New MU: Dimensions

Jan-10-12

“War is brewing, as Hank Pym must calm the ruffled feathers of the Kosmosians, while trying to convince them he is not the same as the only other humanoid they know, the blue faced man of which their legends speak.  But while he’s away, who protects the citizens of Phoenix from a new evil in their midst?  And is the fiery woman flying overhead friend or foe?”

I know that we teased a Defenders title in our last post, but that was only one of many titles we suggested would be on the way.  Title number nine out of thirty-nine is devoted to Dr. Hank Pym, often the punching bag and punch line of the old Marvel Universe.  However, the new MU doesn’t have that baggage, and I’d like to show that Hank Pym can be a neat character.  There are a few things we have to do.  First, we strip away all of the continuity that’s been holding him down.  We already removed Ultron from his history, by revealing that the Thinker and Reed Richards built the evil robot, over in our Fantastic Four recap.  We’re also going to remove the Wasp from his life.  While I very much enjoy the character, I think that Pym and the Wasp are, at this point in time, too interconnected to be good for each other, and even with a continuity restart, I’d prefer to keep them separate.  Third, we’re going to remove his apparent psychological need to change superhero code names every few years by taking away all superhero code names from him.

Ok, let’s start at the beginning.  Hank Pym is born and raised in Phoenix Arizona.  A brilliant student, he becomes a master scientist and after graduating with a doctorate, he moves back to his home city to begin doing some research.  He gets a job with Roxxon Oil, but becomes tired of the corporate life and with not being able to pursue the science he really enjoys.  He soon quits, applies for some government grants, and goes to work for himself.  He needs help, so he tracks down his old college roommate Buck Mitty to join him.  The two of them begin working on all kinds of crazy projects, from ways to transport cargo more effectively to ways to communicate with other life on Earth, such as insects and reptiles.  One night, while working late in the lab, Pym stumbles upon an amazing discovery…particles that enable him to change his own size, and the size of those things around him.  He dubs them Pym particles, or at least he will.  At the moment he’s too busy dealing with the fact that high concentrations of Pym particles apparently open a doorway into another dimension, one ruled by a highly advanced race of insectoids.

When this portal opens, Pym can’t help but go inside for a short look, and is promptly captured by some of the insectoids and taken to meet their ruler, Jekuakket.  Pym is quickly sentenced to die, as the Kosmosians have a legend about a blue faced man who will one day destroy them all.  Pym uses his new particles to effect an escape, and flees back to our dimension, shutting the doorway behind him.  However, he now realizes that he could put these Pym particles to good use and help people at the same time.  Thus, a new hero is born!

So, with that description we have everything in place.  Pym believes that he can help people, and he protects Phoenix and the surrounding area.  However, he wouldn’t call himself a hero…he’s rather too practical to be wasting time conjuring up a costume and a silly name.  He’s simply Hank Pym.  This is a Hank Pym with full control of his powers….he can either shrink or grow in height, and he can also shrink and grow other objects or people.  However, this is not an innate ability.  He has no powers.  He does this through use of the Pym particles, and so he has to administer them to himself or to other objects.  He carries several capsules of them, which release the particles when broken.  Some capsules release shrinking particles while some release growing particles, and how much something or someone shrinks or grows depends on the amount of particles used.

Pym was operating under government grants when he got his powers, and it doesn’t even occur to him to get a secret identity and hide what he’s discovered from the government.  He informs them of what happened, and they quickly begin working closely with him.  They may occasionally ask him to perform specific missions for them, and he will often be working on new projects for them.  His liaison with the government is a young and ambitious agent named Maria Hill, and the two often disagree.

As far as supporting cast goes, we start with his fellow scientist, Buck Mitty.  Mitty is quickly informed of what Pym can do, and when Pym shows how small he can shrink, Mitty, who is an amateur entomologist, suggests that it might be helpful if Pym could talk with insects when he is at that height.  Mitty helps Pym design a helmet for just such a purpose that Pym can use.  Mitty also begins to wonder if he could help Pym and become a hero himself.  He soon designs himself devices which give him powers based on insect abilities.  Being much more dramatic than his partner, Mitty devises a costumes and the name Humbug, and becomes Pym’s sometime partner.  Humbug enjoys the spotlight much more than Pym does, and will often stay behind after missions to pose for pictures and give interviews while Pym returns to his home or the lab.

There is also a new hero that has been seen flying through the skies of Phoenix.  Her name is Firebird, and she and Pym meet on one of his missions, as they both try to save civilians after a deadly bus crash.  They meet more and more often on cases, and a budding romance develops.  I like putting Firebird and Pym together.  She’s a devout Roman Catholic, while he is a pragmatic athiest.  I don’t want to shy away from religion in this comic, and I want to see how well these two philosophies can coexist.

I think that gives you something to chew on before I delve into villains.  What do you see that you like, what do you think needs changed, and can this concept work?

Okay, I see where you’re going here. I like the idea of stripping Pym down to just a guy who discovered something special. Size-changing heroes are a classic archetype and I think we definitely need that in our NewMU, but I also like how you’ve incorporated bits of his West Coast Avengers persona in there too…the ability to shrink and/or grow inanimate objects as needed. Nice to see Roxxon Oil being established as an entity in the NewMU. I also don’t mind Firebird as a love interest and exploring the dichotomy between their respective “religions.” And I enjoy the inclusion of Humbug and the potential for some wacky hijinks involving insectoids from another dimension. Could be fun to see Pym try to hide all of this from the Feds in a comedy of errors.

Here’s my problem: what the hell other plausible villains are you going to pull out of a hat that would want to make their stomping grounds Phoenix, Arizona? Have you ever been there? It’s just a sprawling sauna in shades of brown. Aside from Armadillo trying to rob a bank, I can’t see any catalyst that would cause nefarious activity. I see you’re doing some Kang foreshadowing (you know how I feel about Kang). Maybe you could expand on that?

