Magic he'd ever done. For the first time, he truly had to fight to make a frame-to-frame connection. He struggled, throwing himself bodily against the sides of his frame, struggling to connect it to her frame - her world. And he might have given up, but he could see her, see her face before him. He couldn't surrender while she looked at him with such hope.

He was soaking in sweat by the time he'd accomplished it. But when he was there, in her strange world - her world with sharp perspective, and unusual contrast, and so very many background objects - she ran to him. And he knew, as he tentatively wrapped his arms around her, that it was worth it.

The Dénouement

"I was so worried," the Woman said, gazing at him.

"There was no need to worry," Hero explained. "I'm the hero."

In 1987, A-ha introduced a new running character, the first addition in its history. The character, a woman named Portia, was instantly popular with some series fans - and the subject of continued debate among others. Portia's first issue was one of the biggest-selling issues in A-ha's history.

--International Graphic Novel Digest, 1988