Making Civil War more Civil

Dec-09-08

I believe that I’ve been somewhat harsh when I’ve discussed Civil War in the past. That may seem unfair. I actually think the general concept of Civil War was interesting, but I believe the execution was flawed. One of the early concepts of our blog was to take concepts that had been done already, but done in a way we felt didn’t live up to the potential these concepts held, and try to find ways to fulfill that potential. That is what we shall now attempt with Civil War. First, let’s start with the basics.

I think that the basics of Civil War are very sound. The government of the United States in the Marvel Universe decides to revive the Superhero Registration Act, a concept that Marvel had discussed during Acts of Vengeance over a decade ago. The general theory behind the Superhero Registration Act makes a lot of sense. After all, in a world where masked vigilantes are so common, there are bound to be a large number of normal people who feel overwhelmed by them. I think this concept does make sense.

Beyond that concept, the idea of heroes being of two minds on the issue, with some supporting registration and some opposing registration, also makes sense. Obviously the heroes of the Marvel Universe aren’t all going to agree on an issue that is this important. Where the actual Civil War comics went wrong was in forcing their heroes to take an all or nothing stance, and especially in roping Captain America and Iron Man into the roles of leaders for the two sides. Marvel wanted a very straight forward fight between heroes, with two sides squaring off in a battle royale. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple, and with an issue as complicated as the Registration Act, the only way to force your characters into the two neat sides that Marvel desired would be to force those characters to behave wildly different than their histories and established personalities would dictate. Marvel took that route, and while that route resulted in some Civil War comics that were decent, the series and tie-ins as a whole were rarely very good.

I think that one of the largest problems with the story of Civil War was the small role played by most of the villains in the Marvel Universe. Yes, they appeared here and there, but most of the story was focused on the heroes fighting each other, and the villains never really capitalized on the chaos to do some real damage. I suppose that, had the villains taken a more active role, it would have forced the heroes to stop beating on each other, which would have derailed the story that Marvel hoped to tell, but in the end, it made for an unsatisfying crossover.

I have some ideas on how I would have told the Civil War story, and I’ll get into specifics. However, before I do specifics, I thought I’d give a general outline, and we can see what Jason thinks.

During the Road to Civil War, we would have seen much of the same thing we saw in the Marvel Universe version, with Congress again discussing the Super Hero Registration Act. I believe that we would have had many of the Marvel Universe heroes testifying before Congress, as they did before. The Fantastic Four, already on record against it, would remain that way. Iron Man, I have always believed, would be against it, as he’s railed against the government many times in his title, and I find it hard to believe that he would suddenly decide that perhaps the government is a trustworthy entity that can be counted on to handle such sensitive data. Captain America, I think, might be for it. Cap is a trained soldier himself, and one who has always stressed the importance of training on his fellow Avengers. While I don’t think he would be rabidly in support of it, I think he might see the wisdom. Spider-Man would not unmask (which was always a stupid gimmick), although he might fall in line with Tony Stark. The lead-in issues are relatively low key, just setting the general mood of the nation.

When the miniseries begins, we start off much like the genuine version: with a giant catastrophe that could have been avoided, but was not. Whether or not we use the New Warriors is something we can discuss, although their role in the beginning of Civil War is something I can live with. But the catalyst that was provided in the first issue of Civil War is important. Now, we have the public point of view turning against superheroes. Considering that Marvel superheroes seem to barely avoid lynch mobs as it is, this is well within reason. We also see some of the attitudes of various superheroes changing with some heroes beginning to believe that perhaps training would be a good idea. Many of Marvel’s superheroes are confused and unsure of their next move.

The government makes things worse when, after the tragedy and under tremendous pressure from the public, they pass the Superhuman Registration Act. Now unregistered heroes are illegal. Those heroes with public identities, like the FF, register, whether they agree with the law or not. After all, it’s the law, and Reed Richards would argue that the only way to defeat it is to fight it from within. Other heroes also register, but for those like Spidey or Daredevil, who are trying to keep their identities secret, the decision is tougher. They could decide not to go into action in their costumed identities, but of course, it’s hard to ignore someone in danger, so they no doubt would suit up, where they would come under fire from policeman and federal agents. I’m sure SHIELD would also be ordered to stop any superhuman who wasn’t registered. The Civil War has begun, but right now, it’s more a tale of atmosphere and dread, without clearly drawn sides. Then, as the first issue ends, we see someone is getting organized; the villains.

We start the second issue with the villains beginning to understand that they are at a great advantage. Many of the heroes who keep the streets clean are in hiding, and while they may come out of hiding to stop the villains, doing so places the heroes at a great disadvantage, with law enforcement officials as interested in arresting them as they are in arresting the bad guys. Some of the top criminals like the Kingpin and the new Mandarin begin gathering allies and preparing massive crime waves. In the meantime, the few registered heroes are working around the clock trying to keep crime down, since they no longer have a lot of help and a few of the non registered heroes are caught and thrown in jail. Their identities are now publicly known, so they might as well register, but now their lives are thrown into turmoil, as those around them may be in danger.

We could add in various subplots (I have a few in mind), but this all leads to the last issue of Civil War, where the villains come out in force, attacking the registered heroes. The unregistered heroes see their friends fighting a losing battle, so they come to help. SHIELD and other law enforcement authorities see what is happening as well, so they intervene. This way, we can end the series with a battle royale, as the heroes fight the villains, with SHIELD and its allies taking down anyone who isn’t a registered hero (villains and unregistered heroes both).

Thoughts? It would be more difficult to write and wouldn’t contain quite as many “big moments”, but I do think it could be interesting and exciting and could still end with a big bang. However, I value your honest opinion and perhaps you have some ideas for the general direction which would work better. Once we have a general direction we agree on, we can go into the details.

I don’t think our version of Civil War would lack in “big moments,” I just think ours would make more sense…for example, NOT killing Black Goliath with a fake Thor that came out of nowhere and then had no purpose later in the miniseries either. I would like to think we might have a better grasp on who would fall on each side of the argument (y’know, actually backed up with some rationale instead of just which costumes looked cooler facing off against each other). We’d probably have a better explanation for the decision to use villains to hunt down heroes…that whole Prison 42 thing…Jack O’Lantern’s head exploding to reveal pumpkin inside…the semi-coherent reasoning behind the Atlantean sleeper cells…and dozens of other things.

I would also like to retcon that whole “Norman Osborn shoots an Atlantean ambassador” nonsense, considering this shadowy benefactor of his was never revealed (that I can remember). Plus, even in the face of what would probably amount to treason by trying to kill a foreign diplomat on US soil, Osborn is then handed the reins of the government’s defense system at the end of Secret Invasion. Say WHAT?!?

Oh, and there’s the small problem of Tony Stark hiring a dude to attack him disguised as Titanium Man in an effort to show the government why they should NOT pass the SHRA…and then suddenly changing his mind and becoming the staunchest supporter of the SHRA on the face of the planet.

I have to even disagree with John on the relevance of the Stamford incident. Is this supposed to carry more weight because it didn’t involve a skyscraper tumbling down in Manhattan? No one ever talks about all the people displaced, maimed or even killed by superhuman activity every day in New York City! I’d also like to know when it became customary to try to crucify the only survivor of a horrible nuclear blast as a child killer? When did Speedball ever do anything to anyone?

At the same time, I agree that there was a gigantic missed opportunity to show the villains’ upper hand in this debacle. There should have been ridiculous ramp-ups in crime levels, looting and general unease. I would’ve expected full-scale riots and hate crimes and all sorts of activities in the face of something this massive and controversial. Instead, we got some melodrama over a couple of spandex-clad grown men glaring at each other. And they couldn’t even kill a major character off during the whole thing. Civil War? Brother against brother? Hell, the only brother anyone was against was Bill Foster…and he got offed by perhaps the biggest Aryan power freak in the entire Marvel Universe (or at least a cybernetic clone of him). Symbolic much?

Iron Man would’ve been on the anti-government side, by all rational accounts. Sure, he has big defense contracts and his hands in pretty much every black ops program in existence, but that would just give him more clarity on how easily the government could screw something like this up. Plus, he’s all about himself. His entire career is built on doing things his way and being better than everyone else. He wouldn’t kowtow to this kind of authority. Cap, on the other hand, has a general goodwill towards the government, believing (naively at times) that they always have the people’s best interests in mind. He protects the flag and all that it stands for. Hell, he was created because of the Draft…I doubt he would see this as anything other than a newfangled version of that program. We’d have to examine the other major players to see who would fall on what side. Off the top of my head, I see the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and maybe Ms. Marvel as Pro-SHRA, mainly because of their public identities and/or ties to the military. Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher and pretty much every mutant would be Anti-SHRA for obvious reasons. The villains would, for the most part, go underground and all but the boldest would stay there. Why? Well, it’s not very easy to be a bad guy when the government has your entire life on file. They wouldn’t want to risk being captured at all.

I like the idea of having a prologue to the event. Was there such a thing? I don’t remember any official preamble…though I guess a lot of this was being set up in various titles before the miniseries hit the stands. If it could be properly disseminated throughout a breadth of titles, then we could start the first issue of the Civil War series off with a big event. I’m curious to see where you think this will head. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some details that stuck out for me the first time I read the series. Have at it and we’ll see where it goes!

Ok, so we start with a prologue. I think that we need to do a few things in this timeframe (I’d say 6-8 months before Civil War starts). First of all, I’d love to start this ball rolling with the campaign for Senator, and eventual win, of Henry Peter Gyrich. The man has been a part of the Washington power scene for decades, so he must have a lot of favors to call in, and he’d be a perfect conservative Republican candidate for Senator somewhere. I think watching his Senate campaign happening in the background of a few books (the Avengers would certainly have an interest in this, the X-Men would probably follow it, and it would show up in Spider-Man’s book since all the news of the Marvel Universe is reported by the Daily Bugle) would be a great way to kick things off. One of the main facters of his campaign would be the SHRA, a law which Gyrich has supported in the past. By making the passage of this law one of the major issues in his platform, we not only get to see the heroes following his campaign, but everytime there is massive property damage or questionable behavior on the part of any hero, Gyrich will be there to take advantage of it for his campaign. This happens for a few months, and then Gyrich is elected.

Gyrich is acting out of what he truly believes are in the best interests of the United States, and certainly you can make a strong argument for why the SHRA is a good idea. However, Gyrich needs allies. I propose introducing another Senator who will offer Gyrich his full support. We can name this senator later, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a male or female. What’s important about this second senator is that he’s really a Skrull. Yes, this was done during the original Kree/Skrull War, when a politician was revealed to be a Skrull in disguise, but let’s be honest; it works well, it’s a smart move for the Skrulls (hey, they have one gimmick, and they’re going to use it to their best advantage) and it gives us another face behind the SHRA (I think one of the weaknesses of Civil War is that we never really knew anyone in the government who helped to pass this legislation. It simply happened, and it left the reader feeling very unconnected to the event). Now, our Skrull politician will NOT be revealed as a Skrull during Civil War. He’s just going to be introduced in various titles, as Gyrich’s main partner is pushing the passage of the SHRA. We’ll focus more on the character in Secret Invasion.

So, these two spearhead the push of the SHRA, which takes another 2-4 months in our time. Again, this should play out in the background of more and more books, and again, anytime a hero (or even villain) does something reckless or which results in property damage or loss of life, Gyrich and his allies will be there to use it to justify their campaign. We also see this playing a larger role in the various titles of the MU, as we see heroes begin to take a stand on the issue. I agree that Cap would support it, as would Ms. Marvel. I agree that Iron Man would oppose it. Now, the Fantastic Four have opposed it in the past, but I could see an issue of their title where Iron Man comes to them to ask them to continue to oppose it, and Cap comes to them to ask for their support. Both characters can make strong, convincing arguments, and the FF feels a little awkward and uncomfortable being placed in the unique position of having to offend one of the most well known and respected characters in the MU, no matter which side they choose. In the end, they decide to remain silent, explaining to both Cap and Iron Man they they didn’t want to upset either of them. Unfortunately, staying silent is really a win for Cap and Gyrich and Stark is not happy with this decision. The FF will have to grapple with this later in the miniseries, as they’re confronted with the fact that, had they acted, they might have prevented the passage of the SHRA.

The problem that those opposing the SHRA have is that most of them can’t testify against it, since most of them have secret identities. This is what made the FF’s testimony against the SHRA so invaluable during Acts of Vengeance, and makes their silence in this case so damning. Stark can testify against the act, since his identity is known, and he may try to convince others (like Spider-Man) to announce their identities so they can testify, but I doubt that many heroes would be willing to go to that extent. That leaves Stark and perhaps Luke Cage as the only heroes who can really take a stand against the Act, and it doesn’t look good for those who oppose it.

