Wolverine, Part 2: Mutant Boogaloo

Nov-13-08

Okay, John and I have established what seems to be a rather easy and understandable way to reduce Wolverine’s ridiculously overblown powers. This reduction (and temporary loss) of powers will instill some emotion into Wolverine, and will allow him to show the slight weakness and trepidation necessary for a believable and long-lasting hero.

However, while we’ve managed to clear up the physical part of what has caused Wolverine to be a bit much, we still haven’t really rectified the historical parts of the character. His origin has been established, but all the other little bits thrown in make his entire backstory a royal mess. And it seems like every writer, who has worked on either his solo title or one of the team books he regularly appears in, wants to throw their own two cents into the pot. I’m not really sure if there’s anything we can do to sweep up the mess, but it’s worth talking about.

Then there’s the subject of rogues galleries and supporting casts. I think we should at least briefly discuss his tenure with the X-Men and how they’ve affected his life. Then we can discuss the implications for his solo title. This would also cover the fact that he’s extremely overused in the Marvel Universe (that’s the bad kind of extreme, not the cool XTREME!) and something needs to be done to fix that too.

So, let’s begin. Here’s my opening statement: Wolverine. What’s up with that?

I consider myself to be a pretty obsessive comics geek, and I have an amazing knowledge of the histories of the major characters from many comics universes….and I’m sure I couldn’t actually recite much of Wolverine’s origin without missing or confusing entire chunks of it. He was originally created as a man with a mysterious past, which worked perfectly for his personality as the tough, silent loner. Unfortunately, it seems subsequent writers have taken this nebulous past as a challenge to fill it with tales, some of which contradict each other. Matters are made worse by the fact that Wolverine’s healing factor is now said to slow his aging, giving him a much longer lifespan than normal; this gives writers even more undocumented time to fill with unimportant, trite stories.

Some writers, when confronted with this sea of mismatched facts for a character, will go out of their way to explain the discrepancies. Heck, that’s been happening since the 1970s, when Steve Englehart used his Celestial Madonna saga in The Avengers to explain some of the discrepancies in the Vision and the original Human Torch’s origins, as well as other bits of continuity. Kurt Busiek (with some help from Roger Stern) did the same thing in the Avengers Forever limited series; that was basically twelve issues of continuity explanations. John Byrne does this sort of thing all the time, perhaps most notable in his Wonder Woman run. Now, I have respect for all of the creators I just named, but I have to say, I don’t agree with that theory. Yes, we could come up with some sort of long, detailed explanation for how Wolverine’s origin actually fits together, and publish it as a special one-shot or a limited series (since, God knows, Wolverine doesn’t star in enough books). However, I think the better way to go is to just start ignoring it. Do a quick and pared down origin for Wolverine, run it as a quick flashback in the first issue of your run, and just move on. I find that stories that attempt to explain continuity fail in two ways: first, they tend to be very heavy on exposition, and consequently, they tend to be a little boring; and second, they are completely impenetrable to the casual reader. Cynics may say comics no longer have casual readers, and they’re probably right, but I see no reason to try and exclude any few that wander into the hobby.

I think the down and dirty origin just needs to hit a few highlights: Born James Howlett in the 1800s, he was the son of rich plantation owners. He left the plantation and took the name Logan. He eventually joins the Canadian military and then moves to Madripoor for a time. He then becomes a mercenary until he rejoins the Canadian military as a member of Team X. He’s kidnapped, has his bones laced with adamantium, and is rescued by the Hudsons, who convince him to join Alpha Flight. He skips out on them to join the X-Men. That’s a concise origin that hits all the high points, and it isn’t needlessly convoluted. It’s long, but he’s over a hundred years old (can I say how stupid I think that idea is? I think he works much better if he’s no older than 60) so he’s going to have a lot on his resume.

Does that work for you?

Your precision is commendable. I agree that the concept of Wolverine being centuries-old is not only laughable, but highly unrelatable. You make a lot of sense with the “ignore it” approach though. Most of the dumb stories related over the years about the character have no real bearing on who he is anyway. They were jsut a way for the writer to feel like he contributed something. But…

What if a lot of those stories were just flat-out untrue? What if Wolverine was just one of those guys, like a goofy uncle or an insecure schoolboy, who made up tall tales to both impress and confuse people? Granted, it’s pretty easy to confirm the points that you’ve made in your concise summary of his origin, but all the other little things could either be lies or just things that he thinks he’s remembering…either to repress the true memories that are too painful or maybe they were planted there by the Weapon X folks to block out his real past.

Probably a bit convoluted, but it would reveal a lot if we discovered that Wolverine was a big, fat liar.

Sure, he’s older than he looks. He has ties to Captain America and Nick Fury. And he married some chick in Japan. But some of his solo stories have been told with no supporting evidence…just Wolverine out on his own, doing what he does best, with no one to confirm or deny the exploits. What if he never actually fought Hulk in his first appearance? What if someone tracked down a few of these villains he says he’s faced and they don’t even know who he is? What if the whole Patch thing was just a fever dream?

That would be kind of funny.

And sad.

Anyway, I agree that most of that junk need never see the light of day again. Good comic readers should be able to block that garbage out (if they haven’t already). Funny aside: Earlier today I was reading a post over on Topless Robot about the awful stories in the Spider-Man Clone Saga. And I don’t remember any of them! I’m soooooo glad my brain was able to delete those from the IQ files.

So, with his history satisfyingly ignored, we should move on to Wolverine’s friends and enemies. You’ve already briefly mentioned the Alpha Flight and Department H folks who rescued Wolverine from obscurity. How did he happen upon the X-Men though? Aside from the movie version, I don’t remember that part of the story. Let’s talk a bit about the various members of the X-Men and how he interacts with them. We all know about the on-again off-again love triangle with Jean Grey and Cyclops. Then there’s the quasi-mentor relationship he had with Jubilee. What else though? How is he perceived overall by the X-Men family? Other mutants? Other heroes in the Marvel Universe?

One quick point to make on his origin. You mentioned the idea that some of those stories detailing his past were implanted memories, or tall tales that Logan has spun. I originally had considered trying to explain away some of his backstory, since I dislike so much of it, and return him to a simpler character. Unfortunately, much of what I came up with didn’t make him simpler, but just more convoluted. Still, I had one idea that I kind of liked….

What if the story of James Hewlett is all true….but he wasn’t Wolverine? The oldest stories in Wolverine’s origin are the hardest to confirm, and some of what happened to Hewlett may be true, but in actuality, Hewlett lived his own life for years, until meeting Wolverine in the 1930s, when Wolverine would have been very young (say late teens at the most) and Hewlett was old. Hewlett told Wolverine tales of his life, and Wolverine basically assumed his identity when Hewlett died. You could work this into your idea that Wolverine is a big fat liar, and I do think it makes the character more interesting. However, besides making that stupid Origin miniseries completely pointless, I can’t ever see it flying with Marvel brass. Too bad.

As for Wolverine and the X-Men, he joined them because Xavier recruited him to go rescue his original students from Krakoa. I don’t believe they had ever met before, but that’s where he enters the mythology. Originally, they said that he left Alpha Flight for the X-Men because he was bored, but later on it was revealed he was in love with Heather Hudson and didn’t want that to come between him and her husband (the first time he fell in love with the wife of the team leader; he really is rather a creepy old guy, isn’t he?).

As for how he fits into the X-Men family, I’m not sure at present. For years he was the rowdy, almost psychotic scrapper and he was close to all of the new X-Men who joined up to fight Krakoa. He had a bond with Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Banshee and the five of them were pretty tight. He was very much disliked by Iceman and Angel, and the enmity with Angel, at the very least, lasted for at least ten or fifteen years. By the time the new X-Men team began to split up and new members began to arrive, Wolverine had become such a popular character that everyone seemed to like him. New members rarely treated him like a crazy man who could fly into berserker rages, and indeed, that rarely happened anymore anyway. Even Kitty Pryde, when she first appeared, seemed more frightened of Nightcrawler than she was of Wolverine. I’ll admit that Nightcrawler looks odd, but he’s almost always drawn as blue, fuzzy and kind of cute. Wolverine is a short, hairy, cigar smoking, brusque terror, and I think he’d be a heck of a lot more scary to a young girl than someone who looks like an animated stuffed animal.

In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to stop and mention how the insistence at Marvel of pairing Wolverine up with young girls (first Shadowcat and then Jubilee) is the wrong move for the character. I understand that they’re trying to portray Wolverine as the gruff uncle with the heart of gold, but honestly, he should simply be the gruff uncle. When Wolverine first appeared, he was a scary, violent little man with razor sharp claws. He had enough trouble associating with the adults on the team, never mind the teenagers. However, as he became more popular, his persona softened. He rarely lost his temper (unless it was integral to the plot). He became more friendly and spent time with the rest of the team. And he became the mentor to every other young girl to be recruited. Personally, I think they should have kept him standoffish, particularly to the younger members. Sure, let him bond with some of the other adults, but don’t make him a den mother. First of all, I still find it hard to believe that young girls wouldn’t be scared half to death by him. Second, he’s the quintessential loner; it’s hard enough to sell that when he belongs to two of the largest teams in the Marvel Universe. It becomes an impossible concept to convey when he’s got sidekicks.

