The NewMU so far…

Jan-06-12

Hey…it’s our 100th post! And it only took us 3 years and 9 months of constant non-attention to get that far! I can hear all of you clapping out there. Nothing more deafening than silence.

All sarcastic celebrations aside, I wanted to take this time to sum up what we’ve proposed so far and see if there’s any way to integrate our past “revamp” ideas into our NewMU. We still have another 36 titles to go, but this may speed things along and save us some redundant repeating.

So far, we’ve set the Fantastic Four on a path to science adventure…turned Dazzler into a teenage pop star…and fused the angst of the X-Men with the politics of The Authority to bring you The Ultimates. However, some of the other titles we have slated for the NewMU — including Hawkeye, Dr. Strange, Moon Knight, The Defenders, Namor and Nightstalkers — were already given the treatment by our magical maneuvering. The problem is, we’re kind of dedicated to making sure we don’t repeat the use of secondary characters where they don’t fit, not to mention that some of our plotlines could contradict. So, here’s a quick summation of what we foisted upon our curious readers in the past…

Nightstalkers – Dominic Fortune is hired by Frank Drake to investigate some supernatural goings-on. He runs into Brother Voodoo in Charleston, South Carolina and finds out that the mystic man has been having dreams about him. They learn that something is afoot with the Darkhold and Morgan Le Fay is involved. In fact, Morgan is using Tigra as a present-time conduit for her foul dealings. The team rescues Tigra and continues tracking the Darkhold for Drake, unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes.

Moon Knight – Go heavy on the multiple personality angle. Introduce supporting cast for each persona. Relocate to Chicago. Run afoul of crazy Egyptian cultists worshipping Anubis, not to mention a new Serpent Society and a reimagined Killer Shrike.

Hawkeye – Moves to LA where he becomes spokesman for Damage Control West, but he’s also doing espionage work for Nick Fury with the help of Black Widow. He hires Pym as a technical consultant. Starts a feud with Taskmaster and maybe the Night Shift or even our revamped Circus of Crime.

Dr. Strange – Takes Scarlet Witch as his apprentice and falls into a love triangle with her and Night Nurse. He relocates to Boston and writes a self-help book or anti-magic book or romance novel…basically, he writes SOMETHING and goes on a book tour. Befriends a research librarian and an FBI profiler. Runs afoul of Cyrus Black, a more sinister Hangman and a new steampunk-based villain. Book also delves into the deep roots of magic in the NewMU.

Namor – Atlantis is an entire country, not just one big city. Each region is run by a magistrate and all magistrates sit on the Council of Argos with Namor as their king. The economy of Atlantis runs on selling fishing and mining rights and coordinating trade routes, but certain sectors thrive on salvage work and piracy. The island-state of Madripoor is involved as well as Dr. Doom in his bid to build a navy. Atlanteans live in coral caves and shipwrecks, their lands lit by phosphorescent algae. They have a UN ambassador but lack the high technology of the past.

Defenders – Team of Hellstorm, Cat, Gargoyle, Black Knight, Dr. Druid and Cloak and Dagger are brought together to “defend” reality from supernatural threats and to investigate the dark corners of the NewMU. They face off against The Zodiac and wreslte with the Darkhold.

Oh, and I also reread our revamp of the Frightful Four (Absorbing Man, Titania, Trapster and Mysterio working for The Wizard) and think that the idea of a competitive foe would work well in our NewMU FF. Food for thought. We also wrote up retellings of Iron Man and Spider-Man early on in the blog’s life, but those weren’t nearly as well fleshed out as these other six.

It’s now up to John to point out the obvious in these previous revamps and tell me everything that’s wrong with trying to integrate them into the NewMU.

GO!

There are some solid ideas here, and I think we can use them as a starting point for some of the titles we want to launch.  I’m going to touch on these titles a few at a time, so we constantly know about which one we’re arguing.

Let’s start with Nightstalkers.  If you haven’t read our first take on this group, please do so.  It’s in the archives and what I say is going to be drawing heavily on it.  This revamp is likely to make it to a conclusion with the least revisions.  Much of what we said at the time, as far as the concept being sound and wanting to do more magic or horror stories, still stands.  The characters we had chosen, Drake, Voodoo, Tigra and Fortune are all available, and I had no plans to use them in anything else.  Ditto for our main villain, Morgan Le Fay.  However, we were basing this series on a lot of past continuity, continuity which doesn’t exist in the NewMU, so there are going to have to be changes made.

The first and most obvious is Frank Drake.  In our version, he was crippled and broken because of his time with the previous Nightstalkers.  I still like that idea, and I think we just need to adjust it a little bit.  I don’t think there was a previous incarnation of this team so his injuries did not come from that team’s demise.  I think that he was broken and beaten during a previous encounter, perhaps with our main villain, Morgan.  We can still touch on him being a distant relative to Dracula, but perhaps, instead of that turning him into a vampire hunter, it just ignited his interest in the occult and the supernatural.  Through his studies in that area he learned of Morgan and the Darkhold, and while trying to stop her from getting her hands on it, he was badly injured and disfigured.  It gives our team one more tie to Morgan and also means that there may be some interesting team dynamics between Drake and Tigra.

Obviously, Tigra in this world can have her origin considerably streamlined and she won’t have to deal with the stupid pregnancy she was coping with when we did our first reimagining.  I think we take the opportunity to completely remove any type of scientific origin for her powers, and her time wearing a cat-suit, to better fit her in with the tone of the book.  In the new MU, Greer Nelson was also a student of the occult, and she found an incantation that enabled her to summon one of the mystical cat people.  As I mentioned in the original post, these Cat People are not the relatively cheery and bright ones drawn by Al Milgrom in the West Coast Avengers….they are much more cat than people, all dark colors and fanged maws.  When Greer first summons them, she doesn’t realize just how nasty they can be, and is whisked away to their dimension, intended for a sacrifice.  However, once there she quickly forges a bond with Balkatar, one of the preeminent Cat People, who convinced their leaders that she should not be sacrificed, but should be returned to Earth as their emissary.  The leaders agreed, but changed her into the werewoman Tigra to ensure her loyalty.  Once she returned to Earth, she used her newfound abilities to help people, but I think we also need to borrow a little from Catwoman here and make her something of a champion of cats.  It’s not her biggest priority, but she will aid them if she knows they are in danger (like if they’re being mistreated, or if a large cat escapes from a zoo she might be the one to recapture the cat).  Anyway, while doing some heroing a few years ago she crossed paths with Morgan, which is when Morgan bonds to her, as we mentioned in our original revamp.  We could even later reveal that Morgan is the one who manipulated Greer into summoning the Cat People in the first place, and that Morgan helped convince the leaders of that race to return Greer to Earth, just so she could have an agent on that world (and again, this could cause some nice friction between Drake and Tigra down the road).

Our other three characters (Fortune, Voodoo and Morgan) don’t require much change.  All three of them can basically maintain their origins, and we just drop most of their time interacting with superheroes.  Honestly, Voodoo never did much of that anyway until recently, so he’s easy, and Fortune never really did either.  His son can still have died following in his father’s footsteps…we just need to take Iron Man out of that tale (and honestly, Iron Man was barely in it, even though it happened in his title).  Morgan is much the same….we remove her tussles in the present day with the Avengers and Spider-Woman and she’s good to go.

Do you agree with what I changed?  Any thoughts?

The fact that Morgan LeFay is an actual figure from literary legend means that we don’t have to mess with her much at all, like you said. We can just start fresh. Same thing with Tigra. And, on the plus side, we don’t have to worry about the goofy, outdated costumes for Fortune or Voodoo either. I agree that the bones and most of the meat still hold true for this revamp. Probably one of my favorite things we ever conceived.

However, if there were ever an opportunity to present Dracula to the NewMU, this is clearly it. We can introduce Frank Drake as a man who is scarred and broken and slowly reveal that it was because of past struggles with vampires. We can keep a lot of the history shrouded too so the readers are never sure of his intentions.

I like Fortune’s past continuity, except for the superhero involvement you pointed out, and we can always just present it all in a simpler form. Brother Voodoo has some strange continuity that can be jettisoned too. Heck, the NewMU might make this Nightstalkers launch even easier than previously thought.

Now what about Moon Knight? I personally think this one is now easier too. Instead of having to go back and re-explain the multiple personality thing, we can just introduce this character and all his quirks and facets at once. No preconceptions. And instead of “revamping” villains, we just create them as we described. But that origin needs some work…

I agree with you that the villains we picked for Moon Knight and our basic concept of the hero work fine.  But you’d like to find a different way to get him to Khonshu?  We need to keep the Egyptian god for two reasons.  First, his powers depend on the phases of the moon, and one of his main villains is a cult of Khonshu.  I don’t want to jettison those ideas.  Plus, we have Moon Knight slotted into the new MU as a more magical book, and while he won’t be casting spells, I think he does skirt that line between the supernatural and the scientific.

The first thing we can do to help his origin is remove Bushman from it.  We had both agreed in the original post that Bushman is a waste of ink and since we aren’t including the character in Moon Knight’s current adventures, it’s a waste to have him so intimately involved in Moon Knight’s origin.  We need Moon Knight to have started out as a mercenary or else we’re not going to be able to use the Marc Spector origin….he has to have the training to do what he does as a crimefighter.  We could simply replace Bushman with Shrike in his origin, but that seems like a wasted opportunity as well.  I’m going to kick this back over to you…I did the easy thing and removed Bushman.  What else needs done to his origin?

Man, didn’t think you’d punt it THIS badly! Yes, my main problem with his origin was Bushman. With him out of the picture, we can turn Marc Spector into a bit of a jerk on his own.

Let’s say, for the sake of a quick solution, that he’s tromping around Egypt to help quell some radical Muslim uprisings. He stumbles upon a group of Egyptian scientists at an archeological dig and figures “Hey, there may be some money to be made here.” He muscles them a bit, makes some threats about stealing artifacts for the thrill, and accidentally knocks some funky obelisk over. The obelisk cracks and a spirit charges out of it and into Spector’s body. BOOM. He’s now the Fist of Khonshu whether he likes it or not. Moon Knight fixed.

Looking ahead, I think our Dr. Strange title is solid, the Namor pitch I put together actually works better without having to backtrack all of Atlantis’s history (thought Doom’s role will be diminished due to upcoming ideas), and the Hawkeye title should still be okay with the removal of Pym (since we *surprise* have plans for him elsewhere). A Damage Control title is also in the works, so that’s a quick explanation for Hawkeye.

Unfortunately, I think our Defenders idea, that I seemingly loved at some point, is now pretty awful and ruined. Agreed?

Not even close to agreed!  Well, I agree we’re done with Moon Knight (he really was an easy one), but for the rest?  Let’s start with Hawkeye.  We have to remove Hank Pym as we have other plans for him, as you teased.  I’m also not sure if we want to use Nick Fury, as I believe we have plans for him as well.  That leaves a book with only Hawkeye and the Black Widow.  I suppose we can deal with the two of them as our leads, and it makes sense.  Since we’re starting afresh, we can again go back to basics with their origins, both of which work pretty well, and we can pretend that Black Widow’s HORRIBLE 60s outfits never happened (nor Hawkeye’s late 60s horrible redesign).  We can also jettison all of the Cold War baggage of the Black Widow’s character, which is kind of nice.  And we can simply have them operating out of Los Angeles.  But do we really want him to still work for Damage Control?  Is that going to make this a sister title of the Damage Control comic?  We’ve been pretty careful in our titles not to have sister titles and to make everything stand alone.  Sure, there will be crossovers, but nothing that makes you buy multiple titles for one story or that requires a very strong sense of continuity.  I’d prefer to put Hawkeye back with Cross Technology.  So, we have a book where one lead (Hawkeye) is more of your traditional superhero, and the other lead (Black Widow) is more in the vein of your traditional spy.  They’re an item and sometimes he pulls her into his world while other times she pulls him into hers.  Does that work for you?

