Superhorrors: When Capes and Killings Clash

Oct-29-08

So, Jason and I have been discussing bringing horror into your superhero comics, and how it can be done successfully. We thought we’d take some time to examine some heroes and teams in the multiverse of comics that we think lend themselves particularly well to the horror genre. I’m going to just mention five that I think would work well, although to be honest, I think just about any character that is not simply used for comedic effect can work in a horror comic. I’m not sure I’d write the Ambush Bug Halloween Special, although that could be very amusing. Still, it’s not hitting quite the effect that we were hoping for.

I’m not going to be focusing on characters like Ghost Rider and Deadman since it’s pretty obvious that they work well in horror comics. I’m also not going to be suggesting an entire series based around horror for these characters: I’m not suggesting a new Spider-Man book called Spidey Horror Stories or anything. I’m just going to spotlight some characters who could have a really good one or two issue story in their titles that is more in the horror genre and less in the superhero genre. Here we go!

Fantastic Four: At first it might not seem that this group, the brightly colored leaders of Marvel’s superhero universe, could work well in horror. Johnny and Ben are too goofy, and they’re a more happy-go-lucky team, you might believe. However, I think they’d be perfect. Right off the bat is the fact that they’re explorers, which means they find themselves in situations where horror could be found. In fact, I have a scenario already in mind.

Our Fantastic Foursome are flying through the Negative Zone, moving a small group of refugees whose homeworld was destroyed by Annihilus, when they encounter a derelict spaceship. Reed wants to investigate, and so they dock with the ship, and they begin to explore. As Reed tries to determine what happened on the ship and where the crew went, the team splits up to search for clues. Along the way they begin to discover that whatever happened was mighty unpleasant, and that the cause of the crew’s disappearance may still be lurking aboard!

The Fantastic Four have those dark blue/black uniforms, so they can be drawn in a darker art style and still look faithful to original design. The Thing, of course, works perfectly in a horror setting, since he’s a monster. The Thing and the Torch might be lighthearted at first, but they would get serious when the danger became apparent, and that helps sell the horror; if something can scare or at least unnerve these two, then it shows the audience that it must be pretty bad. If you make the threat something supernatural that helps too, since the FF tend to deal in hard science, and the supernatural will immediately throw them out of their element. The refugees give us characters who can be killed or disappear, since we obviously won’t kill the FF. The trick is not to make the danger about whether the FF will be killed, since everyone knows that won’t happen, but whether or not they can protect this group of refugees. Keep the refugees in danger and have the danger stalking them, and you’ve got actual tension. After all, the FF are the ones who decided to stop at this ship; they are truly responsible for these civilians, and are going to do whatever they can to protect them.

I think there are a lot of creative teams that could do something like this justice, but I would choose Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. They worked together on a Superman/Aliens story that had the sort of atmosphere I’m envisioning.

Martian Manhunter: He’s dead, which makes him perfect for a horror comic! I kid. Assuming he wasn’t dead, I think J’onn J’onzz would do well in a horror story. Honestly, were I to use him in a comic, I’d use him more like the Phantom Stranger. Because of Jonn’s shapeshifting powers, he can be anyone and anything. He used to want to explore the world around him and learn more about humanity. I can envision an actual series with him traveling the world, taking on different identities and spending time with people. In many cases, he’d be more of a guest star in his own series, as we’d truly be reading the stories of other people, with J’onn more on the periphery. Not all of these stories would have to have a horror bent, but some certainly could.

For example, perhaps J’onn meets a group of people in an inn, where he stops to wait out some bad weather on his travels right around Halloween. He spends some time in the common areas meeting the guests and giving the reader a chance to learn about the other characters. Everyone retires to their rooms, but strange things are happening. J’onn assumes the suspicious activities are part of some Halloween prank, but then people start turning up missing or dead. What’s happening to them? J’onn’s a powerful hero, but his power does him no good when he doesn’t know who the bad guy is or from where the threat originates. I think JM DeMatteis would write something like this quite well, and Tom Ostrander has the sort of moody art which would be perfect!

There’s two, and I went longer than I thought. Do you think they have potential, and do you have any of your own to add?

That’s so weird. I was making a mental list in my head and the Fantastic Four was one group that I had definitely decided could never be made into a horror book. And yet, your idea is strangely compelling. Although, to be honest, it reminds me more of a Challengers of the Unknown plot with some convenient superpowers thrown in for good measure.

For me, the obvious titles/teams/characters that could be turned in a horror direction are some of the ones we’ve already mentioned and revamped: The Defenders fighting off the supernatural in a largely covert manner, a la X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Doctor Strange in pretty much any situation; and, of course, Batman when he’s fighting one of his more psychological (or just plain psycho) foes like Scarecrow or Mad Hatter. I enjoy the twisted paths those stories could go down.

However, if I wanted to pitch a completely new direction for an established character, I would pick:

Vision and Scarlet Witch: I know, it’s kind of a cop-out choosing a character with the word “witch” in her name, but bear with me. I see this as more of an urban horror story. Vision plays the role of the vengeful ghost and Wanda is the troubled street urchin trying to convert the masses to her way of thinking. She has that Old World bent to her, but the metropolitan citizens ignore her and look down upon her. Vision visits the successful city businessmen who have shunned their morals in favor of greed and expansion. He’s a creepy robot, the perfect representation of technology run amok, and he can float through their freakin’ walls! The Vision has gone rogue and is taking out his vengeance on the leaders of this new economy. It’s up to Scarlet Witch to find a way to soothe the savage beast, as it were. I’d like to see this written by Warren Ellis, someone who knows a thing or two about current tech but also has a foothold in the paganistic side of things too. And the artwork needs to be done by someone who has a realistic and detailed style…maybe John Cassaday? Or Tim Sale?

Hulk: Given the Jekyll and Hyde background of the character, this is probably a bit of a cheat. At the same time, the Hulk has always been more about the anger and rage of being a monster than of the dark guilt and isolation of being a man with a troubling, uncontrollable secret. Bruce Banner has removed himself to a secluded village somewhere in South America, in the windy valleys of the Andes. He’s set himself up as the town doctor, attending to the elderly residents and the children of the village. But not is all as it seems. In fact, he learns that a lot of the injuries he’s trying to heal have been caused by some mysterious beast that haunts the fields at night. A strong-willed policewoman from the neighboring city has been tasked to track this villain down. Unfortunately for them both, she and Bruce fall in love and he joins the cause to help her hunt…him. This book would have to be written from a first person point of view, like some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest works, but with a modern nuance and awareness. I’d put Brian K. Vaughan up to the task. And the art style would need to be dark and muted, with the monster emerging from the shadows to claim its victims. I think Ryan Sook could pull this off well.

I think any of these stories, mine or John’s, would work well in an anthology book, similar to the recent X-Men and Avengers Fairy Tales series. Thoughts?

I really like your idea of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in horror stories, and your creative team is fine.  However, if I may suggest an alternate penciller, I’d like to throw out the name of Michael Bair.  He’s primarily known as an inker, and does a tremendous job in that capacity.  However, he has done some pencilling, and he did a short Vision story for an anthology (probably an Avengers Annual) where the Vision goes into a burning building to rescue a child.  His artwork was extremely moody and creepy (the child is afraid to go with the Vision because the Vision scares him, and a reader could certainly understand why!) and I think he might be an interesting choice.

Fantastic Four vs the Challengers of the Unknown:  honestly, aren’t they the same thing, except with superpowers and a family situation?  They’re both explorers, and you’re right, you could do the story with the Challengers, and it would be excellent.  In fact, perhaps that could be a good pitch for the next Challengers revival; something more horror related.

I do agree that any of these ideas could work if they were fleshed out.  You mention the Fairy Tales series Marvel published; why not a horror series?  Start producing it in the beginning of the year, and then release it weekly in October.  You could do two or three a year, four issues each, and if they come out once a week it could really draw in an audience, particularly at the spookiest time of the year.  You could release collected editions of them the following year 2-3 weeks before Halloween, while also releasing a new batch of weekly horror for that year.  It could be a nice marketing plan, and by the second year, you’d have single issues of horror for the comics shop crowd, and collected horror trades for the bookstore market! 


Marvel and DC: The Horror, the Horror!

Oct-28-08

It’s almost Halloween and so popular culture is awash with the sound of screaming, as television shows, movies, and lots of internet sites use the holiday as an excuse to release their version of horror on a very suspecting public. Comics, however…well, except for frequent mentions of the Rutland Halloween Parade back in the 1970s, comics don’t often take time out of their busy schedules to reflect on many holidays. Christmas will sometimes be mentioned, and there are even often special one-shot comics published for that holiday, but Halloween? Not so often.

In fact, horror seems to get somewhat short shrift in the superhero comics universes. There are certainly horror comics being published, and there have been for decades. In fact, one can look to the horror comics published by the late, lamented EC Comics back in the 1940s and early 1950s (like Tales from the Crypt) as being partly responsible for the direction that the comics industry has taken. I’m sure we all know the story: the EC Comics were rather graphic, and they were some of the primary evidence used by Dr. Frederic Wertham when he tried to convince Congress, and the world, that comics were a destructive influence on children. His crusade led to the development of the Comics Code Authority, and some rather stringent regulations that made horror comics all but impossible to produce, since almost any facet of an effective horror comic had been forbidden by the Code.

At first glance, some people might consider some of Marvel’s titles from the early 1960s to be horror comics. Titles such as Tales to Astonish, before invaded by the spandex set, often featured stories of hideous monsters threatening the human race. Still, these are normally classified as monster comics, mostly because there were few scares to be had in these tales, and there was no atmosphere, no sense of foreboding, that a horror comic needs. No, it would not be until the next decade that horror comics would begin to return, and this time they’d start melding with the superhero lines of both companies.