Does Pym warrant his own title, removed from the rest of the superhero community? Is it going to have enough going on to keep readers’ attention? I’m just asking.

Good questions all.  Let me tackle the Kang question first.  Kang is a character that I don’t want to see in this book very often, at least not for a few years, or not in anything more than shadow.  As we begin our series, we don’t even have a name for Kang, only vague references to a blue faced man who comes to destroy Kosmos.  The Kosmosians fear him (he’s like their bogeyman) but Pym has no idea who he is.  For the first few years of the title, we would only see Kang in shadow, manipulating events on Kosmos to his own ends.  No one would ever see him, but we might hear his voice and see his silhouette from time to time.  One of the first things Kang would do is begin to steal technology from the Kosmosians, starting with a new weapon they’ve built…an android which grows bigger as it absorbs kinetic energy, which they call The Growing Man.  Kang steals and reprograms this machine to serve him.  I also believe that Kang would be able to convince some of the Kosmosians to aid his plans, promising them riches and glory if they throw their lot in with him.  One of these traitors, named Pilai, gains super powers from Kang’s genetic engineering, making him super strong, hard to hurt, and able to project an aura of fear.  It should be some time before Kang actually appears in the series, and we should spend the time wondering exactly who he is, and more importantly, what he wants from this world.

I should also point out that Kosmos will be playing into the stories on a regular basis.  Once Pym accidentally opens up the portal between the dimensions, he alerts the Kosmosians to Earth’s existence.  For a species that has never seen a humanoid before, except in ancient writings as the destroyer of their world, to find an entire dimension of these creatures is cause for some concern.  It’s going to be tricky for Pym to try to prevent a war between Kosmos and Earth, and as you say, he doesn’t want the governments of Earth to know about Kosmos, because he’s afraid they’d react to the Kosmosian’s concerns with a first strike.  Even though he doesn’t have a secret identity, Pym will be dealing with a lot of the same problems as he can’t explain to the government why he keeps disappearing whenever he has to go to Kosmos.

So, we’ve got Kang and his agents, as well as the Kosmosians themselves, to keep things interesting.  But what’s happening back on Earth?  Is there anything going on in Phoenix?  Well, you wouldn’t think so, but ever since Pym’s discovery and his heroics became public knowledge, a new group has been sniffing around:  AIM.  Yes, Advanced Idea Mechanics is a group that believes the smartest people deserve to rule the planet.  They’re fascinated by Pym’s discovery and think he may make a good addition to their ranks.  He refuses, so they decide that perhaps they’ll simply capture him and force his secrets from him.  They also want to watch him, in case he makes any other discoveries they feel could be useful.  Pym is constantly going to be hassled by them.  Pym also works for the government, and has his own SHIELD liaison.  They have no problem calling on him if they feel he can be useful to them.  They can send him anywhere in the country, and sometimes out of the country, on all sorts of different missions. 

Might that be enough to hold the interest of readers?

Fair enough, as long as MODOK shows up at least once. I’m imagining horrible things could happen if AIM finds out about Kosmos, huh?

Okay, I’m sold.

Just one more thought.  I hadn’t brought up MODOK, because I know you love him and didn’t want to snag him for this book if you had plans for him, but since you brought him up, I did have an idea about him.  Pym is something of your generic scientist that superhero universes love, but when they do give him a specialty, it’s bio-engineering.  I think it could be a great plot if he’s kidnapped by AIM and they force him to help create MODOK.  To an extent, MODOK could replace Ultron for him in this universe, but without the odd Oedipus complex thrown in.  Just a thought, but I’m glad you think the book can work!

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The Avengers: All Dressed Up and Where Do They Go?

Jan-15-09

So, Jason and I have assembled a group of new Avengers. We have She-Hulk leading the team, which consists of the new Captain America, the new Ant-Man, Stature, Vision, Iron Man, Wonder Man and Songbird. Falcon helps to organize and recruit the team, and stops by the mansion regularly to provide guidance and help on the occasional mission. We’ve detailed how the team comes to be in the wake of Dark Reign, as the SHRA is dissolved, and the heroes of the Marvel Universe must work to ingratiate themselves with the populace once again. This team is going to be on the frontlines, fighting those threats that no single hero can stand against, but doing so in a way that shows Joe Plumber that heroes aren’t all evil, selfish or destructive.

What we’d like to do now though, is to get into the nitties and the gritties of this team. From where do they operate (I believe both Jason and I would vote for Avengers Mansion, but it’s currently destroyed)? Is Jarvis a part of the support crew and how is he holding up after being a prisoner of the Skrulls? Are there other support crew members? Who is the government liaison and how does that relationship work?

Beyond those questions, we also need to ask how this group is viewed by the public, and also by other superheroes. How does Hank Pym feel about his identity being used by the current Ant-Man, not exactly the most upstanding hero in the line-up? Are there previous Avengers who are upset that they weren’t asked to join? How do the Thunderbolts feel about Songbird leaving them to join this team?

Moreover, does this team of Avengers have an overall strategy? The fact that they are trying to rebuild the public’s trust in heroes in general already makes them more proactive than many previous incarnations of the team, and the fact that Wonder Man has been chosen as their public face also suggests that they will be more proactive than reactive, at least in certain areas.

So, I’ve asked the hard questions, and now we can let Jason do the actual work by answering them….

I’m just going to take the questions in the order presented and see what develops from there. First off: Location. I would LOVE to see the team return to Avengers Mansion. It’s an unobtrusive way to demonstrate that these heroes see themselves on the relatively same level as the common citizen. The group lives together in a house, not lording over the population in an ivory tower. Of course, I’d also expect that any new version of Avengers Mansion would be completely updated on the interior…top-notch security measures, sub-basements for equipment and transportation, completely wired with tech and accessories. In fact, if Stark is involved, I’d imagine some sort of re-purposing of the Negative Zone prison idea…perhaps a holding cell area for dangerous foes that can’t be managed in conventional prisons. I’m not advocating a permanent location to keep criminals, like the Marvel version of Gitmo or anything, but why not use the space and the technology behind the scenes? Originally I thought they could steal a cue from Doctor Who and make Avengers Mansion be some sort of trans-dimensional location where the interior is far bigger than the exterior, but that could get too complicated far too quickly. Rebuilding Avengers Mansion would also serve as a huge PR win for the team. let’s show the populace that everything is returning to normal and they can begin to feel safe again.