In a sense, yes. I forgot this was going under more of an “espionage” umbrella (we’ll detail the sub-categories of the NewMU in another post). Although, I’m not adverse to having him work in the public eye and then operate in the shadows as well. Damage Control West would be its own entity and I don’t think there’d be much crossover at all between a Hawkeye title and a regular Damage Control title. Not opposed to the Cross Technology thing either. Just saying it could go either way.

For the moment, I’d prefer to keep the titles completely distinct, so let’s go with Cross Technology.  Perhaps down the road we’d be able to move him to Damage Control without continuity issues, but I think it would be great if all the books started off feeling self contained, with the exception being any team books (like Avengers) that feature characters who have their own titles and our one character that is supposed to be seeded across a number of books (and I’ll be discussing him shortly). 

This brings us to Dr. Strange.  Our pitch for the character is pretty strong, and I certainly think we keep Night Nurse in the book.  Unfortunately, we’re now down an apprentice, since we’ve used the Scarlet Witch in Ultimates.  I’d like to keep our love triangle intact, and I also think that we need a reason for Strange to have an apprentice.  As we mentioned in the original revamp, Strange is a powerful and important figure…why would he even have an apprentice, unless there’s a darn good reason for it.  Originally we had suggested Wanda because her powers were so strong she rewrote the universe.  Now we want to find another powerful woman in the new MU who’s powers are strong enough and uncontrolled enough that she could be a threat if not properly directed.  I’m going to suggest Magik.

Illyana Rasputin is a young mutant with the ability to create portals that can transport her through time, space and dimensions.  She accidentally creates a portal that opens to the realm of Limbo, ruled by Belasco and inhabited by demons.  She is kidnapped and raised as Belasco’s apprentice.  She eventually escapes him and returns to our dimension, the new ruler of Limbo.  This is basically the same as her origin in the original Marvel Universe.  Now, in that original Marvel Universe, she had trouble maintaining the balance between her good side and her demonic side, and this probably wasn’t helped by the X-Men’s attitude, which seemed to be “Oh, she’ll figure it out eventually.”  She didn’t, which led to the Inferno crossover where demons invaded the Earth.  However, what would happen if Strange got involved?  I mean, Magik is an incredibly powerful sorceress, but she seems to use her magical abilities instinctively, without any real knowledge of what she’s doing.  If Strange brought her under his wing and trained her, he could not only help her hone her powers, but he could help her learn how to keep her demonic side at bay.  The only other major thing I’d change about her is her age…in the original she ages from about 8 to 15 years old while in Limbo.  To keep our love triangle from becoming too Lolita-ish, let’s age her from about 15 to 25 while in Limbo.  Boom.  New apprentice.

Otherwise, we had almost all brand new ideas for this title.  Morbius can still stick around as an ally and information source, and our villains were basically all new.  I should say that this way we can add Belasco to the cast of villains.  I’ve always loved Belasco, and he’d be so much better as a Strange foe than he was fighting Ka-Zar (Ka-Zar, for Kirby’s sake!).  I’d also suggest that, if we’re going to have Strange going on the road doing magic to make a living (as we suggested in our revamp) he should have a manager.  How about Madrox?  We’ll be talking more about Madrox when we discuss his book, but I think a dupe of Madrox in that role would be fun.  Otherwise, I think we’re good with him and can move to Namor.  Your thoughts?

I had totally forgotten you used Scarlet Witch in your Ultimates title. How silly of me. I always liked Magik’s look. Never understood what made her a mutant (I guess the portal thing?), but I’m glad she’s been rescued from a horrible continuity loop. Is she still a mutant in the NewMU, or just a being that was born with magical powers? That’s the only question I have.

Now, about my Namor pitch. Like I said earlier, lifting the weight of continuity off the idea makes it breathe even better. Our new Atlantis is spread out across all the oceans. Factions are ruled in a feudal system below water. Above water, everything is politics from the UN ambassador to scattered embassies. Deals are struck for shipping rights, outlying Atlantean villages turn to piracy, citizens live in shipwrecks and coral caverns. I think Doom can still play a pivotal role here. Perhaps he and Namor are an unofficial “team,” so that the two of them can cross over into each other’s titles? Or do you want to back off Doom completely (so he can shine in his own upcoming book) and give the “fellow monarch” spot to someone else from the Marvel Universe?

I would say that Magik is a mutant born with the ability to open portals.  This leaves us open to crossover with some mutant titles in the future.  It’s not that I don’t want to see books crossing over (what’s the point in a shared universe if there’s no sense of continuity between titles?) it’s just that I want them to happen organically and not right away.  It seems like it’s more fair to the creative teams and readers if each title has a chance to establish themselves before they start crossing over, and even then, I think we should keep crossovers to a more reasonable number, so they stay special and feel like a big deal.

Of course, that leads perfectly into a discussion of Namor.  You’re correct when you say that starting over with a new continuity tends to make your concept even stronger.  I still think that this is a great place for the kingdoms of the new MU to be seen and played against each other.  Doom would certainly have to be a factor, as would Black Panther, but both of these characters are slated for their own titles in the new MU, so I’d like their roles in Namor’s title to be downplayed.  They’ll be around, but not the center of attention.  We’d have to strip out (at least initially) the plot about Doom setting up ports for his new navy.  If that happens, let’s move it down the road and let it happen in Doom’s own title (or a proper crossover between the two).  If we remove Doom from the spotlight, who can we shine it upon?  I recommend the Inhumans.

I think that the Inhumans are a strong concept, but I don’t think they work as well when they try to headline a book.  I think they’re best in a supporting role, and I think this is a role that works well for them.  While Namor and Doom may make sense working together, the actual Atlantean and Inhuman races make a lot more sense as a team.  They’re all outsiders, unable to function easily in human society, so they have a strong initial bond.  Plus, if they would ever have a falling out and go to war against each other, it would be a much more interesting conflict than if Atlanteans simply fought the humans of Latveria.  Heck, you even have a perfect ambassador for the Inhumans in the person of Triton.

The villains you mention all still work well.  Some of them, like Diablo and Mole Man, were also mentioned in our Fantastic Four book, but villains can often be used in multiple titles, and neither of them were integral to the FF.  They could easily move between the two books.  I think it works. 

Sure, I have no problem with the Inhumans. It’d be nice to stick them somewhere…and honestly, looking ahead to our other titles, I don’t see much more room for them. Maybe there’s even an organic way to find a love interest for Namor out of that group. Always nice to see a marriage bring two kingdoms together.

So, this post helped us flesh out five of our pending titles (Nightstalkers, Moon Knight, Hawkeye, Dr. Strange and Namor). The only loose end left hanging is The Defenders. The group has always been near and dear to my heart. That’s why we tackled it so early on in our blog’s infancy. Unfortunately, I don’t think we had our sea legs under us yet and the revamp left a bit to be desired. I think we should start a new post for that one.

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The Avengers: The Foes No Single Hero Can Withstand

Jan-20-09

So, to recap: Jason and I have been working on revamping the Avengers, and taking the book away from where Brian Michael Bendis has taken it, steering it more toward what we feel is an actual Avengers title. If you check out the previous two posts, you’ll see that we’ve assembled a She-Hulk led team, with Iron Man, Captain America, Stature, Ant-Man, Vision and Songbird. I’m not going to go into all the details from the previous two posts. They’re great reads, honest. Go and check them out.

I think we’ve really detailed a lot of interesting tidbits about our new Avengers. However, we hit a bit of a snag when we came to the discussion of villains. Jason laid down two types of villains that he thought should be highlighted: those villains who desired to bring down the US Government and those villains who had a personal gripe with the Avengers. My position is that this is too restricting; the Avengers should be protecting the world, and if that’s from threats in America, in Europe, in Asia, or in the Andromeda Galaxy, that’s where they’ll be. They are, after all, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, not America’s Sweethearts.

However, we both agree that Kang should be given a break. Jason doesn’t like him at all, and I find I like Kang, but think that Kurt Busiek used him so often (and so well) in his stories that I’m not sure what else I could add to the character at this point. At this point, I’m going to just share some of the conversation from the previous post, just so that no one has to keep scrolling around the blog.

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, I think creating some new villains might not be a bad way to go. Unfortunately, they’ve never had an extensive rogues’ gallery, usually using the villains of other heroes, and I think that needs to change.

And that catches us up! So, I’m going to turn this over to Jason and let him comment on my thoughts, and then we’ll go from there!

Meh. The Yellow Claw always seemed like a low-rent version of Mandarin to me. Besides, he’s a product of the Vietnam era when everyone seemed spooked by any sort of weird-looking, elderly Asian dude. I don’t buy it in today’s climate. I also fear that you’ve dismissed the Hood too quickly. First of all, you can’t really compare him to the Kingpin. Unlike Kingpin, the Hood has some superhuman abilities, ties to the demon underworld, and an organization completely made up of supervillains. They’re like the Masters of Evil with a dental plan!

The bigger conflict for me comes with the concept of the Avengers being “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” yet they’re controlled by the US government. That screams of a conflict of interest at best and flat-out imperialism at worst. Granted, some threats are bigger than others. However, in the atmosphere that this team is being recreated, with the task of rebuilding trust in the American system and its heroes, I think it would be best to have them focus primarily on any and all potential problems at home first. Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s discuss.

On the subject of creating new villains, I’m torn between dreaming up one of those scheming criminal masterminds like Count Nefaria or Egghead, or focusing on one highly-powered villain who can cause havoc on his own like an Ultron or a Graviton. Which is a bigger test to the team? Do better stories arise from the simple, up front smash and bash of a team versus bad guy scenario, or from the secretive plotting of a higher-up delegating his minions to mess with the team? Maybe it’s both. Maybe we should come up with two unique threats.

Let’s establish some parameters before we move forward on this one. And bring on Doctor Doom!

Well, I can see one of our problems right from the top. You mention that the team is controlled by the US Government, which wasn’t my thinking at all. Just because the team is officially sanctioned by the government doesn’t mean the government controls them. Yes, the government has some input into how the team operates, but I always saw that more as guidelines that the Avengers had to follow if they wanted to keep the government’s approval; much like the standards that the government has for any of their contractors. I suppose I see the team and the government more as partners, and so I shy away from the idea that the government has control over the Avengers. Besides, fighting villains from other countries or planets could be a nice source of conflict between the Avengers and the government, since the government would be sure to agree with your viewpoint, that those aren’t the sort of conflicts in which the Avengers should be involved. I’d still like to keep the villain field wide open. That being said, I do have some ideas for more domestic villains, and those with ties to the team.

Let’s start with the potential of using the Claw, someone who has tried to overthrow the US government on more than one occasion. I think what makes the Claw interesting to me is that he has a strong grasp of history. He is over one hundred years old, and likely quite a bit older than that. Marvel doesn’t have a Vandal Savage type of villain, one who has been around for centuries and can draw upon the vast pool of knowledge that longevity such as that can give a person. I see the Claw fulfilling that sort of role. Perhaps the problem is that, in my mind, I’m completely redefining him. When we return, we find that the Claw is actually hundreds of years old, kept alive by the secret potions and life sustaining herbs that he has mentioned in the past. His past appearance was calculated by him to allow him to blend in with the prevailing mood of the time. He continually has reinvented himself over the years to keep up with the times, and now he appears in more modern garb and with a more modern outlook.