Meanwhile, the villains are paying attention. All the villains would know what is happening, but it would be particularly apparent to those like the Kingpin, who’s been shown to have contacts throughout different levels of government in the past (and may even be throwing his influence behind Gyrich, albeit surreptitiously). The villains can see that it’s likely the SHRA will pass, and if it does, it’s going to hamstring some of their biggest foes, like Spider-Man and Daredevil. Yes, the villains may be concerned about being caught, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be any worse for them to be caught now than it was before the passage; after all, when they got caught before the SHRA passed, they still had their identities discovered by the government who could dig up anything on their pasts that they wanted. I think this is when the Kingpin begins to gather his forces, waiting for what he knows is inevitable. Again, we’d see this in various titles, usually just a page or so an issue, as the Kingpin recruits his forces.

Now, I’ve typed a lot, just for the prologue, but I want to stop and get your reaction. Are we on the same page? I think this sets things up logically. It introduces our main supporters of the SHRA, giving it the face it lacked before (and for a bill like this to pass, it’s going to have to have some strong supporters). It begins to build some tension in the MU between various heroes, and we begin to see how things could possibly go. And, it also shows us that the villains are paying attention and are prepared to capitalize on current events. It makes the MU feel like a real live place. Agreed?

The big question now is, do we have a large event that is the catalyst Gyrich needs to push for final passage?

Now wait just a second. If I understand you correctly, you want Civil War to actually have a plot, right? That just blows…my…mind. Maybe it’s because it has been drummed into my head repeatedly for the last two or three years by the powers-that-be, but I always just assumed that things spontaneously happened within the Marvel U. No rhyme or reason, just consequences and fight scenes. It’s like a revelation from on high to have a buildup with rational pacing, and sub-stories, and behind-the-scenes characters, and actual thought processes. I’m stunned.

As you can tell from my heavy sarcasm, I felt that the reasoning behind Civil War was, for lack of a better word, nonexistent. Even though they tried to shoehorn in some pathos with the blowing up of a school and the whole fake Thor shooting a fake thunderbolt through Giant-Man (or whatever name he was going by at the time…and what was with him not being shrunken back down to normal size before being buried?), the series still lacked any real emotion. The heroes were like empty shells going through the paces. There was very little overreaction to the events or the legislation or the hero hunting. At least by adding a political slant to the background, you’ve planted that seed of “something is bound to come of this.” I believe, the word is “foreshadowing.” Maybe someone at Marvel could send Mark Millar a dictionary for Christmas.

It makes a lot of sense to start having some public pushback on these destructive incidents involving superheroes. We’ve talked about it before and I still can’t believe that any civilians in the Marvel Universe would ever leave their homes for fear of having a giant robot/spaceship/sentient plant/skyscraper/dimension-altering weapon dropped on their heads. Honestly, I can’t believe that a teeny, tiny nuclear explosion outside an elementary school in Connecticut would be the singular event to cause such an uproar. Things don’t just go from calm to natural disaster at the drop of a hat…you can see these things building and rising and coming from miles away. It would be refreshing to have something proactive happen in superhero comics instead of always being so defensive and reactionary.

Gyrich is a good figurehead…and someone who could play a large role in Marvel’s government for years to come. I know I mentioned him in passing during our Marvel Presidential Candidates post. The guy has both the experience and the inside knowledge of superhero activity. I could also see Valerie Cooper getting involved in some of the goings-on. The senior staff from Damage Control would probably be testifying before Congress too. And, of course, I think we’d hear from both Stark Industries (from the military-industrial corner) and Rand Corporation (from the infrastructure and charity angle). Foggy Nelson may even be asked to serve as counsel for someone, since he has a lot of experience defending superpowered individuals. I think that cast of political and legal characters would effectively cover the bases of Marvel’s titles from Avengers to X-Men to the rest of the Marvel U.

This sort of backstory may end up leading to less hero-versus-hero clashes and double-page spreads, but it could lead to a different set of conflicts altogether. Instead of just having Cap going toe-to-toe with Tony, we could inject the villains into the equation and make it a three-sided battle. Everyone wants their piece (or “peace” depending on which side you’re on). And it would make things that much more volatile with everyone having to not only watch their back, but their sides as well…who’s your friend, who’s your enemy?

I like your prologue. It has necessary meat. Where do you see it going from there?

Well, I never got your opinion as to whether or not an actual event was needed to kick things off in the first issue, and lead to the final passage of the SHRA, but I’m going to say that it’s necessary. So, as we enter the actual Civil War series, the first issue begins with a group of New Warriors trying to stop some bad guys. I’d prefer to ditch the reality TV concept. Certainly, no portrayal of Night Thrasher that I’ve ever read would have him agreeing to something like that (he’s in it for the justice, not the fame) and I think that made the Warriors seem too shallow, which is unfair to some of them who have a long history in the MU of being fine, upstanding heroes. Ok, that might be a little much, but honestly, these kids are doing their best and attempting to do the right thing. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if we get rid of the crass Reality Show spin, it actually makes this story all the more tragic. Instead of a bunch of shallow jerks blowing up themselves and some kids, we have good people who are trying to be heroes, and through a simple mistake, end up causing the death of so many.

Where are we? Ah yes, New Warriors fight bad guys, including Nitro, who blows up real good, killing a lot of kids, and some of the Warriors he was fighting. Nitro got some extra power from one of the Kingpin’s subordinates, since the Kingpin thought that juicing up someone who’s power is already very destructive could likely lead to the sort of situation that would provide a groundswell of support for the SHRA. The public hears about the disaster, and thanks to a handheld video which was filmed by a tourist (or heck, someone could have filmed it on their phone), the public sees the Warriors fighting these guys and can see the mistake the kids make.

Now, this might not have been a big deal otherwise. However, Gyrich descends on the scene of the tragedy with his allies and inflates the story into a tale of selfish superheroes and innocent children. He gets the public riled up about it, and a month later, the SHRA passes (I think an incident like this could incite public sentiment, if someone helped push that sentiment, and also if the public was leaning towards frustration with heroes before the incident even occurred). It is now illegal for non-registered superhumans to act. Some heroes register; basically, those heroes with public identities, or those that work for the government anyway. Captain America, of course, and the Fantastic Four are the first to register. However, Cap makes it clear to Gyrich and the government that the heroes will NOT hunt down and capture each other. Gyrich isn’t happy about this, but he does remind Cap that, while Cap may not wish to seek out heroes, if an unregistered superhuman is spotted by Cap, Cap is duty bound to bring that hero in. Cap reluctantly agrees to this, and the other registered heroes do as well.

We also check in with the villains, and see the Kingpin and Mandarin readying their forces to take advantage of the plight of the heroes. Is there much to take advantage of? Oh yes, you better believe it. Cap and the Fantastic Four are still around and fighting the good fight, but the Avengers disband, since the team is torn in two. Cap supports the act, but Wolverine, Spider-Man and Iron Man all oppose it, and they leave the team. Since Stark funds the team, he also tells Cap that they won’t be able to meet anymore in his Tower. Cap pleads with them to come around and support the SHRA, but they refuse, and they start to lay low. That leaves few of the heroes around to battle villains, and the villains take advantage of it by starting a crime wave that plagues New York City. The heroes are stretched thin, and the Human Torch finds himself fighting a powerful trio of villains on his own: the Sandman, Titania and Absorbing Man. The rest of his colleagues are fighting elsewhere on the island of Manhattan, and the Torch is having problems defeating this terrible trio. It doesn’t look good for the Human Matchstick.

Peter Parker, however, hears about the raging battle either on the news, or at the Daily Bugle, or perhaps he simply is passing by. He can’t let his friend by killed by these dastardly villains, so he changes to Spider-Man to help out. The fight is a difficult one, and the Human Torch is eventually knocked unconscious, badly wounded during the melee. Spider-Man eventually ekes out a win, but he’s tired and wounded himself. Just then, the police and SHIELD arrive. The Torch is rushed to the hospital, while the villains are all placed under arrest…as is Spider-Man. When he’s taken to the prison, he’s unmasked, and the news teams at the site are quick to make sure that the entire world knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man! End of issue one.

Now, why did I duplicate two of the big events from the early stages of Civil War? I basically did it to show that the big events Marvel had planned for this miniseries were fine and could be used, but they could be used in a way that fit the plot, rather than simply being thrown into the mix without thought as to whether or not they made sense for the character. By duplicating the events but not the circumstances surrounding the events, we could take the repercussions in many new directions. Over the next few issues of the limited series, we see Spider-Man faced with a dilemma; his secret identity is known, but he’s stuck in prison, so who’s protecting his wife and aunt? Spidey feels he has no real choice if he wants to protect those he loves the most, so he breaks out of jail to find the ladies in his life and get them to safety. His jailbreak in issue two would be the big event of that issue, made even more dramatic when he finds he can’t escape without the help of the Sandman, who’s also been sent to prison. The two reluctant allies escape, and once they’re free, Spidey lets Sandman go, vowing to find him and bring him down as soon as he’s made sure his wife and aunt are safe. (This is another layer of guilt for Peter, especially if the Sandman is part of any dastardly plots before Peter can get to him; Peter is always at his best when he’s swimming in guilt.)

Peter won’t find his aunt and wife in the second issue however. He makes his way back to the house where they’d been staying after leaving Avengers Tower, and he sees May and MJ in an upstairs window. As he rushes to the house, anxious to hold them (but not at the same time…ewwww!) the house explodes! Peter is distraught, and sure that his loved ones are dead, giving him a major mad on for anyone who supports the SHRA. Typically, Parker’s life is not going to be getting any easier, as Gyrich is using Spidey’s presence at the Torch debacle as the reason one of the FF is now in a coma at the hospital. The FF don’t quite believe that, but some of the public does, and these people really hate Spidey now. Peter doesn’t care though, and in issue three, he goes after one of the SHRA boosters (possibly Cap) blaming them for May’s and MJ’s death. Cap doesn’t want to fight Spidey and he tries to talk, but as anyone who’s read an angry Spidey comic knows, sometimes he doesn’t really listen. However, after a large public brawl (which Gyrich again spins to make Spidey look bad, contributing to the ugly public mood regarding him), Iron Man swoops in, and captures Spidey, taking him away from the battlefield.

Spider-Man still has his dander up, and is incredibly angry, but Stark calms him down by explaining that May and MJ are alive. After Stark saw Peter’s identity revealed on TV, he immediately went and got his aunt and wife, taking them back to his current hideout. He left holographic projections of them at their old house, so that anyone aiming to hurt the ladies might go through with their plans, and then assuming the ladies were dead, they would move on to other things. Spidey has a tearful reunion with two people he thought dead forever, but now he has to deal with his actions against Cap.

Meanwhile, just to pick up on the Torch thread, we see that the Torch’s injury is really causing the FF some grief. Reed is trying to argue that Spidey’s interference in the battle is what got the Torch wounded in the first place (since that’s the story Gyrich is spinning), but neither Sue or the Thing really believe it, and it’s obvious that Reed’s heart isn’t in it either. At the same token, Reed still believes the FF need to toe the line regarding this law, and that outright rebellion will only make things worse, inflaming public opinion and convincing Americans that superheroes are indeed out of control, proving Gyrich’s point. Thing and Sue aren’t as convinced, and the first cracks in the FF are planted here, as the team begins to splinter, each of them wrestling with the correct course of action.

Whew! This is just a taste of what we could do in the first few issues; we still haven’t discussed what the final plan is of the Kingpin and Mandarin (you know they have one; in fact, I’m sure they each have a different one that they aren’t sharing with their “ally”), nor have we touched on a lot of the other heroes in the MU. Any thoughts on your end on either what I’ve suggested, or some things you’d like to do in the series?

I wish I could remember all the details as well as you have. For some reason (probably “event fatigue”) I keep getting my Civil War plot points confused with the relatively sparse plot points of Secret Invasion…which I’m sure we’ll cover next, right?

I find it fascinating that you were able to keep many of the original scenes by retrofitting them to our new (logical) direction. Makes me wonder what the writers actually do at one of those Marvel retreats. I mean, you made it all sound so easy in two brief explanations, and it flows from one pragmatic conclusion to the next. Do they just play Twister all weekend and then pick names and storylines out of a hat to mix and match?

Since I can’t seem to pin down any details on my own to exploit, let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment instead. The whole fake Thor thing has been trashed now. Completely and utterly useless. Which is fine. However, the big fight scene where he made his debut has also been scraped since the heroes are not really fighting amongst themselves en masse. Will there be any sort of significant death that we can tally up? Is this a matter of some second-string villain getting the public dirt nap? Or a less important hero falling at the hands of the villains?