And along those lines, the enmity he had with Iceman and Angel has also disappeared over the years. To an extent, that’s fine; these guys have to work together, and more importantly, watch each other’s backs in life and death situations. It’s natural that they would bond over the years. Still, Wolverine has one of the most grating personalities in the Marvel Universe. Surely there are going to be some mutants who really aren’t fond of him. He should have personality conflicts with at least some of the members of the X-Men, and unless I’m wrong, he doesn’t. I’d like to see him very close to a few of his fellow mutants (perhaps Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and Banshee, since they all started together), be on speaking terms, but little else, with the majority of them, and have a few that he simply rubs the wrong way. Your take?

Oooh…what if James Howlett was the guy who originally started Weapon X (or whatever that program is called now)? In fact, what if it was something he did in response to the Nazi buildup…like the Canadian version of the Super Soldier formula, but much more clandestine. After all the torture and abuse, all Wolverine can remember are the tales that Howlett told him and he’s able to use those as a backstory when he eventually escapes from captivity. I don’t know if you follow Mad Men at all, but the main character in that show had a somewhat similar situation. He was stationed in a remote area of Korea when their encampment was struck by mortar fire. The blast killed his commanding officer, burning him so badly that he was unrecognizable. The main character had an awful childhood, so he saw this as his opportunity to change things. He switched dog tags with his commanding officer and started a new life when he got stateside.

Now that I’ve ruined a major plot point for one of TV’s greatest shows, let’s get back to Wolverine.

I think there’s reason to assume this could be possible. And it sets Wolverine up as more of a sympathetic character…he has that one dark secret that he’s trying desperately to hide from the rest of the world. He’s ashamed of the “easy path” he’s taken to try to get his life back. It’s a little convoluted, but what isn’t in the X-world?

Anyway, back to the friends thing. I never really thought about Wolverine’s relationships with all the young girls on the team. On paper, it sounds pretty creepy. And it does diminish the “bad boy” quality of the character. In the books though, it comes across like one of those cartoons where the little dog is trying to make friends with the big dog who barely acknowledges his existence. The girls see a father figure that may be able to protect them and teach them. Wolverine sees another person that he has to keep out of trouble for the sake of the team. It’s a weird parasitic relationship and comics seem to thrive on that kind of melodrama.

In reality, I agree with your bigger point. These girls would be reluctant to get close to the brute of the team. And he wouldn’t pay any attention to them at all, most likely sneering whenever they insist on tagging along on an adventure. Better yet, he’d probably roar that they didn’t belong in action at all. It’s like how the popular clique thinks that they’re the only people in the school. Just a natural pecking order.

However, we can’t dismiss the friendships that he has made. It would be odd to have him do a 180 now. So we have to deal with the Kitty Prydes and the Jubilees. Neither of them is particularly close to him right now, so it’s easy to just let those ties fade away. I do like your idea of having the mutants almost segregated by team…where Wolverine associates only with the “new” X-Men while the original team keeps him at arm’s length or just flat-out distrusts him. And the new recruits hold him in awe while he chooses to ignore them.

I’d like to see him fly off the handle a bit more too. The berserker rages have all but disappeared. The half-cocked, male pride angle has been abandoned. I’d like to see Wolverine acting a bit less rational and more spontaneous. And that whole “had a Japanese bride and a kid” thing has to just go away. Seriously.

That sort of brings us to the rogues gallery (because the only Wolverine enemy I can think of is Silver Samurai). Is there anything to go on here? Does The Hand count as an enemy? Can he claim any of the X-Men’s enemies as his own? I’m so tired of Sabretooth that I don’t even really want to talk about him. All I know is that Marvel’s editorial team thought that Wolverine was going to fade away quickly, but Chris Claremont liked the idea of a feral warrior so he created Sabretooth as an enemy of Iron Fist in that character’s solo title. Sabretooth is basically a blond, slightly taller Logan. Lame.

I like the idea of Hewlett being someone whose identity Wolverine took. I think it would add some mystery and danger back to the character, who’s a lot less impressive when you see him as the James Hewlett depicted in Origins. I also think it drops the character a little more back into the realm of the relatable, since he’s not been around for 150 years anymore.

As to your other point, I agree that Wolverine’s Rogues Gallery is laughable. Sabretooth is indeed his biggest foe, but considering that Sabretooth is almost as overused as Wolverine, he’s not a good foe. I had forgotten about the Silver Samurai, but isn’t he a good guy now? Even if he isn’t, I’m not thrilled with Wolverine’s staunchest foe being someone with an Asian background, as I’d like to move the character out of that region of the world and back to his homeland of Canada. I would count the Hand as an enemy, but not a particularly interesting one. They exist only so he can slice and dice any number of their operatives, and there will still be more waiting in the wings.

I believe that you could consider the Wendigo to be part of his Rogues Gallery, and that’s suitably Canadian, but the Wendigo is a dull foe, and not nearly smart enough to present an interesting threat for more than an issue or two. Wasn’t Cyber considered a Wolverine foe? He never seemed to have much going for him, except for the fact that he looked neat when Sam Keith drew him. Yeesh, that is one pathetic roster of baddies; it makes Superman’s Rogues Gallery of bald scientists and wacky inter-dimensional imps look pretty good.

I believe that Sabretooth was intended to be Wolverine’s opposite number (actually, rumor has it he was intended to be Wolverine’s father when first introduced, which could have been more interesting), but I’m not a big fan of opposite numbers as archenemies. I don’t find Venom vs Spider-Man to be an interesting match-up. I much prefer when opposites clash, and in this instance, I think that Wolverine needs to face off against a patient, calculating, schemer. He doesn’t need to be a Lex Luthor type, with no powers but great scientific know-how. He can be quite powerful in his own right, but he needs to be the type who doesn’t rattle or get upset. He needs to be able to make long range plans and he needs to be able to change them as circumstances warrant. This would put him at odds with Wolverine’s berserker rages and notorious temper.

I’d also like to add a villain from the general Marvel Rogues Gallery: Viper. She has worked with Silver Samurai, and the two of them clashed with Wolverine in the past. I think she’s perfect against Wolverine as she has some of the espionage background that mirrors Wolverine’s own background in that field, and she also is a fierce and savage opponent, just as Wolverine is. If the Samurai has not reformed and can fight with her against Wolverine, they’d be a perfect team.

Dragging X-Foes into Wolverine’s Rogues Gallery could be tricky. Sure, he has reason to hate Magneto and Apocalypse, who have both wronged him severely, but they’re not really the sort to fixate on one mutant. Perhaps it would be better to use one of the lesser known, and lesser used, X-Villains. Personally, I’d grab one or two of the Marauders and flesh them out in the pages of Wolverine. Most of them never really got personalities under Claremont’s pen when they were first created, and a lot of work could be done on them if they were given space to breathe in Wolverine’s solo title. Wolverine could probably lay claim to Donald Pierce, Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers as his own villains, but unfortunately, none of them are very interesting.

Ugh. His villains are a sad state of affairs. Any ideas on your end?

I was thinking along the same lines as you. Never been a fan of those “same but different” match-ups. I think that’s why I generally get bored with primary arch-enemies anyway. They start out as strong foils for the heroes, but over the course of time both the hero and the villain get tweaked until they’re basically mirror images of each other. I mean, Lex Luthor spent some time in that armor of his in an attempt to go toe-to-toe with Superman…Red Skull has been pumped up until he’s basically Cap without the shield…even Green Goblin’s powers were increased to better coincide with Spider-Man’s. I would much rather see a fight between folks who take different approaches, have different strengths and weaknesses and are able to employ tactics that may confuse or distract.

Unfortunately, Wolverine’s foes are a bunch of weak reflections of him. Like I said, Sabretooth is basically Logan with a mullet and some lifts. Lady Deathstrike is Logan with boobs. Cyber quickly became Wolverine’s indestructible brawling counterpart. Viper may not be a bad idea…she’s someone who has resources and can throw some bodies at Wolvie. And she plays in the same dark corners as Logan.

The perfect villain for Wolverine to face off against would be someone who is very intelligent, has a unique power set and doesn’t get rattled easily. We need a Zen counterpart to Wolverine’s berserker. This may sound like a crazy idea, but what about Vanisher? He’s constantly getting himself involved in some of the more back-alley crimes that land in Wolverine’s wheelhouse…associating with drug cartels, thieves and smugglers. Vanisher is a smart guy and his powers would confound Wolverine. Could be a fun way to bring one of the X-Men’s oldest foes up to a more worthy level.