In the 1970s both Marvel and DC had begun to test the boundaries of the Code, and one of those areas was in the area of horror comics. In fact, the 1970s were something of a Golden Age for superhero horror, as both companies launched numerous supernatural or horror comics. Some of the titles, particularly on the DC side, were separate from their superhero output. Tales of the Unexpected, Ghosts, House of Mystery and House of Secrets were titles that had no crossover with DC’s stable of popular superheroes (of course, some of these titles would be yanked into DC’s Vertigo line in the 1990’s, but at the time they were originally published, I don’t believe DC foresaw any potential crossover value). However, DC was still bringing horror to its main superhero line, with stories about Deadman, Swamp Thing and the Phantom Stranger.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, horror was being integrated into the superhero line much more forcibly, with the best example being the long running Tomb of Dracula title, which introduced the vampire lord to the Marvel mainstream, where he fought such foes as Dr. Strange and Thor. The Man-Thing was also introduced around this time, as was Ghost Rider in his own title. Perhaps more surprisingly, however, is that Marvel began publishing stories with a horror bent in their mainstream titles. The Defenders, while perhaps not a horror title, featured many situations involving the supernatural which bordered on horror; Dr. Strange also saw his adventures take an even more gothic turn; new characters such as Moon Knight encountered horror themed villains, such as Werewolf by Night; and even perennial favorite Spider-Man got mixed up with Morbius, the Living Vampire.

Oddly, as the 70s drew to a close, horror comics disappeared from both companies, and the characters associated with horror, such as Deadman and Ghost Rider, soon saw their books cancelled and their appearances dwindle. Since that decade, horror has been mostly forgotten by the big superhero publishers. DC has been successful with horror in the decades since, but almost always under their Vertigo line, which is somewhat divorced from their superheroes. Marvel tried to revive horror in the mid-90s with a line they branded The Midnight Sons, which included such 70s heroes as Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider and Morbius, and introduced new heroes such as Terror and a group called the Redeemers. However, those comics were not successful, commercially or critically.

What do the two major superhero publishers currently have in the horror genre? What has happened to horror in comics? Is it possible to mix horror and superheroes? Were any of these comics, or the concepts behind them any good? That’s what we’ll be discussing this week.

My thoughts are a bit all over the place on this one, so please bear with me. First, let’s talk about the overarching view of horror in other media. Movies and TV are able to handle horror very well because of the movement, the ambiance and the vocal aspects of their presentation. These tools allow tension to be built and emotions to be exploited. Movies and TV relish their ability to delve into the unexpected, which is much harder to do on a series of flat pages that can be perused to avoid any sort of anticipation. The “reveal” that sparks a gasp or a scream on screen is blunted, if not completely eliminated, in comics. And the authenticity of real people in real (even if exaggerated) situations can never be duplicated in print. I don’t care how good the creators are.

That being said, I still think there’s an opportunity for comics to dig into the surreal aspects of horror. The series in the 1970s really wallowed in the macabre and a sense of black humor. Of course, this was also a time of social experimentation and by using supernatural…and, at times, Satanic…themes, these comics were really playing off the vibe of the era. The films of the 80s seemed to revolve around extreme violence and body counts, which played into the selfish excess of the times. And today’s best horror films are built around victims being trapped in settings that are completely out of their control. It’s the slow, torturous plotlines that remind us of the helpless feeling we have in the world environment, claustrophobic and panicky.

It’s funny how some genres want to offer followers an escape from reality, while horror firmly plants itself in the ethic of “no escape.”

Like John pointed out, there’s never really been a consistent horror comic in the stable of either Marvel or DC. They’ve had their moments and certain books have come and gone over the years, but nothing has taken a strong hold on the sales chart. The strange thing is that every time one of the tried and true characters is brought back, the relaunch is often greeted with relatively high readership (Ghost Rider, Moon Knight) at first, only to see the numbers trail off dramatically. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that a lot of readers like the characters themselves, but the storylines often become repetitive or just lose their momentum. You can’t keep up the “ooh…spooky” feeling for too long before it becomes a Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. People start to not care.

I believe that the best usage of these characters is as Marvel has done with them. Dracula shows up every few years to advance a plot. Blade and Dr. Strange work on the fringe of the Marvel Universe, knocking back villains and threats that other heroes just don’t understand or can’t be bothered to care about. However, I feel that, if used correctly and sparingly, these characters can build a solid niche for themselves. Worked into the existing continuities, they can exist side by side with the other popular heroes and villains. It adds a depth to the characters that relegating them to simply horror usage seems to remove.

John and I have already offered our own horror-skewed revamps of both the Defenders and Doctor Strange. I’m not as familiar with the DC side of things (aside from Swamp Thing…sorry for the pun), but John and I promise a deeper look into Vertigo in the near future.

Any sort of reintroduction or revamp must take into account the current zeitgeist. The Son of Satan from the 1970s can’t be played the same way in the 2000s or it comes off as hokey and flat. The problems these characters face can’t be the same rote Gothic mansions populated by creepy spirits and deranged groundskeepers. And you can’t simply invent a foreboding dimension with shambling monsters and expect it to portray the same threat level as it did decades ago.

The biggest obstacle when trying to place horror types next to superhero types is that fleeting element of believability. The best horror and suspense stories have to be believable to be truly frightening and having some dude flying by in tights and punching zombies’ faces off really takes away that suspension of disbelief. That’s another reason why the threats need to be tweaked.

John and I wanted to introduce a young Steampunk villain for Doctor Strange. With a lack of morals and a twisted worldview brought on by a fascination with technology and the past, this character could do some truly creepy things and really set himself up as a new type of horrific bad guy. Creepy is the key word…perhaps even “unsettling” would be a better description. I think DC has done some interesting things in their world, though terribly misguided and poorly timed, with all the grisly murders that have taken place in recent years. Sure, stuffing women in refrigerators, developing a plot around the rape and murder of a hero’s wife and even having a vigilante-type tear a criminal in half in full public view, may be a bit extreme for mainstream superhero fare, but I think some of those outlandish elements could play into a new horror theme rather well.

Critics have labelled these new horror movies as “torture porn” and I tend to agree for the most part. However, I find the randomness of some of these situations to be fascinating. I look at a movie like The Hills Have Eyes or Funny Games and I see everyday people plunged into pure chaos by the seemingly coin-flipped decisions of their captors. The over-the-top gore of a Friday the 13th is laughable in comparison to the psychological horror of The Strangers, where the antagonists are always two steps ahead of their victims. Just when you think the good guys have come up with an ingenious way to escape their situation, something goes wrong and that elation you felt is instantly replaced by an uneasy nausea in your gut.

Like I said, it’s nearly impossible to replicate something like that on the page, but adjusting for the times is a clear first step. Let’s update not only the characters, but the settings and subsequent consequences as well. A good horror yarn can be stitched together with a truly credible threat and a seeming lack of viable contingency plans. Put the heroes in real peril and make them work for their escape.

That’s probably the other problem with trying to fully integrate horror types with hero types: the heroes never lose. Kinda makes for a lame horror movie, huh?

It’s interesting that you mention how times were different in the 1970s. That is so true. It’s often said that morals and values have lessened over time, and one can do and say things today that were unthinkable thirty years ago. In some areas, that’s certainly true. Besides the relentless onslaught of blood and gore that one sees in DC comics now, and sometimes at Marvel, there’s also the use of such words as ass and damn, which would never have seen print in 1970s mainstream comics. However, there are certain things that were okay to print back in the 1970s that one couldn’t print now, and one of those things was Satanism. I recently (just this year) reread the entire run of Ghost Rider, from his beginnings back in 1972 to some of the most recent issues. That series in the 1970s was absolutely packed with Satanists! It seemed like every third character in the book identified as such! I have to believe that, when it was published, it seemed to be a relatively minor point, but now, it stands out most tellingly. Heck, Marvel comics today don’t even want to admit that Satan exists, despite the fact that he was a villain in their comics for years!

Anyway, yes, times change. And horror is very difficult to do around the hero set. Just about every hero has probably had a few spooky adventures, but you really have to change the tone of their book for a few issues to pull it off effectively. Otherwise, supernatural elements stop being harbingers of horror and just become superheroes or supervillains with drab costumes. When Marvel tried their relaunch of horror in the 1990s, the Midnight Sons, they separated them from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Yes, they were still in continuity with the Avengers and Fantastic Four, but it was pretty clear that those characters wouldn’t be making guest appearances in the Midnight Sons titles, and vice versa. This is one of the reasons that Dr. Strange is so horribly cast as a member of the New Avengers; the Avengers are too mainstream, and while on the team, Strange becomes just another superhero. With the Defenders, he could maintain an air of mystery and atmosphere, because that team was on the fringe and had horror elements as well, but with the Avengers, all of that gets washed away.

With all of that being said, I still think that there is a place for horror in comics. A lot of people like to bash poor Howard Mackie, who wrote a few comics that were not well received (including a run on Spider-Man), but I would take the first 20 issues of Ghost Rider that he wrote, starting back in 1990, and use them as an example of how to do horror in comics. He kept guest stars to a minimum, and he used mostly new villains, all of them dark and somewhat twisted. Moreover, when those guest stars did drop by, they were forced to adopt the darker outlook of the book. When X-Factor made an appearance, they were there to deal with rogue mutants, most of them hideous monsters living underground. When Dr. Strange stopped for a visit, he was allowed to be mysterious and we didn’t delve into his head. Much of the credit no doubt goes to the excellent artists Javier Saltares and Mark Texiera and their colorist (I can’t find the colorist’s name online, and I don’t have my issues here, so whomever the colorist is, forgive me for not knowing your name), who kept the book extremely dark. One of the neatest things they did was color the spaces between and around the panels black; there was no real white on any of the pages, making everything seem dark and claustrophobic.

Unfortunately, I think where the series lost its way was around issue 25, when they began to introduce more and more demonic villains and the human characters started to get lost and pushed into the background. As Jason mentioned, it’s difficult to do traditional scares in a comic, but they can make you anxious and uncomfortable. The early issues of Ghost Rider did that by building up a supporting cast and not being afraid to kill them when necessary. As a reader, you were never sure if someone might survive to the next issue. Once those human characters were gone, it really just became any other superhero book, except with demons and vampires substituting for more traditional heroes and villains.