To the bigger point, with Cap and Tony on reversed sides in this thing, we’ve eliminated the relevance of Nick Fury helping out Cap. Where do Tony and his band of rebels hole up now? I think we also put the kibosh on the Thunderbolts involvement, which removes the tragically dumb move of putting Osborn in charge of anything. At the same time, with Tony on the anti-SHRA side, he would no longer be in line to take over SHIELD.

So, while I’m following the show on the ground, with the FF and Spidey and the press and the politics, I’m still left wondering what the big picture is for the heroes and villains and what the shake-up will be at the end. Is there a Negative Zone prison? Are the villains shipped off to concentration camps? Is the 50-state Initiative still valid? Have you thought that far ahead? Do my questions help at all? Hello? Hello?

I think your questions help quite a bit, and they also give me a chance to draw out a more general picture, so that I’m not just doing an issue by issue summary of how I see the series going. Let me try and take them one at a time.

Yes, no Thor clone, and certainly no pathetic death of Bill Foster. That was so lame. That being said, it wouldn’t be a summer crossover without at least one high profile death (if one can call Foster a high profile death; with all due respect to the late, lamented Giant-Man/Goliath, he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite). Now, we potentially killed some of the New Warriors in the beginning of the series, just as the official Civil War did. But I also believe we can have death during the miniseries as well. One of the things I haven’t mentioned detailed during these discussions is just what the villains are up to, and I’m not going to start now. However, I will say that the villains are very active. In fact, I’ve figured out a way to work the Thor clone into the storyline, so let’s continue using the events of the original mini-series, shall we?

By the middle of the mini-series, it’s becoming obvious that some of the citizens of the MU aren’t really very happy with the way things are going. The fights between the superheroes and the villains are causing a lot of property damage and most of the unregistered heroes are lying low, meaning that the superheroes that are registered are having a hard time keeping up with the constant villain attacks (we’re checking in with our rebels every issue; they’re being led by Stark and are mostly holed up in one of his safe houses). There are fights between heroes. Usually they occur when Stark’s forces learn of an impending villain attack, or when they learn of a villain-hero brawl that’s threatening to overwhelm the heroes. Then the rebels will go to assist the heroes or stop the villains. Unfortunately, being the MU, this doesn’t always work out so well. The registered heroes are under orders to arrest the unregistered ones, and by this time, they’re getting a little pissy with those who won’t register. After all, the sanctioned heroes are working their keisters off trying to keep order, they’ve seen one of the rebels batter Captain America (that would be Spider-Man, mentioned above) and some of the registered heroes can’t help but blame the rebels for the injuries and property damage the villains are causing. So, anytime the two sides get together, there will be a fight.

Into the midst of the registered heroes comes Bill Foster, whose career as a hero has always been somewhat rocky. He registers with the government hoping that perhaps, now that the hero playing field has been thinned, he can grab some attention. Don’t get me wrong; he’s not a total jerk just looking for headlines. Foster has always been a hero, and still is, but he’s also not above taking advantage of the situation while it’s front page news. Still, public sentiment seems to be moving away from registration, and this won’t do for the Kingpin or the Mandarin. They need more time for their endgame and that means they need to make sure that the Civil War continues. So, they decide to come up with a fiendish plan (as villains are wont to do). Knowing that Thor hasn’t been seen in awhile, but also knowing that he would surely object to mortals telling him what to do, they decide that perhaps he could be the perfect fall guy in their scheme.

Nightshade, working for the baddies, begins moving around the country, spending brief moments at some of the sites of Thor’s most recent battles before his death. At these sites, she searches for and collects any data on Thor, and with the help of someone like Sabretooth (someone with enhanced senses) collects any DNA samples that still exist, if any). She also, with help from some of the other operatives in the villain’s employ, breaks into Avengers Tower (and because the registered heroes are stretched so thin, this proves possible. They also catch a break when Jarvis, who should be able to activate the automatic defenses at the tower, but makes a few poor choices and is knocked unconscious instead. That’s a plot thread to follow up on in Secret Invasion.) and raids the computer files for information on Thor. With all of this information, she returns to her fully stocked lab and, with the help of other criminal scientists like Karl Malus, she creates a clone of Thor. Dr. Faustus helps to program the clone Thor’s mind, and makes sure to fill the Thor clone with a lot of anti-SHRA rhetoric. This clone isn’t perfect (or as powerful as Thor), but it doesn’t have to be. Now, the villains simply await their chance.

Within a few days, another villains attack draws out both registered heroes, with Bill Foster among them, and the rebels. Soon, the villains either are captured or escape, and it’s just the heroes fighting. The sanctioned heroes are tired, and this exacerbates the issues I mentioned above, and the two sides are soon fighting in earnest. The media, of course, records all of this, and Gyrich and his allies continue to use these fights as proof that the unregistered heroes are threats to the country. However, no one expects the scoop they are about to get. Suddenly the Thor clone flies into the fight, spouting the anti-SHRA rhetoric that Faustus programmed into him. Thor is violent and brutal, way over the top, but the cameras are picking all of this up, and he does look and sound like the public assumes Thor would, and he seems to have Thor’s powers. Before the Thor clone is there too long, he lashes out with his lightning, killing Bill Foster. Both the registered and unregistered heroes are stunned, and Stark quickly calls for a retreat (the clone Thor flees then as well, whipping up a storm to discourage pursuit, which helps to maintain the illusion of him being a rebel, but then goes another way once he’s out of view of the TV cameras). The rebels flee, but to the eyes of the world, and to the eyes of the registered heroes, the rebels have crossed the line. This inflames public opinion against them and also incites some of the registered heroes to be even more upset (while the Thor clone seemed off to them, and some may suspect the truth, again, these guys are tired and frustrated, so they’re not all thinking too deeply on the matter).

So, there’s that event covered. What else did you ask? No, Tony wouldn’t take over SHIELD, but Captain America now can. Of course, we want to assassinate him at the end of the crossover (because Brubaker is doing such neat things with that plot in Cap’s own book, and really, Bucky would look silly in the Iron Man armor), but for now, we could make him head of SHIELD throughout the crossover, and Fury could help Stark (it wouldn’t be the first time they were uneasy allies, and I think they make a much more interesting duo than Cap and Fury anyway).

At first glance, I’m saying no on the Negative Zone prison, which I always hated. Of course, with villains and heroes being captured by the government, they’re going to need a place to hold them, and if I’m not mistaken, all of the current government prisons for superpowered captives use Stark tech. So, the government turns to Reed Richards to create a place to put these superpowered people, where the superpowered people can’t escape and Stark can’t use his inside knowledge of security systems to cause a breakout. Now, Reed may be brilliant, but he’s already stretched thin, and he doesn’t have much time. He needs a place that’s impregnable, and he knows of somewhere like that: the Negative Zone. He’s not thrilled with that solution, but really, the captives are going to be stuck in the prison, and will never see the outside. What does it matter where the prison sits, either the Negative Zone or Butte Montana, to the prisoner sitting inside it. So, the Negative Zone prison is still around.

As for the 50 State Initiative, that ties in with the question of how we end our Civil War miniseries. Goodness knows, I thought the end to the original MU miniseries was one of the most stupid anticlimaxes I had ever remembered for a big event. I would like to think that we could wrap things up a little more tightly. The last issue would have the Kingpin and Mandarin’s plots coming to fruition, and a huge villain attack (with the Thor clone participating), which both registered and unregistered heroes involved. Once the villains are defeated, the heroes on both sides would go at it, with Cap and Iron Man fighting each other above it all. Cap would be talking to Iron Man, trying to convince him that he needs to surrender. After all, Cap could reason, the SHRA IS law, and if that is going to change, it’s going to need to change by fighting within the system. Stark’s way is only making things worse, and while he doesn’t blame Stark for Foster’s death, surely this rebellion made that death possible. Stark realizes that what Cap is saying makes sense, and he surrenders (I think it makes more sense that Cap could sway Stark with words, rather than Cap looking around a battlefield and going, “My bad.”).

That wraps up the series. Captain America is the one who suggests the 50 State Initiative, as a way of trying to convince the heroes who haven’t registered to do so. He holds a press conference to discuss this, and during the conference, he’s assassinated by someone yelling “Fascist!” That puts it just about where the MU was after Civil War, with the exception of Stark as head of SHIELD. You’d need someone else to fill that slot, and I think a lot of people could take his place and some great stories could come out of that. I’d think Ms. Marvel might make sense, or if you really want to tie this story into Secret Invasion, how about making Dr. Pym the head of SHIELD. That could be very interesting….

Thoughts?

First of all, “Reed may be brilliant, but he’s already stretched thin” is probably the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Secondly, and this one is not as funny, I’m disappointed in this turn of events. The reason I continue to point out the fake Thor in every reply is because I find the whole concept to be sooooo out of left field as to be nonsensical. And then killing off Goliath (just who is White Goliath, by the way?) just adds to the nonsense. Look, here’s a character that no one has seen (aside form a few appearances) for roughly two decades or more and then he shows up only to be killed off? Ignoring the fact that he had given up the heroing bit to become a serious scientist, it still smacks of over-convenience which itself is a sign of bad writing. I was sure you were going to just let these bits of the story fade away. Who would really come up with the ludicrous idea of cloning a God in the midst of a Civil War? Wow…now that I said it out loud, it is kind of a brilliant idea…but that’s part of the problem too! If you could’ve seen this coming and sat around and daydreamed about the far-reaching possibilities for months on end, then sure, you may have come up with this ludicrous plan. But to just pull it out of your back pocket and casually throw it on the table? Your allies would either laugh at you or have you committed. And don’t drag poor ol’ Bill Foster into your scheme! What did he ever do to anyone? And where’s the significance? He’s not the “go for the glory” type. He has never craved the spotlight or sought unnecessary recognition. That said, your explanation of the cloning quest was pretty spot-on. Kudos for that.

Honestly? I would much rather see a member of the Young Avengers sacrificed for the cause…the new female Hawkeye never did anything for me. She’s disposable. And just the simple fact that she’s so young and new would allow the loss to resonate even more and reinforce the pro-SHRA’s drive for training and discipline. Granted, you don’t have the literal deus ex machina of Thor appearing from out of nowhere (after months of absence), killing a hero, and then disappearing in a puff of smoke, but it could still be managed. You have an unnamed assailant assassinate Cap as he’s ascending to the helm of SHIELD. Why couldn’t this same villain pull the trigger on Hawkeye in the midst of all the hero versus hero chaos? There must be a shape-shifter or marksman somewhere amongst the villainous ranks that we could appropriate for the dastardly deed. If the villains have all been captured or chased away, and the method of attack was parallel to that of a well-known hero, then the media would have a field day with placing the blame on the rebel faction. And the rest of the story could play itself out as you’ve described.

Or, conversely, here’s our opportunity to make Punisher relevant again (since he’s spent the last decade or so becoming a horrible caricature of himself…a soulless, cliched leftover from the “grim-n-gritty” vigilante era of comics). Good ol’ Frank is such a devotee to Captain America and the quasi-military feel of the superhero crowd, that he maniacally follows the SHRA to the letter. He takes it upon himself to stomp out the menace of the rebel heroes and he doesn’t care who gets in his way. Since Spidey actually had the audacity to lay his hands upon Cap, Frank decides he needs to take him out. Only problem is, Spidey senses the danger and dodges the shot…as a result, Hawkeye takes one for the team. This could be the turning point in the media coverage. The so-called heroes have now killed one of their own (in theory) and both sides have growing doubts about the SHRA. Not sure what the fallout would be there, but it puts the onus on the other side to prove this can work. Gyrich, being a politician, can play both sides against each other. He’d claim that the SHRA would be good for everyone, sanctioned heroes included. And Punisher would be made the scapegoat (he could benefit from the depth).

I’m not sold on the Negative Zone prison either. It didn’t really seem to serve a purpose considering how easily folks broke out of it anyway. It may as well just be a part of the Fifty State Initiative…not just training, but rehabilitation. Perhaps the jail could be an extension of Camp Hammond (which would make Taskmaster’s involvement more reasonable…he could be training villains to be heroes as part of a community service sentence).

As for the SHIELD thing, Cap would be the obvious selection. His assassination is the true icing on the cake for the event (and I think it should take place during Civil War and not in his own title). The American people would finally feel at ease with a government official and begin to believe in better days ahead. And then POW! Looking ahead to upcoming events, we know that the Skrulls gain control of SHIELD during Secret Invasion. Since you’ve already brought up the issue in Gyrich’s run for political prominence, why not have the other senator who’s posing as a Skrull become the new head of SHIELD? The government seeks more oversight of the organization and more control, so they name one of their own to run it. Makes sense on paper.

