Shows like “Supernatural” and “Lucifer”, as well as older stuff like “Forever Knight”, gave us the Occult Detective: a character with some kind of magical or divine connection who solves crimes and fights mystical bad guys. Sometimes they know a little magic, sometimes they’re actual gods, but whatever the case, they’ve got a gun (or something as good), a friend (or partner) on the force, and a ton of unresolved sexual tension with some hot supernatural supporting cast.
Easy win, right?
As usual, I like the idea but I’m troubled by the execution in a lot of cases. So what bothers me, and what are we going to try and fix?
These guys almost inevitably work with the cops. Whatever you think of ACAB, I think we can all agree that some variety is good. There’s lots of people who need help, lots of wrongs that need righted, lots of unanswered prayers. The easiest way to let someone go places they don’t belong and get in scrapes with people without getting busted by the cops is to make them a cop, or have them work with the cops. But if an occult detective has the resources to avoid mundane police, we can do away with that contrivance and jettison the cop baggage that comes with it.
On that note, it’s almost always guys as the protagonist. Where are the women? Where are the non-binary people? Shows like “Supernatural” give us a M/M relationship and Lucifer is bi- or pansexual offscreen, but there’s still a lot of heteronormative primary relationships in the genre (and everywhere). But real-world mythologies and pantheons are famous for having fucked-up family trees and weird relationships. Where’s the variety? Where’s the transgressiveness?
Some of these stories diminish the divine, which confuses me. Aren’t we bringing this element in for its grandeur, its power, its emotional effect on us mortal audience members? This is one of my biggest beefs with “Supernatural”: it lines up basically all of supernatural cosmology to be defeated by two pretty boys and their angel boyfriend, and that’s been going for like 15 seasons.
In a world that’s not ours, but is close…
Pantheons of gods exist in the world, called Houses. A global pact exists which limits the gods’ powers and ability to influence human affairs. As a result, most gods are “retired”, content to squabble among themselves or dabble in what human business is still open to them. In some places, gods can intervene more openly. In a rare few cases, a god could even be killed.
Otherwise they’re what you might expect of a pantheon - a big, incestuous, bickering, complicated family of decadent immortals who can’t escape each other.
Humans in this world have modern technology and culture, with moon shots and cell phones and such. Everyone knows gods are real, but most people prefer science to theology and regard the Houses as an embarrassing relic of mankind’s shared past. After all, humans are participants in the pact too.
Our protagonist is a member of one of these Houses. They are explicitly non-binary. Their divine portfolio may include masks, secrets, or other things that make them suited to detective work. I can take or leave the “non-binary shapeshifter” trope, but I don’t think it’s necessary for this to work.
They have both human and divine allies, enemies, lovers, exes, friends, superiors, and inferiors - and sometimes these people switch roles, or fill multiple roles.
They work with members of the community in a major city, solving crimes the police won’t handle. They may deal with a Monster of the Week, another member of their House, someone from another House - and the Houses, despite being gods, know so very little about each other - and all manner of human opponents, official or criminal or both.
The nature of the pact means that if a god is involved, it’s equally likely that a human being is involved too. For example, a crime lord might invoke a part of the pact to get a friendly god involved in their shady business. The goal here is to give a good mix of mortal and supernatural problems to solve, and the existence of the pact also means we can inflict arbitrary limits on our divine protagonist’s own powers.
Our stories are framed as mysteries, but with strong elements of power, family, and other topics.