About Jarvis: I’d actually like to see him NOT return. It would be in character for him to politely excuse himself, feeling that he had let the team down and that their trust had been ultimately lost. Honestly, I’d rather see him working for Tony Stark exclusively. Stark is currently going through a revamp of his own in relation to his supporting cast and Jarvis would fit in well there. So where does that leave the Avengers in terms of support? I would like to propose the inclusion of Machine Man as the Operations Manager for Avengers Mansion. With his revamp in Nextwave and his subsequent appearances with the Initiative, he’s the perfect candidate for a position as both integral assistant and comic relief. Considering he was married to the boss, it would make sense to bring John Jameson along too. He could be the Transportation Director or something. And exploring his current non-relationship with She-Hulk would be intriguing. Aside from that, I’d probably look for a Communications Director too…someone who can collect info and relay it to the team ala Oracle (and please not Pepper Potts).

To answer the government liaison question, it’d be easy to appoint Falcon as their mediator. However, I don’t think it would be helpful to have a costumed hero as the government representative (that leaves out Stingray too…damn). However, I do think it would be appropriate to grab one of the long-serving former members of SHIELD to take up that post…someone like Gabe Jones. He has the experience, the respect and the wisdom. Plus, he’s an older gentleman who is probably looking to take it a little easier (not so much a field agent anymore). He’s the perfect candidate in an Obama-led Marvel U.

I’m not going to answer the questions about how the team is viewed, because I think that would need to develop organically. Would Pym really care at this point? Would any former members feel shunned, knowing that no Avengers lineup has ever been written in stone? The only thing I CAN answer is the thought about Songbird. A faction of the Thunderbolts was actually trying to KILL HER, so I could imagine she’d be glad to get out of that situation and they’d be irritated that she got away. Sub-plot alert!

I see this relaunch as a way for Marvel to connect its heroes to the normal folk. I imagine the team would be doing a lot of appearances, making themselves much more public. With Simon in charge of PR, I could even see some sort of reality TV show popping up to follow the lives and adventures of the team. The focus would be to set America’s mind at ease. Maybe the Avengers team up with Damage Control to perform some good works. Basically, they’d be putting out little fires around the states. I’d even go so far as to have them breaking up simple crimes by completely surprising and overpowering some common criminals. Total overkill.

At the same time, I think the team should be challenged quickly and effectively by an outside force. The easiest solution, if Jones is the government contact, is to launch a huge offensive by SHIELD’s nemesis HYDRA…unexpected, with no warning or chatter…perhaps even in conjunction with AIM, the Secret Empire and Sons of the Serpent. Just a ridiculously large, coordinated attack that truly tests the new team’s abilities without resorting to a superpowered menace. This could also be a product of the negative fallout of the SHRA and Osborn and all of that. I don’t want to dictate who would be behind the whole thing, but there’s a curious list to choose from.

Care to expand on any of those answers with some of your own?

I’m in agreement that they should be based in Avengers Mansion. For the moment, I’d say they’re working out of the old sub-basements of the mansion, while the rebuild the structure above them. Then, once that’s done and they can move in upstairs, they can work on renovating the sub-basements as well. This could be a long running subplot, but there’s a lot that can be done with construction and with a crew of people constantly in and out of the mansion. It also forces the heroes to cope with less than ideal conditions for awhile, which can always be interesting. Failing and missing technology can make for some interesting hurdles for our heroes to leap.

Man, I would miss Jarvis. A lot. While I can certainly understand your logic, and that he would excuse himself from duty, I’m not sure the Avengers would allow it. I think that the Avengers need him, and he certainly needs them. The Avengers have always been a chaotic group, with larger than life personalities and frequent roster changes. Jarvis is the glue that holds the team together, and I think dropping him from the title is a mistake. That being said, there’s nothing that says he needs to be their butler and in the title from the get-go. Having him focus on working for Stark makes sense, and since Stark is a member, it also means that Jarvis is still tied peripherally to the team. Have him show up in some issues, acting in his capacity as Stark’s butler, and give him a chance to interact with the cast; both in talking with the members he knows well (like She-Hulk) and in getting to know those members who are new to him (like the new Ant-Man). I definitely would want to see him have a few moments with the new Captain America, since he was so important to the original, when the original joined the team. Let’s keep Jarvis a presence in the book, and if it works organically for him to return to the team in an official capacity, that’s fine. If it doesn’t work and he never rejoins the team, that’s okay too, but at least we’ve got him guest starring occasionally.

As for your other choices, the Machine Man and John Jameson are excellent choices. A Communications Officer would make sense; how about Louise Mason, the Blonde Phantom? For those who don’t know her, she was a supporting character in one of She-Hulk’s previous series. She was a super-hero called the Blonde Phantom back in the Golden Age (no powers), and was pretty old, but she had some of her youth restored to her. I wouldn’t actually want her too young, but we can show her as middle aged. She’d be perfect; it makes sense that She-Hulk would recruit her, since they’ve worked together in the past, and Mason is quite familiar with the life of a hero. She saw a lot when she was the Blonde Phantom, and even more when she worked with She-Hulk, so she is going to be able to keep her cool even when things are going poorly. I have some other ideas if you don’t like that one, but if you like that one, I say we go with it.