And finally, does Tony Stark have safe houses? I know he has vacation homes and scads of real estate investments, but does he have “drop off the grid” accommodations? I just ask because it seems funny to imagine this billionaire playboy skulking about in abandoned sewer tunnels. There would be a much more interesting dynamic between Stark and Fury, making for an uneasy alliance in the face of so much upheaval. On the plus side, since most of Marvel’s America operates on Stark technology, it’s easy to imagine how the rebels could set up quick response teams to deal with the villains and such. They would have eyes and ears everywhere and access to almost every computer in the country.

So, to recap, I was completely on board with the beginnings of your revamp, but there are a few things here in the middle that I disagree with. Maybe I’m just being picky, but I think there’s a lot of potential to turn this mediocre miniseries into something more long-lasting and meaningful. Do you agree with any of the points I’ve made? Any ideas how we can implement the suggestions I offered?

I agree with ALL of the points you offer (and I’m even ok with the killing of the new Hawkeye, despite being a fan of her character and of the Young Avengers in general).  The ONLY reason I used the clone Thor, killed Goliath and brought in the Negative Zone prison was to point out that all of the big ideas from the published version of Civil War could still be used, and they could be worked into a plot more seamlessly than they were by Mark Millar.  However, with that point made (probably in much more detail than was required) we can go back to putting together a Civil War story that makes more sense and flows even better, and I think your suggestions do that.

Your comments about Tony Stark and safehouses makes sense; he probably wouldn’t necessarily have them, and certainly his partnership with Fury is a lot more interesting if the safehouses are something Fury brings to the table.  It sets up a much better dynamic between them, and puts the two of them on more equal footing, making for more interesting chemistry between them.

We could go on and on about our Civil War, but I think that we’ve detailed it pretty well, with my beginning and your middle and end.  In the long run, we end up almost where the Marvel Universe was at the end of their Civil War, with only Stark being in a drastically different place (but, I think in the end, a much more interesting one for that character.  It’s also a place that keep him a hero, rather than turning him into the fascist ass he became in the MU).  I suppose that Bill Foster’s in a different place as well, being alive rather than dead, but considering he was languishing in Limbo before he was brought back simply to die, there’s not a lot of difference.  We’ll just continue to allow him to languish in limbo.

So, considering the length of the post, I think our work here is done.  Perhaps we can go through this same process again in the future with Secret Invasion, another mini-series with a great premise that was never fulfilled.

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Costume Critique: Blue Streak

Oct-17-08

The first one came so easily to me, that I decided to do one more. And John bringing up the terrifying mental image of a roller skating Iron Man just made me think of this guy:

BLUE STREAK! The hard-skatin’, gas mask-sportin’, rootin’, tootin’ supervillain. God, I loved the late 80s, the age of over-armored bad guys with horrible “current events” gimmicks. Blue Streak first appeared waaaaay back in 1978 in a Captain America comic. Of course, back then his costume was fashioned after another timely fad…DISCO.

Groovy, man. I don’t even want to go into what’s wrong with that picture. Let’s just stick to the later version.

The Marvel editors must have spent a lot of free time wandering the aisles of the nearby Modell’s. A “battle suit” made out of shoulder pads, a catcher’s chestplate, knee and elbow pads, shin guards and a ski mask is not something you stumble upon by accident, unless you have a shopping cart and a limited budget.

The sad thing is that he’s not even wearing Rollerblades, which would’ve been somewhat more acceptable. I think. No, this guy’s sporting the old school skates…the kind of outfit you expect from the Freddie Mercury lookalike in the mesh tank top cruising down the Santa Monica promenade. How did Captain America take this guy seriously. Sure, he could fire lasers from his wrists and throw down razor-edged caltrops from his fancy hip pouches, but when it comes down to it, he’s a bright blue dude on roller skates. You know how you defeat someone like that? Trip him.

Son of a bimbo??? Did he just call Cap a “geek?” I’m sorry, Roy Thomas and John Buscema must’ve lost a bet to have created this tool. It is nice to see Cap on his Ameribike shooting out the ass-end of his Amerivan though. VROOM!

And what’s with the gas mask? Was Blue Streak moving so fast on his little training wheels that he was actually at risk of losing his breath? My guess? That mask is actually just used to catch the tears of shame streaming down his cheeks.

You know you suck as a bad guy when another bad guy makes it his life’s work to kill you.

Scourge: Saving Evil’s Reputation, One Mercy Killing at a Time.

Jason was kind enough to take the lead on this post because he’s better at finding and posting pictures than I, and because he seemed to need to get some thoughts about this guy off his chest. Sadly, he has once again said most of what needs to be said about this loser. Of course, I made that statement about Night Thrasher, and still managed to ramble on about him at length, so let’s see if I can do that again, shall we?

I would actually very much enjoy picking on his original, Disco-era costume, but I suppose we shouldn’t be too harsh on that decade, since fashion took a holiday for those ten years. Perhaps his costume looked good when it debuted, although I’m guessing it was considered a fashion faux pas even back then. I’m sure that Blue Streak and his creators thought that the new, armored duds were an improvement over the white leather suit with the blue lightning, but you know, they were kind of wrong. Sure, the armor makes practical sense, so they get points for that, but then they immediately lose those points for choosing to make the armor ugly, and decidedly impractical in many ways.

Certainly, if one is roller skating along at speeds of 40-50 mph, one would want head and face protection, if for no other reason than one doesn’t want to pick bugs our of one’s teeth. However, the design of the helmet (or ski mask; I’m unclear as to whether that’s supposed to be a thin helmet or a thick wool mask; I’ve been studying the art and it’s not horribly clear and I can’t find the information online anywhere) is so unnecessarily ugly that I have to wonder what the designer was thinking. The worst thing about the headpiece is that ridiculous air hose, which makes him look like some sort of alien. While I agree that an air supply probably wasn’t necessary, I don’t begrudge Blue Streak having one, except that it would have been possible to use one that wasn’t connected to a distracting hose, particularly when that hose goes….nowhere? The best I can tell is that the other end of the hose is connected to the back of his suit, which seems odd, since shouldn’t it connect to an air tank? Is he basically sniffing his back? Man, I hope he doesn’t stop for beans before a superhero fight; that air hose could end up being deadlier than any fight with Captain America!

Besides, what self-respecting villain would want to use an air supply that was dependent on an old fashioned hose like that? That hose is begging to be cut, and Captain America could easily sever it with one throw of his shield. Considering that armored heroes like Iron Man had been running around with internal air supplies for years before this outfit first saw print, I’m not sure why Blue Streak felt he needed to pretend he was getting his air from somewhere else. Perhaps the hose was just for looks? If that’s the case, it’s still a bad idea; once Cap severed it with his shield, he could then have grabbed it and used it to yank this guy’s helmet/hood right off his noggin and then proceeded to beat this loser with his own costume. Ahhh, I would have enjoyed seeing that fight depicted in an issue of his comic.

A closer look at those skates reveal them to appear to be the skates of the 70s-80s variety, the type which younger readers are probably wholly unfamiliar. These skates required a key, which was used to tighten or loosen the skates, and that’s how one put them on and removed them. I wonder if any of his villain comrades ever played practical jokes on him, where they hid his key, and he was stuck in his skates for a few days, rolling through the showers and the mess hall. Or perhaps they could have hidden his key when he wasn’t wearing his skates, and when he went to commit a crime, he would have had to do it sans his trademark mode of transportation. I can see the cab pulling up to the bank, and Blue Streak climbing out, wearing the outfit at the top of the entry, but instead of skates, he has on white tennis shoes. It couldn’t make the outfit look any worse.

Yes, Scourge did the comics world a favor when he killed this one. Sad that Marvel felt the need to bring this lame villain back during Civil War. He appears to be wearing the same costume. <sigh> Marvel, Marvel, Marvel….

Blue Streak

Well, on the plus side, it looks like they’ve at least simplified the stupid air hose on his mask. I can’t see enough of his costume to determine if they lost those snazzy hip packs or not. I will say one thing though, you know you’re pretty bad-ass when you need knuckle guards. Rock on, newly resurrected Blue Streak!


Alpha Flight: They Come from the Land Up Above

Jun-11-08

Alpha Flight is one of the many Marvel properties that has had many different series, some of which were quite popular for awhile, but which have never been able to maintain that popularity for the long term. Personally, I’m a huge fan of many of the iterations of Alpha Flight, and I’ve been disappointed time and again when the series was cancelled. Why is it so difficult for this series to maintain a long shelf life? Perhaps a better question would be, why does this series exist in the first place?

It’s always a good idea, when creating a series, to have a reason why that series exists. What’s the central point of the series, and what makes it different than the gazillion other comic book super-hero series on the market today? The simple answer for Alpha Flight is that they’re Canadian. Well, this is all well and good, but it may not be enough. The Canadian culture, while certainly somewhat different than American culture, may not be different enough to merit interest, or at least, it may not have been portrayed as different enough. Most writers of Alpha Flight seem to feel that using Indian culture, Sasquatch legends and a hint of mysticism is enough to signify Canadian culture and to capture the interest of the reader, but obviously, that’s not worked out so well in the long run.

In the beginning, Alpha Flight was written and drawn by John Byrne. Byrne had originally introduced the characters in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, where Alpha Flight had seized the identity of “Those Canadian guys who let Wolverine get away.” For their first few appearances, this identity was sufficient. However, over time, the individual members of Alpha Flight began to develop strong personalities and Byrne had a strong base to work with when he began writing them in their own series. Still, Byrne wasn’t satisfied to simply write and draw a book containing a team full of strong characters. Byrne decided to break the traditional mold of the super-hero team series, and for the first year, we rarely saw the team as a team; most stories focused on individual adventures of the various team members, since Byrne broke the team up in the first issue. He finally reunited them in the twelfth issue, only to kill off the group leader (and remember, this was before deaths and resurrections of comic characters had become so common place). In other words, Byrne gave the book a very different feel and tone from any other super-hero team book on the stands at the time. His next year on the book continued to be bold and new, as he continued to break with established team book parameters and chart new waters.

Sadly, Byrne’s tenure came to an end, and after him, no other writer seems to have been able to capture a feel that made Alpha Flight stand out in the crowd. There have been decent stories told since then, but they are simply typical super-hero team stories told well, with nothing to differentiate them from other stories told about other super-teams. Indeed, in many of those stories, you could have dropped the Avengers, the X-Men or any other super-team into the roles of Alpha Flight and there would have been little appreciable difference. So, the question remains: is telling good super-hero stories sufficient in this day and age to sell a book? How does one make Alpha Flight stand out from the hordes of other super-teams on the stands? What makes Alpha Flight unique?

Didn’t give me much to work with there, eh? Hoser!

Ah…Canadians…my favorite group of nondescript white folks, from the land better known as “America’s Hat.” Here’s what I remember about Alpha Flight: they appeared in an X-Men comic (which I thought was pretty cool like “Hey, a bunch of new characters I’ve never seen before!” or “Wow, Canadians!”), they got their own series, and then they faded into obscurity. All of this would be the typical reaction from someone who wasn’t really a fan of the group, except for the fact that I have a HUGE run of their original title! Why can’t I remember any of the storylines from Alpha Flight? And why did I even bother to buy the first issue of the awful 2004 “revamp” that was more parody than power-packed?

Let me give a rundown of the team members as I remember them: Sasquatch (legendary wilderness creature later replaced by a guy in a robot suit named Box), Shaman (stereotypical Native American healer later replaced by his daughter Talisman), Vindicator (tough guy in a Canadian flag suit later replaced by his wife and the less confrontational name Guardian), Puck (a midget named after sporting goods), Snowbird (another stereotypical mystical type who could shapeshift), Northstar and Aurora (Quebecois twins with super-speed and light powers who originally had to hold hands to use their abilities) and Marrina (an alien fish chick). That’s quite the lineup, eh? Where’s the lumberjack who can shoot magical maple syrup out his nose? Or a Mountie with a flying horse? Or a goalie with a mystical hockey stick? Or Wolverine?

Even though my writing hero Bill Mantlo had an odd run on the book, I seriously can’t remember anything that happened. I recall some other “Flights” including Beta, Gamma and an Omega…a fight with Marrina’s people…and something to do with Canada’s version of Weapon X (Department H?). I refuse to rely on Wikipedia to cheat on this one, obviously!

I recently read an interview with one of the highers-up at Marvel and they said they were waiting for a good Alpha Flight pitch that was about more than just the fact that they’re Canadian. But the more I think about it, and with the current goings-on in the Marvel Universe with the Superhero Registration Act and all that, it would make sense for Canada to have its own equivalent superhero team for protection as much as standing in the world. I have no idea what the current status is on any of the original characters, though I assume many of them are dead. And I have no epiphanies on how or why Alpha Flight would be brought back, but for some reason I would like to try. Where do we start?