In the end, I do think a horror comic is possible, and would be a welcome addition to the comics racks. You need a dark, atmospheric art style. You need to keep the character’s interaction with the rest of their superhero universe to a minimum. It’s fine to acknowledge that all the characters are in the same universe and guest stars can work, but it can’t be too much, and the guest stars have to be brought into the horror genre (i.e. bright primary colors on their costumes need to be muted and their more outrageous abilities need to be toned down). There needs to be a strong, human cast, people who can be threatened by the darkness around them, and characters whose deaths will be meaningful to the series. Wholesale slaughter is not the way to go; it decimates your cast, and it cheapens death. Occasional death is the ticket, as it makes death unpredictable, and suggests that no one is safe.

I think these tricks could even be used in mainstream comics for a few issues, just to shakes things up a little. Batman is a perfect example of a character whose comic (one of them, at least; goodness knows he has enough) should be spotlighting a horror story now and again, since so many of his villains lend themselves to that. Still, horror can happen to anyone. Captain America, one of the brightest, most cheerful heroes out there, could star in a good horror story. Actually, he almost did; when Roger Stern and John Byrne were the creators on his series, they pitted him against a vampire named Baron Blood. Those few issues were awfully close to the definition of a horror story, and might very well qualify. There was mystery, a darker art style, a good cast of humans who you believed could die…..it’s possible anywhere.

And hey, wasn’t Cap turned into a werewolf for a little while? That story was pretty horrible…

I hadn’t thought about the crossover aspect of heroes and horror as specifically as you just pointed out and I think you make an excellent point. Dr. Strange is NOT an Avenger. I don’t care how much Bendis likes him. His power set is antithetical to most superheroes. His demeanor is much more reserved. And his battles, both internal and external, are much more private and singular. Having him crack jokes with Wolverine makes him seem more like an amusement park caricature than the Sorcerer Supreme. And therein lies the rub.

When you import superheroes into horror settings, they stand out like a sore thumb. Brightly colored tights and abilities that include stretching their bodies, turning into ice and shooting arrows at robots makes them seem like a joke. Conversely, shining the big spotlight on a magic man by dropping him into a hi-tech headquarters littered with public figures flying around and saving lives really exposes him as some sort of hokey kid’s birthday act. They are two great tastes that don’t taste so great together…like ice cream and tuna.

I agree that any successful integration by a horror title into a mainstream superhero world must focus on moderation. Not only do guest stars need to be limited in general, but the ones that are allowed have to be very specifically chosen as well. Spider-Man works as a visitor in a Dr. Strange book, Captain America doesn’t. Batman could blend into the atmosphere of a Swamp Thing issue, Superman could not. I think the interaction of all those characters that don’t fit should be limited to one of those conversational mentions in passing. Y’know…Brother Voodoo and Hellstorm are assembling the proper materials for an exorcism and one of them cracks wise about the Fantastic Four not being so fantastic. That has its place and reminds readers of the bigger world outside this insulated and secretive story.

I also like the idea of a disposable supporting cast. Too often, situations arise where you know that no one is in any real danger and that strips the suspense out of the story. There is no way to play favorites in a true horror genre. Granted, the title character is probably safe, but that’s only because the story needs to be told through the eyes of a consistent figure. If I were an editor, everyone else would be fair game. The powers that be can always figure it out over in the superhero side of things anyway.

My last point would be to agree with what you’ve described as far as tone goes. The right artists (including ink and colors) are key to the success of a strong horror title. Just take a look at how Mike Mignola has developed his style over the years, from his early days at DC to his current Hellboy output (which Alan Moore has described as “Jack Kirby meets German Expressionism”). The stable of artists he has assembled for the Dark Horse books, including himself, Duncan Fegredo and Guy Davis, are excellent for that genre. Texeira has certainly made a name for himself with that kind of work, as have Angel Medina, Frazer Irving, Doug Mahnke, Bernie Wrightson and Richard Corben to name a few.

We’re in agreement that a good horror title could exist in the Marvel or DC stable. Should we try to flesh one out or provide a somewhat detailed list of what we think could be done? Maybe even throw some characters at each other and see how we could turn them into horror stories?


Casting Call: Justice League

Oct-27-08

I know we just did our Dream Team for the Justice League last week, but it got me to thinking about how there aren’t a lot of DC movies being made and the ones that have been made are a mix of ups and downs…the reinvigorated Batman franchise has made huge gains both financially and credibly, but the latest Superman relaunch was a bit of a disappointment. And that supposed younger Justice League film never got off the ground in light of last winter’s writers’ strike. So, I thought it would be fun for John and I to fill out our version of the Justice League cast…

Wonder Woman: This is probably the toughest decision to make. The right actress has to have a certain age and wisdom to them, yet still be young and look good in the costume. She also can’t be one of those lithesome types so popular these days…WW is big and strong. That’s a tough description to fill. My first reaction would be to go with Kate Beckinsale, but that just seems so obvious. Plus, she might actually be too pretty for the job. If I knew she could act (aside from her role on the new incarnation of American Gladiators), I’d pick the tough and beautiful Gina Carano. Instead, I’m going to have to go with one of the early rumors: Charisma Carpenter.

Green Lantern: I know I’m going to have a hard time coming up with some young, dark-haired guys to fill some of these roles…guys that aren’t generic and one-dimensional (*cough*BrandonRouth*cough*). However, Kyle Rayner has a certain earnestness to him that I think one particular person can conjure up. As a matter of fact, he was also rumored to be up for this role recently: Friday Night LightsScott Porter.

Flash: In my mind, Wally West could only be played by one person, and that’s the person who has long been attached to the role in a supposed solo movie that may or may not ever get made: Ryan Reynolds.

Plastic Man: Wow. This is a tough one. He has to have a good sense of humor and even have a sort of goofy looking face. Yet he has to be a believable actor in order to pull it all off. Whoever plays Plastic Man should be a bit taller and on the thin side. I thought I had this thought wrapped up, but then I got hit with a weird epiphany and now I can’t decide between two good actors. One is a bit younger and definitely embodies the actual “look” of Plastic Man. The other is a couple years older and would need to dye his hair, but I think has a stronger personality for the character. The two choices are: Jesse Bradford or Neil Patrick Harris.

Animal Man: Buddy Baker is just a normal guy. There’s nothing special about him. He’s a family man who just happened upon something wonderful. This position is ripe for an established character actor, one of those types that you’ve seen in a bunch of movies and has pulled off his acting so well that you can never remember his real name. I have the perfect name: Alan Tudyk.

Mister Miracle: This one was probably the toughest for me solely because you see Scott Free out of costume maybe once every fourteen years. What does he look like? What sort of person is he out of his superhero role? I dunno. I found one panel with his actual face and I just thought he looked a bit like Casey Affleck.

Black Lightning: Jefferson Pierce is obviously a bit older than some of the heroes. He’s been around the block a few times, has a certain roughness to him, but could also come across as a quiet leader if need be. He has a teaching background, has two daughters and is definitely an established professional. My first impulse was to pick LL Cool J, but then I thought he looked too nice and easygoing. Black Lightning has more of a burning intensity to him. To that end, I selected someone who has seen a lot of screen time lately and someone who was actually cast to play John Stewart in the now-stalled Justice League film: Common.

That’s my cast of seven. I’m sure John has his own opinions. Hopefully we can come to a jovial consensus.

I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I think the casts are good and don’t often get enough credit. That being said, I simply can not see Charisma Carpenter as Wonder Woman. I’m not saying that she’s a bad actress, as much as I’m saying that she simply doesn’t have the gravity and weight (and I’m not talking pounds) that she would need to portray the Amazon princess. That may not be a fair assessment from me, but that’s how I see it.

Unfortunately, finding someone to fill the role is difficult, since so many women in Hollywood are reed-like stick figures. I’d be tempted to throw out the name of Lucy Lawless, another early rumor for this role, but I already secured her a role as Black Widow, so I won’t push my luck. Instead, I’m going to look to Sci-Fi Channel’s late, lamented Farscape, and nominate Claudia Black, who has the look, the strength and the gravity to portray Princess Diana.

I don’t have a problem with Scott Porter, and certainly some poor actor from that underrated show should get a break in the big time. I say, let’s use him!

Love Ryan Reynolds! Perfect!

As for Plastic Man, I don’t think there’s any choice here. I like Jesse Bradford, but there’s no one better than Neil Patrick Harris for this role. The problem with Plastic Man is that, if you take his humor out of context, he can come across as simply obnoxious. You need someone who can be in your face and over the top, yet still likable and come across as real. That’s what Neil Patrick Harris does every week on How I Met Your Mother. He’s the clear choice.

I really hate to agree with you so much, but I think Alan Tudyk would make a great Animal Man. I need to find someone here I can argue, besides Wonder Woman.

Well, I can argue with you about Scott Free! Actually, I think Casey Affleck is a great actor; his recent turns in The Assassination of Jesse James…I’m Not Typing the Rest and Gone Baby Gone were amazing, and I’ve enjoyed him in other roles as well. However…..ugh. No, I can’t really argue with you on this one either. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t do a fantastic job in the role.

I can’t really argue about Common either; he’d be great in the role.

Well, I could try and pick a false argument with some of your choices, but that seems pointless. You made some really great picks. I just need you to agree on Neil Patrick Harris, and then we can fight about Wonder Woman, although I don’t know how you could possibly disagree on Claudia Black.

As far as Wonder Woman goes, I was looking for someone who was slightly older and had some ethnicity to them, but wasn’t an everyday name that would have previous recognition attached to them. I mean, you look at Lynda Carter from back in the day and she was just the perfect embodiment for Diana Prince. I think Susan Sarandon would’ve had a similar resonance too. And I was toying with the idea of selecting Rhona Mitra, but I wasn’t sure she was “beefy” enough for the role. To that end, I don’t mind the selection of Claudia Black. I’ve certainly never heard of her before. She’s older and rather tall. Plus, she’s like a fanboy dream, with appearances in Hercules, Xena, Farscape, Stargate, Beastmaster, Moonlight and Pitch Black and videogame voiceover work with God of War, Conan, Lords of Everquest and Crysis. I say she’s in!