We know that the Claw has kidnapped Dugan in the past, as I mentioned. We know that the Claw knows how to keep a man alive long past the time when death should have claimed him. What if Claw has kidnapped many of the old Howling Commandoes, and without their knowledge, he’s extended their lifespans? It explains why Gabe Jones is still running around. The question is….why would the Claw do that? The easy answer is that he has some means of remotely controlling these men, and will use them in his schemes. I think he could work along those lines.

As for whether the best villain is the solo powerhouse or the criminal mastermind (and sometimes one villain can be both), I think the book needs a mix of the two. I think that Ultron has to come back to bedevil the team. In my eyes, he is the premiere archenemy for the group, even more so than Kang, since one of the Avengers is responsible for creating him. Ultron is also fun because he’s so adaptable. As a robot, you can rebuild him, give him new abilities, and build multiple copies of him. The problem with Ultron would be trying to use him in a way that brings something new to the character, since again, Kurt Busiek really used him to amazing effect during his run on the title. I’d want to try something different with him, and I’m not sure what.

As for Graviton, he’s a character that I used to absolutely love, but I have to admit, he’s been built into a demigod, and he’s a little much for me now. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like having your heroes fight him is like having them fight Galactus. Now, you could make the point that this sort of fight is what proves the mettle and worth of your team of heroes, and that the Avengers are supposed to be about taking down someone on this power level, but honestly, Graviton fails for me because he doesn’t have a strong personality. He’s always been a rather boring guy who just happened to luck into this phenomenal power, and he hasn’t a clue what to do with it. The last few times I’ve seen him it appeared that the writers were using him as a device to explore the personalities of the heroes who were arrayed against him, rather than trying to do anything with Graviton as a character. I say we let him rot in limbo.

On the criminal mastermind front, I’d also prefer to allow Egghead to rot, this time in death. He was great fun the last time he popped up in the Avengers, but he is a little hard to take seriously, and besides, he died a good death, and why bring him back? He’s simply not unique enough to warrant a return to the world of the living. However, Count Nefaria….now he’s a great one! Plus, he’s both a criminal mastermind and something of a powerhouse, which is perfect! The last few times we saw Nefaria it seemed that he was somewhat intoxicated by his own power, and was using it as a bludgeon. I think that’s a shame, since when he first appeared, he was much more subtle and clever. I propose that we take him back to that point.

Let’s be honest, the whole “I’m more powerful than you and shall therefore beat you soundly” strategy that Nefaria has adopted has not turned out well for him. I’d like to return Nefaria to the position of a criminal mastermind, perhaps with the Maggia, or perhaps starting up his own organization from scratch (I’d prefer the latter, and I can’t see his ego allowing him to return to the Maggia). Since you like the Hood so much, perhaps we could set up a “gang war” between Nefaria’s organization and the Hood’s organization. I think that could have a lot of potential. I’d let that simmer as a subplot for awhile before focusing on it, but it could be a great action adventure. Heck, toss in the Masters of Evil towards the end of the plot for an extra ingredient and you could have a true epic on your hands. That story alone has to be worth a year of monthly issues!

So, I propose Nefaria, the Hood and the Masters of Evil as being our original villains. I’d like to do Ultron as well, if you have an idea for him. And I still think the Claw could work. I’ll let you respond to those, but afterward, I have at least one more villain idea to toss your way.

Yeah…I wasn’t actually suggesting that we bring back any of these villains (that’s why I said “like” before mentioning each of them), but rather trying to decide what TYPE of villain worked best. However, after reading your response, I like the idea of a Count Nefaria mob vs. mob showdown. Seriously, how cool would it be for the readers (and confusing for the heroes) to drop the Avengers into this gigantic mess of villains fighting villains and everyone out for their own gain? Where are the limits? Who can make any lasting decisions? And how can the heroes possibly achieve a lasting peace? It would also be interesting to show how these villains are recruited to one side or the other. Who do they have allegiance to? How do the sides balance against each other? The only problem, as far as I can tell, is that Count Nefaria has been killed a few times and is now in “ionic form” like Wonder Man and Atlas. I hate that crap. Kind of tough to retcon too.

I agree that Graviton is a huge bore. I remember his big storyline in West Coast Avengers. I couldn’t wait for that to end…just a horrible mess of over-the-top powers, stilted dialogue and frustrating coincidences. He really has no personality to speak of, which makes his near-omnipotence even more difficult to accept. Quite honestly, I get the same feeling from most of Marvel’s big name villains. Some of them, like Doctor Doom, Kingpin and Red Skull, can be made interesting as their goals change and their deviousness is exposed. However, Kang, Ultron, Magneto, Dormammu, Apocalypse, Galactus, and a bunch of others just seem to strike me as one-trick ponies. Oooh, they’re enraged by good guys! Or they only wish to see the end of civilization (which is taking “hey you kids, get off my lawn” to a ridiculous extreme)! Or they’re just tremendous dicks! Blah.

You may have brought me around to the idea of The Claw…as long as it isn’t actually The Claw. I know that complicates things greatly, but I just have an unexplainable grudge against the character. However, I guess the concept doesn’t make much sense without the established history behind it. His past interactions with Fury and his team are crucial to the story development. This may also be the catalyst to make both of our liaison selections possible. Gabe Jones could start out as liaison, only to be compromised by his past involvement (brainwashing?) with The Claw. A bit of public outcry would then elevate Miriam Sharpe to the liaison position. Interesting, yes? As far as The Claw thing goes though, could we at least, in his first modern appearance, give him a new name and have him explain why he changed it (“The world has known me by many names…”)? That may help alleviate a lot of my concern. Other than that, I’m on board with the idea of this.

I’m curious to hear your other idea for a villain. I’m in a “tweaking” rather than “creating” mood today, so show me what you’ve got and I’ll see what I can add to it.

I have no problem with changing Claw’s name to something else, and again, I think it makes sense from his point of view. When he began fighting the US government and SHIELD during the middle years of the 20th century, he called himself the Yellow Claw because he was of Asian descent, and that’s how he knew the world would perceive him. Now that there is a different perception of Asians in the American culture (at least, I hope to God there is), he would take another name that more closely defines our current times. So, we’re good there. Also, the idea of changing liaisons through this villain’s machinations, I think, is also a splendid idea.

For the record, yes Count Nefaria does have an ionic form, but like Wonder Man, he doesn’t have to be in it all the time. He can switch back to human. He’s also not quite as powerful as he was when he first gained superpowers and was throwing Thor around like a rag doll. I don’t see his superpowers being much of an issue, or necessary for a retcon. Again, he’s tried to use his superpowers as a bludgeon, and he’s been beaten every time. I think Nefaria has come to the conclusion that his powers are not his best asset; his best asset is his cunning and ability to plot. I don’t see him using his powers until he’s forced into a corner. What’s neat about him having the powers now is that, when he does get forced into that corner, he can kick some major butt! Besides, the best and most powerful villains don’t use their powers much; it builds their mystique, and the true mastermind shouldn’t have to fight very often.

Okay, so, I have one more idea for revamping an old Avengers villain, although it may get me some groans from the audience. This guy actually only fought the Avengers in one plotline, but said plot lasted about forty issues, so I consider him to be a major player in the annals of Avenger rogues. Not only did this guy pose a threat to the group, but he also had his own group of flunkies to help him carry out his dastardly deeds. Finally, he’s someone who has a real mad-on for the concept of the Avengers as a group, which is one of the types of villains that you were hoping to use. Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Proctor and his Gatherers.

Yes, Proctor is from the 90s, but I really liked the character and his Gatherers. Many people may dismiss him since he came from the Bob Harras issues, but I will defend those issues fervently, since I consider Bob Harras to be the man who saved the Avengers from cancellation (I’ll have to write an essay on this at some point in time). I thought Proctor and the Gatherers were easily the most fascinating creation of his and when he finally finished up their plotline in the book, I thought most of the energy he had generated left the book as well.

For those who need a quick history lesson, Proctor is in fact Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, from an alternate timeline, a timeline where he gained superhuman powers granted to him by Sersi. Proctor and Sersi were heroes on his world, but she left him, and this, combined with the curse of the Ebony Blade, drove him into madness. He began gathering Avengers from other alternate worlds (his Gatherers) and traveled the multiverse, killing Sersis (and any Avengers he could find) for revenge. He was finally defeated, but his death was very mysterious, and he could easily return.

Proctor hated all of the Avengers, who he considered idiots and incompetents for allowing Sersi in their group when she was so clearly a selfish hedonist, who had no right being a hero. His largest grudges were against his own counterpart, the Black Knight, as well as his former lover Sersi. Neither of these characters are on our team of heroes (I have to agree with Proctor and say that I never thought it made sense for Sersi to be an Avenger either), so we need to change his motivation a tad, and really, it would make sense to change it anyway, since we don’t want to do the same plot with this guy again and again.

Proctor survived his battle with Sersi, but was thrown into an alternate dimension. This was not a huge problem for him, as he travels the dimensions anyway. After he had cleared his head from the fight, he saw that Sersi and the Black Knight were both gone from the Marvel Universe (they were, for a time, stuck in the Malibu Universe) and without them squarely in his sights, Proctor began to rethink his priorities. He realized that he shouldn’t be so angry with Sersi; after all, she was simply fulfilling her basic nature. She is a frivolous creature with the responsibility of a child, and that’s how she acted when she left him. No, the real problem here is the Avengers themselves. These people are charged with protecting a world, and what do they do? They allow silly tramps like Sersi in their midst, who simply doesn’t understand the sacrifices that true heroes have to make.

As Proctor watches the Avengers, he continues to see evidence that leads him to the conclusion that the Avengers simply aren’t serious enough about this world saving business. They allow people like Thunderstrike on the team, who was woefully inexperienced when he first took over from Thor. They allow situations like the Crystal-Black Knight-Sersi love triangle to flourish, even though it hampers group effectiveness. They allowed Hercules to stay as a member, even when he was stripped of his godlike powers. They kept Captain America as a member during the time the super-soldier serum was breaking down and he was greatly weakened. They allowed the mentally incompetent, such as the Sentry, in their midst. They allowed obvious traitors like Spider-Woman to join. They ignored the problems of the Scarlet Witch, who was right in their midst, and those problems engulfed the team in death and destruction.

Proctor becomes convinced that the problems he has suffered in his life are directly the result of the Avengers not being up to the task of safeguarding the world. He decides it’s time to show the Avengers just what sort of measures are necessary to keep people safe. Proctor begins traveling the multiverse, collecting alternate universe Avengers who have been somehow wronged by their world’s Avengers. Some of these wrongs will be legitimate, and some of them won’t, but by the time he’s done, Proctor has his own team of Avengers. He then comes to the prime Marvel Universe (which he always insisted was the most important one, and the one from which all other worlds sprang) and begins to do some heroing with his Gatherers. At first, his group might be considered heroes by the media, but it soon becomes clear that Proctor has no problems with shooting first and asking questions never. He kills those he deems dangerous to the world, and his group is not gentle. That’s when he and the Avengers begin to tangle.

One of the things I like about this is that we get the opportunity to see the inner workings of two teams of Avengers. One of the teams is more of your “dark and gritty, 90’s style” team, and then we have the Avengers team that we’re building. It’s a nice opportunity to show how the respect and friendships within the current Avengers team contrast with the more brutal and cold atmosphere amongst the Gatherers.

So, what do you think?

