Ok, so here’s an odd thing I’ve noticed over time. As far as I can tell, different people at roughly the same time get a very similar idea. It’s not new; I can (and will) cite examples going back decades, but it is really odd. I wonder what spark runs through the ether to cause this?
I’m a geek, so many of my references will reflect that, but I think you’ll see what I mean. Back in 1963, for example, comic books saw the debut of a unique team of heroes. Led by a crippled genius confined to a wheelchair, they fought to protect a world that looked on them as freaks. While that may sound familiar to most, I’m actually talking about Niles Caulder’s Doom Patrol from DC Comics. The X-Men, who also match that description, debuted in September, several months later. Similarly, the X-Men’s famous foe, Magneto, shared the X-Men’s first appearance, but this was several months after DC’s Dr. Polaris, who has the same powers. I’ve never seen anything that suggests either copied the other, it just happens sometimes.
Even less likely to have been a case of corporate espionage happened at the same company. Two totally different teams on two different books came up with roughly the same concept at about the same time and submitted them to editorial within days of each other, or so I have read. Somehow or other, Jim Barr and Mike Aprao created Geo-Force, soon to be a founding member of the Outsiders, at the same time Marv Wolfman and George Perez dreamed up Terra, who would be a major player in the history of the New Teen Titans. The concepts were so close, and the two teams tied so closely (one led by Batman, the other by his original Robin) that they eventually decided to make them brother and sister. But that was a later addition. Terra debuted in September of 1982, while Geo-Force was delayed until his new team showed up in July of 1983, but the characters were conceived much closer together in time.
Ok, while comics have something of a lead time, they get to production faster than many other things. So, let’s look at some things that take much longer to get together. This weird series of coincidences extends to novels, tv shows, and even feature films, which have a very long production time these days.
Apparently, death by comet was in the collective unconscious in the late nineties. Two huge movies, with different but well known casts and a lot of special effects popped up near the end of that decade. On May 8, 1998, Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, and Morgan Freeman had to deal with a meteor about to crash into Earth, which can only be averted by a desperate space mission in the summer hit Deep Impact. A few months later, it was Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi and Liv Tyler’s turn to stave off a comet heading for Earth in Armageddon, which opened July 1, 1998. Barely two months apart. I somehow doubt Paramount stole the idea from Touchstone, or vice versa.
On Sept 8, 1999, a book series started that would become a huge hit, talked about by everyone on the planet it seemed at times. Of course, Harry Potter became famous, made JK Rowling rich, and brought the attention of the reading public to the possibility of magic in modern times, taking bookstores by storm. April 1 of 2000 saw another wizard named Harry in the modern era, and while Mr. Dresden wouldn’t hit the heights young Mr. Potter did, he, too, became a bestseller and got a live action interpretation. And I don’t believe Jim Butcher had information from Miss Rowling, or vice versa.
Back to the movies, in 2010 the Greek Gods came back. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, a movie based on a series of young adult books, premiered on February 12, 2010. Percy’s story was about demigods born to the modern world. Not to be outdone, the remake of the 80’s film Clash of the Titans came out two months later, on April 2, 2010, set back in the era of Classic Greek myth. I guess the Muses were whispering in several ears at that point. And then Immortals would come out the following year, with a story about a man chosen to fight for Zeus.
On the smaller screen, both ABC and NBC apparently had similar inspirations at around the same time. In the fall of 2011, two shows featuring fairy tales translated to the modern era debuted. ABC told the story of Storybrooke, Maine, where all the fairy tale characters (plus a few others) were exiled into the modern world as a plot by the Evil Queen. On the other side of the country, Portland, Oregon was home to a Grimm (as in the Brothers), part of a legacy that hunts down monsters, usually with a link to one of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Grimm and Once Upon A Time have both survived several seasons, not easy in today’s highly competitive ratings wars, and both spun off to various comic book/graphic novel adaptations as well.
And, before I beat my point into the ground, I’ll close with two movies from this summer, as I write this. In Olympus Has Fallen, Gerard Butler plays a Secret Service agent who has to save the President when the White House is attacked. Olympus opened on March 22, 2013, and has done well, if a bit lost among blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness. Later in the year, June 28th specifically, Channing Tatum will get the chance to do pretty much the same thing.
These are a few examples, and I’m sure there are many more. But it really makes you wonder if whatever you believe is behind story telling (Muses, Jungian archetypes, what have you) speaks to more than one person at a time. And should also be a spur to various writers: work on your ideas as you get them! Someone else may be getting the same one. Now go enjoy Tom Cruise and Will Smith exploring different post-apocolptic Earths.