And, of course, I have no problems with NPH as Plastic Man. He’s hilarious AND a good actor.

Wow. That was much quicker and easier than I had anticipated. Here’s our heroic lineup for the “Meanwhile…Comics!” version of a Justice League movie:


Dream Team: Justice League

Oct-20-08

I believe that Jason and I will both admit that we do more Marvel posts than DC posts. That being said, I do enjoy the DC Universe (even if it’s current direction leaves me cold) and so, along those lines, we want to explore those characters more often. So, we thought we’d start by using the most famous DC team of all time for one of our infamous Dream Team posts: the Justice League!

Many people might consider the Dream Team of the Justice League to be pretty self-explanatory; it’s the big seven, the founding (pre-Crisis) members, and the ones that Grant Morrison used during his run. That august assemblage included Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. I have to disagree, however. I think that there are a lot of really interesting characters that serve better on the league than many of the big names. However, I do want to steal the number of heroes, and cap our team off at seven members. For those familiar with the Justice League, let’s start a little wager: how many of my team members will be from the Detroit era of the JLA? Place your bets now folks!

First, I’d choose the one character who I feel is an indispensable member of the league: The Martian Manhunter. Yes, he’s currently dead in the DCU, but really, how long can that be expected to last? I think the Martian Manhunter is the heart of the JLA, much like Captain America is the heart of the Avengers, and I feel the team is always stronger when he’s a part of it. He’s in.

I also am going to keep one other member of the classic group, and that’s The Flash. Yes, Wally West does well as a member of the Teen Titans, but he’s been a member of both groups in the past, and can be again. He’s actually one of the few characters in comics who, I think, works equally well in more than one supergroup, and can actually be considered a vital part of both.

Next up is a personal favorite of mine, Mr. Miracle. He was a member during the Giffen/DeMatteis days, and I thought that he managed to make it through their run with his dignity intact, which was not always an easy task. He is far and away my favorite of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, and I think he brings a hefty dose of skill into the League, a group that normally subsists more on raw power. If you’re not including Batman in the League (and I’m not), then you truly need someone who understands subtlety and finesse. Mr. Miracle fits the bill.

My fourth choice is a character who, for years, I had no respect for. I considered him largely useless and somewhat silly. However, over the past few years The Atom has begun to really grow on me. I think some of that may be his strong showing in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or perhaps I’m growing up, and I’m beginning to realize that, as with Mr. Miracle, raw power isn’t everything. The Atom also supplies the League with a scientist, which is rare in the League. Every third Avenger seems to be a scientist of some sort, but not so with the JLA, and that makes the Atom that much more unique.

Fifth I choose The Red Tornado. I’ve always liked his look, I think his powers are neat and different, and I enjoy the element of the synthetic man trying to fit into a team of flesh and blood heroes. Hey, I’m a fan of the Vision too; what can I say? Someone who is on the outside looking in resonates with me.

I’m going to throw in a young rookie; when we discussed the Avengers, Jason suggested that every team needs a young hero for the other heroes to mentor. I’m not sure if I agree with that (I pooh-poohed the idea at the time), but there certainly can be an interesting dynamic between an inexperienced hero and those who have been saving people their entire lives. I choose The Ray for that honor. I’ve always enjoyed the character, I think he has an amazing look, and he’s certainly powerful enough for the JLA. He worked with the Martian Manhunter quite a bit as a member of the Justice League Task Force, but he still has a lot to learn.

Finally, for my last choice, I’m going to pick someone from near obscurity: Animal Man. He was a member of the Justice League Europe team, but only lasted about ten issues, since Grant Morrison was turning his life upside down in his own comic at the time. I’ve always enjoyed the character, and I’d like to see what he could do on the team if he was actually given the chance.

So, I have Martian Manhunter, Mr. Miracle, Flash, the Atom, Red Tornado, the Ray and Animal Man. I’d love to have Atom as the leader; I think he’d do a good job, and it would make for a more interesting team dynamic then using Martian Manhunter, the next logical choice.

How many member did I choose from the Detroit era? Just one: the Martian Manhunter. I really tried to fit Vibe into the group, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

It’s tough for me to rationalize throwing a dead guy into the mix, but to each their own I guess. Did Vibe have any superpowers beyond being stereotypical and annoying?

And what’s with shunning all the females?

Look, as much as I praise Marvel for pretty much shaping my childhood imagination, I have to give some of the credit to the Justice League as well. With the exception of a few issues, I have a run of Justice League of America comics that starts around issue #40 and goes straight through to the end of the Detroit years. Add to that a hefty run of Giffen’s Justice League revamp (later renamed Justice League International and then Justice League America), a complete collection of Justice League Europe (which, correct me if I’m wrong, was also then renamed Justice League International? That’s confusing) and a substantial portion of the later JLA series and you could easily conclude that I’m a HUGE JL fan.

I agree that the original seven members of the JL were probably considered the Dream Team at the time, since they consisted of all of DC’s major characters, including several well-received Silver Age revamps (Flash and Green Lantern, specifically). However, I also agree that just because they were big names didn’t necessarily mean that they should play together on a team. I find the iconic status of the “Big Three” to be rather daunting when it comes to building an effective network of heroes. Really, why do you need anyone else, aside from the sheer numbers perspective? A team like that doesn’t lend itself to creative storytelling.

I would guess that my biggest influences, when it comes to who I believe deserves to be in the ultimate JL lineup, are the “satellite years” and the team that launched out of the Legends miniseries. These were some of my favorite 70s and 80s characters and, to this day, some of them are still woefully underused.

That said, let me follow protocol and trash your lineup while also revealing why mine is so much better thought-out and worthwhile…

John said Martian Manhunter: Really? THAT’S your marquee selection? Blah. Aside from the running joke of him being obsessed with Oreos, I just never really related to J’onn. I’ve always felt that he was a good teammate, but whenever the focus is on him I can’t grasp a connection to him. I know that he’s been repeatedly set up as team leader, but the subordinate relationships away from him were always more interesting. He’s also become one of those characters whose powers continue to evolve and change to the point of being ridiculous. Thankfully, he’s dead (for now) and I think that really takes him off the table. My pick for the “legacy” position would be Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). He has the military/tactical background to be a true leader for the team, his fearlessness has been tested, and the visual potential for his powers really lends itself to a good creative team.

John said Flash: Agreed 100%. Wally West has consistently been one of my favorite DC characters. I think his powers are essential to a strong team. Plus, Flash lends a mix of youth and experience that few other DC heroes possess.

John said Mister Miracle: Also agreed, as long as it’s Scott Free in the costume and not the recently relaunched urban Shilo Norman version from Grant Morrison. Mister Miracle always struck me as one of those reluctant types who was a hero out of necessity instead of virtue. I like that dynamic.

John said The Atom: I’m sorry, I just never got a good feel for Ray Palmer and the new guy in the costume hasn’t done much for me either. I like the unique powers of Atom, but he has no resonance for a major hero team…kind of like how Ant-Man doesn’t really fit well in an ultimate Avengers lineup. If we want some unique powers with a personality, I think we could do worse than to look at Plastic Man. Eel O’Brien is an old school member who has sort of come and gone under the radar. He has a dark past but a lighthearted persona, and I feel that that dichotomy is worth exploring.

John said Red Tornado: Again, I have no real feeling for this character. He looks cool and the concept of a synthezoid hero is intriguing, but the “woe is me” emotion-based, Pinocchio-like storyline that Brad Meltzer recently rolled out left me cold. I would rather replace this choice with a female, just for contrast. I was leaning towards Wonder Woman, partially for the iconic feel but also for leadership reasons. However, I think the softer Zatanna would be more appropriate. The self-doubt she has recently demonstrated adds a certain vulnerability to a character who was never completely strong to begin with. And she has pretty nebulous powers that could be exploited nicely.

John said Animal Man: Curious. He was on a short list I scribbled down and, by process of elimination, ended up being in my top seven too. With Captain Atom and Doctor Fate both being out of commission right now and Firestorm not the same character he used to be, Animal Man is my default choice for this position. I think by assembling the widest range of powers possible, we show a true cross-section of the “global reach” of the team.

(As an aside, I really liked the idea of the Justice League setting up embassies or charters instead of being a global police force stationed in America.)

John said The Ray: Yeah, I could see this pick working out nicely. He’s got a bit of the legacy going on and he’s a pretty powerful hero when he can stay focused. It’s a good selection for a young, mentor-able character. However, I would like to throw out a more controversial name: Resurrection Man. Very interesting powers and an underdeveloped history lead to broader interactions and plot possibilities. I could almost see the team sort of “finding” him somewhere and bringing him along as a pet project, like cleaning up a homeless guy on one of those makeover shows. There’s a lot of potential in the character.

So, to sum up, my Justice League Dream Team would have Green Lantern leading a group comprised of Flash, Mister Miracle, Plastic Man, Zatanna, Animal Man and Resurrection Man. I worked a woman into the team. There’s one character that can definitely fly, one that can hover on special gizmos and one who can fly if the appropriate animal is nearby. I’ve got magic powers, speed powers and stretchy powers (two if you count GL’s shape-making ability). About the only thing not covered is a true strength-based character, but I’m okay with it…and Resurrection Man could cover that area depending on the circumstances.

The biggest problem I can find is that I have three heroes with the word “Man” in their names…someone feeling insecure with their sexuality?

I anxiously await your almost certain rebuttal.

I can not believe that I neglected to include any women in the group. Huge oversight.

Wait. Hal Jordan? Hal freakin’ Jordan? The most boring character in the DC Universe, in any time period? I’m one of those people who agreed 100% with DC removing Hal from his position as Green Lantern, although I disagreed 100% with the way they did it. Making him a mass murderer and psycho did not make him interesting; it made him an ugly plot device. I have no problem with there being a Green Lantern on the team, and can even partially agree that a Green Lantern on the team is necessary and iconic, but Hal Jordan? Please God no. Pick another GL. Goodness knows there are tons of them. John Stewart or Guy Gardner would be fine, although my choice would be Kyle Rayner. I won’t bother to argue the Martian Manhunter point, except to note that he’s been involved with every incarnation of the JLA except for the current one, and Green Lantern has not.