Man…I don’t know. Proctor? Really??? Look, I have no problem with a character being used as the catalyst to assemble a group of mirror-heroes…like an evil Avengers version of the Exiles…to wreak havoc on the Marvel Universe and all that. I just have a huge problem with that character being an alternate-dimension version of Dane Whitman. It makes me laugh out loud. I feel that Proctor has already played out his one-trick plotline and I don’t see any difference between that story arc and the slightly nuanced one you’re proposing here. Our Avengers team has absolutely no relation to Black Knight (or Sersi for that matter). Seems like a stretch to me. I would hope that you’re actually more enamored with the concept than the actual puzzle pieces involved.

And, if that’s the case, I can definitely get behind this concept as well. However, the main foe obviously needs to change. Proctor was a product of the 90’s that I’d rather not revive. His costume was dumb. His haircut was embarrassing. And his power set was so amorphous as to be completely unbelievable. Did you know he had the ability to chemically alter human brains?!? Really. No…that ship has sailed, my friend. The good thing is that I have a few solutions. While reading up on Mr. Proctor, I stumbled across two characters that could serve in his place. The first is Hate-Monger, in one form or another. Granted, the first Hate-Monger was a clone of Hitler and that’s just a silly idea today. But, he was also recreated by the Cosmic Cube at one point, and that’s a feasible thought. His essence could be fairly malleable because of his origins, allowing him to traverse dimensions and gather his team of…let’s call them “Revengers” (and yes, that is a deliberate reference to the MC2 team of the same name). The way I see it, this is a new way to incorporate both the themes of Kang and the themes of Proctor into one new storyline. This travelling Hate-Monger could spend decades in each new dimension, building himself up as some sort of dictator, being involved in military coups and government uprisings. He could be overseeing various Super Soldier programs and mutant experimentations. The short story is this: Hate-Monger culls the best of the worst from each successive dimension until he has a team populated with characters hellbent on destroying the Avengers. It’s got time travel. It’s got evil motivation. It’s got alternate versions of our favorite heroes, twisted by family trees, differing realities and unseen circumstances. However, they don’t just pop in and attack the Avengers. No, we see Hate-Monger slowly leaking his team into the current timestream. They pose as their Marvel U counterparts and start committing foul acts, publicly framing this team that is trying so desperately to regain the world’s trust. When everything is whipped into a frenzy, hero and civilian, the team strikes in full force.

We could also use this Hate-Monger as the seed for the villain vs. villain uprising. Or, as my second villain option, we could use a different Hate-Monger to cause trouble. See, there was another Hate-Monger (who later changed his name to Animus) that ran around right before the Proctor saga. His origins were a little vague, but we can use that. Considering he once financed the Sons of the Serpent, I’m thinking he could be used as the person who sets the massive underworld attack into motion…motivating the Sons, Secret Empire, HYDRA, AIM and all those other splinter groups to attack the US during its time of rebuilding. Just a way to rectify our other plot ideas. Might be funny to have the two Hate-Mongers run afoul of each other too.

I’m not sure if my writings were coherent enough just now, but I think you can get the gist of what I was saying. The IDEA of Proctor is a good one, but the REALITY of Proctor just makes me laugh. What say you, kind sir?

I’m sorry. Did I understand that you dismissed Proctor as too much a product of his time, and then suggested (with a straight face), the original Hate-Monger as a replacement? The Adolf Hitler clone was as much a product of his time as Proctor was of the 90s, and there’s absolutely no way that we’re going to write a story with the main villain being a reconstituted Hitler. No. Well, if he teams up with Elvis and JFK, maybe. But otherwise, no. Absolutely not.

Now, your idea of using the other Hate-Monger has a little more promise. Personally, I’m not a fan of the very concept of the Hate-Monger, and the name is ludicrously bad, but at least the version you mentioned at the end of your e-mail had some style to him, and a vague enough backstory that we could do whatever we wanted with him. I’ll go with that.

I’m a little disappointed that you dismissed Proctor so quickly and decisively. Yes, he appeared during the 90s, but Proctor injected a sense of continuity and danger into the Avengers that it sorely needed at that time. I think that a lot of people, tend to brush off most comics from that time period with a dismissive wave of their hand, and I’m not sure that’s always entirely fair. I would contend that Proctor still works as a villain; his powers can be narrowed down (perhaps slightly altered and locked into place during his near death experience after his last fight with the team), and he can visit a stylist for better wardrobe and hair. Plus, he didn’t just hate Sersi or the Black Knight; he hated the entire team, since he felt that they all had let him down by not seeing Sersi for what she was. It would be like limiting Ultron to fighting Pym, and assuming that he wouldn’t attack unless Pym was on the team.

Still, I’ll let Proctor go and we can run with the new Hate-Monger. As long as it’s not a clone of Adolf Hitler, we should be fine. You’re going to have to talk a lot more to convince me that using that version is a good idea.

Well, I’ve talked at length about villains. Any other ideas for some, or should we wrap this up?

I’m spent.


Dream Team: The Masters of Evil

Dec-01-08

We’ve assembled quite a few Dream Teams over the past few months, but precious few of them have been teams of villains. Today we rectify this oversight, as we explore the Masters of Evil. The Masters have been the major villain group to clash with the Avengers throughout the history of that heroic group of costumed do-gooders, first appearing in the sixth issue of the Avengers comic. Originally, the Masters was a group that consisted of arch foes for the current active roster of the Avengers. Baron Zemo, their leader, was the wartime enemy of Captain America; the Melter was a foe of Iron Man; the Radioactive Man had battled Thor; and the Black Knight had crossed swords (well, actually he had crossed lances; he didn’t use a sword) with Giant-Man.

Together, these villains had a vested interest in knocking off at least one member of the heroic super group. Through the years, subsequent gatherings of the Masters of Evil weren’t always made up of villains that hated Avengers members. When the Beetle, for example, joined the Masters, he was basically a Spider-Man and Human Torch foe. While that’s all well and good, for our Dream Team, I’d like to go back to the idea of choosing villains who have a reason to hate the Avengers. I’m going to go with a group of six villains to face off against our heroes, which is a little large for many villain groups, but not unusual for the Masters.

For the leader of this group, I’m going to pick Kang the Conqueror. Many people might dismiss Kang as a choice, since he’s never been a member of the Masters, and more importantly, he often works alone. However, Kang is the one long standing Avengers foe who has worked with groups in the past (he fought alongside his Anachronauts on more than one occasion) and I can easily see him forming a group to help him take down the Avengers. He’d have to be leader, as he wouldn’t settle for another position, but he’s a good leader. He also provides a lot of technology to the group, some decent strategy (he has conquered entire worlds) and an ability to stand toe to toe in combat with almost any one of his enemies. Most importantly, he really hates the Avengers.

Next up on my list would be Sandman. Personally, I like Sandman as a hero, but apparently Marvel’s powers-that-be do not, as he’s been returned to the ranks of villainy, where he hates everything that he did while a hero. I imagine he also hates the Avengers, probably for taking him in and tricking him into doing good acts. I think he’d enjoy getting revenge. I also imagine that he’s got to be a thorn in the side to many of the Avengers themselves. After all, the Avengers pride themselves on taking in felons and reforming them. They did it with Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Vision, Black Widow, and the list goes on. I believe that Sandman is their only failure, and certainly some Avengers would have a problem with that.

My next choice would be the Grim Reaper. As the brother of Wonder Man and related (sort of) to Vision and the Scarlet Witch, the Reaper has always been an interesting villain. He went through some radical changes in the 90s, making him much more powerful, but now that he’s reverted to human, he’s obviously not powerful enough to take on the Avengers alone. He’s teamed with certain villains in the past (usually calling themselves the Lethal Legion) and there’s no reason why he couldn’t join the biggest group of Avengers-haters out there. In a group, his powers would be more helpful and effective anyway..

Halfway through the line-up, and I’m going with Mr. Hyde. The group needs a powerful strong man, and honestly, I tend to find most of those super-strong types to be horribly boring. Hyde is at least somewhat interesting, and more importantly, he’s somewhat scary. He’s capable of doing monstrous things, and more than willing (perhaps even anxious) to inflict your deepest nightmares on you. If you put him and the Grim Reaper together, it might actually create a very scary duo, and I can see our splash page when they’re first introduced, in a dark panel, lit by a single flash of light.

My next choice may seem a little off the wall (again), but I’d like to see Deathbird as a member of the group. The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and along those lines, I think they need an alien to fight. Plus, Deathbird has issues with members of the Avengers (Hawkeye in particular) and has clashed with the superheroes many times. I would imagine that she has her own agenda for joining, one we’ll find out many issues later, but she could be an effective team member.

Finally, I’d choose Whirlwind. As a villain, he’s been something of a joke for awhile, but he’s actually got an interesting power, and he’s also got a personal connection and hatred for the team (and an obsession with the Wasp, which is interesting and somewhat more relevant today, with celebrity stalkers an increasingly common phenomenon). I think it would be possible to make him an effective, and somewhat creepy, super-villain.

So, we have Kang leading Whirlwind, Deathbird, Mr. Hyde, Sandman and Grim Reaper. Your rebuttal?

And rebut I shall! Since as far back as I can remember, I have been a huge fan of the Masters of Evil. I’m thinking I was more interested in the concept, a group of less-than-stellar villains brought together to defeat a common foe, than I was interested in the actual members. When I first started collecting comics, one of the earliest books I remember picking up was Avengers #55, featuring the second incarnation of the Masters of Evil. Individually, the members’ power sets weren’t much to crow about, but when you assembled them and handed them at least some form of loose strategy, they were a much more effective product.

Later incarnations of the team sought to overpower the Avengers by sheer numbers. The most successful of these teams was the fourth group featured in the “Under Siege” storyline. That group of 18 bad guys destroyed Avengers Mansion, hospitalized Hercules, bitch-slapped Jarvis and captured Captain America, proving that with a bit of organization anyone can look good. Not too shabby for a crew of also-rans.

There have been eight different lineups for the team. Out of those eight, three have been led by a Crimson Cowl (one of which was revealed to be Ultron) and three have been led by a Baron Zemo (one by the father and two by the son)…the other two were led by Egghead and Doc Ock, in case you were wondering. The sixth grouping eventually became the first lineup of the Thunderbolts, which was another well-written plot.

Why do I make mention of all of this backstory stuff? Well, I just wanted to point out that when it comes to the Masters of Evil, the whole is considerably stronger than its parts. And that’s what I want everyone to keep in mind when I make my choices (and make fun of John’s). I just wish we had more than six slots to fill! Well, here goes nothing…

John said Kang – Blah. That’s all I really have to say about that. However, I will expand upon that comment if only to cast aspersions. Kang? Honestly? Look, I get that he’s a big time Avengers foe and I can appreciate the history there. To tell the truth though, I hate time travel based bad guys. And I really just can’t wrap my head around Kang. I don’t see him ever leaning on the lower tiers of earthbound villainy to accomplish his goals. He pulls entire armies out of the timestream and loads them up with the latest in future technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. His motives tend to gravitate more towards world domination than simple revenge plots against terrestrial heroes. I don’t buy it. Therefore, I’m going to go with someone who seems a bit more practical given what has recently transpired in the Marvel Universe. And that person would be The Mandarin. I don’t care if you come up with a hokey resurrection plan and put the original Mandarin in charge or if you leave it in the hands (pardon the pun) of his son, but the Mandarin is ripe for reexamination. He’s an old school Iron Man foe who could easily see an opportunity to take advantage of Tony Stark’s less than stellar public ratings.

John said Sandman – And Jason is okay with that. Sandman has a great visual power and more than enough grudges against Spider-Man (a current Avenger) and the hero world in general to justify his inclusion. I don’t know what his specific tie would be to the Mandarin, but I know that Sandman was involved with Silver Sable’s crew and there are some international implications right there.