Man, I’m a fan of Gabe Jones, but I try to ignore the Howling Commandoes since their histories place them all in WWII, and except for Fury, they should all be incredibly old by now. Using him in the book on a regular basis is just going to be a constant reminder that he’s a walking continuity issue, and yes, it would bother me. Other than that, Jones is perfect, but that’s a pretty big problem for me, and because of it, I’d love to find an alternate. What about Miriam Sharpe? Sharpe, as some may recall, was the primary mover and shaker who organized the demonstrations that helped the SHRA to pass in the first place (her son was among the casualties in Stamford that kicked off the entire Civil War plotline). She’s been described as a brilliant political operator, and indeed, she’s done amazing things for someone who has never been involved in this sort of activity before. She doesn’t work for the government, but that could change, and wouldn’t she be the perfect liaison if the government and the people really want the Avengers to be accountable for their actions? She’s a concerned mother who has become the voice of a nation; I think she’d be a good choice.

As for your other comments, I really like your idea of the Avengers working closely with Damage Control in an effort to boost their public approval. I also think the idea of cameras coming along on some missions in the manner of a reality show has potential. I don’t think that the Avengers will be sitting in cubicles explaining why they’re frustrated because She-Hulk left a green ring around the bathtub again, but I can see them having cameras that record some of their activities.

As for villains, HYRDA is ok, and would probably work well for a beginning arc. My problem with the giant organizations like HYDRA is that they’re not very interesting as villains; they’re mostly faceless flunkies with perhaps one or two recognizable personalities at the very top. However, in a first arc that works well, since you can focus more on your heroes; on their personalities and how they interact with each other, and that’s perfect for when you want to establish some core concepts at the start of the series.

Beyond them, who can the Avengers fight. I like Kang, but Jason doesn’t, and to be fair, I think that Kurt Busiek used Kang quite a bit and quite well, and I’m not sure where you take him from here. I mean, he did conquer the world; it seems most plots would be a step down. I’d not want to do much with him. Ultron always has potential (not that Kurt Busiek didn’t kick major butt with him too when he used him) and is worth bringing back. Otherwise, one of the concepts I’d really like to see brought back is the Masters of Evil.

The Masters have always been a huge part of the Avengers Rogues Gallery, but ever since Roger Stern’s amazing use of them, when they besieged and captured the mansion, they haven’t seen much use, at least in the Avengers title. I think a new Masters is needed, and I think the Mandarin would be the perfect villain to lead it. The Masters almost always have had someone leading them who has a problem with one of the Avengers, and with Stark on the team, the Mandarin is a natural fit. I’ve raved about the new Mandarin before; I never much liked the original, who just never seemed scary. While I loved the gimmicks of his ring, he always seemed somewhat silly to me and I never got the impression he was much of a threat. The new Mandarin definitely exudes an air of menace, and he would be a perfect villain to recruit and lead a new Masters of Evil. Plus, it would be fun to see Songbird’s reaction to fighting the new Masters, and if any other members of the team had doubts about her membership, they would be cleaned up then.

Comments, and other villains you’d like to see?

We seem to be in general agreement about a lot of things. I have no problem with Louise Mason acting as a communications director/general secretary for the group. It would make a lot of sense for She-Hulk, as a new leader, to bring in her own people to flesh out the team. Honestly, I’m just excited by the idea of Machine Man popping up in the title! I agree with letting the Jarvis situation kind of play itself out and see what happens. My main point was that we shouldn’t force him back into his previous position, and this solution offers a solid alternative to that while still keeping him relative to the team. I guess our biggest argument is over the government liaison. I concur that the true age of Gabe Jones is a mystery which needs explaining (and could be another interesting subplot). However, I also feel that he has decades of relative experience working in a government agency and dealing with superheroes. These types of positions need to be filled with logical choices, not just who might seem “cool” at the moment. Unfortunately, I see Miriam Sharpe as a trendy nominee. She was terribly confrontational with the superhero community, spearheading the SHRA which, we’ve already admitted, has to be abolished. We know absolutely nothing about her past, her career or her education. Naming her as government liaison to the Avengers would be akin to making Cindy Sheehan Secretary of Defense! Bonkers!

Ahem. That was quite political of me, huh? Back to the discussion…

We’re agreed on the limits of both the “reality TV” idea and the “massive attack” scenario. I offered neither of these as an ultimate solution that should be taken to its limits, but merely as interesting sideshows, if you will. Anything we can inject into the title that will offer smaller plotlines and show a range of emotions in the team is a necessary exercise. You’re right that HYDRA is kind of boring and faceless (since the Struckers disappeared) and I suggested them only as so much cannon fodder to test the new group’s teamwork and communication abilities. I want to ratchet up the pressure and try to keep the Avengers as busy, as distracted and as overwhelmed as possible. Stress builds character!

As for other villains, I completely forgot that we previously offered up our version of the Masters of Evil! Awesome! Now that I think about it, the whole HYDRA/AIM/Secret Empire plot could end up being set off by Mandarin as his way of softening up the team before the Masters of Evil launch a finely coordinated attack. It would be rather poignant to have the Masters attack as the Avengers are regrouping at a mansion that is being rebuilt, and neither Jarvis nor the original Captain America are on the premises. Kind of a chilling thought, actually.

I believe that any subsequent threats should be positioned in one of two ways: 1. They have something against the US government or 2. They have a beef against the Avengers team concept itself. Any other foes would seem kind of silly at this point. I don’t want to see the new team getting caught up in some interstellar battle or trying to take down any kind of worldwide threat. At the same time, I don’t see them facing off with any singular villain that may have a problem with one member or the other. It has to be a team thing, otherwise it’s just another intricate subplot (which isn’t a bad thing either, as I explained above).

So who do I think fits either of those criteria? Hmm…Hate Monger? Is he still around? Would some sort of Atlantis uprising be redundant at this point? How about fallout from Dark Reign that would pit the Avengers against Doom? Or better yet, let’s see The Hood and his syndicate become some sort of guerrilla army…domestic terrorists that do hit-and-run missions throughout the country.

Honestly, I’m at a loss here. Perhaps we need to invent some new threats in the Marvel Universe?