Of course, we’ve talked about Grey Gargoyle too. He may not be a long term opponent, but he would definitely inflict some damage on Wolverine that would be felt for a long time. I could even see them facing off against each other after we’ve diminished Wolvie’s powers…right up until we kill off Gargoyle. And some interesting things could spring out of that as well. I’m not a huge fan of legacy villains, but maybe Gargoyle has a child or family member who would pick up the mantle? Are there any long-time associates of his that may seek revenge on Wolvie? We could push Wolverine off into his own mythos, his own corner of the Marvel Universe. Granted, some new villains will need to be created at some time, but if Wolverine is that old (even if our new origin is able to shave off a century or so) he should have some interaction with some of the older villains in the Marvel Universe.

Those are my first thoughts. Follow up?

Not much to follow up with, as I like your ideas. I agree that the Vanisher has a lot of potential, potential which Marvel is just now beginning to explore. He’s a smart guy, and he’s a planner, which makes him perfect against Wolverine. The Vanisher has to be a planner, as he’s basically useless in a fight, although his teleporting ability could be used to some effect in a brawl (I think the only time I’ve ever seen that happen is when he took on the original five X-Men way back in his first appearance in X-Men #2. Basically, it’s a question of getting your foes to use their powers against each other by teleporting in and out among them). I think he should definitely be added to the Rogues Gallery.

With Vanisher, Grey Gargoyle (and making him a legacy would be fine; Marvel is able to do that with their villains, even if they can’t with their heroes), Viper, and possibly the Silver Samurai, we’re slowly building up a small group of foes for him. I’d still advocate taking a few of the Marauders and using them against him. I’d choose a duo, Scalphunter and Arclight. Arclight had a romantic interest in Scalphunter, so perhaps she’s working with him as a way to try and make something happen. They both have a history as members of the military and/or special forces teams, so perhaps they met Wolverine sometime in the past and have some sort of specific issue with him. They’re also both tough characters who can go toe to toe with Wolverine for a nice big slugfest, in ways that none of our other villains (except the Gargoyle) really can. That gives us seven new villains for him (even if some of them work in teams) and I like that.

Hmmm. That gives us history, allies and enemies. Have we finished dissecting and rebuilding Marvel’s most overused character?

Aside from shaving his back and putting him on a Nicorette regimen, we’ve done all we can.

I like it.

Now if only Marvel would take the hint…

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Wolverine: Convolution is His Middle Name.

Nov-12-08

They say he’s the best there is at what he does and what he does is…well, it’s kind of confusing, really.

Created by Len Wein, Wolverine, for all his bluster and bombast, is perhaps one of the most enigmatic characters Marvel has ever foisted upon the public. Initially, his vague background, vicious attitude and general bad-assery quickly took him to the top of the “Awesome Scale” and into the hallowed territory of Predator, Mad Max, Boba Fett, William Shatner and Patrick Swayze in Road House (but NOT Dirty Dancing).

However, since the early days, Marvel has managed to overexpose, overexplain, overuse, overdo, overwhelm and overcompensate for the character in his continued exploits. Even though his official “origin” has been published and well-received, I still can’t honestly tell you anything about him. It’s baffling. Here’s what we may or may not know: His name is James Howlett, but everyone calls him Logan. He’s a mutant from Canada but he fought alongside Captain America in World War 2. He’s been tortured, brainwashed and abused. He used to have bone claws, but those were replaced with an indestructible metal skeleton, which was then removed by Magneto. The bone claws returned, but now he’s back to metal again. He has a ridiculous healing factor, and yet he used to have an eyepatch and a stump hand and lived as a pseudo-pirate on an island in the Pacific called Madripoor. I’m pretty sure he was married, or getting married, to a Japanese girl at one point. He has connections to nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe except Howard the Duck (give it time). And it certainly didn’t help things when the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon portrayed Wolverine with an Australian accent. Sheesh.

Seriously. What the hell?

Look, I’ll admit that I was particularly enamored with Wolverine when he first appeared in the reborn Uncanny X-Men title. And the miniseries that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller threw together was pretty darn awesome. Something happened in the meantime to change my mind though. He started guest-starring in every title from Amazing Spider-Man to Get Along Gang. His character got boring. The whole feudal Japan thing. The secret Weapon X experiments that keep being changed and retold to explain continuity problems. Don’t even get me started on Patch. And the completely outrageous concept that his healing factor can rebuild his entire body from skeletal remains after being at ground zero of a nuclear explosion. It almost makes me laugh. Wolverine is the only character who could relax by smoking a cigar on the surface of the sun.

Aside from completely removing him from the 72 Marvel titles he appears in each month, what else could we do to tone down Wolverine’s image and make him interesting again?

This could be a long one…

How very interesting. We may be two of the only fanboys out there who don’t really like Wolverine, although I can say that I never really liked the character, even when he was first introduced. You say that we can’t limit his appearances as a way to make him interesting again, and you may be right, but I think limiting those appearances in some way is absolutely essential. We discussed overexposing a character somewhat when we discussed the Joker, but we didn’t really delve into it. I actually have quite a rant on that very topic, but I’ll save it for another time and place, especially since this is likely to run long anyway. I will only say that Wolverine is much too overexposed and he needs to be seen less. However, whether that happens or not, there are other areas we need to explore with Wolverine if we’re going to make him a good, viable character again.

I see two immediate problems with Wolverine, which spring to mind. The first is that Wolverine, when first introduced, was the cool guy, the Fonzie of the X-Men. He was a rebel, he was slick, and he had some style. This was all well and good, but as Wolverine became more popular, he stopped being just a slick guy and became incapable of showing weakness or making a mistake. He’s the most macho, most perfect man in comics. He can’t do wrong. He can’t BE wrong. If there’s an argument, you better believe that Wolverine’s opinion is the writer’s opinion, and whatever he’s saying, with his decades (centuries? millennium?) of life and experience, is what the writer wants the reader to believe and support. There’s simply no dramatic tension involving this character anymore; if he’s in a fight, he’ll win, no matter how many villains or how powerful they are; if he’s in an argument, he’ll win, even if he’s debating nuclear physics with Reed Richards; if he’s playing tiddlywinks, he’s sure to come out on top!

The second problem I have with him somewhat relates to the first, and that’s the fact that he’s simply too powerful. When first introduced, Wolverine had enhanced senses, metal claws, and a decent healing factor. All of these powers have been ramped up since his early appearances, which is something of the norm for comics (and it’s something I’ve mentioned before when discussing Marvel Comics). Sadly though, his powers have gone off the charts. I could complain about his fighting skills becoming legendary, or his enhanced senses allowing him to track dust mites across a desert, but it’s his healing factor which is completely out of control. In the 1970s and 1980s, Wolverine could be taken down if he took sufficient damage, and he wasn’t getting up anytime soon. It was also obvious that too much damage could kill him. As the years wore on, he began to regenerate quicker, and from more serious injuries. This may have reached it’s most preposterous heights in his comic during Civil War, when he had all of his flesh and organs seared off and was reduced to a skeleton by Nitro. A skeleton! Yes, he had no brain, no heart, no lungs….he was just a skeleton. And he regenerated to normal! This is ridiculously powerful and it has to stop.

Of course, there are other problems with Wolverine. I think that any strong book needs a supporting cast, and Wolverine doesn’t have one. This could be because he was never intended as a solo character; he was a supporting character himself, and he was a loner. When he got his own title, it became difficult to fit a cast around him, since it didn’t fit his persona. He also has little in the way of a rogues gallery; since his first instinct is to kill his enemies, it’s hard to keep them around for long. His biggest foe is Sabretooth, who’s almost as overexposed as Wolverine himself. It’s also obvious that no one knows quite what to do with Wolverine; he’s Canadian, but that’s rarely shown. He might mention it, but we don’t get the feeling that he belongs to another culture. As you mentioned, he’s shown an obsession with Japanese culture, which doesn’t seem to fit with his personality, and seems to have been added only because it’s considered cool. He has too much in his past; he’s been a soldier, a secret agent, an experiment, as assassin….he wants to be all things to all people, but that’s simply not possible.

So, that’s the problems I see. Now the question is, can we solve these problems?

Can we rebuild him? Do we have the technology? (Why do I feel like I’ve used the Six Million Dollar Man joke before…Iron Man revamp maybe?) Perhaps I should switch to a Vanilla Ice reference instead? “If you’ve got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it…”

Right.

You’ve honed in on the exact points I was glossing over in my opening rant. Too perfect. Too powerful. No sense of conflict. No real sense of danger for him. No friends. No threats. And just a jumble of history that feels like the comic book version of that Katamari Damancy video game where you roll around the world and stuff sticks to you. All in all, stripping Wolverine back down to something interesting and useful is a truly daunting and bloated assignment. And I’m not sure it can be done without taking a few giant leaps of faith. Things are going to have to be retconned, ignored and just outright forgotten.

One of the main things we must do is provide some sort of weakness, both in his powers and in his personality. I hate to think we need to introduce a villain that he can’t handle, because that would just be piling more nonsense on top of the already existing nonsense, but there needs to be a person or an event that diminishes Wolverine vastly. Something fairly monumental, I’m guessing. Or maybe not. Maybe the best course of action would be to have this take place over a length of time?