John said Grim Reaper – Isn’t he dead? Again? Still? I see Grim Reaper as more of a team leader these days, after his stints in the Lethal Legion and all that. Not sure he’s sane enough to play a subsidiary role! Plus, he’s been killed and resurrected so many times that he actually comes off as more of a parlor trick than a real threat. I’d go with one of my favorites in here, like Absorbing Man or Mysterio, but we’ve already used them in our Frightful Four revamp (and we’re trying to create some continuity in our own version of the Marvel U). Since they’re not available, I’ll turn to a relative mainstay in the Masters of Evil lineup: Grey Gargoyle. He’s currently a member of The Hood’s Syndicate, which is similar in scope to the MoE, but I don’t see that as a stumbling block. Besides, this could be the opportunity we need to turn Gargoyle into the Wolverine villain we imagined.

John said Mister Hyde – Sure, we need a big, dumb strong guy for the group. He has previous experience as a member of the group, bringing him onto Avengers radar. And he’s generally considered a foe to Thor, Daredevil, Captain America and Spider-Man. He’s part of The Hood’s team too, but since he was part of the Masters that almost took out the Avengers for good, I could see Mister Hyde crossing party lines for another shot at those particular good guys.

John said Deathbird – And Jason said “who?” I’m probably forgetting a storyline somewhere, but isn’t Deathbird primarily an X-Men foe with the occasional Ms. Marvel fight thrown in for good intergalactic measure? Regardless, I still say blah or the same reasons as Kang. I’m looking at villains with grudges who actually live in the same solar system. If we need a female for this group of ne’er-do-wells, let’s go with someone like…uh…well, I can’t think of any relevant females. Instead, I’m going to suggest the old Power Man & Iron Fist villain Chemistro. Now, stop laughing and hear me out! This isn’t just an Affirmative Action appointment. Actually, Chemistro is serving as the unofficial right hand man to the The Hood and, as such, he could be the catalyst to pull both Gargoyle and Hyde back to the Masters of Evil. Maybe he’s looking for a more assertive group of villains to help lead? Either way, pairing he and Gargoyle up is pretty powerful and could get ugly.

John said Whirlwind – And, again, I’m good with that pick. He’s one of the original Masters members and has been in nearly every gathering of the group. Whirlwind has a devastating range of powers and, as John pointed out, he’s a rather creepy individual.

So, my Dream Team version of the Masters of Evil has Mandarin leading Sandman, Whirlwind, Grey Gargoyle, Mister Hyde and Chemistro. I still think we need more than six members though, just for “cannon fodder’ alone!

How many villains would you like? I have no problem with adding a few more, and I’ll throw in some suggestions as we move through my rebuttal to the rebuttal.

I think you sell Kang short, as far as what he could bring to the team, but saying that, I love the idea of the Mandarin taking the top slot instead. I personally am a big fan of the current Mandarin (the son of the original) and thought that he was an update of the original (who had become something of a ridiculous caricature, rather than an actual character) that worked really well. That’s the sort of thing I think Marvel needs to do more often, creating a legacy from one generation to the next. The current Mandarin is a lot more calculating than his father ever was, as well as being a first class fighter in his own right, and I’d love to see him lead this group.

If I thought you sold Kang short, then I think you’re completely missing the potential in the Grim Reaper. This guy has died, been resurrected, died again, come back as an indestructible zombie, worked with supernatural lords of darkness, then been brought back to life again. The last time we saw him, he was a little overwhelmed by his experiences and was trying to figure out how he fit into a world where he was simply human. He’d had tremendous power, but now he was just a typical human (missing one hand), albeit one with access to a nifty mechanical scythe that had lots of gadgets embedded in it. I think that Eric Williams is happy to be a human again, as he gets to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh that he seemed to miss while undead, but at the same time he’s come tumbling down the ladder of power, and now is desperately clinging to the bottom rungs. I’d like to explore the possibilities inherent in that concept, and I think the Masters of Evil would be the place to do it. Yes, he’s been a leader, but his confidence is shaken and his position in the criminal underworld is tenuous at best. He’ll take the subordinate role; the question is, if he begins to get his confidence back, will he be content to stay there?

I’m going to hold onto the Grim Reaper for at least one more round, in the hope that you see the error of your ways. However, if we’re adding more members to the group, that doesn’t automatically exclude the Grey Gargoyle. Now, personally, I’m not as big a fan of the Grey Gargoyle as you are; I think he’s a mildly interesting foe who works well in certain cases, but I don’t see him as part of the Masters of Evil. That being said, you wanted cannon fodder for the group, and you also wanted to try and build him into a better villain, so he can stay.

As for Deathbird, I can’t believe that you don’t remember her, as she featured in a story fighting your favorite Avenger, Hawkeye. This story cemented Hawkeye as the Security Chief of Cross Technologies, as well as cementing him as a scurrilous rogue, when he planted a big kiss on Deathbird after defeating her. Yes, she has appeared in more X-Men books over the years, but she has also played a role in other Avenger stories, most notably being an important player in Operation: Galactic Storm. I included her for two reasons: first of all, the group needs a female. Second of all, for decades the Avengers were known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and they’ve fought a large number of extraterrestrial foes in that regard, yet none of their extraterrestrial foes are represented in the various Masters of Evil teams. While I wouldn’t want to see the Masters become the home of numerous space cast-offs, I thought that having one alien on board would add an element of the exotic to the group, and still fit in with the themes of the Masters. I won’t fight too hard for her, but I do think she has a place. Replacing her with Chemistro, unfortunately, misses the reason she’s on the team in the first place.

Chemistro, I must say, is an excellent choice for the team though. I do like the character, he has very interesting and visual powers, and he’s got a grudge against at least one of the main players in the Avengers. I like the idea, and I think he can join.

So, basically, I’ve kept all of my choices (except Kang) and added all of your suggestions, for a total of eight Masters of Evil. It would be Mandarin leading Sandman, Mr. Hyde, Whirlwind, Grim Reaper, Grey Gargoyle, Deathbird and Chemistro. Hmmm. I’m still not sold on Grey Gargoyle, but let me hear what you have to say about the Grim Reaper and Deathbird. I hope I’ve sold you on the Reaper, but I’m not so sure about Deathbird. I think she can work, but I can also see your argument that she can’t, and I’ll be curious where you stand.

Given the explanation you’ve provided, I can see Grim Reaper on the team. I’ve always liked the guy. My only complaint is that his backstory got completely muddled and became laughable at best. If you think he can right his ship and get back on the truly evil bandwagon, then I’m all for it.

However, with the concession of Kang, it now makes even less sense to have Deathbird on the team. She’s the only pick who is not an Earth-based character. Where does she fit into the equation? Who recruits her? How does it happen? I just can’t see a sensible case in my head for including her amongst this group of villains. If you can find a suitable female rogue (or two) that would have access to the other members we’ve already included, I think that would make much more sense in the long run. I’m just not going to budge on this one!

And I think anywhere from eight to ten characters is a better base for the team anyway, especially considering we have two teams of Avengers right now and, depending on what happens at the end of Secret Invasion, we may have three or four teams soon if you include Nick Fury’s group. If you can come up with two females to replace Deathbird, that would give us nine total.

So there you go.

If you’re willing to give me Grim Reaper, I can dump Deathbird. Hmmm, two evil females to replace her….that may be difficult.

The female that perhaps makes the most sense is the Enchantress, in that she has been a member of the Masters in the past, and has a grudge against Thor (who isn’t really associated with the current Avengers, so it may not matter). While I like the character, she doesn’t really fit with everyone else we’ve assembled and I’m not sure how she’d join, although I suppose all we’d have to do is have her banished from Asgard and she could be in. Still, I’m not feeling the love for her.

I almost suggested her originally, but decided against her. On further reflection, however, I’d like to throw out the name of Madame Masque. Yes, she is also normally a leader of criminals, not a follower, but like the Grim Reaper, she’s also fallen on somewhat hard times. I’m not sure if she’d join the group, but considering how paranoid she is, I think she might, just to make sure that they weren’t plotting against her. Besides, she was first introduced as a flunkie (to Midas) and I can see the Mandarin choosing her as a second in command. She’s also got a tie to the Avengers, having fought them (especially Iron Man) in the past, and she’s a smart, slick woman who could prove a valuable ally.

For a second woman I would recommend Nightshade. She may seem an odd choice, but I selected her for three reasons. First, I think she’s a pretty interesting character, one that’s had run-ins with many of the Avengers over the years, and who is mercenary enough to take the job of joining the Masters to fight them. Two, the Masters don’t currently have a scientist, so she fills a niche in the group. And three, I couldn’t find any other women to join that made sense.

Thoughts?

Hahaha…classic. I was going to choose Nightshade originally, but thought that her lack of powers was a bit of a setback. However, using her as the “smart chick” who can supply weapons and gadgetry to the field agents makes a lot of sense. She’s had run-ins with Power Man and Iron Fist. Plus, she’s the one responsible for infamously turning Captain America into a werewolf. I like it.

I figured you’d go for Madame Masque too. She’s another one who’s currently siding with The Hood and his criminal entourage…the group that seems to have usurped the Masters’ position as “general collection of villains going against the Avengers.” There could be a side story in the works about how this group has splintered off from The Hood for some reason and how retribution could be meted out. Again, I like it!

That gives us a solid lineup of second-tier villains mashed together by a criminal mastermind for a common nefarious cause. It’s the ideal definition of the Masters of Evil! Our Dream Team has Mandarin leading a cabal comprised of Sandman, Whirlwind, Mister Hyde, Grey Gargoyle, Chemistro, Grim Reaper, Deadly Nightshade and Madame Masque.

Good show!



Dream Team: The Avengers

Sep-30-08

As we continue to come up with new things to discuss here at good old Meanwhile…Comics, we thought it might be interesting to take some of the iconic teams in the super-hero universe and create a dream roster for them. Now, not all teams work like this: for example, the Fantastic Four is always at its best when it’s Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny. Yes, there have been other members, and I’m someone who greatly enjoyed She-Hulk’s tenure with the team. That being said, other members are always temporary. The Fantastic Four is a family, and if you’re not using those four characters, in the end, you’re not writing the Fantastic Four. However, a team like the Avengers is perfect for creating a dream roster. One of the reasons the Avengers work so well for this is because there are so many of them. I’d estimate that about 80% of the non-mutants in the Marvel Universe are members of the Avengers; heck, 3/4 of the Fantastic Four have joined the Avengers at one time or another! Their membership is huge, and even if one discounts the dead, inactive, depowered and deflowered (whoops! How’d that sneak in there?) members, there’s still quite a large pool of superheroes from which to choose.

Now, in choosing a dream roster for any team, there are a few pitfalls one must avoid. First, many people tend to believe that the original roster for any team is their best roster, and I have no doubt that many people would choose a team of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Henry Pym and the Wasp. While I like all of these characters, I don’t believe that they all need to be present in a dream roster. Another trap to avoid relates to the saying that the Golden Age for any comics fan is when they were twelve; in other words, the team you grew up reading is bound to be your favorite. For a Roger Stern fan like myself, it would be really simple for me to choose those characters he used during his run on the book and create a roster from them. However, I don’t think that’s quite fair, and I’m going to do my best to create a more diverse roster than simply “the Roger Stern Avengers” (although, truly, those Avengers did rock, and if you haven’t read the first series Avengers from about issue #230 to #290, you’re missing a treat). Finally, we should consider how many members the roster should have. It would be simple to create a roster of two dozen characters (especially when you have so many members, like the Avengers do) and be done with it. However, that’s simply too many characters for one book; there would be no room to develop them or for the reader to get to know them. Some years ago, when Captain America was chairman, he designated a membership of six. I agree that six or seven Avengers is a good number, and I’ll be shooting for that.