I agree that it only makes sense for Canada to have their own super-team. Let’s be honest; what country in the Marvel Universe wouldn’t want a super-team to try and offset the super-hero monopoly that America seems to enjoy? Considering how Canada has been shown in the past to get America’s super-hero castoffs whenever something big is going down in America (they got the villains during “Acts of Vengeance” and the heroes during “Civil War”). Surely they would want a team to help defend their interests, and there are actually a good amount of powerful superhumans from Canada to fill such a team. There was a limited series called Omega Flight that spun out of Civil War, but that didn’t really work for me. It had a Canadian super-team (and why would they use the name of a team of villains?) but it wasn’t all Canadians, and poor Omega Flight had to have US Agent foisted on them, which no one should have to endure.

While there is potential for a team that has some Americans on it, and the frustration and tension that could exist between the Canadians and the Americans on the team, I think that a good Alpha Flight book needs to feature a team of Canadians. I think that Canadian super-heroes are important, not because every super-hero needs to have their powers be connected to Canada in some way, but because the reader needs to get the Canadian viewpoint from these characters. The characters can’t feel Canadian because they can shapeshift into bigfoot, or because they speak French and English, or even because they’re from an Indian tribe native to Canada; they have to feel Canadian because of their actions, their choices and their backgrounds.

So, who do we include in this team? Unfortunately, many of Alpha Flight’s main characters have been scattered to the four winds, and during the Civil War mess, all of the big names in Alpha Flight were killed in a throw away scene during a storyline in New Avengers. This is always frustrating, as characters that are killed quickly and without drama, simply to make a new villain look powerful, are wasted characters. Of course, thanks to Marvel’s policy of killing and resurrecting characters like crazy, I believe almost all of Alpha Flight’s main cast have already died and come back, so I’m not going to worry too much about who’s dead and who’s not. With that being said, who can we use?

Before we delve too much into the cast of characters, let’s take a moment to consider the purpose of this book. We’ve already said that we’d like something a little more than “They’re all Canadians” as a hook upon which to hang this series. I think the series needs a Canadian outlook and viewpoint, but I do believe we need a little more. In 1999 (I think that’s the year), when Steven Seagle took a crack at the title as a writer, he used the hook that the Canadian government was manipulating the team. Blah, blah, blah. I think we’ve all seen enough government conspiracy stories (and I actually enjoyed much of his short-lived take on the series), but at least he had a hook. What are some possible hooks we could give a new Alpha Flight series? Why don’t we brainstorm this and kick it around a little?

I’ll start with a few ideas and see what you have. We could do the idea that they’re simply trying to stop what they see as American problems causing ripples of problems in Canada. I’m not sure that’s enough though, and do Americans want to read a title about people that are upset about America? I’m guessing no. We could do something mystical, since they’ve always had members that run towards mysticism, like Shaman, Talisman and even Snowbird (and even Puck, since his powers came from housing a demon inside him). We could focus on a possible rivalry with the X-Men. Yes, the two teams are friendly now, but they haven’t always been, and now the X-Men stole both Wolverine and Northstar. Hmm. Other ideas? Don’t feel you have to throw out a lot. Throw out a couple and then I’ll do the same.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is a coalition effort. I’m thinking of current events in our real world and how Canada and the United Kingdom are always the first to offer assistance to us. What if we have some sort of grave super-powered scenario (possibly post-Secret Invasion) that requires the help of friendly nations? Much like our conflict in Iraq drew the help of Canadian troops, this set-up would bring in a Canadian team of superheroes to assist in clean-up or protection or investigation or what have you. This is a quick way to introduce the team without having to give them an immediate origin. It sets up the fact that the group is, indeed, Canadian and is associated with their government. That’s idea number one.

Idea number two is my standard environmental disaster remedy. I don’t know how to organically bring together an eskimo, a hockey player, a giant beaver and a flannel-wearing pothead, but threatening their collective way of life seems like a good start. There’s a lot of open wilderness in upper Canada. That means a lot of nefarious things could be going on up there…illegal government experiments, tampering with genetics, covert militias bent on world domination, an enclave of rabies-infected zombie badgers. Perhaps one of our American heroes stumbles upon some sort of curious activity and is sent up there to investigate. The Canadian government provides Alpha Flight as an escort.

Or, thought number three, perhaps Alpha Flight IS the nefarious goings-on in the wilderness. Touching upon a bit of the Weapon X program, maybe the members of Alpha Flight are being held against their will in some sort of super-powered genetic experiment. I initially really enjoyed Wildstorm’s relaunch of Gen13 and this idea follows along that same path. Alpha Flight could have been developed as villains, but turned the tide on their captors and are now on the lam in the Great North hiding from the authorities while trying to escape their pursuers at the same time. Some way to tie it into US activities and other Marvel heroes would be helpful in making more sense of this approach (and appealing to your typical Marvel reader).

There are some good ideas here and there’s also some basis for them. In Steven Seagle’s Alpha Flight storyline, as I mentioned, the Canadian government was manipulating the team to their own ends, while still allowing the team the illusion of free will. Unfortunately, allowing them the illusion of free will became a problem, as the team members were eventually able to make use of the small amount of slack that illusion caused on the ropes of their captivity and escaped their control. So, the Canadian government may have learned from this (or, at the very least, a small portion of the government may have learned from this) and so they have decided to relaunch Alpha Flight and this time to maintain total control. In fact, I think making this a splinter group of the Canadian government (or perhaps, a splinter group of their military) may be the best way to go. We can then use this concept to create two Alpha Flight teams, one on the inside and one on the outside, and we can make them original and recurring characters.

On the inside, we’d have a team of mostly unknowns, with one established character. Let’s say the inside team consists of four characters. We wouldn’t want it to be many more than that and I don’t think this splinter group would want more than that either, since they want to make sure they have the power to control the superhumans they have. Basically, this group is experimenting on these four, trying to determine how best to duplicate their powers to create a superpowered army. I’d say our established character is Sasquatch. Originally, Langowski got his powers by basically recreating the experiment that turned Banner into the Hulk. It was later explained that in actuality, the experiment ripped a hole between dimensions, and a Great Beast came and took over his body, but even if that origin is widely known (which I doubt) is the average military general going to believe it? Doubtful. They’re going to believe that Langowski undertook a controlled experiment, was successful, and became one of the strongest superhumans in the world. They’re going to want a piece of that, so they swoop in, capture Sasquatch, and start the experiments.

Our other three characters in the inside group would be new ones I think. I don’t have specific ideas for them right now, and honestly, specifics aren’t important, especially since you could come up with another take or a better idea, but here is what I would NOT do; I would not make their powers Canadian. I would simply give them superpowers, without trying to tie those powers into their national identity. After all, most American superhumans don’t have powers based on life, liberty and apple pie; why should Canadian superhumans have powers based on moose, maple syrup and hockey? What I would do is make their backgrounds Canadian, and create personalities that are influenced by having grown up in that country, rather than America. Anyway, we would have some time to devote to these characters, as we’d do at least the first arc dealing with them being stuck in this facility.

However, that wouldn’t be all of the first arc. We’d also be dealing with the outside group. This group would be established heroes, with perhaps one new one stuck on the team, if we really wanted it. I’d say we start with Shaman. His mystical senses have picked up a great “disturbance in the Force.” The military has been testing the powers of their captured Alphans in the wilderness somewhere in Canada, and Shaman has been picking up on that. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows it’s bad. He summons a few members of the old team; let’s say Heather Hudson in her Vindicator armor and Puck. They decide to go searching, and they’re joined by Aurora, who’s upset that her on-again-off-again man Sasquatch seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. They make their way towards the site of the secret prison, which they find, and then they have to figure out how to get in the prison.

That’s the first arc, as I see it. Each issue is telling two stories; one of the group on the inside and one of the group on the outside. You could tell them completely separately (almost like a flip book), you could tell them as mirrors (with one story being on each side of the page, or one running on the top and the other on the bottom), you could simply intercut them; it doesn’t matter. You’re telling two stories. Finally, at the end of the first arc, you have the escape. Either the inside team makes a move, and the outside team picks up on it and supports them or vice versa. As the inside team escapes, they run into the outside team and with Sasquatch to act as an intermediary, the two teams become one.

You could then begin to move forward with other plots. This team is on the run from the people who had captured Sasquatch and his new allies, so some of the plots will be trying to determine who that is, gain information on them that could expose their nefarious activities, and shut them down once and for all. That could certainly be an overriding scenario for a number of issues, although it wouldn’t always have to be your A plot. So, are you with me so far? Or are we back to the drawing board?

Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment here, just for kicks. I agree with your assessment that we should steer clear of giving the heroes Canadian-based powers (though something to do with irradiated maple syrup could be a funny in-joke). The reality of that pigeonholing becomes apparent pretty quickly and severely cripples any sort of character building in the long run. However, I’m kind of stumped by your assertion that we should “create personalities that are influenced by having grown up in that country.” What does that mean exactly? Is there something inherently Canadian that would influence a hero’s outlook? Would they be making constant references to universal health care and limited cable channels?

I can sort of follow your premise of the inside team and the outside team, with neither of them being an official “team” until the one group is rescued by the other and they decide to combine their forces to thwart a common enemy. That’s fine. And I agree that Sasquatch is a good catalyst for the captive group, with the rest of the group consisting of new characters. I was doing some research into members of the former Beta, Gamma and Omega Flights to see if we could possibly use any of them, but most of them have turned out to be either completely useless or mutants who are now depowered (which is mostly the same thing). My biggest problems come from your idea to use the well-known former members of Alpha Flight as the outside group. Here’s the thing: most of them are dead. And I know that doesn’t mean much in the comic book world, but coupled with the fact that a lot of them were rather stereotypical, it seems like a great reason not to use them. Just a quick internet search turns up the corpses of: Vindicator (Heather Hudson), Box, Shaman, Marrina (at least in a weird coma), Northstar (under odd circumstances…or not?), Puck (both of them) and the original Guardian (of course). From what I can tell, the only members still alive are Snowbird (brought back from the dead at least once), Aurora (and possibly Northstar) and Talisman. Snowbird is part of something called the “God Squad” with Hercules and a bunch of other folks I’ve never heard of. Aurora and Northstar are hanging out with the X-Men post-Messiah Complex. Talisman was last seen in the latest Omega Flight series and, as far as I know, is still in Canada.

With all of that established, I think your idea could still work with Talisman in place of Shaman. It’s been said that, when properly trained, Talisman’s power would eventually rival Dr. Strange, so I could see her being in tune with her environment and sensing these “disturbances.” Plus, she was brought into the latest incarnation of Omega Flight due to the capture of Sasquatch, so we’ve got that common thread to work with too. As for the rest of the team, we have a few options. We can use current related characters such as Earthmover (Shaman’s former protege, trained in combat and hunting by Wolverine, should have some tie to Talisman because of her father), Cascade, Feedback, Purple Girl, Yukon Jack, Ghost Girl or Diamond Lil. We can bring in outside characters who have connections to Canada or Alpha Flight, such as Le Peregrine, Woodgod, Forge or maybe even some of the members of the Russian team Winter Guard. Or we can just make up our own…though the sense of urgency might be harder to build with brand new folks. The final thought on teammates is maybe bringing in an American that Talisman would turn to for help, someone she would have worked with in the past that could be used as the reader’s eyes in the team and establish the necessary “big picture” for the rest of the Marvel Universe.

I also like the idea of having the Canadian military involved…maybe an offshoot of Department H, perhaps the special ops soldiers, Epsilon Black, have set up the experiment? I like the thought of these imposing figures having complete control over the facility. I don’t think these need to be two separate stories being told at the same time. I see it as more of a gradual coming together. We could start off by showing the captive team in some sort of training exercise (a la the Danger Room) and something that happens during that exercise lets off a lot of energy which is felt by Talisman. The story builds from there, with a few cuts back to the captive group to fill in the blanks but most of the action coming from Talisman gathering her team and they can discover the complete plot along with the reader.

I still feel like we need to flesh this out more though. How about you?

Sorry that I’ve been MIA for a few days. I spent the weekend and change up on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. I know Nick Fury is one bad mofo and everything but he’s also kind of a drama queen. I mean, here’s a helpful hint the next time you talk to him. Do NOT mention that you didn’t wait through the credits of the Iron Man movie to see his deleted scene. Yeesh. Dude, chill out. I’ll catch it on the DVD.

Do we need to work on the Alpha Flight idea more? Yes, indeedy we do. I realized that most of the original team was dead, and even mentioned said deaths in my previous posting, as I said that the manner of their deaths was unacceptable (I shan’t repeat it….anyone can scroll up and find it). However, if you’d prefer to keep the dead in the ground, that’s fine, although you’ll never be a true Marvel Zombie unless you get used to killing off and bringing characters back to life pretty darn quick. Still, your suggested characters work fine.