Clearly, heroes are much more fun to follow when you’re not sure if they’re able to get out of the precarious situations they find themselves plopped into. Wolverine’s bulldozer-like presence takes any of that sense of tension away. That Nitro incident is something I always point to when people talk about the silliness in superhero books (well, that and the whole Spider Clone thing…and Superboy punching the walls of reality…and…). His freaking brain was gone. Poof! There’s no function left there, nothing that could possibly trigger any defense mechanism or healing ability. And yet he reassembled like that dude from Terminator 2. Wait, I take that back. That guy was actually able to be stopped.

I look at it this way: If Bullseye happens to fling a toothpick straight through Wolverine’s eyeball, and he gets it at just the right angle that it sinks into his brain, then Wolverine should be dead. Forget the adamantium-laced skeleton. There’s nothing in the physiology of a humanoid being that would protect the soft tissues like that. If that lame villain Machete just happened to take a swing at the back of Wolvie’s neck and he managed to find the exact spot where two of his vertabrae came together and his blade was thin enough to slide through and sever the brain stem, then Mr. James Howlett would cease to be. Simple as that. I don’t care about past procedure at Marvel, dead is dead.

And knowing that, Wolverine would be more cautious, more tactful and possibly just a bit more reserved. We wouldn’t have the constant know-it-all, done-it-all attitude.

I’m not going to delve into enemies and supporting cast right now, because I think that it’s important that we discuss his ties to the X-Men first. This is his inner circle of family and friends, for what it’s worth. Let’s not concentrate on his solo title just yet. Although, I will pose this one question: When Magneto chooses to attack the X-Men, why doesn’t he just use Wolverine as his living puppet every time? Seriously, he could just take control of Wolvie and obliterate every other member of the team…and he could do it from miles away! Some snikt-snikt…a bit of blood and gore…and -BOOM- no more X-Men!

Anyway, there’s a lot more to talk about and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. This could go on for days! We need to strip him down quickly and effectively…like field dressing a moose. What’s the first step?

The first task should be to reduce his powers and his infallibility. I’d start with reducing his powers first, since if you just start having him make mistakes, it’s going to seem odd and far fetched, but if you reduce his powers first, then he may start making mistakes based on the fact that he’s a little more insecure and feeling his way with his new power levels. As for how one reduces his powers back to mere mortal level, I could suggest a half dozen options. He could be infected with a disease; his healing factor is fighting off the disease, but it can’t defeat it. The perpetual war within his body means that his healing factor isn’t as strong and can’t work as hard on other problems (and perhaps the disease dulls his senses at the same time). Perhaps he’s hit with a weapon that is supposed to take away a mutant’s powers, like Forge’s ray gun that depowered Storm in the 1980s, but only gets a glancing blow. Or, if you want to make it a longer story, perhaps he takes a full blow, and is completely depowered for awhile. When Beast finally figures out a way to return his powers, he warns Wolverine that the procedure is untested, and it may not restore his powers to their peak levels. Turns out that the Beast was correct and his powers are restored only to our new, more reasonable levels.

You could also use any number of freak accidents (the Marvel Universe is awash in them) where he drinks a serum designed to do one thing, and then gets exposed to radiation, and the two interact, reducing his power levels. Perhaps, since he insists on hanging out with Dr. Strange in the New Avengers, he gets hit with a magic spell that reduces his powers. The possibilities are legion (and Marvel has already missed some good opportunities to reduce his powers; I would have done it when Magneto ripped all the metal from his body). It really boils down on whether or not you want to make it a story; do you spend a few months detailing the reduction of his powers, and figuring out how that affects him, or do you remove them quickly, and then move on to other stories? I think you do the former, giving readers a chance to see how, once his powers have been reduced to 1970’s levels, it affects every part of the character, making him more cautious, making him realize that he can die, and bringing him down to the same level of everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong; he can still be cool and a bad-ass. I’m not suggesting that we turn him into Timid Timmy, or making him a coward. However, he needs to get his butt handed to him every now and then; he needs to at least acknowledge that he’s vulnerable in some way and that he can make mistakes.

Were I to actually pitch this idea, I’d do a story where someone duplicated Forge’s old power nullifier. They plan to use it on one particular mutant; I’m not sure if it matters which one, but we’ll make it one of the X-Men. Wolverine and the X-Men go to stop this evil villain, and during the struggle, Wolverine gets hit by the nullifier, and his powers are gone. Boom. He’s near death, and spends some time in a medical bay at the X-Mansion. They originally think that he’ll die because of the metal in his body, but apparently his body has adjusted to having the adamantium laced to his bones (in the same way a cyborg’s body adapts to the metal parts). So, he has his claws, but he can’t use them; without his healing factor, he’d slice open his hands and bleed profusely if he did. We then spend a few months with Wolverine having no powers at all; where he’s forced to work at being a hero, and we can see him as a true mortal. I’d say he spends those months going after the bad guy who built the power nullifier. Wolverine wants him dead, so he can’t steal the powers of any other mutants.

Finally, the Beast returns Wolverine’s powers, as mentioned above. We know his powers are reduced, but by this time, the reader has had the opportunity to see what Wolverine can do without them, and they understand the character better. This guy has tons of experience, he’s strong, he’s a great fighter, and he’s brave as they come. However, if he makes mistakes, he could die. And he does, occasionally, make mistakes.

Thoughts?

Well now, that’s intriguing. There are some pros and cons about that idea, but overall I think it’s a good template to follow. I think my qualms are in the details rather than the overall effectiveness of the plot. For instance, I’d hate for this to be a rehash of the “Storm lost her powers” story and I’d be concerned that this would become the path of least resistance for any future depowerings. The convenient rebuilding of a powerful device is a bit troublesome to me. Of course, I could poke holes in the alternate solution you offered as well. These freak viruses and plagues and diseases seem to go hand-in-hand with the mutant population. And they’re rarely naturally occurring things either. Usually, there’s some sort of covert experimentation going on…someone stumbles upon a hidden bunker…or an abused mutant is found wandering the streets of some backwoods European village…call in the rescue team!

Sadly, his healing factor has been so augmented in recent years, that I’m pretty sure it kills off all foreign antibodies before they even get within ten feet of him. It’s all quite ridiculous. There has to be a new way to diminish his abilities and powers. The magic angle is interesting because it’s something that Wolverine and the X-Men don’t deal with very often. The only trouble is that most of the magic that happens in Marvel’s world is unnaturally easy to reverse. Here’s a thought you didn’t mention: What if he gets in a fight with a villain he’s never encountered before, someone with alchemical powers? I’m just throwing this out there…Grey Gargoyle. He’s been around for a long time and yet he’s a pretty enigmatic villain. He’s now part of The Hood’s crime syndicate which recently had a run-in with the New Avengers. And, in a battle with the Fantastic Four not too long ago, he temporarily turned Thing to stone. When the effects wore off, Ben Grimm was able to change between his rock and human form at will. That establishes a precedent for physiological changes. Who knows what effects his powers would have on a mutant? It could be that simple. There’s also Absorbing Man or Diablo that we could throw at him.

The reason I like something like this is that it’s easy to set up but it’s also a completely unexpected consequence of a typical superpowered battle. Instead of hailing this as one of those “don’t miss this” issues that will shatter the internet and blow your mind or pegging it into a special foil-stamped anniversary issue with back-up origins and filler stories, the plot point could just happen. Poof! No more powers. Either deal with it or wallow in self-pity.

I could also see Wolverine pursuing Grey Gargoyle and struggling with the decision of whether to kill him or not. On the one hand, he has caused this self-doubt in Logan, which is a new feeling for him. However, on the other hand, Wolverine now has no powers to follow through on a possible assassination. Maybe he uses his skills and resources to track Grey Gargoyle (who is now on the run because he fears retaliation), but he discovers that Gargoyle is already in a sad state…perhaps some sort of exotic cancer is killing him because, honestly, he hasn’t been used much recently and I don’t think anyone would miss him. This part of the storyline would establish some emotion in Wolverine and prove that he’s capable of pity and mercy.

Regardless of the solution, I do believe that the idea of showing Wolverine without any powers at all for a while is key to making this a solid story. He needs to have a reason to doubt himself. And, like you said, I can see him making mistakes like forgetting about his healing factor and popping his claws or jumping from a height that will cause damage. Those types of things definitely need to happen in order to reinforce the consequences.

I also agree that Beast would eventually be able to find a solution to the depowering. However, nothing should be that simple. Perhaps the “cure” is only a temporary fix…or his powers may come and go, like a faulty electrical connection. I’m guessing this would be some sort of DNA bypass that Beast would concoct and maybe it should permanently alter the scope of Wolverine’s powers. No more mystical interventions like Apocalypse jamming the metal back into his skeleton. No more regenerating from point-blank nuclear blasts.