One more note before I start: I love the Avengers. They are my favorite super-hero team in comicdom, and I truly believe that you can do a lot of interesting things with any six of them that you’d throw together. Honestly, were I asked to write the Avengers, I’d be tempted to choose all but one of the heroes at random, and then I’d have the fun of making the randomly chosen heroes gel into a cohesive team. That being said, while I can argue for and against any member on the roster, I recognize that you can do interesting things with a different group than I’ve chosen, and hopefully we can generate some good debate on our choices. So, who would I choose?

Captain America: There’s simply no debate on this issue. While I believe that Iron Man and Thor, while great characters and wonderful in the Avengers, aren’t necessary for the book to feel like the Avengers, Captain America is. Without him, the Avengers just don’t feel right. I also insist that he be chairman. I’ve enjoyed a lot of other chairmen over the years, and I actually grew up when the Wasp was in charge (and quite liked her in that role). However, Cap is simply too inspirational in the role for me to be comfortable with anyone else in command. I consider this slot to be the only non-debatable choice on my roster.

Vision and the Scarlet Witch: I know these two aren’t a couple anymore. I know the Scarlet Witch is no longer an active hero. I really don’t care. Restoring Wanda to her former role in the Marvel Universe would be simplicity itself. As for them not being a couple anymore, I’m fine with that. I list the characters together, since they’ll always be a couple in my mind, but I’m at peace with them being separate people now, moving on with their lives. Bringing in the younger Vision from Young Avengers will provide even more reason for the two of them to stay apart. Still, they are Avengers from way back, and their powers are fascinating; I like the flexibility of them both. I think they provide color and interest to the team, as well as experience and well developed personalities (well, Wanda does; the Vision gives us the opportunity (yet again) to rebuild his personality in a different way).

The Black Knight: I like Dane Whitman, and think that he’s never served so well as when he is with the Avengers. While he isn’t a powerhouse, he does give the team a foothold in the realms of magic, which is a nice way to involve them in plots that are a little different than their more mainstream foes. He’s also a scientist, and that tends to get overlooked. He’s the only scientist I plan on including on this team, in the hope that this will give his scientific skills a chance to shine.

Living Lightning: Every team needs a newer hero that is just learning the ropes (ok, ok, they don’t, but it sounds profound, and if you don’t think about it too hard, it makes perfect sense). I enjoyed the Living Lightning during his stint with the West Coast Avengers. His powers are unique (and have a great visual) and he’s Hispanic, which helps to create at least a little diversity (although a synthezoid and a gypsy may be diverse, they don’t have much resonance with real world readers). If Dan Slott’s comics are to be considered in continuity (and I believe they are) he’s also gay, which could be a lot of fun to explore, if Marvel doesn’t hamstring the writer and force the writer to make him a eunuch.

Mrs. Peel: The group needs another woman, and she always seemed very skilled at….I’m sorry? What? Wrong Avengers? Heh, heh, whoops. Sorry about that. Moving on!

Ms. Marvel: The group needs another woman, and she also provides the “strong person” role in the group. I was a fan of Ms. Marvel when I first read her appearances in the Avengers that were printed back in the late 70s and early 80s, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the alcoholic plotline they used when she was re-introduced to the team as Warbird in the late 90s, now that she has reclaimed the Ms. Marvel name, I think she’s become much more interesting. She’s got the same military background as Captain America, without having as many ideals. She’s a good person, but she’s been forced to confront the world for what it is, and I find that very interesting.

So, there’s my team. Captain America leads it, and it includes Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Black Knight, Living Lightning and Ms. Marvel. I’m willing to bet it’s not your team. Feel free to tear this one apart, and then let’s see what you have. I’ll lay money yours includes Hawkeye.

Gee, that’s a real sucker bet, isn’t it?

Before I get into the meat of this, we have to throw up a disclaimer. We’ve been working for 5 months now to create our own version of the Marvel Universe and its continuity. I think this exercise sets aside all of the plotlines and positioning we’ve put out there. It’s just a simple way of gathering all of our favorite characters into our favorite team.

Like you, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Avengers. Reading one of their adventures is parallel to listening to someone’s greatest hits collection. You always expect the best and don’t want to be distracted by the amateur stuff (although most bands usually throw a new track into the mix too). That said, I agree that every good Avengers team has at least one longshot member on it, if for nothing other than offering an outsider’s perspective on the ultimate superhero pantheon. The best incarnations of the Avengers offer balance…between genders, between powers, between strength and weakness, and between overall attitudes. You can see the archetypes, but you’re not distracted by them. The proud, quiet warrior. The hot-headed know-it-all. The underrated wallflower that suddenly bursts out of their shell. Reading a good Avengers tale is like watching a revved up version of the Breakfast Club.

There are things I like about your choices and some that I don’t. Living Lightning does not resonate with me at all. Can’t recall a single appearance of his. For someone who has a near-complete run of West Coast Avengers, that’s probably a problem. I dunno. Maybe I need to go back and reread some issues. I’ve enjoyed the latest appearances of Ms. Marvel, but prior to the last two years or so, she means nothing to me. Having her on the same team as Cap seems like overkill in the “military background, strong leader” realm. My other thoughts are explained in my choices. So, without further ado, here’s my Dream Team:

Captain America: I agree wholeheartedly that Cap is the backbone of the best Avengers teams. He has not only the spirit and the drive, but he possesses the knowledge and organizational skills acquired from years of military training to make the team formidable.

Hawkeye: Surprise, surprise. Hawkeye plays off Cap so brilliantly. He looks up to him while also offering a cocky counterpoint to Cap’s authority. These two can be the best of friends and the bickering old men on the stoop at the same time. And he’s been through a lot recently, which plays into good storytelling.

She-Hulk: My first two picks are just plain dudes with a hell of a lot of training, so I figured we should start getting into some superpowers. She-Hulk offers big power with the sexiness and attitude to match. She and Hawkeye have a brief fling in their past, which makes things even more interesting.

Vision & Stature: I like the idea of Vision & Scarlet Witch, but I feel like that ship has sailed. There’s a lot of bad feelings and messed up continuity there that I don’t want to touch. So, here’s where I get my rookie pick and angle for a bit of the old school as well. Let’s grab two of the Avengers minor league players and give them a promotion. Vision has great powers and a quirky personality (mixed with a bit of the old “let’s transfer someone else’s memories into a robot”). Stature is a legacy character whose powers reflect one of the founding members without all the baggage attached. I’m completely fascinated with her emotional state and how she’d react to playing with the big boys. There’s also something to be said about adding some youth to the team.

Firestar: She “retired” from being a hero in the wake of the Superhero Registration Act, but I think having Captain America leading the team again would bring her back around. She has the elemental and flight powers I’m looking for and she adds another emotional dimension…possible love interest for Hawkeye or possible youthful competition for Stature.

Falcon: This is not my Affirmative Action pick. Falcon may not have a lot of power, but he has the experience and the history. There’s also the potential for a face-off with Hawkeye since both see themselves as Captain America’s right-hand man, both are orphans and both have criminal beginnings. Plus, I just like the way he looks.

I was tempted to add Hercules or Black Knight, just because I always liked them on the Avengers, but that would be too similar to the Stern years. I think I’ve struck a decent balance with this grouping. Pretty evenly split along gender lines. Half of the team consists of heavily trained fighters with less (or no) powers. There’s a strong type, a metal dude, a black guy, some flight, some youth, and a character with long distance energy-based abilities. Therefore, my team looks like this: Captain America is in charge. Hawkeye, She-Hulk and Falcon are his core players. Firestar is the reluctant participant. And Vision and Stature are the wide-eyed rookies.

What do you think of that?

Gasp! Hawkeye you say? On your Avengers team? What a surprise. Yawn.

I kid because I love. We both agree on Captain America, so no comments there. I like Hawkeye as an Avenger. I do. I like his relationship to Captain America, as well as his relationship with She-Hulk (they’ve had some interesting run-ins over the years). He’s a strong hero and he brings a lot to the team. Yet I’d simply prefer not to see him in the group. I’ve come to the conclusion that Kurt Busiek was right when he had Hawkeye leave the Avengers to lead the Thunderbolts; Hawkeye has outgrown the role he tends to be placed in with the Avengers, especially with Cap as the leader. Bring him back for an occassional guest shot, but I just don’t see him as a regular member. He’d be bored with it, and I would too.

I must have written “She-Hulk” as a potential member for my team five times and erased it that many times as well. The reasons to include her are many and varied. She’s got a long history with the team. She’s experienced and powerful. She’s got an interesting personality, and her personality plays well against the personalities of other characters. However, I didn’t include her for two reasons. First, like you, I was trying to not recreate the Roger Stern team. Second, in the end, my favorite She-Hulk stories have never been during her time with the Avengers. I like her so much better in her solo stories, or when she adventures with the Fantastic Four. I have a lot of great She-Hulk moments in my head, and none include her Avengering. It seems that her being in the team restricts her, and makes her conform to the rather dull “superstrong superwoman” character. She needs room to have a personality, and with few exceptions, she’s not given that in the Avengers.

You know I agree with Vision, so no argument there. I would gladly give up the Scarlet Witch for Stature. I agree with everything you say about her, and these two could be a great pair (paired for now, because they come over from Young Avengers together). I think that Stature has more potential than any other neophyte hero in the current Marvel Universe and I truly hope that they explore it.

Firestar? Honestly? I have honestly never liked this character. Kurt Busiek did some wonderful things with her in his run on the title, but even then, she wasn’t actually that interesting; she just had the good fortune to be plopped down in the midst of interesting events. I mean, she got to help Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Black Panther fight an army of Ultrons….it would have been impossible for her to not look cool. She just seems so dull and I can’t imagine what she could bring to the team that we couldn’t get elsewhere. If you want someone with her powers, what about Firebird? She’s very close, and she’s a more interesting character, because she’s a devout Christian. The major comics companies never want to tackle religion head-on, but I think she’d be fascinating on the team if they kept that facet of her personality in mind when writing her.

The Falcon is a great character, and I like him a lot, but I also can’t see him on the Avengers long term. Besides, my concern would be that a team including Cap, Falcon and Hawkeye would soon splinter into two smaller teams, with the non-superpowered trio and the superpowered quartet. Surely we could find a better minority member than that (and isn’t it sad how few there really are to choose from?); I’d much rather see Black Panther filling that role (he almost made my list).

Hmmm. So, we’re in agreement on Cap, Vision and Stature. Shall we try to hammer out a dream team we can both agree on or shall we agree to disagree? I have a lot more Avengers I can trot out if you want to continue this.

No, no, we’re going to hash this one out. I can outlast you!

Seriously though, I can’t believe your flippant dismissal of Hawkeye. Granted, he’s been the outright leader of a few teams, but that doesn’t make him any less of a team player. I always think it’s good to have a second-in-command who knows what the hell he’s doing and talking about (see the current political situation for a PERFECT example of what NOT to do). Besides, how else are we going to spin off another incarnation of the West Coast Avengers?

I’ll give you the removal of Falcon. He was my Hail Mary pass anyway. I’ve always liked the character, but his similarities to Hawkeye’s role may be a bit of overkill.

I picked Firestar over Firebird because I can’t stand the namby-pamby way Firebird was always written. The reason overtly religious types aren’t used well in comics is that they’re either instantly cliched or ridiculously boring. Firebird straddles the delicate line between those two horrible choices. Besides, Firestar is a mutant. Muties represent!