However, your idea of keeping most of the attention on Talisman and her team, while interesting, I think could be self-defeating. By looking in at the captured heroes once, and then not really spending anytime with them again, we not only miss the opportunity to get to know our newer characters, we also lose the possibility of really empathizing with their situation. I contend that we could see enough of the characters on the inside, but not show all of their plight, and still allow Talisman to uncover much of the mystery on the outside that the reader is not aware of yet. Then, as Talisman uncovers pieces of the mystery, we could show even more of the inside.

Perhaps, like Iron Man, this is one where we’re just not quite going to be in sync. No?

No, no, no…I don’t think we’re that far off. It’s just that, from a storytelling standpoint, I think it’s kind of disjointed to try to tell two stories at the same time or to try to keep cutting back and forth between the two. I think we should probably start with the inside group and tell a bit (maybe an entire issue or two) about what is going on there, introduce the characters and flesh them out some, then find a catalyst to swing the narrative to Talisman and her group and advance that part of the storyline for another issue or two until the plots can converge. That way, the readers think we’re headed one way with the group only to have everything turn around with the introduction of the second group. Deception!

That being said, we still need to determine who these groups are. The reason I don’t really want to mess with the dead characters is that explaining how they’ve returned takes too much attention away from the story you’re trying to tell. Once the team is established and the first arc is finished, then we can go back and examine the dead characters and determine how or if they should return. You said that my suggested characters work fine, but you never state which ones you think should be in the group(s)! If we threw in everyone I mentioned, we’d have half of Canada in costumes. So, who do you think would make the strongest team out of the suggested characters? Or who would you like to create from scratch? Let’s brainstorm those a bit. I like the Earthmover character and think he’d be fun to write. Purple Girl, Ghost Girl, Cascade and Woodgod are pretty interesting (though one of the “Girls” would need a name change). The inside group would most likely be new faces, but what powers would their captors be interested in recreating? What’s the intended combination of the inside group’s make-up?

And then we need to determine just what is going on with the captive group. Who is holding them? Why? What are the objectives? And how does Talisman find out about everything? Lots to do here still…

Damn! Operation: Cut and Run has been derailed. Ok then, let’s do this thing!

I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to dilute the story by telling two stories at once. I’m not sure that following one group for a couple of issues and then switching to a completely different group for a few more is the way to go, as it could make the series feel somewhat schizophrenic. At the same time, it rather fits in with the tradition of Alpha Flight as a comic, since Byrne basically did the same thing in the series first run. So, ok. Good storytelling, works for Alpha Flight. Let’s roll with that.

As for characters, I have no idea how some of these characters are connected to Canada. Woodgod? Really? I thought he hung out in the American Southwest (isn’t there where he encountered the Hulk?). He’s got an interesting look, I suppose, but I’ve never read anything with him in it that inspired me to use the character (although, to be fair, I’ve only read maybe two issues that he even appeared in). I do like the Purple Girl, who had changed her name to Persuasion the last time I saw her. So, Talisman is a definite, and I like the Purple Girl. Who else? I think that Diamond Lil can be very interesting. She’s been a villain, and has been portrayed more than once as being a little more selfish and ruthless than your average hero. I think that could bring a very interesting dynamic to the group. I’ve also long been a fan of Manikin, and he’s worked with all of these characters, so they have a bit of history together. That’s four, and I’m not sure if I’d add anymore characters at this time. If we have four on the inside as well, that will give us a total of eight characters when the two teams merge, and that should be more than enough for us to focus on.

One of the other interesting things about this team also is that we aren’t talking about a lot of raw power here. Talisman has the potential for a lot of raw power, but she hasn’t learned how to use it yet. Diamond Lil is almost impossible to hurt, but offensively, she doesn’t have much going on. Persuasion can control someone, which is nice, but not overpowering, and Manikin can unleash three other beings from inside himself, but none of them are overwhelmingly powerful. Put it all together, and it’s a group that’s actually going to have to think their way through situations, and won’t be able to simply barrel through things. More importantly, if we tip the newbies in the inside group toward the higher level of the power scale, we have a nice situation of pitting power versus experience. It could make for an interesting team dynamic, especially if some of the older Alpha Flight members begin to feel threatened by the power level of the newer members.

Now, what about the inside group? What sort of powers are we looking at? Well, Sasquatch’s powers would be the most obvious, but they already have him. While it might make sense that they’re simply trying to recreate his powers, it wouldn’t be that interesting in the long run to have four Sasquatches. So, we have to figure that they’re trying to figure out powers that would work well with his. They could just be trying to duplicate the powers of some of the original members of Alpha Flight, since their powers worked well together. Certainly, it would make sense to create a version of the Guardian suit and have someone wear it. It’s a powerful combat unit, with some really nice powers that complement Sasquatch. I’d go with that, perhaps getting a member of the Canadian military in the suit, assuming that an offshoot of that same military is behind the whole thing. The captors might also want a shapeshifter, as a way to duplicate the powers of Snowbird. Or, instead of a shapeshifter, perhaps they can get the powers of the Canadian wildlife without shifting shape (since Snowbird always tended to get a little wacky as the animals took over her mind). That being said, perhaps someone with power more like Animal Man, someone who could tap into the strength of nearby creatures and use them as his own. That’s always been a neat power. Finally, there’s the only other logical power to duplicate (if we’re using the original Alpha Flight as our base) and that’s the super-speed of Northstar and Aurora. Perhaps our nascent hero has the same speed, and they’ve also given him more advanced light manipulating abilities, creating something like a cross between Northstar and Dazzler?

Ok, let’s take a moment to absorb the teams before we go on. I just know you’re going to have comments…

HA! You know me all too well! Yes, I have comments about the team roster, so let’s start there.

First of all, the last thing I can find about Woodgod says that he has been imprisoned by Department H for DNA experimentation…that definitely lends itself to what we’ve come up with. He’s ridiculously strong, has enhanced reflexes and stamina, and a strong resistance to toxins. And really, he’s a blank slate when it comes to characterization. He’s genetically engineered and prematurely aged, leaving him with the mind of a child and no real life experience to rely upon. I think he could be a fun character in the vein of Machine Man in the Nextwave series. I’m not permanently attached to him (even though he was created by my favorite writer EVER: Bill Mantlo). If you don’t like him, that’s fine. FINE, I say!

Earthmover was my attempt to inject a bit of the past Alpha Flight into the mix, with his heavy Shaman influence (and butting heads with Shaman’s daughter). Plus, he has the whole “hunter” vibe learned from Wolverine. And a cool mohawk. That withstanding, his powers run fairly parallel to Talisman’s. Coupled with the potential tension (which could be a good thing or not), it may not make sense to put him on a team with her.

Next up, I proposed Ghost Girl because she has a unique power that I think would be fun to write, a combination of Kitty Pryde and Doorman (from the Great Lakes Avengers). She and Persuasion are friends already, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for Talisman to contact one or the other and have both of them show up. In fact, Talisman contacted Persuasion previously during a story arc to help rescue Northstar from Asgard. And, as an aside, Persuasion was also created by Bill Mantlo!

I absolutely HATE Manikin. The idea of a character that can morph himself into other incarnations of himself is pretty ridiculous, especially considering that those other manifestations consist of an extra-strong caveman, an acidic blob and a nerdy punk who can see really well. Can you say outdated? I knew you could. Besides, the one interesting aspect of his power, the fact that he could manifest all three of these personas at the same time, has been stripped away. He can now only turn into one of them at a time. Boring.

Although, there is a connection between Persuasion and Manikin. I guess they dated briefly. But I don’t care. As far as I know, they broke up on bad terms and now hate each other. That works for me.

Diamond Lil is interesting for the reasons that you stated…previously a villain, kind of a jerk. Plus, there’s a bit of a mystery between Diamond Lil and Ghost Girl (whose first name is Lilli). Ghost Girl came from the Hull House orphanage, but I think they may have been building to the fact that Ghost Girl is Diamond Lil’s daughter (with Madison Jeffries). That could be interesting.

If we punt Manikin and insert Ghost Girl, we have an interesting dynamic…an all-female team investigating the disappearance of Sasquatch. Could be a storytelling niche for us to explore.

On to the inside team. Trying to replicate old Alpha Flight powers? That seems kind of pointless. I mean, I can almost understand the government wanting to recreate these abilities for their own version of a Super Soldier formula, but from a writing standpoint does it really make sense to create new characters who are essentially just the old ones in new bodies? I’d rather try to come up with some unique abilities that may have been gleaned from the DNA of various captives over the years. I would assume the Department H scientists (or whoever we have that split off from them) would be more creative in their research. That whole “Level 13” thing from the second Alpha Flight run is pretty ominous…Epsilon Flight, Epsilon Black and Kenyon, the Silencer armor (derived from the Guardian suit), Dr. Huxley…and seems to be on the cutting edge of espionage and possibly even revolution.

Sasquatch is a definite. If we go with the entirely estrogen-based outside team, then we have magic powers, mind control, phasing and invulnerability. To round things out, I think we need someone who can fly and someone who can manipulate a form of energy. The animal idea is cool and plays well with some sort of Canadian folklore aspect…taking the proportional abilities and senses of a beaver, polar bear, coyote, snowshoe rabbit, porcupine, et cetera.

Here’s the thing though. I think 8 team members is too many. I don’t know why, I just do. Seven seems like a stronger number to me. I think it would be interesting if the inside team was all-male, for obvious reasons. Also, I do more or less agree with your idea that we need someone with military training in a super suit. There’s already a new Guardian out there, so that would be rather redundant. However, what do you think about this idea: we make one of their captors into a sympathetic character who actually ends up aiding in their escape? We could take one of these unique Epsilon Black Silencer suits and use it for the good guys! Also, I think it would be rather poignant if, during the escape, we kill off two of our characters. Following the math, that would mean that the four women rescue the four men, they’re then joined by the suit dude and then two characters are wiped out…for a grand total of seven new Alpha Flight members! Hooray! And, considering that the power suit could give the ability to fly and project energy, I think I know which two characters are going to take a dirt nap. Hehe.

What do you think about that team creation scenario?

You know, I have always liked Manikin. Besides the romance he had with Persuasion, I also liked his powers, which I thought were different. However, he can be problematic, and he’s been handled oddly in the past. For example, when he was first introduced into the title (and was dating Persuasion) he was a cute, happy, inexperienced kid who seemed to be about 18. I stopped reading the book for awhile, and when next I saw him, about 50 issues later, he was a humorless, angry, by-the-books ass, who seemed to be about 35. Considering that Franklin Richards has been in kindergarden since we first landed on the moon, this change in Manikin’s age confused me. Anyway, you make a convincing case for his removal, and since Jim Lee probably won’t be drawing him this time, I’ll sacrifice him. Besides, an all female team is too interesting to give up.

So, we have our outside team. As for the inside team, I understand what you’re saying about duplicating the powers of the original team, but the reason I went that route is because those were proven powers that Sasquatch was used to dealing with. I think that, were a military mind in charge of this project, the logic behind that statement would be too compelling for them to ignore. However, again, I understand why this wouldn’t work from a writing standpoint so we’ll go your way. That means we have Sasquatch, a military guy who comes to their aid, a guy who can replicate the powers of animals, and a speedster. I’m counting four and four, which means eight. During the escape then, the speedster can be killed (either heroically or not), hopefully with at least one of the characters feeling that the death was their fault, or the fault of someone else on the team, so we can have some guilt and some anger over this death right off the bat.

So, we now have our team of seven (it has to be seven? Henry Peter Gyrich would have loved you). Seven actually is a good number for a team, so I’m ok with that. So, we now have our seven. What do we do with them?

Did you just spend three paragraphs agreeing with me and then throw it back on me like a game of Hot Potato? What is this, comic book Mad Libs?

Let me back up a second and ask you a question. Were you intending for Sasquatch to be experimented on with his cooperation or against his will? The reason I ask is because you seem to imply in your last response that his captors would be trying to replicate the former Alpha Flight members’ powers so that Sasquatch could fight alongside these new creations. Is that what you were going for? That would be an entirely different dynamic, one that would imply that Sasquatch wanted to be in Alpha Flight regardless of the consequences…like he had some ulterior motives. That would paint a different picture for me where Sasquatch would view his “rescue” as a setback to his ultimate goal and perhaps this inside group would only be pretending to go along with Talisman’s group until they could find the opportunity to take over the team.

Of course, if that wasn’t what you were implying, then please completely ignore the previous paragraph.

So…what now? Well, that’s a good question. What would be the goal of a new Alpha Flight team? They don’t work for the government (yet). They’re on the run from a quasi-military faction that was seeking to exploit them for their DNA or use them to create a super paramilitary group in order to take over Canada. I mean, let’s face it, the last time I checked, Canada’s military was comprised of six reindeer, a dude wearing long underwear, and an empty keg of Labatt’s. It wouldn’t be too difficult to dominate that impressive brigade.