How does that play for you? And, after your response, do you think we should start a Part Two of this thread for the next chapter in Wolverine’s rebuilding?

I like that a lot; it’s always more elegant if you can incorporate a change like this into a comics universe more seamlessly, and that’s what you’ve done.  As you mentioned, the Grey Gargoyle is someone who’s powers aren’t really understood well, and if he could change the Thing, he could certainly change Wolverine.  If anyone is skeptical on that score, it would be easy enough to have Wolverine be suffering some other ailment at the same time the Grey Gargoyle turns him to stone.  That does work nicely though.

Otherwise, this sounds like a plan to me.  On to Part 2!


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

Oct-15-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Oct-14-08

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

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

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

What about my own picks? Read on….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jason’s 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

We wanted to slap together some sort of mainstream answer to Tom Spurgeon’s “50 Things Every Great Comics Collection Needs to Have” post. Of course, considering we only really cover the superhero side of things, we’ll have to tweak our responses appropriately. I’m going to throw out 20 items and John is going to throw out 20 items. There will be similarities and, I’m sure, there will be big differences between our two lists.

I’ve been reading comics since around 1976. I’ve been seriously collecting them since 1984. And I have every major book and biography written about the superhero comics and their creators. I figure that gives me a fair understanding of the genre and its history. Granted, my particular likes and dislikes are going to color any list I could come up with, but I’ve tried to limit the fanboy in me to only a few of the choices.

What you’ll probably notice immediately is that I didn’t include Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns. If I were to put a list of 50 together, I’m sure those two would’ve squeaked onto the list. Honestly, I just don’t think they hold up as well these days. Both books are products of their time, wrapped in a certain political scene and tied to the emotions and ennui of the era. And I didn’t read either of them when they first came out. In fact, I just read them both in 2001…along with Crisis on Infinite Earths and Kingdom Come (which are also not on my list). I’ve never read Miracleman either, but I’ve heard good things. It might’ve made the list, if I had access to it. Perhaps we should do an entry on the “Top Storylines in Comics” too.

Anyway, with that pseudo-disclaimer out of the way, I now present my “20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs” in no particular order:

1. Something with art from Jack Kirby
I’ve never been a big fan of the Fantastic Four. I guess I always perceived them as being too mature for me and my teenage wanderlust showed no interest for the down-home feeling of Marvel’s first family. I also thought that the early FF looked weird…too boxey and too linear. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Kirby’s Black Panther, Eternals and Mister Miracle that I started to appreciate his utter craziness. Looking back now, it’s easy to see why he’s called the King.

2. Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange
His Spider-Man has gained praise for showing the true Peter Parker, the buttoned up nerd who happens upon a life-changing miracle/curse. His artwork is fluid and nimble, making Spider-Man appear much more…uh…spider-like. However, his magical adversaries, absurd backgrounds and the creepy way he draws the Sorcerer Supreme’s fingers like they have a life of their own, make Ditko’s Dr. Strange truly sublime.

3. Frank Miller’s Daredevil
Daredevil lives in Hell’s Kitchen and fights at street level. Until Frank Miller added his gritty touch to this hero, it was hard to remember those two simple facts. Add in the Bullseye/Elektra saga and you’ve got the makings of a classic.

4. Keith Giffen’s Justice League
The relaunched Justice League of America added a new facet to the storied history of the franchise: humor. By mixing the proper drama and pathos with a certain level of tomfoolery, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were able to craft a superior superhero adventure. The interplay between team members was elevated to an artform and showed dimensions previously lacking in most DC titles. Plus, Giffen’s Heckler miniseries was stupidly awesome.

5. James Robinson’s Golden Age and/or Starman
Golden Age is one of the stories that brought me back into comics. Robinson writes real people. And, even though they’re typically in extraordinary circumstances, they come off as having real lives. There’s something to be said for that in the superhero genre. I haven’t read all of his Starman work, but the first volume really drew me in too.

6. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier
If I were to, hypothetically, put these twenty items in a real order, it would be difficult not to put this in the first slot. Hands down, I think Cooke captured in this story not only the feeling of an entire era, but the hopes and fears that went along with it. Add in a facet of much needed heroism in this time of doubt, and the story just begs to be read.

7. Something written by Mark Gruenwald
This entry is closest to me because I once had a regular correspondence going on with Mr. Gruenwald and I was shocked when I learned of his passing. His Squadron Supreme is the ultimate “what if?” story, set in a world where superheroes are in charge. And his run on Captain America was both innovative and fun, encompassing the Scourge storyline and Cap’s cross-country road trip.

8. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow
Critics like to point to the Denny O’Neill/Neil Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow as the pinnacle for these characters. Issues delving into racism and drug use were poignant when they were released, but the language, at least, seems a bit dated today. I prefer the darker struggles faced by Ollie when he relocated to Seattle and endured some real life ups and downs while assuming a stronger vigilante bent.

9. Something by Grant Morrison
Take your pick: Doom Patrol, Animal Man, All-Star Superman or New X-Men. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. While his other work has been decadent and diverse, Morrison’s work with the superhero genre proves that these characters should be anything but one-dimensional.

10. A Chris Claremont/John Byrne collaboration
In their prime, Chris and John were two of the best storytellers in modern comics. Take a peek through their runs on Uncanny X-Men or Power Man and Iron Fist for some great reads. It doesn’t hurt that Claremont’s Marvel Team-Up stories and Byrne’s Alpha Flight were some of my favorites too.

11. Loeb/Sale Batman stories
If Claremont/Byrne set the bar for superhero collaborations, then Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale sailed high above it with their dissections of the Batman mythos in The Long Halloween, Haunted Knight and Dark Victory. Add in the superb Spider-Man: Blue and Daredevil: Yellow for Marvel and you’ve got enough reading to last for a long time. Their Wolverine/Gambit story was pretty good, as was the Challengers of the Unknown miniseries that launched their teamwork. Hulk: Gray? Not so memorable.

12. Some Golden Age DC stories…Starman, Spectre, Sandman, Doctor Fate
If not for the offbeat plotlines, at least read some of this stuff just to see how far the medium has come since those early days. I pick DC properties specifically, because they reach further back in time. What seemed like quick, throwaway books back then, can offer a telling window into thoughts and ideals of a former era.

13. Something written by Bill Mantlo
Wow. If you ever want to just sit back and say “what the f…” while reading a comic book, Mantlo can give you that reaction. Characters, conversations and plotlines seem like forgotten devices when the focus of the story is based on how weird he can make it. Check out the Jack of Hearts mini, his run on Rom or Champions or his various Defenders issues for some great stuff. But the key to any collection would be Bill’s magnum opus: Micronauts.

14. Something from Paul Pope
Here’s where my opinions entrench themselves. I don’t think there’s a better fine artist operating in the comics field today. And, while Paul’s meandering lines and loose forms have an electricity in his own work, I find them to be utterly irresistible when he works with Batman, Spider-Man or any other superhero icon. Paul Pope is part of a new breed of comic book artist, whose roots lie strongly in Kirby’s realm.

15. Something drawn by Seth Fisher
Another unique perspective on comic book art that adds elements of fun and wonder back into the funnybooks. Sadly, Mr. Fisher passed away in a freak accident a few years back. Pick up his Green Lantern: Willworld, Batman: Snow or Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan work to see some truly amazing visuals.

16. OHOTMU/Who’s Who
Seriously. You can’t enjoy the superhero books unless you understand the people and principles behind them. DC’s Who’s Who provided one universe’s worth of information, but for my money, Marvel blew them out of the water with the original runs of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. My copies have been read and referenced so often that they’re barely being held together.

17. A complete run of SOMETHING lasting more than 50 issues
Put some effort into it. You can’t be a true fan of the genre unless you’ve put up with some mediocre stories in an effort to grasp the big picture. Personally, I have complete runs of Marvel Team-Up, the original Punisher ongoing and the original X-Factor series. I used to own a full run of both Peter David’s Aquaman and the first Excalibur series. And I’m only two or three issues away from owning the entire first run of Firestorm too. That’s dedication.

18. Something from new Image…early Powers or Invincible
No superhero fan should live on Marvel and DC alone. Image was founded by creators whose reputations were built on superhero work. However, a lot of the first and second generations of Image work was derivative of the times. New Image has carved its own niche with rich titles such as Robert Kirkman’s Invincible (and Walking Dead…not superheroes, but worth a mention) and the early run of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers (which is a perfect vehicle for his stop and start dialogue style).

19. Authority
In order to make an omelette, you have to crack a few eggs…or, evidently, kick a few people in their wiggly bits. Authority is the next generation’s Watchmen or Squadron Supreme, a group of superpowered individuals who take it upon themselves to protect the human race whether they like it or not. It’s the perfect culmination of a post-heroic genre.