Let’s start with Gabe Jones.  I certainly understand your point about Sharpe, but understand that she’s appointed by the government, and right now, she’s a news darling.  The government would love her, and to be fair, if the team is trying to project a positive image and win back the trust of the world, having her liaison with them is going to go further in the public eye than some unknown spook who’s buddy-buddy with the superhero elite.  With that being said, I will agree to Gabe Jones (who is a character I like quite a bit) as long as we agree to tackle the problem of why he’s not 80 years old at some point in time. 

That ties us into villains, as perhaps we could use the Yellow Claw as a potential adversary to the group, and perhaps as the villain responsible for Jones’ retarded aging.  First of all, perhaps we can simply call him The Claw, which is not a bad name and a tad less racist, and we can modify his design a touch so he doesn’t look quite so much like a refugee from a 1940’s Charlie Chan serial.  With those touches in place, I think he’d be a great villain for the team; he’s fought them before, and he’s certainly worked to destroy the American government.  He’s a tad megalomaniacal, but I find him interesting.  He ties into Jones’ because, in one of the Nick Fury series, the Claw “killed” Dum Dum Dugan, and then returned him to life.  There was no real explanation, but I’m wondering if the Claw might not have been playing with a lot of the Howlers.  In any case, it’s one possibility.

Now, having said that, I think that your conditions for Avengers villains don’t make a lot of sense.  Why would we confine them to just fighting those who hate the government and those who hate the Avengers?  The Avengers have always been at their best when they’re fighting truly menacing threats, and they exist to protect the world, not just America.  I’m not saying that the two categories of foe you mention don’t have a place in the team’s annals, but I don’t think they should be the only foes the team faces.  In fact, I’d throw the Hood right out the window; the Avengers don’t fight organized crime bosses, and the Hood has not proven himself to be anything but a mafia boss with delusions of grandeur.  Ugh.  It would be like the Avengers going after the Kingpin.  I don’t buy it.  They need world class menaces to test their mettle.  I do like the idea of them fighting Dr. Doom though, since he’s about as world class as you get, and let’s face it, it’s always fun when Doom shows up in any comic.  That works for me.

Otherwise, I think creating some new villains might not be a bad way to go.  Unfortunately, they’ve never had an extensive rogues’ gallery, usually using the villains of other heroes, and I think that needs to change.  In fact, this is so important that we’re going to continue it in a separate post!


Character Revamp: Santa Claus

Dec-19-08

Marvel has long been known for taking characters from popular culture and making them stars of their very own comics. Marvel has published books focusing on Rom, GI Joe, the Transformers, Heathcliff, and if my memory serves, Barbie. They also had a hit with their long running series that starred Dracula. Well, Jason and I have heard rumors of their newest sensation, a popular character who is set to star in his very own mag: Santa Claus.

Some of you may have heard of Santa Claus, but for those who haven’t, he’s a powerful hero who maintains a base at the North Pole. From this base he monitors the world, seeking out the naughty and the nice, and distributing appropriate rewards or punishments, dependent on someone’s naughty level. He’s seen many evil beings rise up against him in the past, from everyday political adversaries, such as his original nemesis, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, to more powerful magical foes, such as the Winter Warlock, to even foes from other dimensions, such as the Boogie Man. Yet, still he soldiers on, doing his part for the people of Earth.

Now, we haven’t seen Marvel’s pitch for this series yet. I can’t say for sure how they’re going to play it. However, Jason and I….well, figuring out how to sell series like these and make them relevant to today’s audiences (or, at least, interesting to us) is what we do. So, we thought that we’d share our pitch for the new Santa Claus series, and then you can compare it with the eventual series that Marvel produces (the first issue of this series was supposed to ship this month, in time for the holidays, but it’s late, and will now ship in July).

So, we basically have to nail down three basic areas for our Santa proposal. First, we have to define Santa. Who is he? What powers does he have? Why is he doing what he does? Where does he live, and what sort of base does he have? Does he have a secret identity?

Second, we need to nail down his supporting cast. Who are his allies? Any family? Who helps him in his duties, and why?

Finally, we need to determine his villains. Who forms Santa’s Rogues’ Gallery?

Let’s start with Santa himself. The legends would have you believe that Santa is centuries old and has been waging his war on naughtiness for all that time. However, I posit that the man we know as Santa has actually been many men, who have passed the costume down over the years, somewhat like the Phantom. One of the main jobs of Santa is to locate a suitable replacement, bring that replacement into the fold, explain his secrets, and train the replacement. In this way, there is always a Santa, ready, willing and able to take over whenever he is needed.

Santa himself has no special powers, although all Santas are trained in various skills. Moreover, Santa carries certain technological and magical gadgets (provided by two of his allies; we’ll discuss those later) which aid him in his work. I believe we will keep his headquarters at the North Pole, but with the understanding that Santa can transport himself anywhere on Earth quite quickly, and would even be capable of covering the entire globe in the span of about four hours if necessary.

Before I get into detail, I’ll see if Jason has any concerns or wants to go in a different direction.

The biggest difficulty, and also the biggest resource, with this revamp are the various legends and attributes put upon “Santa Claus” by different countries and cultures. I would think, for the sake of appealing to the action/adventure aspect of the character, that we should eschew the whole “leaving candy for the kids” part of Santa’s lore. This action could show up as a final page wrap-up…almost like a calling card of sorts, but I wouldn’t want to base every storyarc around it. However, the reasoning for such behavior could play into his development. Santa Claus, in the comic book sense, stands for something more powerful and universal than seasonal gift satisfaction. He’s the ultimate protector of the innocent, the vanguard of an entire season, and the primary source of oversight for keeping everyone on the straight and narrow. Even when he isn’t in his prime period of activity, he still has to keep a vigilant watch over the easily swayed minds of the world’s wishful youth.