Yay to Wally West! Might I point out that he has a very good relationship with Kyle Rayner?

Yay to Mr. Miracle. While I don’t hate Shilo Norman, I agree that Scott Free is the one, true Mr. Miracle, and my choice for the costume.

I like Plastic Man. I think that, in losing Atom, we lose our most intelligent and scientific member, but I can deal with that, since that’s never been integral to the JLA anyway. If you get a good artist, Plastic Man can be one of the most visually fascinating characters on the page (as a side note, another visually fascinating character for a good artist? Kyle Rayner).

I can lose Red Tornado. However, I hesitate to replace him with Zatanna. I normally love magic based heroes, and the group does need a female, but I have never liked Zatanna. First of all, considering your feelings about magic evinced in our Dr. Strange entry, I can’t believe you’d be ok with her powers, which are even less defined than Dr. Strange’s. She seriously has no structure or limits to what she can do. Second, as a character I find her rather dull and difficult to relate to. Her recent self-doubt stems from her making that absolutely atrocious decision in Identity Crisis, a decision which makes her one of the more loathsome characters in the DC Universe, and with the current competition for that title, that’s saying a lot. No, there must be a better female character for the series.

I would be tempted to nominate Wonder Woman, as I truly like the character, and think that she’s more interesting when she’s not around Superman and Batman. Free to interact with the other members of the team without the two main guns of the DCU horning in and trying to dominate her time on-screen, I think she could add an interesting element to the mix of characters in any team. However, she’s still one of the trinity of holy characters at DC and you’ll never be free to do as much with her in a team setting, since the constraints of her own book tie her down. Plus, we have two members of the Big Seven already, so I’m not sure how necessary she is.

As I work through the female options for the team, I’d like to point out how few females have been members of the JLA. Seriously, compared to the Avengers or the X-Men, there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of them; I don’t think any incarnation of the team has had more than one or two on the team at a time. I have a few that I’m thinking of for membership, but I’m going to start by suggesting Dr. Light. I always liked her, although I preferred her as the somewhat short tempered and angry Dr. Light that she started as, rather than the rather weak milksop she was by the time Justice League International ended. Still, she has a great power, and I think she could work.

Yay Animal Man!

Hmmm. I expected the Ray to be shunted, and he actually did better with you than expected. Resurrection Man comes out of left field, for sure. I loved the character and his series. My biggest problem with him is whether or not you’re breaking the rules of Dream Team entries by introducing a character who’s never been a member. Aren’t there enough Leaguers around to choose from without dragging in a new character to add to the roster? I’m going to wait to see what your thoughts are, and we can go from there.

So, as Round Two comes to an end, we have some confirmed team members: Flash, Mr. Miracle, Animal Man and Plastic Man. We’re over halfway there! Now we need you to pick a Green Lantern who doesn’t make me fall into a coma everytime I read his adventures, decide whether you like Dr. Light and give me a ruling on whether Resurrection Man is a fair pick.

Wow. We don’t usually agree this easily, huh? You must be coming around to my superior way of thinking. I am an enlightened human being. Please, keep your praise to a minimum. I’ll wait.

All done clapping and fawning? Okay then, let’s get this wrapped up.

I’m going to make a group of decisions all related to one another right here and right now. I think this will make sense in the end. First of all, I concede the GL pick to you. Kyle Rayner is in. He has a great relationship with Flash and gives us that extra firepower. My only problem with him is that he’s all wrapped up in the GL Corps as their version of Neo from The Matrix. That’s both annoying and troubling when it comes to his availability. But I can live with it and he makes the most sense.

If we remove Hal Jordan, then we’ve lost the senior leadership of the team. To that end, and to bring in a female character (because I don’t feel that Dr. Light plays nice here considering the implications of her villainous male counterpart), I suggest we do add Wonder Woman to the team. She’s a strong leader and, quite honestly, her solo series always seems to be written in a different universe anyway. I have a feeling that any team we would end up assembling would focus more on the relationships of the younger characters and Wonder Woman will be there as more of an advisor and extra hand in battle.

Now, to your final point, I could make an argument to include Resurrection Man. A little more than two-thirds of the way through his eponymous series, he was offered probationary status in the JL. It’s also been said that he and Vandal Savage have been fighting each other for generations…which would make for a pretty cool storyline involving the Justice League. However, the more I think about it, I’m not sure he’s up for teamwork. Sure, his power would be fascinating to investigate and develop in the heat of battle, and he could probably tell some great stories, but he’s not really grounded in the mythology.

So here’s where I argue with myself over the necessity of including a “rookie” character. We all know that the Marvel and DC Universes are inherently different. Marvel is all about “real” characters with flaws and weaknesses. DC has always portrayed an iconic status in its heroes. You could get away with putting a young turk on the Avengers…making them prove themselves, showing the team helping to develop the next era of hero. But the Justice League is about being the best immediately. People rely on them. It’s no place to toss a greenhorn.

That’s why I’m going to voluntarily withdraw Resurrection Man. However, I don’t want to automatically bring back in your suggestion either. The Ray is, technically, part of the Freedom Fighters and they probably need him more. No, I’m going to nominate someone who has been around for a long time, has a somewhat similar power to The Ray, is a current member of the JLA and definitely ups the diversity factor of the team: Black Lightning.

I think that explanation came together nicely. So, my round two decisions: Wonder Woman leads a team composed of Green Lantern, Flash, Mister Miracle, Animal Man, Plastic Man and Black Lightning. Strange. Just looking at the names, it has the feel of two different teams being stitched together, but not in a bad way.

I argued with myself about whether or not to bring in Wonder Woman, and while I decided no at the time, I’m fine with her being included now.  I also love the idea of her being the team leader.  Theoritically, she led the team one other time, but it was a rather lame team, and she didn’t do much actual leading (until the awful crossover where Ice died, and then she acted like a moron, just like almost everyone in the League at the time).  She’s definitely in.

Black Lightning.  It is something of a slam dunk, isn’t it?  He’s smart, he’s got great powers, he’s adds some diversity and he has an interesting personality.  I think he’d make an excellent addition.  In the real universe, I’d want to ask his creator, Tony Isabella, for his blessing, since I understand there has been some….let’s call them disagreements between Isabella and DC Comics on who actually owns the character (DC claims Black Lightning was created under a work for hire agreement, which Isabella stridently claims was not the case) and while I don’t have facts on which side is correct, we certainly can look at historical precedent to see what sort of track record DC has with playing fair with creators.  That being said, this is a dream team, and hopefully Tony Isabella would give the okay, so let’s include him.

Wonder Woman.  Green Lantern.  Flash.  Mr. Miracle.  Animal Man.  Black Lightning.  Plastic Man.  I really like that group.  You have skilled superheroes who’ve been doing this for years and legacy heroes who have come into their own; you have heroes with tremendous power, and some who trade more in skill; you have heroes who come from a regal background and some from an urban environment and one from another planet.  It works for me.


John and Jason’s Agreed Upon 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-15-08

We promise to stop milking this idea and move on after this post, but now that we’ve both given our picks for the 20 things every superhero comic collection needs (which are both quite good, and any items on there are worth your time) we thought we’d bring it all together for one final post, with things we both agree on. Here you go:

1. Starman: I won’t continue to belabor this. It’s great. DC is releasing it in new omnibus editions, collecting the entire run and a few of the miniseries that James Robinson wrote which tied into the main story. The first volume is available now and the second is coming in early 2009. Or, if you prefer, track down the original issues; for the first few years James Robinson answered the letters pages personally, and encouraged people to discuss issues beyond the comics, particularly collecting. Some letters pages didn’t deal with comics at all, yet they were all interesting, and it gave a reader the sense of community that is lacking in many comics today. One more reason these comics were so unique.

2. Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League: Again, all I’ll do is encourage you to check out the new hardcover collections DC is printing of this series, starting at the first issue. The first two volumes are available now, and more are sure to come.

3. The Authority: These are also available in trade paperbacks. I highly recommend just the first 12 issues by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, which were at one time collected into one giant hardcover, although I don’t know if it’s still in print.

4. Invincible by Robert Kirkman: Possibly the best young hero comic being published today, and one of the best superhero comics being published overall. If you’ve never read it, dive in without reading about them on the internet, as there are surprises in store. Image collects these in trades regularly, and you can also snag an annual hardcover Ultimate collection, which contains a full 12 issues. Great stuff.

5. Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald: Perhaps his greatest written work, and certainly a series that paved the way for a lot of future investigations into what people with the powers of demigods might do with those powers, like the Authority. This has been collected into a trade paperback (the first printing even had some of Gruenwald’s ashes mixed into the ink) and seems to still be in print. DC is a lot better about keeping their collected editions in print than Marvel is, so if you’re interested in anything Marvel published on our list, grab it in trade now rather than later.

6. “Under Siege” in The Avengers by Roger Stern and John Buscema: This is an example of something that was collected in a trade, but I believe that trade is now out of print. However, the back issues aren’t expensive (look for #270, 271, 273-277) and you should be able to track them down without much trouble.

7. Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Marvel has quite a few of these issues collected in trade, and you should have no trouble finding them either.

8. Mark Waid’s Flash: This one hasn’t been collected, except for a few trades which appear to be out of print (so much for DC being better at keeping things in print than Marvel, although honestly, in general, they are). Waid had a very long run on this book (including some beautiful issues pencilled by Mike Wieringo), which lasted on and off from #80 of the 2nd series through #129.

9. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: I believe that the trades for his issues are out of print, but a little quick internet searching showed some available second hand, and pretty cheap. Actual back issues can be hard to find and tend to be more expensive, so securing old trades may be your best bet. They’re worth the trouble.

10. Damage Control: Sadly, this has never been collected in trade paperback, one of life’s great injustices. I’d recommend searching for back issues though, which shouldn’t be expensive. The first 4-issue miniseries from 1989 is better than the later “Acts of Vengeance” tie-in mini or the final 1991 mini.