20. Something that is tangentially related to superhero comics
In order to truly appreciate the fights-n-tights genre, you need to look at some of the work that was at least partially inspired by it. Whether rooted in parody, sci-fi or politics, the following titles clearly owe their existence to superheroes in one form or another: Badger, Judge Dredd, Tick, Scud, Groo, Marshal Law, Preacher. In my book, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Take superhero books in moderation and break up the monotony with one of these great titles.

Very interesting list.  I’ll be posting mine soon, but here are my comments on yours:

1.  Jack Kirby art:  I know this is horrible, but I feel I need to come clean; I am not a huge fan of Kirby’s art.  This is going to sound like blasphemy to many, so let me say that I fully appreciate and acknowledge his place in the comics pantheon.  His layouts are amazing and I feel the energy pouring from the page, but the actual drawings do little for me.  Unfortunately, there’s so much energy that some of his panels almost read like parody; it’s the graphic equivalent of “chewin the scenery”.  There’s no doubt that he is one of the most important and influential comics creators ever, and so I know why he made your list, but he could never make mine.

2.  Ditko’s Dr. Strange:  While this wouldn’t make my list, I agree that Ditko’s Dr. Strange is my favorite work of his.  I’m not a fan of his more recent artwork, but his stuff for Marvel in the 60s is amazing, and his Dr. Strange work shows an ability to draw the undrawable that no one since has quite been able to match.

3.  Miller’s Daredevil:  This doesn’t show up on my list, although Miller does.  It’s odd that this is here, as I just read a bunch of Miller’s Daredevil over the weekend.  I’ve cooled on Miller’s work quite a bit in recent years, but I have to say, this stands up beautifully; the artwork is gorgeous, the story is great and you can feel the dirt and grime oozing off the pages and onto your fingers.  Great work. 

4.  Giffen’s Justice League:  This is on my list, and high on my list (although I consider it Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League).  I was never a real DC fan until these comics, which dragged me into the DC Universe, and convinced me to check out some other titles on that side of the aisle.  Brilliant stuff; the early issues with Kevin Maguire’s pencils are perhaps the best, and the later issues did slide into sitcom territory, but truly, there really isn’t a bad issue in their run.  I’d also like to point out that, especially in the beginning, there were real stories and plots here.  There are also serious issues in the run, including one where Despero returns to Earth, goes on a rampage, and even kills Gypsy’s family.  The ability of Giffen and DeMatteis to go from silly to serious so seamlessly has been almost unmatched in comics.

5.  James Robinson:  The #1 item on my list is Starman; the best superhero comic of the 90s, and perhaps the best superhero comic ever.  The Golden Age is also an incredibly good book.  I’m thrilled that Robinson is back writing comics after too long away, and hope that the Powers That Be give him his own series again, which is really where he shines; writing stints on books like Superman is a waste of his talents.

6.  New Frontier:  Not on my list.  I think it’s a great story, but I don’t accord it the status that so many people do.  It’s crisp and slick and very well done, but I’m not sure it’s so unique that it is an essential part of anyone’s collection.

7.  Mark Gruenwald:  His Squadron Supreme made my list, and I agree that most of his Captain America run was brilliant.  However, besides his work as a writer, I think he was one of the best editors that Marvel Comics ever had.  He clearly cared about the characters and loved the universe over which he presided.  He was a fan, but he didn’t approach the titles he edited from the viewpoint of “What do I want to see as a fan?” (as so many writers do today), but from the viewpoint of “What would make the best story?”  He influenced so much more than the books he wrote, and the Marvel Universe has been so much poorer since his death at much too young an age.

8.  Grell’s Green Arrow:  Meh.  Ok, if you enjoy that sort of thing.  While I enjoy some of Grell’s work, I feel he may be a tad overrated.  His Green Arrow seems to have been riding the coattails of the “Grim ‘N Gritty” era ushered in by Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and was notable more for that than for any truly original work from Grell.

9.  Morrison:  Not on my list, but certainly I see why he is on yours.  I run hot and cold on Grant Morrison, but that’s because he’s willing to take chances; it’s hard to hit the highs he’s hit (and there are plenty of them) without risking some of the lows (I find some of his books to be nigh incomprehensible).  As for me, I recommend his Animal Man, still one of my favorite titles he’s done in the superhero genre.

10.  Claremont/Byrne:  Agreed.  Not on my list, but good grief, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.  These two were an amazing team, each one (I believe) reigning in the stylistic excesses of the other, excesses which would sometimes overwhelm their later, solo, works.  I know it’s the most overexposed of their collaborations, but truly, if you read their Uncanny X-Men issues, you may finally understand why this group of mutant misfits became such a sensation.

11.  Loeb/Sale:  Again, not on my list, but their Batman work is amazing.  Besides the three miniseries you mentioned, they also did Catwoman: When in Rome which is just as much fun as the others.  Sometimes Loeb can strike out as a writer, but when he’s teamed with Sale, particularly on Batman, he seems to be able to write Batman and his cast with the best of them.  Sale’s unique visual interpretations of the Bat-Cast is just icing on the cake.

12.  Golden Age stories:  If you insist.  They are interesting for historical purposes, but for reading enjoyment?  I haven’t found one yet that really spoke to me.  No wait, I do have one, and it’s on my list.  I shall speak of it then

13:  Bill Mantlo:  I don’t even know what to say about him (except that your love for his work is stronger than mine).  Mantlo’s work was everywhere for Marvel in the 80s, until a tragic accident left him trapped in an unresponsive state.  I want to like his work more than I do.  None of it is bad, but so much of it speaks to potential ideas that he simply seemed unable to fully realize or express well on the page.  That being said, he made the Hulk a readable comic during his tenure, and was willing to change the Hulk’s status quo (which had remained relatively unchanged for almost 20 years) and I give him a lot of credit for that.

14.  Paul Pope:  I don’t get it, and I don’t see it.  I’m chalking this up to a man crush and leaving it at that.

15.  Seth Fisher:  Nope, don’t get this one either.  Perhaps we’ll chalk it up to you being cooler than I?

16:  Handbooks:  Not on my list, but I certainly loved both DC’s and Marvel’s Handbooks for their universes (and yes, I also believe that Marvel did a better job with their Handbooks).  I read through these constantly.  They were also a great way to keep current on any characters you didn’t read, and to find out about characters like Woodgod, who made precious few appearances and could be easy to miss (not that you miss anything if you miss Woodgod, but you get my point).

17.  Complete runs:  I couldn’t agree less.  I used to have complete runs of many titles, but got rid of the fill-in issues and bad runs when I realized I was wasting my time.  Why am I going to read the Chuck Austen written issues of The Avengers, just to have a complete run?  I can waste my time and money on them, or I can instead choose to spend those resources on something that actually warrants them.  I choose the latter option, and I encourage others to do the same. 

18.  Image:  Agreed.  Invincible isn’t on my list, but it’s one of my alternates.  I also agree that early Powers tend to be very strong issues.  I’d encourage people to always look outside Marvel and DC for good, strong super-hero stories (and other stories).  There is some great work being done outside of the Big Two, and you’re missing out if you don’t look for it.

19.  Authority:  Agreed, to a point.  I listed the first twelve issues, by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, as they really show what you can do if you take the brakes off and allow your comic to barrel ahead, with nothing holding it back.  These issues are also the first true “Widescreen” comics I ever read, and they draw you into them almost as if you’re watching a movie.  However, I can’t recommend any Authority comics after these two creators left; subsequent teams seemed to feel that the secret to the Authority was simply to try and raise the bar on violence, sex and witty banter, and the heart left the series.  It became simply a very empty, very cynical attempt to outdo anything else on the stands, and it’s not worth your time.

20.  Potpourri:  I agree with you on this, and always encourage people, again, to look outside of the Marvel and DC Universes for some great comics.  Although we mostly talk superheroes here, I find that some of my favorite comics are either barely superhero or aren’t superhero at all.  One of the series Jason mentioned is on my list, and I agree that the others are great.  There’s good stuff out there, stuff that appeals to a wide variety of tastes.  Go out, find it, and enjoy it.


Dream Team: X-Men

Oct-01-08

“Meanwhile…Comics!” has existed for five months now and we have yet to delve into the vast world of Marvel’s mutants. The soap opera plots, the endless parade of characters and the Moebius Strip-like continuity have clearly struck fear into our comic-loving hearts. For some, X-Men lore is better experienced than explained. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t play favorites.

There are clearly characters that I enjoy over others. There are also characters who play nicer than others on a team. If you can somehow capture the intersection between the two, I think an X-Men Dream Team is possible. Of course, there are pretty much no parameters for creating an X-Men team. The ranks have swelled from the original cast of five to two teams of five or six with color-coded names. You’ve had the Xtreme X-Men, two X-Forces, New Mutants, Young X-Men, New X-Men, another set of New Mutants, a couple different X-Factors, Astonishing X-Men, and a base team with a rotating cast of anywhere from 8 to 20 members. This is leaving out smaller gatherings of mutants like Fallen Angels, X-Terminators, X-Statix or Excalibur. I guess I’ll just start picking people and stop when it feels right. So who would be on my perfect X-Men? I’m glad you asked…

Cyclops: Obviously. Not a true born leader, but sculpted and refined along that path by Professor X. Cyclops has been in pretty much every incarnation of the X-Men since its inception (including a 200-issue run from the beginning of Uncanny X-Men). I always found it funny that he was the only character on the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 who was both in the background as a member of the original team and also shown “busting out” as a member of the new squad.