Would Alpha Flight set themselves up as a secret sort of Justice League, stationed in a high-tech cabin on a remote island in the Hudson Bay, who swoops in to the rescue of their homeland in times of crisis? I can’t imagine these seven characters helping to stop bank robbers or foiling the plans of terrorists trying to hold the crowd hostage at the Calgary Stampede. They must have some higher purpose, without veering off into the bizarre “Great Beasts” stuff again.

I’d like to see them standing side-by-side with the Avengers and MI:13 and Winter Guard and Big Hero 6 and whatever the state-sponsored heroes are in other countries. In fact, by sanctioning this new Alpha Flight and having them show up in an official capacity at various hotspots around the world, we’d have a simple way to focus on some of Marvel Earth’s other national teams and get Alpha Flight involved in some international (or even intergalactic) projects. The catalyst for this governmental backing could come from the simple act of taking down the group that was holding them and exposing their plans to the Canadian citizenry. Once they became heroes to the people, the government would almost be forced to accept them (which could lead to a subplot involving the reluctance of the government to get into the superhero business again).

So, you caught onto the shenanigans with the earlier post? Well, the truth can now be told; that Johnathan was actually being controlled by Kang and Mantis. Luckily, a group of my friends were able to go into the past and pluck a younger me out of the timestream, and the older, Kang-controlled me has now been defeated. I am also about ten years younger, and this is a good thing. I’ve been trying to reverse the aging dilemma, and it was this or have my head stuck in a jar of fluids so I could live to the 24th century. This way will do just fine.

Let me see what you and the Kang-Controlled John were doing. Hmmm. Good stuff. You know, I’m not sure if Kang-Controlled John (who we can refer to as KCJ from now on; us youngsters from ten years ago love us some abbreviations) intended for Sasquatch to be working with the new Alpha Flight for his own agenda, but that does create some really great possibilities, doesn’t it? I’d hate to see Sasquatch turned into a bad guy (especially as there’s nothing in his past or his personality that suggests he would do that), but it would make for an interesting angle in the series. The easier route would be to say that Sasquatch was captured by this offshoot of the government and decided to cooperate simply because he was “playing along”; trying to determine what was happening and staying close to the situation in case it got out of hand. That’s a perfectly good explanation. But what if there were some other forces in motion here? The easiest way to give Sasquatch an ulterior motive would be to resurrect the whole Great Beasts thing and say they were (are) controlling him. However, it’s been done before, and like you, I think keeping the Great Beasts out of this series is a good idea. So, why else could Sasquatch have been working with this offshoot of the government? Maybe he’s a Skrull? Nah, nobody would believe that.

There’s always the tried and true method of having Sasquatch be insane, probably due to watching his oldest friends and allies die at the hands of a pathetic new villain. However, that’s also been done to death, and again, Sasquatch has been through hell, literally. I don’t think there’s much that’s going to push him over the edge. Perhaps Sasquatch has been convinced that there is some sort of threat coming that Canada needs to defend against? Perhaps Sasquatch just feels that Canada needs an Alpha Flight? Possible, but then he’d be fine with the new one once he’s rescued, and that eliminates the possibility of him working against the team later on. We could go with the following story: Sasquatch watches his friends die horribly, without even putting up much of a fight, and then sees an unknown superhuman lay waste to part of Canada and walk away as if nothing happened. Sasquatch realizes, at that time, that Canada has been lucky in the past; they’ve rarely had an official Alpha Flight team, since the team has been on and off since the early 80’s, and the country needs a team to protect it. However, the original Alpha Flight team weren’t able to stop this guy, and Sasquatch believes its because none of them were really ever trained for this kind of thing. Guardian and Vindicator were office workers, Shaman was a medical doctor, Northstar was a skier, and Aurora was a teacher….heck, it’s amazing that they didn’t get wiped out three times a week. Sasquatch, seeing what America just went through with Civil War, begins to think that perhaps those crazy Americans got it right, and super-heroes undergoing official government training is the best way to create a strong team to protect his country.

So, Sasquatch talks to some friends in the Canadian military, and together they come up with the idea of a new Alpha Flight. Why start with a new one and try to recreate some powers, instead of using existing heroes like Talisman? Well, Sasquatch feels that most of the heroes like Talisman and Persuasion suffer from the same problem as Guardian and Vindicator….they were never trained, and moreover, because they have a little experience as heroes, they’re going to hesitate to be trained. They think they’re already good enough to be heroes, but that’s the same thing Shaman got, and now he’s ash. Sasquatch feels that they wouldn’t fit in with the new, military type team he envisions, so he goes with new people (perhaps they’re all military, not just the one in the suit. Or perhaps not. This does also explain why they’re trying to duplicate the powers of the original team; Sasquatch feels comfortable with those powers, and he helped set the agenda. Perhaps he’s also hoping that the new heroes will provide something of a legacy for his fallen friends.). What Sasquatch doesn’t know is that his main partner in this endeavor (we can use General Clarke from the second series, as a placeholder) wants to go farther than Sasquatch, and create superbeings he can use to dominate the nation. Now, once the program is up and running, Sasquatch is down in the trenches with the new heroes, because he knows he needs the same military training that they’re getting, if they’re going to become an effective fighting team. That enables Clarke to start doing some illegal and dangerous things which will eventually draw Talisman’s attention, and explains why Sasquatch may not know about them. He’s either in the dark, because he’s having his big furry butt trained off, or he sees some of the lesser abuses, and he brushes them off. Yes, what Clarke is doing may be a little much for Sasquatch, but then he sees the burning, broken body of his friend Mac, and he shakes away his doubts.

Talisman and her team come busting in to rescue this team, and shut down the operation. Now, no one (including the reader) knows that this was something Sasquatch helped to create. He had given instructions with General Clarke that he wanted to be treated just like everyone else, so that he could meld with the new heroes, and they wouldn’t look at him differently. Clarke escapes, and Sasquatch is knocked unconscious early in the battle. When he wakes up, he’s miles from the compound, with a bunch of people who have declared themselves the new Alpha Flight. The new heroes are happy, because life was no fun in the compound during training, and they don’t see it as being for the greater good, as Sasquatch did. So what does Sasquatch do now? He’s not a stupid man. He sits and listens, and realizes that Talisman and her team of heroes destroyed the complex, so he can’t take his new recruits and go back to training. He also knows they might not agree with or accept his theories on the nature of the superteam for the 21st century. But he doesn’t want to allow them to continue without some guidance, and he thinks his new heroes have a lot of potential, so he decides to stay with the team and not tell them what really happened.

Clarke, meanwhile, will probably think that Sasquatch has betrayed him. For a while, he’ll dog the team, trying to bring Sasquatch down. During this time, the team sets up a secret headquarters. You’re correct that I don’t see them taking down bank robbers, but I do believe Sasquatch would want them out there as much as possible, certainly fighting anything that menaced the country. He’d also be trying to train the team, and how would that go over, especially with those who have separate jobs and lives and don’t want to take the time to run combat scenarios three times a day? Eventually (unknown to the reader), Sasquatch would find Clarke and meet with him face to face and explain what happened. What do the two of them decide to do? Perhaps Sasquatch would convince Clarke to keep hounding the team, and to keep attacking, seeing this as an ongoing training exercise that would keep the team on their toes. “What if someone gets hurt?”, Clarke asks. Sasquatch decides that’s an acceptable risk. “Better a broken leg than a broken body,” he replied. “Perhaps, when they realize how dangerous this business can be, they’ll get out before they get seriously injured or killed.”

So, what do you think of that direction? It doesn’t make Sasquatch a villain, which is too trite, but simply someone with a different viewpoint on how heroics should be. He might work against the team somewhat, but mostly he’d just be trying to mold it into what he feels it needs to be to survive. This entire plot would play out as a subplot for the first few years of the title, while we deal with other things in the foreground. Then it could all come to a head in the third year, and we could use it as a way to completely reinvent the group if we wanted to, and head off in other directions.

Me confused. Me not understand “10 Years Younger John” and his weird Sasquatch talk. JASON SMASH!

No, really, I think there are a few good things in there, but it does throw off a bit of what we had planned out earlier. I’m not sure I understand what the impetus would be for Talisman and her friends to get involved. And, even though you mention it briefly, we seem to have given up completely on a nefarious reason for Sasquatch to be captured…which also makes it more difficult to get Talisman involved. You also kind of lost me with Sasquatch waking up miles away from the compound and not really knowing what happened during the battle. That eliminates any sort of “new hero gets killed and others feel bad” aspect of the fight.

That said, I think there’s a way to blur some of those discrepancies a bit. Let’s just call it one big misunderstanding. Sasquatch is approached by…well, since General Clarke is presumed dead in a nuclear reactor incineration mishap…someone and asked to take part in rebuilding the Alpha Flight program. This makes sense to him since he’s been involved in every incarnation of the Flight and has served as the leader and recruiter for the group on more than one occasion. He doesn’t read anything into the request because he’s thinking along the lines of proper training and true government backing (like you’ve mentioned).

The way I see it, his contact could be either Dr. Horatio Huxley (who is clearly a bad person and had been involved in the Weapon X program and a bunch of nasty stuff with Diamond Lil, though he was last seen trying to get hired by SHIELD) or it could be Holland Gentry (the guy who succeeded Clarke in Department H and seems to have regained some trust, but that could just be a facade).

Either way, the contact obviously has bigger ideas for Sasquatch’s team. They want to take over the government because of the past troubles with Department H or because they think they know better than the people running things now or they’re just stupid and insane. Regardless, something bad is going on behind the scenes that Sasquatch is completely unaware of. He goes along with what seems to be a great plan to him. He’s introduced to some genetically enhanced teammates and is encouraged to help train them. Hell, maybe he’s even involved in choosing who gets what powers. Maybe he’s brought in on the ground floor of things just to gain his trust even further.

However, the program starts escalating quicker than Sasquatch is comfortable with. Things start to happen…the group is sent on questionable missions…lines seem to have been crossed. Sasquatch is too proud or too blind by his values to realize that what he wanted and what is actually going on are two different things. His team is sent to “rescue” some sort of weapon from the military. During the conflict, Talisman and her team show up to protect this weapon. Sasquatch learns that he’s been led astray and his team is actually there to steal the item. In the heat of the battle, one of Sasquatch’s teammates is killed and Sasquatch blames himself. Does Sasquatch go along with things or try to steer his team in the right direction and assist Talisman’s group?

I don’t know where we go from there. I’m sort of stuck with your idea that Sasquatch would be trying to play both sides against the middle here. Maybe I’ve gone too far in my idea. It just doesn’t make sense to me that Talisman would show up for no reason to take down Sasquatch’s “partner.” Or that his partner would be willing to let him go after the work they put in. Or that Sasquatch would meet with him later and strike some sort of deal to have him continue chasing the team…especially because I can’t imagine the new Alpha Flight working out in the open to protect Canada while also trying to hide from these anonymous pursuers. Too many coincidences and stretches of logic.

I do like the internal struggle of Sasquatch trying to put together a well-trained team while also trying to balance the needs of Talisman’s group. He sees more than one way to get to the same conclusion, but feels guilty for misleading the others. There are some great beats that we’re missing in here though…how do Sasquatch’s teammates feel about being part of this new team versus what they were planning on doing originally, the interesting drama brought forth by the all-female team rescuing them, and the feelings of guilt and fear associated with a teammate being killed right out the gate. I’m not really sure if we’re over-complicating things or over-simplifying them. Can you sift through any of these concerns?

All right, we seem to be on the same page (or at least the same chapter) with Sasquatch and his involvement with the government sanctioned team. Let’s say he’s working with Dr. Huxley….perhaps SHIELD turned Huxley down for a job, and this is his back-up plan. If he’s going to be stuck working for the Canadian military, he’s going to turn that military into one that fits his views of the world!. My idea had been that Talisman gets involved, not because of Sasquatch at all, but because she gets wind that the government is involved in creating superhumans, perhaps because Huxley had kidnapped some people to use as test subjects when he was first trying to give people super-powers. Sadly, those people died horrible deaths that Sasquatch doesn’t know anything about (Huxley knows that Sasquatch is too moral to have a lot of details on the program). So, Talisman finds out about one of the kidnappings (perhaps it’s someone in her circle of influence…a friend, a former classmate, a co-worker or whatever) and starts to look into that. She finds out about this government conspiracy, sees Huxley’s name connected to it, and immediately assumes that evil is afoot, since Huxley has a history (a bad one) with Alpha Flight. She starts gathering her team to stop this one.