It’s a tough job and I like the concept of having a Santa succession schedule. I would guess that the average person behind the Santa costume would only last for a decade or so. The job is so draining, both physically and mentally, that an average person might go insane rather quickly. I would also like to put forward the notion that his support staff is made up of a line of legacy characters as well…almost like a solemn, dedicated branch of a religious group whose sole purpose is to aid this universal symbol. Their world is very insular and secretive, but abounds with joy, fulfillment and an inner peace brought on through their work.

Besides, a badass group of ninja monk elves would be awesome to witness in action.

I could also see Santa employing a multi-branched charity organization posing as a front for data collection. He needs to have an alter ego who can blend into normal day-to-day activities.

I do have an idea or two for villains and would like to offer at least one supporting cast member. However, it sounds like John already has some ideas brewing, so I’ll let him take the stage again…

I have a few ideas, and since there is interest in supporting cast and villains, let’s move that way first (we can always detail exactly what Santa can do later). Let’s start with supporting cast.

The original Santa’s origins are still somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend, which works well for all concerned. Honestly, no one in the know about who Santa really is wants the veil pulled away from Santa, since if someone knew much about the original Santa, they may start to realize that the current Santa isn’t that person. However, one thing we do know about the original Santa is that he met and fell in love with a remarkable woman, one who was the matriarch of an entire clan.

This clan was made of elves, elves who had been exiled/marooned/imprisoned on Earth centuries ago. These elves had tried to hide themselves from the outside world, but when their mistress met Santa, she broke their traditions and the two wed. When Santa began his calling of watching the world and doing good, his wife was in full agreement, and she brought her family inline with Santa’s goals, even convincing them to move to the North Pole, when Santa decided that they needed to be farther away from the people they watched over.

This clan of elves are not the long lived, virtually immortal elves that one reads about in The Lord of the Rings. Their lifespan is that of a mortal, and their numbers are not limitless. They obviously can’t continue to only mate among themselves without serious consequences, and Santa also realized that forcing them to spend their entire lives in the North Pole could be cruel. So, each elf is allowed a time in their life when they can go out into the world and seek a mate, living as normal humans do for a set period of time. The time period is indeed finite, and an elf (male or female) must find a mate within that window or they lose their chance. Complicating matters is the fact that the mate they find must be special, as the elf must tell their chosen one of their true nature before the time limit expires. If the mate agrees to return with the elf, they are made to appear to have suffered a fatal accident in their world, and can never return to it. If they do not agree to return with the elf, their minds are wiped of the information that was imparted to them, and the elf returns empty-handed.

Because of these strict restrictions, not every elf is able to find a mate, which is one of the reasons why their population does not expand beyond the capacity of their headquarters. Any children that a couple produces are raised by the entire elven clan, in a communal setting, which helps to placate those elves who never find a mate in the first place. Santa is not really the leader of these elves; instead the elves follow the descendent of that original matriarch, who may or may not be the current Santa’s mate.

These elves have a mastery of their own unique technology, which they use to help Santa in his mission. They perform the necessary maintanence around the headquarters, and provide Santa with numerous gadgets. They also count among their numbers experts at various fighting styles and they can train Santa in those arts as well.

Santa’s other ally is the Winter Warlock. Once a foe of the original Santa, he was eventually reformed, and became a steadfast ally of the man in red and white. As the Winter Warlock grew older, he began to investigate ways to prolong his life. He eventually realized that the cold of the North Pole seemed to have retarded his aging process, and he soon theorized that even deeper cold would stop his aging process completely. To that end, he used his magics to encase himself in a block of ice in the middle of the Claus compound. He is still conscious in that block, and can communicate with Santa, but he can never leave it. However, he still possesses power, and is quite helpful in providing magical aid to Santa in the form of information gathering and occasional magical trinkets for Santa to use. Most Santas would actually say that his most useful gift is his wisdom and willingness to listen. He now communicates telepathically, and is aware of what happens around him. He can see and hear in all areas of the compound, and were the compound to ever be attacked, he would be able to marshal his magic for a terrible defense.

That’s some of his supporting cast. Your thoughts Jason? Any you want to change or add?

Love it! I was trying to come up with a supporting character that could be a mentor of sorts to the incoming Santas, but I think you’ve handled it beautifully with the Winter Warlock idea. I see him as a version of DC’s Oracle character…someone who can offer advice and give direction to Santa during his adventures. There’s something interesting about having him be a former adversary too.

I think you nailed what I was going for with the elves. They’re old school. And their only purpose is to serve the mission of Santa Claus. However, they aren’t just cute little toy builders…these guys are a hardcore, focused “army” of assistants who have a multitude of skills. I can imagine elves with specialties…some are engineers, some are tech experts, some are trained in military operations (including intelligence and espionage). It’s the perfect scenario, almost like DC’s League of Assassins or a competent version of AIM from Marvel.

You’ve touched on the character of “Mrs. Claus” too. I like the notion that she may or may not actually be married to the current Santa. It could all just be a front to make them more acceptable in the public eye. That could offer a fun dynamic behind the scenes too. Maybe the two of them don’t get along at all!

The one thing that seems to be missing from the support side of things is an explanation of Santa’s abilities. How does he deliver goods to everyone on Earth all in one night? How can he be in so many places at once (I’m looking at you, mall Santas!)? How does he keep track of so much information? And how does he manifest the “holiday spirit” to affect emotions and generosity? I have a feeling you’re going to make a reference to the North Wind, and who knows what else, with that storyline.

As far as bad guys go, the first obvious choice would be Jack Frost (who may or may not be an elf himself). He’s the expected archenemy and I have no problem with that. However, I feel like he needs some sort of history and motivation. He could be the Lex Luthor to Santa’s Superman…a super smart foe who employs others to carry out his schemes. He uses fancy gadgets but doesn’t really have any powers of his own.

I’d also like to mention Black Pete. In Dutch and German folklore, Black Pete was Saint Nicholas’ assistant, but I think it would be cool to have him turn on Santa at some point…maybe he was persuaded away by something evil. This would make him similar to Marvel’s Winter Soldier or DC’s Tim Drake.