11. Thunderbolts: The first few issues have been collected in a trade, but most trades focus on the later issues. Those aren’t bad, but they don’t break ground the way the early issues did, where you never knew where the series was going from issue to issue.

12. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man: There are three trades available which collect his entire run on the series, well worth their price.

13. The Claremont/Byrne issues of Uncanny X-Men: Marvel has published these in their beautiful Masterworks line, although those may be out of print. Original issues may be pricey, but I’m sure there are trades collecting, at the very least, their Dark Phoenix Saga.

14. Madrox Limited Series by Peter David: We decided to include this, rather than X-Factor because it clearly shows the potential that Peter David found in the Madrox character, potential which seems to have eluded every other writer to handle the character for decades before this series was printed.

15. Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange: This could be the hardest thing on the list to snag. His issues were printed in Strange Tales and have only been collected, to the best of my knowledge, in the Marvel Masterworks line. Still, they are gorgeous and worth having.

16. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman work: DC has all of these issues collected in some beautiful trades.

17. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels: Wait a minute! This wasn’t on the list before! Yes, it wasn’t, but Jason preferred this to Astro City and I was more than willing to concede. In many ways, the series are similar, with this also approaching the superhero through the eyes of ordinary humans. This was Alex Ross’ first mainstream work, and for those who think him overexposed now, I ask you to try and imagine what it was like when this series was first released. I remember seeing his art for the first time, and being completely blown away; if the Marvel superheroes existed in the real world, this must be what they would look like, I thought! It’s a great story too; it was collected in a trade, which looks like it may still be available certain places.

18. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe/DC’s Who’s Who: I don’t believe DC has kept their handbook in print, but you can almost always find some version of Marvel’s available for purchase. The new hardcover editions have changed the format quite a bit, but they’re still the best way to educate yourself on newer and less-known characters. Marvel has also released the original series in their Essential format…but the black & white presentation steals a little of the glory from the pages.

19. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: Jason still doesn’t agree, but I’m adding it. Sadly, DC refuses to reprint most of this series, but the back issues are cheap. Find them. You won’t regret it.

20. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier: John can’t see the simple sophistication of this tale, but I still hold it high as an example of celebrating comics’ past while adding a modern touch. If you can afford the Absolute Edition, definitely pick it up. The added sketches and commentary are enlightening.

There you have it! Those 20 things should keep you busy reading for some time, and when you’re through, you should either appreciate superhero comics in a new light. Stop back here and tell us how right we were or start flaming us for stupid picks. We welcome either response (but prefer the former).


John’s 20 Things Every Super-Hero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

You’ll find that my list, as opposed to Jason’s, tends to hit more specific issues than Jason’s did. It’s also, of course, informed by my personal preferences. There are plenty of important comics that I simply didn’t include because I’m trying to find the comics that people will enjoy reading, and will still show the comics medium at its best and show everything of which the medium is capable. Before I get started, I want to mention that there are four things on my list (and one thing on my list of “Honorable Mentions”) that are also on Jason’s list. To avoid repetition, I’m going to mention them now, but instead of including them below, I’m going to bump some of my “Honorable Mentions” up to my main list. It may be cheating, but there are so many cool things out there that I want the opportunity to list them all (and I still won’t have room)!

So, Jason and I agree on Starman, James Robinson’s series, a true wonder of comics. The best superhero series of the modern age, this series may be unique in that it ran for 80 issues, and was only ever written by Robinson. The plotting is dense and well planned; things in the first issues pay off in the final issues. The characters sound like real people, and they grow and change as the series progresses. This is what superhero comics should be, and honestly, you could read these issues, never read another comic again, and be happy.

We also agree on Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League run, which showed that you could be funny and still make good comics. This was particularly groundbreaking, coming out in the late 80s, when Grim ‘N Gritty was the order of the day. We also both feel that Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is worth checking out, for it’s ability to show superheroes as they might act in the real world, and for it’s groundbreaking “widescreen” storytelling. We believe that one of the first series to do that was Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, which wasn’t as adult as Authority, but first threw out some of the ethical questions that superheroes must grapple with. Finally, we both direct your attention to Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, a fine example of the quality superheroes you can find if you wander outside of the Big Two.

What about my own picks? Read on….

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I’m sure a lot of people think us crazy for listing so few Alan Moore comics on our lists. I’m a big fan of his work, and much of it can be recommended, but it’s been recommended elsewhere, and if you’re a fan of comics, you’re going to have read Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Swamp Thing or any of his other titles. The ABC line is important because it gave Alan Moore the chance to do lighter, brighter (but no less interesting) fare. I would highly recommend Top 10, as it’s my favorite from this line, but Tomorrow Stories is also an excellent choice, as it highlights how differently Moore can write for different artists. Give one of comic’s greatest writers a chance to show you how well he can write any genre.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: Jason mentioned their comic Groo in his last pick, and it is a great one. However, it’s not superheroes. On the plus side, these two have done superheroes, in specials where they Destroyed DC and Massacred Marvel. They also did an interesting series for DC called Fanboy, where the titular character became intimately involved with the comics he loved so much. They’re work together is funny, and more importantly smart, and even better, it often has a great message, which they communicate without beating you over the head.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Being the huge Avengers (and Roger Stern) fan that he is, I was amazed that this didn’t make Jason’s list. These issues, which chronicle the Masters of Evil invading and occupying Avengers Mansion, are some great superhero comics. They may not be the modern inspiration that Starman is, but they clearly show that, in the world of superhero corporate comics, you can still do great stories. The follow up to these issues, in which the Avengers must go to fight the Gods of Olympus, are just as strong. I should mention that John Buscema’s art in all of these issues is superb and helps to make them the classics that they are.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Normally, I wouldn’t include two Avengers stories in a list like this. I also tried to find stories that showcased different aspects of the superhero genre. This story is, like “Under Siege”, just a really great superhero comic. However, it is so great, that I couldn’t choose between it and the one above. These issues pit an Avengers team consisting of the classics (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor) with Black Panther and the newcomer Firestar, as they battle an army of Ultrons to protect our world. The panel where the tired and battered heroes finally reach the main Ultron robot, hurt but not broken, is one of the most powerful superhero panels I’ve even seen.

5. Frank MIller’s Batman: Year One: I agree with Jason that Dark Knight Returns simply no longer holds up. However, I believe that Year One does, and it’s my pick for the best Frank Miller work ever. Somehow, in the space of four issues, Miller was able to distill Batman down into his very basics, giving us a fresh and believable tale of how one man could begin the campaign that would make him an icon. You could read this story and never read another Batman tale, and know everything important about the character.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Another Kurt Busiek story (this one pencilled by the always reliable Mark Bagley). If you read this comic in a vacuum, it’s inclusion on my list may make no sense. However, if you had read it when it was first published, the mystery may vanish. Today, it’s impossible, it seems, for comics to be published without fans knowing every detail of the issue; who will die, who will return from the dead, who will be unmasked. The Thunderbolts had been teased for a few months as a new team of heroes, and while some subtle hints had been dropped that there was more going on with them then was apparent, the reveal at the end of the first issue was amazing. It also led into an incredible run which took the superhero concept and turned it on its ear, examining villains trying to become heroes.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: There are a lot of great comics that John Byrne has created, but like Alan Moore, if you’re a fan than you’ve already heard of his incredible work on Alpha Flight or Next Men or Fantastic Four. I  recommend his work on She-Hulk because it again showcases a well known creator doing something different. Byrne’s She-Hulk was again, a very amusing book, although Byrne went much farther over the line than any of the other amusing books on my list. She-Hulk regularly broke the Fourth Wall, chatting with her readers; villains took breaks between their scenes. It was glorious fun, and it is a shame Byrne’s time on the book was so truncated, as no subsequent writer could pull it off as effortlessly.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: If you want a superhero comic collection, there has to be an X-Men comic in it, right? Jason recommended the Claremont/Byrne issues, and they’re wonderful. However, this graphic novel is my favorite. Written by Chris Claremont, and drawn by Brent Anderson, it details the crusade of a religious zealot to stamp out mutants. Claremont is someone who I often criticize for his stylistic writing style, but they’re not in evidence here. Like Year One, you can read this comic, and know everything important about the X-Men.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: Mark Waid wrote The Flash for years, sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with Brian Augustyn. Their issues introduced Impulse, explained the Speed Force, and pitted Wally West against innumerable villains. However, that’s not why I chose these issues. I chose these issues because they are the best example of a superhero story that is, in reality, a love story. Sure, there were fights and plots and worlds to save during these issues, but the heart of these stories was the love between Wally West and Linda Park. Everything else was just background noise, easily overwhelmed by the love these two shared. While most heroes have love interests, I’ve rarely seen a romance as real as this one.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Jason mentioned this when he mentioned comics from other companies, but I singled this out and included it because it is demonstrably a superhero comic. It just happens to contain a man-eating cow and ninjas. It may seem like I keep coming back to funnier examples of superheroes, but this one is the most amusing I’ve ever read. Unlike the others, which mostly tried to ground their adventures in the reality of their comic book universes, the Tick isn’t grounded at all (he lives in a world where villains have chairs for heads). I recommend the original issues that Edlund wrote and drew himself; I laugh until I cry even after multiple re-readings.

11. The Batman Adventures: Comics heroes have visited different media since the radio shows based on Superman. Some of those visits have been good, others have been bad. When the animated Batman show appeared, it was so good, that it gave something back to the medium that birthed it’s hero: this series of comics, presenting some of the best Batman stories ever published. These stories, beautifully illustrated by Mike Parobeck, show how you can tell an excellent story by stripping out the extraneous (and unnecessary) and focus on the important. Some people found the series too plain, but those people missed the boat. They were elegant in their simplicity, and the well written and drawn stories were anything but child-like.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: It’s hard, I believe, to do mythology in comics and keep it interesting. It’s difficult to write powerful characters and make them relatable. It’s sometimes career suicide to try and infuse mythology into superhero comics. Yet Walt Simonson made it look so easy. I am still in awe, and these are some of the only Thor comics I have ever enjoyed.