I’m still going to fight for She-Hulk. It’s either her or Hawkeye. Someone has to have that history with Cap to build a team around, otherwise it just seems like Cap’s recruiting whatever is left over from the hero ranks…and that does not instill confidence in the Avengers name. She-Hulk provides the toughness for the team while also acting as a potential mentor for Stature. Good stuff there.

I like Black Panther, but I’ve always had a problem with a foreign sovereign being part of the team. Whether it’s Namor, T’Challa or Thor (not to mention other “gods” like Ares), their presence always seemed forced and out of place. Besides, what powers does Panther really have to offer that would help the team?

The lineup seems to be begging for someone in a big metal suit with a bunch of built-in weaponry. Iron Man is an Avengers icon, but I can understand any sort of apprehension with adding him to a team alongside Cap, given the current circumstances. War Machine may be a better choice. He has past Avengers team experience, he’s a minority, and he carries an awful lot of firepower. Plus, he adds the Tony Stark influence without being Tony.

If we remove Firestar, we still need someone with energy-based abilities. I’d suggest the ultimate elementally proficient member of the Marvel Universe: Crystal. However, when I envision a framed portrait of “The Avengers” hanging on a gallery wall, her inclusion rings false. She just doesn’t have that oomph. I suppose I’m willing to sacrifice She-Hulk and give you back Ms. Marvel. She has flight, strength and energy powers, but she doesn’t have as close a relationship to Captain America.

If we have War Machine and Ms. Marvel, I think we can then add another member who may not have big power but does have a big personality. I say we bring back Beast. He gives us a scientific outlook as well as a bit of intellectual humor and some mutie street cred. And hey, there are no other blue people on the team.

So…my first attempt at a compromise Avengers lineup is as follows: Captain America, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, War Machine, Beast, Vision and Stature.

Well, I obviously can’t argue with Cap, Ms. Marvel, the Vision and Stature, so we’re closer. That gives us only three characters to hash out.

I love the idea of bringing the Beast back. I think he’s wasted in the X-Men, to be completely honest, and he’s never as much fun. Being stuck as part of Marvel’s Mopey Mutants (and, were I an editor at Marvel, that would be my next pitched title for a new series: The Mopey Mutants), the Beast is forced to become sullen and more subdued. In the Avengers, he’s able to spread his metaphorical wings and be more of a star. Plus, when he’s normally been a member of the team, the team has been overflowing with scientific experts, forcing the Beast away from that role. In this team, he’d be their only real scientist, enabling him to focus more on the science which he so enjoys. Yes, the Beast is in.

War Machine. Man, that’s a toughie. You mention that, when you envision the Avengers, Crystal just doesn’t fit (a sentiment with which I must wholeheartedly agree). Sadly, War Machine feels the same way to me. I’ve always hated the name and the armor with the huge guns; they scream mid-90s comics to me, and that is not a compliment. It never really seemed to fit Rhodes’ personality anyway; while he has been a soldier, I don’t think violence is his first recourse, as the name and armor seem to suggest. However, that’s easily fixable, and I like James Rhodes, so I think this is a perfect idea. I’d prefer to fiddle with the armor a little and come up with a new name; there certainly should be something snappier than War Machine out there. I think I’d prefer Armor Guy, in a nod to X-Factor’s Strong Guy, but I know that we could come up with something even smarter.

That leaves Hawkeye. I’m not sure that I follow your logic that Cap would pick Avengers he has personal ties with. On numerous occasions Cap has led groups of Avengers that he’s not personally friendly with, and he used to pick teams based on their complimentary powers, and not on their personal relations. I think he relies on his leadership skills to bring them together as a team, and if he only surrounds himself with personal contacts, he’ll never develop newer contacts amongst other heroes. So, I don’t think Hawkeye gets a pass just because he shoots pool with Cap.

However, I am okay with including Hawkeye, mostly because we just included James Rhodes. Rhodes currently doesn’t have any real relationship with anyone on the team, and while we could play with that to make Rhodes an outsider, I’d rather not go that route. It was done with the Falcon when he was on the team, and I’d hate to play that card again. Rhodes and Hawkeye have some history, and that should help draw Rhodes more organically into the group.

So, there’s our Avengers: Captain America leading Vision, Stature, Beast, Hawkeye, James Rhodes and Ms. Marvel in their fight to protect the world from those forces against which no single hero can prevail! Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!

I agree that War Machine is a horrible name that instills more fear than security. I’m glad you feel the same way that I do about Beast. You make good points about his near irrelevance in the current X-Men mythology. I miss the days of the quip-ready, happy-go-lucky Hank McCoy. All in all, I think this would be a good field team for the Avengers. I’m not sure we achieved “Dream Team” status…hard to do without including the iconic Iron Man, Thor and Wasp…but I would sure like to read about this team’s exploits.


Defending the Defenders.

Apr-15-08

Okay, enough playing around with the big boys. Let’s dig into the meat that the readers really want to read…

Steve Englehart. Len Wein. Chris Claremont. Steve Gerber. J.M. DeMatteis. Gerry Conway. Pretty much an award-winning list of writers from Marvel’s history, right? So why does The Defenders have such a tragic track record when it comes to comics? Why is the very mention of the team a punchline for the comic book media? Well, let’s examine some of the details:

Problem #1 – The Defenders is a non-team (or so they say). It’s continually pushed, both in the book itself and in Marvel’s communications with the fans, that The Defenders is Marvel’s non-team of heroes. Seriously. That was their selling point.

Problem #2 – The original team consists of Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange. That’s four nigh-omnipotent characters that have next to nothing in common. I guess that was supposed to be the charm…either that or they had to use the characters somehow before their trademarks ran out. Of course, The Defenders changed members more often than Spinal Tap changed drummers. I’m surprised any of them even knew each other’s names. The title quickly became Marvel’s circular file for unused characters.

Problem #3 – Many of the team’s adventures had to do with villains named Yandroth, Xemnu, Nebulon, Mandrill, Overmind and The Headmen. Wow. Those names just invoke terror, don’t they? I am an insufferable fan of hokey villains, but only in the right context. A truck driver dressed in coveralls, rubber gloves and an electrified pig’s hide is the perfect foil for a laid-back and sarcastic Spider-Man. But when you have four of the universe’s most powerful heroes going up against a giant dust bunny , therewith a unibrow’s a clear disconnect.

Problem #4 – Closely associated with the bad villains is the fact that most of the adventures The Defenders embarked upon were either overly concerned with bizarre dimensions or so steeped in cosmic mumbo-jumbo that they were almost nonsensical. What the hell are the science-minded Beast and the Prince of Atlantis doing in a Dali-esque dimension straight out of Alice in Wonderland? And, seriously, the Dragon of the Moon? If I can’t even explain it to my wife, then I don’t blame anyone for not reading it.

So, to sum up the problems: The Defenders couldn’t pin down a membership (and when they did, the chemistry wasn’t there), they fought obscure foes in weird situations and no one took them seriously as a team. How the heck do you fix all of that?

I’m not sure if you do fix it. I think that the strength of the Defenders is in their innate ability to fight obscure foes in weird situations. Let’s be honest; if you have a super-hero team, you really should have a reason for them to exist. They need some sort of hook to justify their existence. The X-Men are for the mutants, the Fantastic Four are explorers, the Avengers are the premiere super-team….and the Defenders, I think, are more of a mystical group, fighting those foes that no other hero even know exists.

I think the Defenders worked best when they were associated with Dr. Strange, whether or not he was a regular member. Strange was able to pinpoint and identify mystical threats, or at least more obscure threats, that other super-teams didn’t really know (or, to be honest, probably care) about, but truly were dangerous to the world. In fact, I think the Defenders even became somewhat known for this. I remember, when the Defenders were fighting a group of demons called The Six Fingered Hand, that they got a call from the Avengers. Captain America basically called them to say, “Hey Strange! We found some really weird *^@#, so we think you should take care of it!” Everyone knew that the Defenders operated on the outskirts of the Marvel Universe.

With that being said, if you move in that direction, you also find that the Defenders fulfill a need that is currently not being filled in the Marvel Universe, and that’s dealing with things in a more supernatural or mystical bent. With Strange being the only really well known magical hero in the Marvel Universe, and with Strange no longer having a monthly comic, I think there is a true dearth of stories that touch on the occult. And yes, Strange is currently in the New Avengers, but when he’s with them, he’s just a superhero with magical powers. There’s no sense of a magical realm like you used to see in his own series.

So, I think that the first step would be to assemble a group of Defenders that gathers together some of their more mystically aligned members (and there have been plenty of them) and then sending them off to defend the supernatural edges of the Marvel Universe that tend to be ignored by the mainstream heroes.

I think you hit the nail on the head in that last sentence: The Defenders need to defend something. They need to defend the Earth from weirdness. They need to defend reality itself. And I agree that that mission begins and ends with Doctor Strange. He was the character that drew me to the Defenders to begin with (to be honest, I’ve never liked the Hulk or the Silver Surfer and I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the potential of Namor).

I guess one of the inherent problems with the original run of the Defenders was just a product of the times. You mention the occult and it has to be acknowledged that a certain interest in occult themes peaked in the 1970’s. I remember a lot of Bronze Age books from Marvel touched on those same ideas…Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Marvel Spotlight (with Son of Satan) and, to an extent, Conan the Barbarian…not to mention Heavy Metal magazine and DC’s Swamp Thing, House of Mystery and House of Secrets. It was like leftover sixties hippie residue, black light posters and psychedelic music all coming together to freak people out.

Once those energies dissipated, interest in the Defenders waned. You can see it in the fact that Beast joined up and immediately worked to legally justify the team’s existence. Up until that point, it was just an informal association of heroes who happened to have the same interests and experiences. And I think that’s what it should get back to as well. I want to see a “team” of occultists, mystics and magic-based characters working together to investigate the edges of the Marvel universe. But I don’t want it to be an extension of SHIELD or the government, it should be a group that is completely unknown and invisible to the world. Think less X-Files and more Buffy. They have their own networking abilities built on trust and ancient history. They go where they need to go and do what they need to do. No rules. No distractions.

My other problem with the original Defenders lineup, as I mentioned above, was the inordinate amount of raw power it contained. Sure, they could punch the hell out of foes, but does that really help on the magic side of things? I think any plausible Defenders lineup should have a focus more on detective abilities and a knowledge of the obscure, a certain attunement to that realm and its surroundings. So who fits the bill in the Marvel Universe?

Well, let’s look at past Defenders to begin with. Obviously, Dr. Strange would be the catalyst for forming the group. Like you said, he is Marvel’s foremost authority on magic and the most easily recognized manifestation of it. One of my favorite characters, who I don’t believe has been used properly lately, is Daimon Hellstrom. When you think of occult, you can’t get much more appropriate than a Lord of Hell who has tried to rebel against his lineage. He and his wife (Ex-wife? Estranged wife?) Patsy Walker once ran an investigation business themselves. Gargoyle had been living with the couple for years after the New Defenders disbanded…you can’t look at that character without thinking of Gothic horror stories. And, for a character steeped in both a mythic past and his own scientific education, Black Knight would be a curious addition to the team. He was a Defenders member briefly and brings a legitimacy with his Avengers past.

Outside of previous members, I’ve always been interested in Cloak and Dagger. They’re young, they live on the edge of society and yet have a certain connection to religion, purity and salvation. Both have worked with Strange in the past and recently post-Civil War. I think they’d add youth and a different outlook to the team.

How’s that for a new Defenders lineup?

The wonderful thing about using Dr. Strange is that he’s a really busy man. He can pull the team together (as he did many times during the run of the original series), set them on their path, and then he can fade out if you don’t want to use him (“Sorry, have to go check out a revolution behind The Purple Veil in the Dimension of Watoomb!”) or you can keep him front and center during the story. He works either way.