John and I spoke briefly about this topic before we posted and I told him about a vague idea I had for a villain that almost seemed to borrow themes from the supernatural (a la Swamp Thing or Sandman). I thought that Santa and his elves should be ever vigilant against a vast negative force called “The Never.” I see The Never as a network of evil, always evolving and adapting, a personification of children’s nightmares that draws its power from the darkness and the negativity of the general populace. This villain could look like anything really, but would most likely take forms similar to the Perchten of Germanic folklore…grotesque animal masks with horns and fangs, thick furs and pelts as a costume, almost like a version of a zombie viking. I could also see The Never as a group of shapechangers who taunt and harass Santa during his travels. They appear as a flock of ravens or a massive colony of rats. I could even see them spreading a sort of plague (of fear, of sickness, of darkness. etc.).

I dunno. Aside from the general nuisance villains who have their own schemes in mind to steal gifts or ruin the holidays, it seems like you’d need something that would pose a serious threat to the well-being of humankind without their knowledge. Santa is the secret defender. And The Never would be an excellent, yet nebulous, enemy for him to face off against.

Hopefully, John has some more follow-through for these ideas!

Okay, we seem to be on the same page as far as allies, and I think you’ve really nailed some neat villains. I couldn’t agree more with you that Santa needs a serious threat to combat, and I think The Never is a perfect one. The Never would be his Dr. Doom, his Dormammu, his Red Skull. I like that The Never isn’t defined and is somewhat nebulous, as it should be at this point. Perhaps, over the years of Santa’s run as a comics character, the Never may be fleshed out more and examined in detail, but that should be a slow process, taking many storylines. The Never wouldn’t appear in every plotline, but it would be a presence in the book almost constantly. Even when Santa is dealing with other villains, the Never would be a looming menace.

I like the idea of Jack Frost and I like that he doesn’t have any powers. If he doesn’t have powers, one must wonder why he took that name and what it is he does. One of the things that must be decided for every Santa villain is whether or not this threat has been a long term foe of Santa (and therefore has fought many different Santas over the years) or whether or not this is a more recent foe. It gives the villain a much different feel if he or she has been fighting the Santa organization, in some form, for centuries, or whether they just ran afoul of the current Santa much more recently. In this case, I’d like to cast Jack Frost as the former. In fact, I’d like to suggest that Frost did have powers at one point in time, and that he clashed with Santa in the early days, when the original Santa was fulfilling the role of protector. Here’s how I see it going down.

Frost was a rival of the Winter Warlock; they were both powerful supernatural beings, with Frost being an immortal of the same type that live in Asgard and Olympus, and the Warlock being a powerful mortal. When the Warlock fist clashed with Santa, and then began to reform, Frost saw his chance to eliminate his rival once and for all. Frost launched a devastating attack against the Warlock, wounding him deeply. Frost could probably have finished off his foe, when Santa intervened (perhaps it was this intervention that convinced the Warlock that Santa truly followed a path that appealed to the Warlock as well, leading to his final redemption and reformation). Thus did Santa earn Frost’s enmity. The two of them clashed repeatedly for the next few decades, with the Warlock joining the fray on a few occasions. Frost had nearly defeated Santa a few times, but the Warlock and Santa, working as a team, continually proved too much for him. Frost decided he needed to eliminate the Warlock as an ally of Santa, and conjured up a crystal which would drain the Warlock’s powers. He devised an elaborate plot to use the device (stories which will no doubt be told in the inevitable spin-off, Santa: Origins) but during the battle when the device was used, Santa inadvertently interfered with its operation, and Frost had his powers removed instead; everything except for his immortality.

That sets Frost up as more of a cross between DC’s Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage. Ever since that battle he’s been searching for ways to restore his lost power. To stay a credible threat, he’s also amassed as much power as he could in the physical world, studying science and the technology of the day, staying on the cutting edge of what is new and dangerous. This also gives him a motivation to continue to fight against Santa; he wants revenge for his powers being stripped from him and he wants to find a way to be powerful again.

That’s two great foes. Black Pete is a very interesting foe, who I think would also be aware of Santa’s true nature. And, obviously, Santa would fight much more conventional menaces too, as well as meeting some of the existing villains in the Marvel Universe (because, really, who wouldn’t pay good money to see Santa vs Dr. Doom? Or Santa vs the Kingpin: Battle of the Fat Men? I know I’d shell out $4 for some of that). Do we need to detail out any further villains? If not, then all we need to do is nail down his abilities. I’ll check in with you tomorrow to see what you think.

Again, kudos to you for all the inventive backstory stuff. I think we’ve detailed the essential supporting cast and supplied a solid inventory of villains. Of course, there will always be other characters (both good and bad) who pop up from time to time…but I think there’s a strong nucleus there to build a long-lasting title around.

Probably the best thing to do now is to delineate just what it is that Santa does and exactly how he does it. Applying basic comic book physics to what we know from the Santa-based legends, I’m assuming he has gadgets or magic items that help him teleport/move at lightspeed/displace time. His ability to squeeze up and down chimneys indicates a level of shapeshifting. He has certain resistances to the elements. His reindeer and sleigh can fly somehow. And Santa’s sack of presents probably has origins in a pocket universe where he’s able to store vast amounts of product…like a Bag of Holding from D&D. Can you explain all of that?

We seem to be rolling along well. Let’s get this thing wrapped up in time for Christmas!

Hmmm. Detailing exactly what Santa can do could prove slightly challenging, simply because there’s so much to choose from. Santa seems to be able to do so much. Let’s break it down.