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: I suppose anyone who’s read our blog for any length of time figured I’d be including this. Comics about teen heroes have been around for years and there have been some good ones, but for my money, none have been better than this one. First of all, Peter David stayed for the entire run, and Nauck only missed a few issues (often because he was pencilling Young Justice specials or larger issues of the title), so the entire series has a coherence that so many series lack. Furthermore, Peter David was able to keep the cast relatable, keep relationships changing in believable ways, and he was able to do both amusing and deathly serious issues deftly. For a series to change tone as often as this did and not seem schizophrenic is a commendable feat, and David handled it with finesse. And may I say, while some may see Nauck’s art as cartoony, that like Mike Parobeck, Nauck was able to tell a damn good story, stripping away the unnecessary clutter that infects other artist’s work. Nauck handled the serious issues as well as he did the funny ones.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: This will be my last Kurt Busiek comic, but I had to include it. Astro City uses superheroes as a backdrop to tell stories about people; some issues the heroes have the stage, but often, they’re simply extras, as the stories talk about the regular people surrounded by these gods among men. It’s one of the most human series I have ever read, and well worth your time. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brent Anderson, who always does such a nice job making sure the stories look good.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Jason mentioned comics from the Golden Age, and I said only one spoke to me. That one is Jack Cole’s creation, which has never been used as well since his death. Yes, I enjoy Plastic Man in the modern DC Universe (and recommend Kyle Baker’s series), but Cole’s Plastic Man was so ahead of its time that it deserves special recognition. Even though Cole produced these stories in the 40s and 50s, they resonate with the themes of the modern age. Yes, they’re funny, but the characters have actual personalities (rare in the Golden Age) the humor feels fresh (which is odd, considering how old they are) and the drawings seem to burst off the page.

16. Damage Control: Marvel’s series of limited series about a company that cleans up after superhero fights is such a common sense idea that I can’t believe it wasn’t done sooner. Much like some issues of Astro City, the heroes are often just the backdrop, as we explore the lives of normal humans, inhabiting a world filled with those with power. Yes, it’s funny, but there’s real characters and plots here to balance that. It’s a wonderful look at the absurdities of the superhero genre, while managing to remain a part of it.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I think it’s important to mention this series, particularly the first time Peter David tackled these characters alongside artist Larry Stroman, because it made one thing very clear: there are no stupid characters, or if they are stupid, you can still make them work. David took a group consisting of Havok and Polaris and a bunch of (what were then considered) stupid or unworkable characters and made them work. Madrox is, without a doubt, his strongest achievement, and the self-titled limited series that David wrote for him is also worth recommending. If someone had told me in the mid-90s that I would now consider Madrox one of the most interesting characters in superherodom, I would have considered them crazy. David also made Quicksilver interesting, a character that had always been searching for a writer who could keep his obnoxious personality intact, while making him likable. Hey, he almost even made me like Wolfsbane, but I’m not sure anyone could do that.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Geoff Johns sometimes get knocked around by critics for his love of obscure DC characters and his tendency to cannibalize DC characters and continuity for his own use. However, his early JSA issues, beautifully illustrated by Steven Sadowski, achieve something that other books should try to emulate; he successfully sells the idea of superhero legacies (where names and/or powers are passed down through generations) and reimagines some Golden Age concepts (like Mr. Terrific) for the modern age. Most of the first series was great, and the current series would be better if it wasn’t stuck with some of the plotlines running through the DC Universe, but the earliest issues are certainly worth a look.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: It’s struck me that Jason and I have listed precious few comics of the big names in the industry, like Spider-Man or Superman. This comic is one that is often overlooked, as it came out during the Clone Saga, and it featured the death of a character that has since come back to life. However, if you read it as it was originally written, it’s an incredibly moving story of the death of Aunt May. You finally see the chemistry and bond between her and her nephew, and her death will make you cry. It’s a shame they brought her back, as she will never get as good a send-off as the one J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Bagley gave her here.

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: If I have to explain it to you, you’ll never understand.

Cheater. Next time I’m going first so that I can look more original with my picks. Jerk.

Yes, yes, we had a few similarities and, once you read my following comments, you’ll see we had even more in common before I pruned my list. I’m stunned that the Vision and Scarlet Witch maxiseries was not on your list. That being said, I find it interesting that you also excluded all of the so-called “must haves” from your list. I think it’s an example of the media bandwagoning on comics and not really knowing what’s of interest to the true fan.

And now, since you tore my list apart and then managed to somehow call out my fandom like a common street houligan, I’m going to return the favor…

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I have no opinion on these, because I’ve never read them. To be quite honest, aside from Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and an excellent Superman story), I just don’t get Alan Moore. His superhero writing doesn’t stand out to me. Sure, it may be more nuanced and intellectual, but there’s also less punching of faces which leads to a certain amount of boredom.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: I forgot all about Fanboy, not that I think it’s essential by any stretch of the imagination. If we did a list of the Top Humor Comics, I could see Aragones and Evanier taking a spot or two. This one seems out of place on an essential superhero list.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Yes, this one was obviously on my short list. I think that’s why I made the comment about needing to do a Top Storylines post. In retrospect, I probably should have added this. It’s my favorite Avengers arc and probably one of my favorite comic stories of all time. The Masters of Evil finally lived up to their dubious moniker.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Two Avengers stories? Hmm…you didn’t even mention that I didn’t have a single Hawkeye story on my list. Actually, I was going to include the first West Coast Avengers miniseries on my list.

5. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One: I don’t really have a good reason for not including this one, except for the fact that most of the story has been portrayed on film and portions of the origin have been revamped and redacted so many times as to make my head spin. Miller weaves a solid yarn, but I prefer the grittiness of his Daredevil work.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Yes. Almost made my list too. The utter jaw-droppingness of the ending make this one of the best single issues ever printed. And I agree that it may have been the last gasp of “wait for it” timing in modern comics. I often complain about how the internet has taken the fun out of comics.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: Never read it, as I can’t see myself spending money on a solo She-Hulk book. Although, i have heard great things about the humor and how Byrne broke the Fourth Wall (similar to Morrison’s Animal Man). I’m surprised Dan Slott’s She-Hulk didn’t make your list.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: Meh. This strikes me as another of those “classic” stories that just doesn’t hold up well with the passage of time.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: This is another one that I was seriously considering. Mark Waid made Wally West a person first and a superhero second…which is something DC has had trouble doing for most of its history.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Agreed on all counts. I’m also glad you singled out the fact that the issues NOT written by Edlund just don’t match up. Was that a double negative?

11. The Batman Adventures: I briefly thought about this title, but then I realized that I have the DVD box sets on my shelf and I’d much rather watch the cartoon.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: When I sold off the majority of my Thor collection, these are the only issues that I kept. However, I think that just may be the nostalgic side of me. I honestly haven’t retained any info from this run. Is this the one with the frog?

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: As little as I care for the majority of DC’s pantheon, I care even less about its junior members. Whatever.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Busiek is a great writer, I just prefer superhero books that are actually about superheroes, especially when the superheroes who do show up are just derivatives from the Big Two. I’d be more interested in throwing Marvels onto one of our lists. Even though I think it missed some marks, the fact that it tried to show the human side of an already highly established universe made more sense to me.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Plastic Man has always been a peripheral character to me. Right after I posted my list, I thought about going back and throwing in Beck’s Captain Marvel work, but I don’t know enough about that or Plastic Man to make a sensible argument.

16. Damage Control: Definitely a consideration for me. LOVED the first series. The subsequent ones didn’t have the same “Ooh” factor for me. Taking a peek behind the scenes in a superhero-filled world, and its repercussions, was definitely a unique vision at the time.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I wanted to include an X-Factor run, but I just didn’t think they were iconic enough for a “best of” superhero collection list. There are so many X-titles and offshoots out there that I just basically ignored the mutant sub-genre completely. However, these were good stuff. And that Madrox miniseries is one of the highlights of the last few years.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Again, not sure. I appreciate Johns’s enthusiasm for obscure characters and legacy heroes, but a lot of the stuff he worked with was still mired down with DC’s baffling continuity. You really had to know your stuff to follow along with some of it.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: Seriously? Hell, I’d rather reread the What If? issue with Aunt May as a herald of Galactus. If you wanted to pick a good Spider-Man story, why not the final Kraven one?

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: Really? You couldn’t find a 20th entry with more relevance than this? I think you can definitely see some of our personalities in these picks. You seem to have gone for the intentionally humorous while I’ve tended towards the accidentally funny books. I love irony.


Professor X: Hero or Zero?

Oct-07-08

It certainly would be difficult to dispute that, when a character has existed for over four decades and has been written by dozens of separate scripters, it can be difficult to keep a consistent character portrayal. There are certainly times when any character may seem slightly off to long time readers, often for a variety of reasons. That being said, there may be no character in the Marvel Universe (and certainly not in the X-Universe) that has been portrayed in a more confusing fashion; sometimes Charles Xavier appears to be a decent, heroic man, and other times he seems to be a manipulative ass. Which is the real Professor X?

The trouble began as early as his third appearance. Xavier seemed to be a good man, and had created a group of mutants to safeguard humanity from evil mutants. He was teaching these teens the normal prep school curriculum, as well as training them in how to use their powers. (Some might consider this to be a morally questionable action; the Professor trained five teenagers in fighting and used them as his private army, a move he would repeat with the New Mutants some years down the road. Some people might be correct.) However, in X-Men #3 (the original series, before they became uncanny) Xavier mused at how much he loved Jean Grey, and mentioned that he would love to tell her, but he couldn’t, since he was confined to a wheelchair. Apparently, the fact that he was her teacher, close to her guardian, had known her since she was eleven, and was easily twenty years older than her did not factor into his decision not to pursue this relationship. Granted, Stan Lee, who was writing the book at the time, never mentioned the attraction again, no doubt realizing he had crossed a line that was better left uncrossed. However, it was printed, and years later other writers would pick up on it and run with it, and it’s still sometimes mentioned today.