Kitty Pryde: Whatever codename she happens to be going by this week, I think Kitty is perfect. Her power set is unique. The fact that she has grown up as part of the X-family is important, as is the fact that she’s developed a very strong-willed persona in that time.

Colossus: Sure, he’s got an interesting past with Kitty, but the main reasons for including him on any great X-Men team are his strength and his background. I liked the era of X-Men that featured characters from around the globe. I think it added a unique viewpoint and showed that mutants could be anywhere.

Iceman: Another original member who has really shown his strengths throughout his career. His powers have increased as has his heroic attitude. He’s also good at delivering one-liners. And I think he’s got an interesting look.

Mystique: This is the first of my “huh?” picks. Again, her look, her background and her powers are unique for the team.

Siryn: See above. I’m sure I could make a better argument for her than Mystique. Siryn is a legacy member. She’s fiery and temperamental. And I love the fact that she’s pregnant with Madrox’s child.

Madrox: Obviously. Madrox is, perhaps, my favorite mutant of all time. I love that they’ve added a tilt to his powers that allows his clones to have their own adventures and their own emotional set, which he can then reabsorb into himself.

Dust: Gotta have a rookie on the team. This is someone who has a truly unique set of powers and would look up to Kitty as a mentor/role model.

That gives me four men and four women. Three members with projectile-based attacks and one strength-based. One who can fly (three if you include similar powers from Iceman and Dust), two who can change shape, two who can pass through things. The only angle missing is someone with mental powers, but I’ve never cared for that focus anyway.

Yep…eight is enough. What do you think?

You know, I’d love to agree with you on a lot of these choices….but I can’t. I think I shall agree on a few though. Let’s see if I can’t organize this so it’s easy for the folks at home to follow along.

Jason says Cyclops: I agree with much of what you’ve said about Cyclops, and he really is the quintessential X-Men leader. However, I have to admit that I tend to find Cyclops rather boring. For years he’s had only a sliver of a personality, and while they’re trying to make him more interesting now, it’s not working (mostly because it’s hard to believe that he’s finally developed a personality after years of being rather dull). However, there is another X-Men leader who’s almost as iconic, and much more interesting as a character, and that’s Storm. Her powers are more interesting, and she managed to lead the X-Men for years when she didn’t even have any powers. So, I’d prefer to swap Cyclops for Storm.

Jason says Kitty Pryde: And John agrees. Wholeheartedly. Fascinating character, lots of fun, neat powers….run with this one.

Jason says Colossus: Well, Colossus is certainly Zzzzzzzzz. Wha! Sorry dozed off. About Colossus…Zzzzzzz. Yeah, that’s basically how I feel about Colossus. I have always found him to be one of dullest characters in, not just the X-Men mythos, but any mythos. Much like Cyclops, he seems to be defined only by his intense brooding and whining about the depressing twists and turns that his life has taken. Hey, I sympathize Big Guy. Your life does suck. You were better off dead.

Replacing him is somewhat problematic, if you want to match powers. When you get right down to it, the X-Men don’t have a lot of super strong characters. While a super strong hero is one of the components of almost every team, the X-Men have never seemed to really need one. However, since you mention Madrox (and we’ll get to him in a minute, but here’s a spoiler; I also think he should be on the team), I’d like to nominate his fellow X-Factorian Strong Guy as a member of the group. Strong Guy, also known as Guido, has the strength, but a much more interesting personality. He seems to be a smiling joker, but there’s real pathos under there. I think he’s much more interesting.

Jason says Iceman: I’m going to nod in accord on this one as well. He does have a fascinating look, and he’s easily the most interesting character of the original team. One of the things I love about Iceman is that he’s been around the Marvel Universe longer than anyone but the Fantastic Four, Spidey, and some of the very early Marvel heroes. I mean, Iceman is a veteran of the hero business, and yet, he’s not totally committed to it. He’s not developed his powers as much as he could have, and although he’s been doing more of that lately, there’s still territory to mine in that vein. I also think he may be the only CPA the team has, which I find is a niche many teams don’t take the trouble to fill.

Jason says Mystique: You know, I actually do like Mystique. Yet, I have to agee with what you said about her and ask “Huh?” She’s a neat character, but I don’t think she belongs in the X-Men. She’s a villain and works better in that context, and if you want to make her more of an anti-hero, I still think she works better on her own, or with a team that she has control of. Instead, I’d nominate her son, the ever fuzzy Nightcrawler. I think that Nightcrawler has one of the best looks in comic-dom, and his powers are different and interesting. Plus, he has a long history with the TV, and helps out with the different nationalities that you mentioned earlier. I’m also going to return to something I mentioned in the Avengers, and that’s his religious background, which I think can be interesting if not dwelled on, but used only when appropriate.

Jason says Siryn: I understand why she would be nice on the team, since Madrox is on the team and she’s carrying his child. Sadly, I’m not that fond of Siryn. I don’t dislike her, but she leaves me somewhat cold. I would instead suggest that we replace her with something that this team is desperately lacking, and it simply wouldn’t be the X-Men without one…a telepath! Specifically, I contend that Psylocke would be the perfect candidate to fill that void. I know that she’s been treated horribly over the years. She started out as such an interesting British noblewoman who became another cookie cutter killer (another sad casuality of the 90s) and then had her backstory horribly mangled when she got split into two beings. To that I say, whatever. I’d like to strip her back to her core, of a telepathic British woman who’s endured some harsh times, but who is still a product of her upper class English upbringing.

Jason says Madrox: Couldn’t agree more. I give all the credit for this to Peter David, who took a character that had been a joke for years and reinvented him as someone worth reading about. Without a doubt, he’s the most interesting character in the X-Universe, and perhaps the most interesting character in the entire Marvel Universe. He deserves his shot at the big team, and I’d like to see him get it.

Jason says Dust: John says who? Man, making me use Wikipedia. Huh. Whaddya know? I’ve read her appearances, and still couldn’t remember her. Man, if Grant Morrison can’t make a character memorable, perhaps that’s a strong hint that the character should be forgotten. Still, I like the idea of a Muslim on the team. The X-Men have long been used as symbols of any group of people wrongly hated and persecuted for something, and Muslims in America can certainly count themselves among that number. That being said, I have problems including her on the team, when I simply don’t care about her. I would disagree that the team needs a rookie (just like you don’t think they need a telepath), and were I going to replace her, it would be with Dr. Cecelia Reyes. I can hear you thinking the same thing about her that I feel about Dust, but I’ve always liked this character. First of all, it gives the team a medical doctor, which I am amazed more teams don’t have. Second, it fills the role of a rookie, without going with the more cliched young adolescent coming into their own. Dr. Reyes is a grown woman with a lifetime of experiences; those experiences just don’t include using her powers to fight Magneto. She’s a strong female character, but she doesn’t wear skintight outfits (usually) and she’s not a sex object.

So, I have Storm leading Madrox, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Dr. Reyes, Strong Guy, Nightcrawler and Psylocke. Four men, four women. Four different nationalities. Nice mix of distance powers and brawlers. Thoughts?

Ah…here we go again. These are funny exercises to me because I know we like a lot of the same characters and I know we both have our favorites too. It’s compelling trying to find a satisfying balance. Makes me wonder if the actual Marvel writers go through any of this or if they just selfishly pick whoever they want. Anyway, on to Round Two…

John says Storm: Wow. I don’t think I can put into words how much I dislike Storm. Never liked the character (even when she had a mohawk). Heck, I get irritated just thinking of the voice used for her in the X-Men cartoon. And I have a distinct problem with mutants whose powers extend outside of themselves. How does having a unique DNA map translate into being able to control natural winds, precipitation and freaking lightning? There’s zero correlation. I will say it here and now: I HATE Storm. If you want to do another old school X-Man with the power of flight (and a neat new healing ability), let’s throw Angel into the mix. He and Iceman have a looooong history of working side-by-side, from X-Men to Champions to Defenders to X-Factor and back again. Warren has a more cerebral approach to the cause and, in all honesty, is a bit of a pacifist. I think he’d make a solid leader with good judgment. Let Bobby assume some of the responsibility for the team in the field, and you create an interesting dynamic as well.

John says Nightcrawler: Honestly, I feel pretty much the same about Nightcrawler. I don’t necessarily hate him for being who he is, but I despise the one-dimensional characterization he has endured for the last 20 years or so. “Ooh, he looks like a demon but he’s really a devout Catholic!” Whatever. Get over it. I like the idea of having a teleporter on the team, but Kitty is close enough for me. And, truth be told, I was subliminally trying to put together a team of mutants who could easily appear as normal human beings in public. Unless you employ the hokey image inducer belt he sometimes wore, Nightcrawler does not fit that bill. I’d much rather see Forge or Cannonball in this slot. Forge has a very unique and useful ability, but Cannonball adds a bit more youth and action to the team, so I’m going with him.