I think saying that Daimon Helstrom and Patsy Walker haven’t been used well lately is something of an understatement. I don’t want to knock the creators who have been using them since they left the Defenders, but their personalities seemed to change drastically, and for no good reason. I’m all for character development, and if natural forces change people to a point where they would no longer logically be together, I’m fine with that. But when characters just suddenly start acting like completely different people with no explanation as to why, I get concerned. That seemed to happen to both of these characters and I’m horribly confused as to their status, since it almost seems like writers have been throwing ideas about these two out to the reading audience pell mell, hoping something would stick. Heck, even the Marvel Universe official site doesn’t seem to know what’s up with these two crazy kids, as in some places on the site they’re considered separated and sometimes they’re considered divorced. What the heck?

I would love to see them used again. I don’t even have a problem with them being separated, or divorced. Look how much more interesting Hank and Jan Pym often were when they worked together after their divorce. And Jan was upset that Hank hit her….Patsy has that beat hands down, since her husband drove her to an insanity fueled suicide! I’m pretty sure that Patsy gets to be guest of honor at the next “My Super Powered Husband is a Big Fat Jerk” convention. I think the tension between the two of them could be very interesting.

I love Dane Whitman, and he really fits in well here. Except for Dr. Doom, I can’t think of another character who straddles the science/magic line so well. Dane is a scientist who wields a magic sword. He’s a modern man who spent years fighting in the crusades. He’s spent years of his life as a stone statue, fighting in the land of Avalon with the druid Amergin, and as a living weapon when his entire body started to become razor sharp, after invoking the curse of the Ebony Blade. There’s a great history here, but he hasn’t really had much of a showcase since he left the Avengers right before The Crossing started (and kudos to Dane for knowing the best time to get the heck out of that group).

I think Cloak and Dagger are a great duo, and don’t have much more to add to what you said about them. As for the Gargoyle…<sigh>. He does have an interesting visual. Sadly, his visual is about all that’s interesting about him. At the same time, there is potential here. I think the way to use him would be to play up the fact that he doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose. I always saw him hanging out with Patsy simply because he didn’t know what else to do. He’s really an old man, and it must seem to him that the world has passed him by. I think he’s got some potential, but for me, he’d be the most work. At the same time, once you started bouncing him off the other people in the group, he could become one of the most interesting people in the book. Who has not felt, at some time, as if they are adrift, without a specific goal, purpose or mission in life? Gargoyle would be easy for people to relate to.

And don’t forget Dr. Druid. I love Dr. Druid! I’m one of the select few comics readers who seem to like this character (I meet with the other three once a month), and boy, has he been misused over the years. He has a great history with Dane; they were close while Avengers, until Druid tried to take over Dane’s mind and use him for evil. I wonder if Dane has gotten over that yet? Sadly, Druid has a mild case of being dead that he’d have to recover from before he could be used. On the plus side, there’s obviously a medication in the Marvel Universe that cures that particular problem, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem.

What I really like about this group is that there isn’t a lot of raw power. Don’t get me wrong; none of these are really lightweights. But what they have in spades is knowledge (maybe not Cloak and Dagger so much, but the others). Hellstrom, Hellcat, Strange, Dane and Gargoyle (and Druid) are all experts in different areas of mysticism, the occult, and supernatural matters.

Plus, Patsy knows fashion.

Which is odd considering her costume is the lamest of the group. Zing!

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always been a fan of the group or if it’s because this concept is so obvious, but I feel like we could do BUNCHES with this lineup. I’m more excited by this than any other ideas I’ve got running around in my head. I guess the biggest question is, “How do we get these characters together without it seeming forced?” Well, I’m going to take a stab at it…

Dr. Strange is meditating in his Sanctum Sanctorum when an odd noise disrupts him. The sound is coming from his library. When he enters the library, he sees an ancient artifact disappear in front of his eyes. He calls to Wong to ask if they’ve had a visitor, but both Wong and Strange’s own defenses reveal that no one has entered the building. Strange isn’t overly alarmed, but he is curious. He contacts Cloak and Dagger, because of their street connections, to ask them about the disturbance/possible theft. They assure him that they haven’t heard anything, but then Dagger reveals that she feels a strengthening evil. Strange asks Cloak to transport them to Massachusetts.

The trio arrives at the home of Daimon Hellstrom. He and Strange confer and Hellstrom agrees to help them in their search. The four of them arrive back at Strange’s abode where Wong informs them that two other artifacts have gone missing. Strange takes inventory and determines that the three missing items could be combined into a very powerful weapon. Strange finds Hellstrom in his library flipping through the pages of the Darkhold. As Strange is telling the group about the potential weapon, the Darkhold disappears right in front of them. Immediately, there is a knock on the door.

Wong opens the door to find The Dwarf (of the Darkhold). The Dwarf informs them that 12 pages of the Darkhold have been used. He then hands Wong a vellum envelope and vanishes. The envelope holds a piece of parchment with an arcane riddle on it. Strange decides they need more assistance to tackle this problem, but before they can decide on who to contact, something comes crashing through the window…a giant mutated crab’s claw. The heroes rush outside to confront hideous versions of Cancer, Scorpio, Leo and Taurus from the Zodiac.

After a brief battle, the heroes defeat these monsters. Daimon tells Strange he will return shortly. Then Strange uses his astral form to contact Dane Whitman (Black Knight). He tells Whitman about the possible supernatural weapon and enlists his help. Meanwhile, Hellstrom has traveled to find his ex-wife Patsy Walker and their friend Gargoyle. His appearance startles Patsy, but she tells him that her current position with The Initiative is not very fulfilling and, with the agreement of Gargoyle, the two of them go AWOL from The Initiative to join The Defenders.

The group returns to Strange’s home where they decode the riddle and determine that the force they are facing is none other than…Doctor Druid! Returning to the site of Druid’s death, they discover a black hole tearing through reality. Here, they face off with the rest of The Zodiac, possessed by the Darkhold pages. The team works well together in defeating their enemies. Druid emerges from the nothingness and promptly collapses in front of them.

As it turns out, Druid’s spirit had been inhabiting a plane that ran concurrent to reality. This allowed him to move easily between the centuries, essentially plucking the artifacts from the timestream before Dr. Strange ever had them in his possession. With the staff assembled and the Darkhold to power it, Druid was able to bring himself back from the dead. Unfortunately, the Zodiac were on the same plane with him and took advantage of his power to resurrect themselves as well. Druid wasn’t purposely doing all of this to be evil, but he had no other way to come back. The group accepts this explanation and welcomes Druid to their fold.

The NEW New Defenders

Unfortunately, by invoking the Darkhold and by using the weapon he created, Druid has started a ripple effect that threatens to allow the supernatural to take over reality. The Defenders now have a mission…to investigate these potential uprisings and defend the Earth from their powers.

I agree that this group as a lot of potential, and I think that the group could be very interesting. To me, team books succeed or fail on the strength of the personalities involved and how they interact. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, these characters have diverse backgrounds, and together, they have connecttions all over the Marvel Universe, from the street level contacts of Cloak and Dagger to the cosmic connections of Strange. There are also a lot of interesting character arcs that you could work through as you throw mystical menaces at them.

I really like the idea of having Gargoyle realize that his life since he became a super-hero has been somewhat bereft of any direction, at least one he set for himself. He’s followed the Defenders, and then the Hellstroms, and then Patsy alone, but he’s never done much on his own, and seems to be something of a blank slate when I’ve read anything with him in the past. I think that he’d want to start to find his own way in the world. He’s an older man (he should be at least in his 80s by now, although with the sliding Marvel timescale, that may not be accurate) when he’s not a gargoyle, and that has to color his actions. How do Patsy and Daimon feel about him hanging around them a lot? Do they like him, or is he kind of annoying to them, like Kramer from Seinfeld constantly hanging around? If the Gargoyle persona is functionally immortal (as in it doesn’t age), is his human form also immortal? Or, does anytime he spend as a human age that form? If so, time spent as a human would be quite precious for him and how would he want to spend it? Would he be attracted to the youth and vigor of Cloak and Dagger and want to spend time with them? Could they help him reconnect with who he used to be, and start making his own way? Or, would he find their youthful outlook confusing and unwelcome? There’s plenty of direction here.

How do Patsy and Daimon deal with each other? Obviously, there have been some bumps in the road for these two. Daimon even went out of his way to lie to Patsy, believing that she would be happier without him. But, he still loves her. Does she love him? Will he work towards reclaiming her love, or will he continue his policy of pushing her away so that she doesn’t get hurt again? If the latter, how will he feel if she starts dating someone else (like, perhaps, Dane Whitman)?

As I mentioned before, Druid and Dane have quite a history together. How will Dane feel about Druid’s actions when Druid took over the Avengers? For that matter, how does Druid feel about those actions? Will he be wracked by guilt, will he expect Dane to understand that Druid was being controlled at the time? Plus, Druid’s now created even more problems when he managed to resurrect himself. Can this man do anything right? Druid also has history with Strange, since he was technically the proto-Strange, and the two worked together quite a bit during some of the crazy Infinity crossovers of the 90s.

I see this as being a dark, moody, supernatural book. Lots of dark colors, and probably as close to horror as one can go when you’re dealing with people in spandex. Please note that I’m not saying grim and gritty (well, maybe some gritty). I’d like to see some humor in the book as well. I’m not necessarily suggesting big laughs, but some of these characters are upbeat. Dagger has usually been portrayed as pretty optimistic, and Patsy is often portrayed as something of a joker (and I see Daimon having a sense of humor, albeit a very dry one). So, yes, moody, horror type stories, but with strong character development and leavened by a sense of humor. I think it could work quite well.

Humor? Yeah, I think we’ve got that covered. The first running gag I can think of would involve Strange and Druid. We assume Strange will step back and become more of an absent leader for the group…like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, right? Well, considering how often Druid has been possessed by everyone, wouldn’t it be funny to have Strange use Druid as his “speakerphone” every time he wanted to talk to the group?

I agree with you about the feel of the book, to an extent. It should be closer to horror than superhero fare. I wouldn’t expect an crossovers with Spider-Man, Wolverine or The Punisher…more along the lines of Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and Man-Thing. However, while the environment is dark, I feel it would be clever to have the group be rather nonchalant about it all. Been there, done that. I think that’s where a lot of the humor could come in to it. These characters are in their comfort zone and almost feel nostalgic for what they’re doing.

There’s definitely a lot of room for interaction too, as you’ve said. The fact that most of them are already familiar with each other is a plus, but it’s also interesting that they haven’t all worked together at the same time. I think a “love triangle” between Daimon, Patsy and Dane is a smart move…probably humanizes Daimon more than anything. I would see him as being pissed off at first like, “How dare she have feelings for a mere mortal over me!” But eventually he realizes how out of place he truly is and maybe gets some real emotion behind him. I’m guessing another woman would be brought into the group eventually…perhaps someone powerful like Gargoyle (he may venture off to “find himself”) then Daimon might show interest in her. Could be fun to have Patsy and Daimon trying to one-up each other with their new relationships only to realize they really love each other.

I think the trust factor would come up with a lot of people. Dane doesn’t trust Druid. Patsy doesn’t trust Daimon (and I’m sure everyone else is a little wary of a Hell Lord). Maybe Gargoyle doesn’t trust Cloak and Dagger because they’re young. Druid probably doesn’t trust himself. Interesting to see how they’d handle all of this in team situations.

To be honest, I’ve already taken notes for literally a dozen different storylines. And that’s not even counting your basic vampires, demons and killer plagues. I WANT THIS.