Some years later, Xavier again showed his tendency towards cruelty. Sensing an impending attack from an alien race, Xavier decided that he was the only one who could stop it, but also decided that he would need to be isolated so he could work on his preparations without interruption. He got a reformed criminal who could make himself appear as someone else, the Changeling, to assume his place on the team. When the Changeling died in battle, Xavier knew that his students thought him dead, and were devastated by his passing (so devastated that they broke up the team). The only one who knew his secret was Jean Grey, and Xavier swore her to secrecy. It would be some years before Xavier would reveal his existence to his remaining students, which he did only so they could help repel the alien invasion for which he’d been planning. So, not only did he allow those who looked on him as a father figure to believe him dead, but he also saddled Jean with a very weighty secret and would not allow her to lessen her burden by telling anyone, even the man she loved. Not very nice.

In the last few decades, Xavier’s hasn’t stopped his morally questionable deeds. Of course, his most famous example of “Telepaths Behaving Badly” happened when he mind-wiped Magneto, who is one of his oldest friends, leaving said friend a drooling vegetable. Subsequently, Xavier started calling himself Onslaught, and became a major villain in the Marvel Universe. It would later be revealed that some of his behavior was caused by Magneto’s presence in his mind, which became rooted in his psyche when Xavier mind-wiped him, but surely Xavier must claim some of the blame for the villainous actions of Onslaught, if only because mind-wiping his oldest friend was a morally dubious action in the first place. However, the surprises awaiting the X-Men didn’t stop when their mentor and long-time leader tried to kill them; they were just as surprised when they discovered the “Xavier Protocols” which were files authored by Xavier detailing how you could kill each member of the team. This seems ridiculously over the line, putting Xavier on a par with Batman (who did something similar in the DC Universe). Is Xavier truly that ruthless and paranoid?

There are other examples of Xavier doing things that are somewhat morally ambiguous, as well as examples of him being a true hero. Which one is the true Xavier?

Aw, man…I was hoping you were going to do like you did with Jean Grey and document all the times Xavier has been killed and brought back. Or, better yet, all of the times he’s been given back the ability to walk only to become wheelchair-bound a few issues later. Good times.

I’m torn on this one, mainly because I just don’t really like Charles Xavier. I think he’s a bit of a self-serving dick masquerading as some sort of hippie cult leader. Don’t tell anyone, but I think Professor X is secretly a Republican. He’s all about control and forcing a flawed point of view. Regardless of what he publicly states, he’s blatantly for the premise of “might over right.” Why else would he train teenagers in ways that are more strenuous than the Marine Corps? The guy has an axe to grind with humanity, but he’s less genuine about it than Magneto ever was. At least you knew where that maniac stood on a daily basis (until Charles messed with his head).

The big question is: since Xavier is such an Alpha-level telepath and mind-messer, how do we know that he isn’t tweaking everyone’s will at will? He could be tricking every single person in the world every single day. Making people bend to his ideals, forcing others to comply with his way of thinking and generally making a mockery of independent thought are things Professor X could do without even getting out of bed in the morning. It’s a decidedly creepy scenario. Has Marvel ever done a What If? issue about THAT?

That would certainly be amusing, looking at the times Xavier has died and returned, although that’s become so much a cliche of the X-Men (and really, the entire Marvel and DC Universes) that it’s difficult to track all of the instances. It might be much more illuminating to chart how many times the poor man has regained the use of his legs, only to have them destroyed again, putting him back in his wheelchair (or whatever you call his personal conveyance, since he seems to eschew your normal wheelchairs, and the last few futuristic models he has had don’t even have wheels any longer). If Xavier is something of a jerk, maybe he’s just bitter that he can’t seem to walk for any length of time.

Your feelings about his powers are certainly understandable; telepaths are probably the scariest of all superhumans for exactly the reasons you’ve named. I believe that your thoughts have been echoed by certain characters in the Marvel Universe from time to time, and they’ve confronted them head on in a few issues of Ultimate X-Men, where it’s been hinted that Xavier is even more of a manipulative dick than normal. It’s interesting that in the early days of the group, Xavier’s physical condition was obviously intended to offset the incredible powers of his mind. He couldn’t go with the X-Men into battle, and although he followed along with them mentally, he was apparently limited to merely thinking at the team. In fact, his powers were so limited at that time that, when he wanted to mindwipe the Vanisher and the Blob (which he did in issues #2 and 3 of the original X-Men series, respectively), he had to be physically near them. Over the years, his powers expanded, and now he seems to be able to physically affect people no matter where they are in the world. Now, his physical handicap seems to be a pointless condition, inflicted on him merely because that’s how people know him. It’s not like they’ve ever used his inability to walk as a way to express the situations of people who actually are confined to wheelchairs on a day to day basis and it doesn’t affect his ability to be an effective superhuman. So why even bother keeping him crippled?

That being said, I must admit that I like Professor X, and I don’t think he’s as bad as recent writers want to portray him. I think that he certainly has done some questionable things, but that’s part of his character. With the power that he possesses, surely anyone would have occasional lapses into morally dubious territory. There’s a scene in the God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel (one of the best X-Men stories ever, and certainly the best of the Marvel Graphic Novel series, which had quite a few strong entries) that I think encapsulates exactly how I see Xavier. In this scene, the battle is won and the X-Men are hanging out with Magneto, who’s reminding them that they’re weak and their more peaceful method of solving problems doesn’t work. Xavier, who was kidnapped and brainwashed through this story, agrees with Magneto, saying that maybe his way really does suck. Cyclops, Storm and the other X-Folks disagree with Xavier, and seeing the support from his students is too much. Xavier breaks down in tears, thanking his students for their faith and support in him and his methods, especially when he lacked that faith in himself.

That’s the Charles Xavier that resonates with me. He’s a man with an incredible power and an incredible responsibility to use that power ethically, and to train the next generation of mutants to use their powers responsibly as well. He’s a flawed man, as we all are, but he’s doing his best. Too many times, writers want to portray him as one thing or the other; he’s either the sweet old teacher, who’s rather above reproach, or he’s the manipulative jackass, willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals. In reality, of course, rarely are people at either end of that spectrum and Xavier shouldn’t be either. I think he’s out there doing his best, and he will sometimes fall, but he’ll get back up again (perhaps a tasteless analogy, considering his physical condition, but it works on the astral plane) and continue to soldier on, doing the best he can.

I dunno. I’m rather indifferent when it comes to portraying subtlety in comics. For me, in order to prove a point or move a story forward, it’s helpful if the characters are somewhat one-dimensional. And I mean that in the best light possible. I don’t expect flat conversations and predictable battles, but I do expect Wolverine to be blunt, I expect Spider-Man to be a smart ass and I expect Captain America to stand up for what’s right. Trying to find this so-called middle ground with Xavier is off-putting. His exterior message is one of “can’t we all just get along” proportions. I’m just not sure if his motivation is backed by his tactics. No one can really say if he’s being honest or just playing everyone like a cheap one-man band.

I agree that the lack of attention to his physical handicap is disappointing. His early appearances worked hard to set up obstacles, showing him as frail but his mind as strong. Over the years, this has been forgotten and it has helped to escalate his out of control powers. The Professor X character has fallen into the same trap as Superman, Batman, Hulk and any number of additional superhero types. The 80s and 90s are predominantly to blame for this over-powering of characters, like ‘roid rage in graphic form. Everyone was so rabid for the knock-down drag-out fight scenes that creators consciously and haphazardly threw aside the built-in limitations in favor of sparks and blood. Imagine how fearful the general populace would be to live in a world of that proliferate magnitude. I would never leave my house for fear of a crushed tank or spaceship landing on my head from thousands of miles away. Hell, I’d want to sleep forever just to avoid being mind controlled or set on fire or thrown into the future from the comfort of my kitchen while trying to make a sandwich.

Seriously. They need to back off with the omniscience. Professor X is a frightening character when taken to the extreme. I’m just not sure there has been enough editorial control exerted on him over the years to justify any sort of trust.

Well, I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying, but I think we’re hitting a few different points here. Allow me to try and sort through them:

Your general comment about one-dimensional heroes is well taken, although I wouldn’t call it one-dimensional. Every character (just as every person) does possess some dominant personality traits. Spider-Man is a smart ass. Batman is grim. Wolverine is a scrapper. It’s just like in real life, when someone might say that someone is sarcastic or someone is meticulous or someone is analytical. That’s a very obvious and apparent personality trait, and I don’t think it’s one-dimensional, nor are those characters one dimensional. That’s just the personality trait most evident. Xavier is a mediator, one who is always trying to find a middle ground. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other facets to his personality, nor that they can’t be shown from time to time. Some of the most interesting Spider-Man stories have been those which show him when he stops cracking jokes, because that’s when you know something is wrong, since it happens so rarely. Along those lines, we shouldn’t see Xavier breaking down often, as he did in the scene I mentioned above, but when it does happen, it underscores the seriousness of the situation. So, in the end, I’m not seeing our positions on that point being so different.

You then mention the escalation of powers, which I agree is a poor choice, as it makes characters difficult to relate to, and also difficult to challenge effectively in combat without staging ridiculously over-the-top cosmic battles (I sometimes wonder if that’s why we encountered so many omnipotent villains in company wide crossovers, such as Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet and the Beyonder; there was no way anything less could challenge the assembled might of the heroes). However, I would caution against blaming the 80s and 90s, especially when you choose Batman and Superman as examples. Yes, those decades saw an incredible escalation, particularly at Marvel, but DC began escalating Batman and Superman to the ranks of the gods back in the 50s and 60s (they actually depowered Superman to a great degree in the 80s). However, in the end, your point is well taken; the powers many of these heroes have are still amazing things. We don’t need to make them even more powerful to instill a sense of awe. It’s the weaknesses in a character’s power that can make for interesting stories, and force writers to be more creative.

In the end, though, I think I agree with you. Professor X could have used firmer editorial guidance a few times over the years and he is scary when taken to extremes. Would I trust him? I’m not so sure; it would be difficult to ever truly trust a telepath. That being said, just because trust would come slowly, that does not mean he doesn’t deserve it.