John says Psylocke: I like Psylocke and will give you that one. I agree that she was a great character before they messed with her.

John says Cecilia Reyes: And Jason says: BORING. Force field generation, huh? Oh boy. In my defense, Dust had a useful (and extremely powerful) ability and she’s a fan favorite. If I wanted force fields, I’d pick Armor. At least she has a discernible personality. I’m not insisting on a rookie, but I think it adds a bit of adventure and uncertainty to the team. If you don’t like Dust, may I suggest Pixie? She has limited teleportation powers, can fly, and emits a magical “pixie dust” that creates some pretty potent hallucinations.

John says Strong Guy: I hate to rag on your counter-picks, but I find no joy in Strong Guy either. I really liked him in the earlier X-Factor title. I thought he was funny and his story was kind of tragic. However, now he just bores me. His codename started out as a clever aside too, but now I just think it’s kind of…uh…unprofessional? There’s nothing to really set him apart. I’d rather throw a revitalized Dazzler into the mix and angle my team more towards finesse than power. Dazzler has connections to Cannonball (who rescued her once), Pixie (who is a fan of her music), Kitty & Psylocke (she was on the X-Men with them previously), Iceman & Angel (through the original X-Factor) and Madrox (because Strong Guy was her bodyguard). She’s like the perfect “Six Degrees” member!

We agreed on Iceman, Kitty Pryde and Madrox. Plus, I gave you Psylocke. That means we’re halfway there!

So, my rebuttal is as follows: Angel & Iceman leading a team of Madrox, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Cannonball, Dazzler and Pixie. Four boys and four girls. Some flying, some mental abilities, and at least two projectile-based attacks. Two original members without any of the true icons (please NO Wolverine or Gambit). Well-rounded and tied together nicely. Your turn!

Yeesh? Hate Storm much? I found it amusing that you mention her voice in the cartoon. The old Fox X-Men cartoon had to have had the worst Storm voice ever. She was so horribly dramatic and she always yelled her lines. My friends and I actually had one of her lines enter our lexicon; in an episode where the X-Men got their butts handed to them, Jubilee is complaining that its all her fault. In an attempt to console her, Storm explains that Jubilee is not to blame for their poor showing: “We all failed. Together.” Bwah-ha-ha! Ah, I still chuckle thinking about it. Anyway, my point is, I agree with you on her cartoon presence, but I think that Storm is a much better character than you give her credit for, and I’ve always loved the issue where she kicks Cyclops butt without her powers.

However, your suggestion of Angel is a great one. Angel is an interesting character, one without a lot of power (I suppose in 1963, the ability to fly was considered enough of an ability to get by as a mutant), but with decades of experience. I think the idea of Angel and Iceman leading the team together is brilliant; they’ve got the seniority, the experience, and the relationship between them to make this a fascinating concept. Winner! Angel is in.

I can’t believe you’re dissing Nightcrawler. I think he’s one of my top three favorite mutants ever, and I’d like to fight for his place on the team. Even if you jettison the Catholic part of his character (and your description of the way he’s been handled baffles me, since his religion is almost always ignored in stories), I like him because he’s more upbeat and fun. He’s a swashbuckler, and good grief, the X-Men need more characters like that. He’s rarely sunk into the morbid pathos that infects so many of the team. However, you countered with a character that I almost suggested instead of Dr. Reyes, and that’s Cannonball (I also almost suggested Forge, a character I’m also quite fond of). Cannonball is a great character; a genuinely good person that’s trying to do the right thing, but without the boring non-personality that often infects Cyclops. I also like the idea of having a character from the American south who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotypes of that area; yes, he has the accent, but he’s smart, he’s well mannered, he doesn’t eat grits…he’s not a walking caricature. Cannonball it is.

Pixie? Pixie? Maybe I’m just old, but the new characters universally fail to interest me, and Pixie is certainly one of those. In fact, I can’t find a young X-hero that interests me. I find them bland and uninteresting. I picked Dr. Reyes not because of her powers; I find powers to be one of the last reasons I use to select a character. I almost always choose personalities first. You can have the best mix of powers in the world, but if they’re grafted onto boring two-dimensional characters, it won’t really matter. However, if you have characters that work well together and interest both the writers and the readers, you can find ways to make the powers work together. Dr. Reyes was a different personality, someone that you don’t find often in super-hero books. Usually the new hero is an adolescent, coming to their powers at a point in their life where they’re just developing into the adult they will become. Dr. Reyes is someone who’s already an adult, and has quite a few life experiences, and now she finds this unwelcome superhero world shoved into her life. I think that could make for interesting stories.

However, if you don’t like her, and I don’t like Pixie, and can’t find anyone else that’s young and interesting to me, could I counter with Forge? We both like him, and he does present at least a little of the outsider mentality. Yes, he’s worked with the team a few times, and he led X-Factor for a short while, but he’s not much of a field agent, and I’d like to see him in that role. Plus, if you want a more skilled team, I think Forge fits that bill admirably. It also would be nice for the team to have a scientist type, and perhaps Forge could come up with some nifty gadgets for Angel to use, so he doesn’t have to just fly around like a giant cardinal all the time.

Dazzler? I strongly dislike this character. She was mildly interesting in her early appearances, but of course, she looked so ludicrous at the time (70s disco has much to answer for; Marvel has even more to answer for by introducing a 70s disco character in the 80s) that I couldn’t take her seriously. When she returned to prominence in the 90s, she looked much better, but her personality was intensely irritating. She grated on me everytime she spoke, although to be fair, almost everyone on the team then grated on me. Chris Claremont had entered that period of his career where everyone spoke in the same voice, one where they had a sing song rhthym to their speech that could drive a strong man to Jack Daniels and quaaludes. However, she was egotistical, selfish, pushy and seemed like she’d be more at home hanging out with Brenda in 90210 than she was on the X-Men. Ugh.

If you’re more insistent on a snotty female who is pretty, skilled and drives everyone around her crazy, how about using M? I’d be worried about taking too many X-Factor characters, but we’re back to just using Madrox again. M has some useful powers (and gives us superstrength again), and while she’s extremely arrogant, she’s fun. She annoys those around her, but in such a way as to amuse the reader. Plus, you had originally hoped for a more multi-national team, and most of those members have been eliminated by one or both of us, so this gives us the chance to bring in someone who is not American.

So, we have these members settled: Angel and Iceman lead the team. Members include Kitty Pryde, Cannonball, Psylocke and Madrox. That’s six definites. I am offering Forge and M as our last two members. That gives us three woman and five men. It also gives us a Native America, someone English and someone from Bosnia, so there’s some diversity. I like it. You?

Man, you cave too easily! Funny, I was just reading that last paragraph and thinking to myself “who the heck is from Bosnia?” Then I whipped over to Wikipedia and realized that Monet was Penance. I don’t think I ever knew that (I quit reading Generation X fairly early on). I love Monet in X-Factor. I think she would be a brilliant addition because of the awkward tension she could drum up concerning Madrox. She also has ties to Cannonball from the X-Corps days. As you stated, she adds some super-strength to the mix and she has some telepathic abilities as well.

I do like Forge. My concern with him is that he seems so much older than the rest of the team. And, like you said, he doesn’t seem to have on-the-field experience. He’s used to working in a lab on his own time. I’m not sure how his reflexes and reaction skills are. That said, he is handy to have around…I dunno. I go back and forth with him. On one hand, he hooked up with Storm. On the other hand, he fought alongside Rom the Spaceknight. On one hand, he has a long history with Madrox. On the other hand, he’s deeply mired in the types of twisting plots and traps that have haunted X-Men comics for decades. Hmm…decisions, decisions.

There were some other names that I was playing around with. Juggernaut always interested me as a good guy, but without Professor X in the picture, he seems out of place with this group. I always liked Havok and Polaris. Marvel has really done a number on Polaris, making her crazy, then one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and now she’s off in space with the Starjammers. Whatever. Havok has lost a lot of his focus too. He was always best when either paired with (or in conflict with) his brother or in a relationship with Polaris. Without either of them around, he’s pretty drab.

Y’know what? I’m going to backtrack a bit and throw Nightcrawler back onto the table. I still don’t comprehend how you think religion hasn’t been the focus for him. Every story I remember reading (aside from that first mini where he was some sort of pirate) had to do with him seeking penance, trying to find reason in the world or just isolating himself to study the Bible. However, he offers a solid bridge between the old and new X-Men and he has a truly unique ability. Plus, he’s pretty tight with Kitty.

I think that lines up nicely for us, and it’s not what anyone would expect if we said “name the X-Men.” I’ve never been a fan of the obvious though, so Angel & Iceman leading a team of Madrox, Cannonball, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and Monet seems right to me!