I agree that transportation is our first priority. Let’s face it; the guy lives at the North Pole, which is probably not very villain infested. He could potentially fight that polar bear that shills for Coke, but otherwise, he’s going to have to travel to defend the Earth. Teleporting would certainly be the quickest way for him to get from place to place, but it doesn’t really fit into his mythology and it can also be used as something of a cheat by writers. I prefer something that’s more traditionally Santa, and something that doesn’t enable him to arrive at the scene instantaneously. I think keeping the sleigh is the way to go, although I’m not sure that it should be pulled by reindeer, or at least, not all the time. I imagine that Santa used to use the reindeer, which the Warlock had enchanted, to pull his sleigh when he wanted to travel. However, while he still keeps reindeer for emergency sleigh-pulling, the simple fact is that they were sometimes unreliable, and they needed to be fed and taken care of, and when Santa had to travel halfway around the world and didn’t come back the same night as he left, they were problematic. So, sometime in the past few decades, the elf clan constructed a technological sleigh for him. This new sleigh can move at fantastic speeds (several times the speed of sound) and comes with a retractable canopy so that Santa doesn’t have to worry about breathing when it’s moving that fast (and it can also be used in low altitude orbit or underwater, although it’s design isn’t very efficient in those environments). The elves have loaded the new sleigh with all kinds of gadgets, much in the manner of Blue Beetle’s bug, and are constantly experimenting with more, in the manner of James Bond and his Q.

I like the idea of shapeshifting as a way to move up and down chimneys, but I’m wary of making Santa too superhero, because if that’s the case, how are powers passed on from Santa to Santa? There certainly could be a way to do that, probably involving a ceremony between the outgoing and incoming Santas and the Warlock, but then there’s also the case of what happens when a Santa falls in battle (although his powers could then be transferred automatically, kind of like a Vampire Slayer’s powers are in the Buffy universe). Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like that last parenthetical aside. It could be interesting to see the powers transferred, either by ceremony or by automatic transference. What makes the latter such an interesting proposition is the idea that perhaps a Santa could die without locating a suitable successor. Normally, the successor is training at the North Pole, so if a Santa would fall, they would already be in a position to take over the role. But what happens if there is no one ready to take over? I could see a plot where the powers choose someone when the current Santa falls unexpectedly, and the Warlock and Mrs. Claus and the elves have to figure out where the powers went, have to try and determine why that person got the powers, and then have to locate them, bring them in and train them. That could be fun.

So, what are these powers? I agree that shapeshifting has to be one of them. After all, moving up and down chimneys is difficult without shapeshifting, and Santa is also someone who’s depicted at vastly different weights. It’s going to be difficult to fight the Never or Jack Frost’s goons when you’re morbidly obese, so he’s going to need to be able to go from overweight to fit and ready to fight. Shapeshifting also gives him a lot more options in combat, and that’s important. Shapeshifting can also be useful for entering those houses without chimneys, as he could make himself thin as paper, and slide under doors or around windows, or he could turn a finger into a key to open the door; there are lots of options with this power. In fact, I’m wondering if he really needs any others, or if that power is enough for Santa to have? I think it is.

Santa does have a sack with an immense storage capacity; another gift from the Warlock. Santa fills that sack with gadgets from the elves, gadgets which give him a wide range of options, which often change. As I mentioned earlier, the elves can be seen as a clan of Q’s from James Bond. These guys provide him with a huge selection of technological edges, and it might be fun if they’re all constructed to look like toys. That keeps a theme going with him, and still enables him to kick some butt.

What do you think of that power set?

I hate to say it, but the “gadgets disguised as toys” idea is hilarious. Not only could it be a running joke that the elves don’t know how to build something that isn’t toylike, but it also opens up a story or two about mistakenly leaving the wrong item under a child’s tree. Oops! Santa accidentally gave Timmy a freeze ray instead of the BB gun he asked for!

Your sleigh idea could be taken a step further. Since you brought up Blue Beetle’s bug, why not have Santa’s “sleigh” actually be a ship of sorts? Perhaps he has an image inducer attached to it to make it look like a sleigh being pulled by reindeer to the average passer-by. The truth is, however, that Santa’s ship is the same thing people have been reporting seeing in the sky all across the Midwest and Southwest. All those assorted UFO sightings and things that look like tin pie pans floating in the sky with flashing lights are really Santa going about his evil-fighting business. I like how that ties the Santa legend into everyday pop culture. It would also be fun to have his sleigh resemble Doctor Who’s tardis…where the outside is a defined size, but the inside is disturbingly larger, with numerous cabins and compartments, massive storage areas and sleeping quarters for dozens of helpers. The power of magic!

I also agree that Santa should have some sort of super-ability. I’d hate for everything to rely on tricky gadgets and amorphous wizardry. I don’t want to lean to heavily on Winter Warlock though. The process of finding, training and passing on the Santa powers should be a function of the elven lore. Perhaps they’re actually aliens and have highly advanced technology to imbue these powers upon their selected target. Maybe it’s something they really have no control over, but are just there to monitor. Or, and this is kind of a twisted spin, maybe the machine/gizmo/process they use is extremely dangerous and some of the Santa recruits haven’t survived the transfer of power…or, in a way of explaining Black Pete’s origin, maybe one of the subjects was affected differently by the transfer. Maybe Black Pete had been selected as a Santa apprentice (like Robin to Batman), gone through the training and all that, and then the power transfer didn’t work or screwed him up somehow and he vowed revenge for eternity!

Too dramatic?

Shape-shifting as Santa’s sole power covers a lot of bases. It could also explain how he blends into the crowd so easily and how no one sees him throughout the rest of the year. This could also play into the earlier idea I had about having his alter ego be the head of some large charitable organization. He keeps tabs on the world in plain sight of the everyday populace!

Wow…I think we came up with some valid ways to make The Scintillating Santa Claus! an enjoyable comic book. Final thoughts?

Just that I agree with you on everything you mentioned.  I had originally thought of suggesting that the sleigh be an actual ship that shared some of the properties of the Tardis, so that’s amusing.  I also agree that having Santa’s power transfer be a function of the elves rather than the Warlock is a good idea, and does help to maintain a balance between the Warlock and the elves, so one side isn’t obviously more important than the other.

I think this works!  This could actually make a comic; it would be a huge hit!  After all, if kids don’t buy it, they’re going to find themselves on the naughty list!