From there we can move to the scene you describe where both teams end up dueling over a weapon. Talisman’s team is all gung ho to protect it, Sasquatch’s team is all gung ho to take it, and Sasquatch can’t quite pick a side. Because of his hesitation, someone is killed. Alternatively, he does pick a side and someone is killed, and he feels that, had he picked the other side, the death would not have occurred. Alternatively, he picks a side, and feels that the death was caused by someone on the other side (I like the idea that he stays with his group, and then one of his people dies, by an accident on the side of Talisman’s group). I’m going with the last choice, as we now have someone on Talisman’s side feeling guilty that she caused the death of someone, plus we have Sasquatch, now convinced that his feelings about a team of non-military trained superheroes was right all along; they get people killed.

Of course, what I’ve just done is completely changed the entire premise of the series again, because at this point, why would Sasquatch and his team of allies start working with Talisman. My suggestion at this time is that they DON’T start working with Talisman. Sasquatch is understandably upset that one of his people died, and he holds Talisman responsible. She’s here, where she shouldn’t be, meddling in affairs that don’t concern her. She can try to tell Sasquatch what she knows of Huxley’s nefarious dealings, but is Sasquatch really going to listen to her now? Talisman decides she needs to leave, and she teleports her team away, while Sasquatch and his group head back to their base with their fallen comrade.

I’m sure you’re ready to shoot me now, since I’m continuing the thread, and I’ve changed our original idea again, but hey, what can I say? This is brainstorming. I think this premise is more interesting than what we had before, and I also think that it gives us a lot of room to work. We’ve basically got two Alpha Flight teams. Talisman has her small group, and she’s unsure of what to do. Is Sasquatch right, and she shouldn’t be involved? One of her group did cause someone’s death. However, she knows Huxley is up to no good, and she knows he needs to be brought down. She also has a teammate who is dealing with causing someone’s death, and that has to create a tension within the team. There’s a lot to work with here, and I see Talisman’s group as basically being devoted to stopping Huxley and closing down Sasquatch’s group. Another interesting idea would be if it’s actually one of the women on Talisman’s team who has the friend/lover/relative who was captured by Huxley originally, and this woman came to Talisman (as one of the few experienced Alpha Flight members not dead and available) and asked her to help her stop Huxley. That means that Talisman can be even more conflicted in her role as leader of this group, while one of the women is very gung ho in taking down Sasquatch and his allies; perhaps the other ladies in the group fall somewhere between these two in their feelings, and that has to create some great group dynamics. So, this group is focused on stopping Huxley, but they may have some side adventures, if something gets in their way.

Meanwhile, we have Sasquatch. He’s angry and more convinced that he’s right than ever before. However, he’s also not stupid. When he gets back to base, he’d undoubtedly start investigating Huxley himself, and we could do plotlines along those lines. However, Talisman’s group would now include someone wanted for murder, so Sasquatch’s group would be tasked with taking them down. The other members of Sasquatch’s group don’t have the history with Talisman’s crew, and they’re likely to be quite angry over the death of their comrade at the hands of what they would consider an unauthorized and completely bogus Alpha Flight. So, you have Sasquatch trying to stop Talisman because he believes she’s wrong, but also trying to do it civilly because she’s an old friend, and having to keep his soldiers in line because they’re angry and out for blood. Add to that the fact that Sasquatch doesn’t trust Huxley, and is trying to find out what’s going on within his own program, and you have, again, a team with the potential for a lot of interesting character interactions.

This is a comic that deals in shades of grey. Talisman is right; Huxley is going outside the law, and he should be brought down. Sasquatch is right; Talisman’s group is barely trained, and their inexperience killed someone. I’d almost like to say that it could be Civil War done right; here we have two people, neither one evil, neither one completely on the right side, who are making choices that seem correct to them at the time, but seem to keep moving them further away from any common ground with an old friend. It’s almost a tragedy, and as we discussed with my last proposal, we can eventually bring this to a head, and at that time, completely change the paradigm of the series. Perhaps Sasquatch and his team finally capture Talisman and her friends. Do they then stand trial? Will that mean that Huxley’s nefarious deeds would be exposed? What would Huxley do to keep his secrets hidden? Does Talisman and her team finally take down Sasquatch and his? If so, what then? Can they convince Sasquatch that Talisman was right about Huxley? Will he join her and become an outlaw too?

I think there is a lot of potential here for storylines and there are so many things I haven’t mentioned yet. Sasquatch’s team would have to go out on official missions; what happens if they end up at an encounter that also includes Talisman’s team (for example, if the safety of the country is at stake and both teams feel duty bound to try and stop the threat)? How do the citizens of the country feel about having two Alpha Flight teams who apparently don’t get along? Would one team be hailed as heroes, and the other as villains? Would one team try and win the hearts and minds of the citizens, or would they consider public opinion unimportant? I just think we’ve left ourselves with a lot of good stories here.

What a great idea! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I quit this dumb blog! Worthless! Pointless! No, wait, I actually like this direction a lot. Awesome! Insightful! I love it! This is the best blog ever! We should win an award or something! How pathetic. Or perfect. I’m not sure anymore.

That last paragraph was my sarcastic summation of where this post has taken us. The longest discussion we’ve had so far has looped back on itself at least twice now. On the one hand, I find this process fascinating from a creator standpoint as I imagine that this is how the professionals hammer things out with each other, like our own private summit meeting. On the other hand, wow, I’d really like to start talking about something else now. No wonder the folks at Marvel can never seem to get a worthwhile pitch on this project.

Honestly, I think this is a great direction. It has a lot of tension built in, perfect dramatic pieces, and a quasi-political angle that takes a serious look at superheroics and their consequences. You’re right in the sideways comparison to Civil War, but with even more twists and turns. We have two teams that, at times, have the same goals and yet are going about reaching them in dramatically different ways. One team is backed by the government but is corrupt at its core, even though the members on the frontline feel that they are acting in good faith. The other team is semi-passive in its process, but resolute in its ultimate ambition. And the leaders of each group have their own inner dichotomy to deal with. Sasquatch wants to have a strong team but doesn’t want to hurt his friends. Talisman wants to do what’s right but doesn’t want to discourage her former teammate. Each, in their own way, is a reluctant leader because of the layers of emotion and history wrapped around them.

And there is the additional strata of perspective. You’ve mentioned the public versus government angle. My feeling is that the public would back Talisman’s group because they know her face and they know her to have been on the good guys’ team in the past. There’s a certain built-in cache they’d have by being an all-female group too. Plus, if they’re in the public eye doing good deeds, they garner that extra goodwill that comes with it. The government team, on the other hand, has to battle the past transgressions of the Department H program coupled with the fact that most citizens are initially wary of anything the government tries to proclaim as “in their best interest.” In a way, Sasquatch’s group could be hamstrung by popular sentiment…the media ganging up on them and always taking the female group’s side, plus the added smack in the face of naming them “Alpha Flight” and giving Sasquatch’s team some sort of demeaning moniker. I like it. Layers are good. Intrigue! Depth! Emotion!

Now let’s move on to something less…uh…Canadian. I feel dirty.


One-Shot: Slyde

Jun-06-08

Have fun with this guy. What’s his superpower? He has lubed up clothing. That’s about it.

Seriously, he’s fought Spider-Man on many occasions. He was part of one of the versions of Masters of Evil. And he’s apparently dead (not that that has stopped anyone in comics EVER). In fact, he was killed once before…only to be revealed that it was his step-brother in the costume. Evidently, the costume is more important than any piece of meat shoved inside it. That should help you somewhat…

Slyde!

You know, others may laugh, but I actually think Slyde has potential, and there are a few things that set him apart from other characters. First of all, while his power is somewhat silly, it’s different and relatively helpful. He can move very quickly by sliding along the ground, and he’s very difficult to stop. Can he do any real damage in a fight? Well, not so much. Or, at least, not yet.

Here’s the thing. In his “I’m not a dork in spandex” identity, Slyde is a chemical engineer. He created the costume that gives him his abilities and that suggests that he may be able to create some other gimmicks that can increase his attack power. So there is some potential there. I also find him interesting because he’s 40 years old, which is 256 is super-hero years. Add to this the fact that he’s managed to cheat death twice, and I think we may have a savvier character here than anyone realizes.

Slyde is currently part of the Initiative, and I think that’s perfect. Slyde should be part of a team. He knows his powers will always be somewhat limited, and he also knows that, as a forty year old man, even in great shape, he’s better off surrounding himself with testosterone infused young ‘uns, who can take the blows meant for him and cover his back. So, we have Slyde in an Initiative team, perhaps being presented in Marvel Comics Presents. It doesn’t really matter who else is on the team; we can tell Slyde’s story over the course of a year of stories about this Initiative team, weaving it in and around the stories’ of the other characters.

This Slyde is the original. After his first defeat by Spider-Man, he decided to get someone else to run around in the costume, and roped in his brother-in-law. After his brother-in-law got killed, Slyde realized that no one else would want to take on the Slyde identity unless it was shown that Slyde was a viable concept, so he went out to beat on Spider-Man. With that out of the way, he was able to sucker some other schmoe into the costume again, but this one got killed by Hammerhead. Well, now Slyde realizes he can’t keep relying on others, since they’re morons and don’t understand how best to utilize his abilities. He knows that, to achieve his goal, he’s going to have to do this himself.

Slyde’s main goal is to seize control of the company that fired him, which is what caused him to become Slyde in the first place. To achieve this goal, he’s going to need a lot of money, and it would be nice if the authorities weren’t hunting him. He’s tried to get two other numbskulls to use his suit as villains and steal some money for him, and that road has been a bust. Civil War gives him an idea for a new plan; he figures that working on the side of the authorities makes more sense, since this gives him amnesty and those aforementioned big strong guys to watch his back (and being heroes, they’re more likely to actually do that watching than the villains he’s worked with in the past).

So, while helping out his new team when they need it, Slyde is also figuring out crimes he can commit. He puts his chemical engineering skills to use and actually comes up with something useful; a chermical that dissolves anything inorganic that it touches, something like a super-acid. (We can’t have him dissolving organic things, as it wouldn’t be good if he started putting holes in super-heroes.) Making himself some rudimentary sprayers, he creates a new identity as Acid-Wash (hee-hee, that is such a stupid name; but this is the guy who thought Slyde would take the world by storm…obviously he can’t pick names) and goes out to start committing robberies to get money. He does pretty well with these robberies, partly because he knows where the local super-heroes are going to be and how to avoid them.

So, the reader is seeing this new villain committing crimes, but no one knows who he is. Perhaps he runs into two of his teammates during one crime, and manages to escape, but now his Initiative team has been tasked with hunting down and defeating this new criminal. The reader doesn’t know who Acid-Wash is (Bwah-ha-ha….sorry, I can’t help it, that name is horrible) and the Initiative is getting frustrated, since they never seem to be able to find him when the entire team is assembled. Perhaps Slyde gets someone to act as Acid-Wash, as he did with the Slyde identity, so that the team can fight him once or twice, and perhaps even defeat him. Then, when Acid-Wash is in jail, a few nights later, he’s spotted again. The mystery (for the reader) deepens.

After a few months of this, Slyde has enough money to mount a takeover of his former employers. He uses someone else as a front for the takeover, but once the takeover is complete, he can’t resist coming out and making it known that he now owns the company, and personally firing the ones responsible for his own ouster. However, it’s now known that he was the money behind the deal, and everyone wants to know where this money came from. Whoops. The mystery draws to a close as Slyde’s teammates begin to piece together the truth, and Slyde is forced into final battle with them, using the weapons of Acid-Wash and the costume of Slyde (which should actually make him relatively formidable). Even if he wins, he is now a criminal, but he’s achieved his goal of revenge against his former employer, and may sneak away until something would cause him to again become a costumed villain.

Ooh…I like that. It has a bit of the original Thunderbolts idea in it, but with a twist. However, Acid-Wash has to go! How about Acid Reign?

Yes, the name was horrible, although part of that thinking was that the guy named himself Slyde, so obviously he doesn’t have a lot of talent in the “Name a supercharacter” department. That being said, Acid Reign is a much better name. Maybe he got better after spending time in the initiative around those wonderfully named heroes like Yellowjacket, Justice, and, um, War Machine.

Or, you know, maybe not.


Circus of Crime: The Greatest Foes on Earth?

May-29-08

Let’s do something new this time around. Bring on the bad guys! Sure, we could’ve picked a big name like Magneto or the Red Skull as our first villain revamp…but where’s the fun in that. No, we decided to go with a little-known group that has gone up against such formidable opponents as The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Sensational She-Hulk and…uh…The Hilarious Howard the Duck.

Circus of Crime

Look, I’m kidding. I actually REALLY like the Circus of Crime. I think it’s a cool idea for a villain group. Let’s face it, circuses are sort of creepy. And the traveling ones already have that fly-by-night rip-off vibe to them (in addition to the creepiness). The Circus of Crime has an even weirder vibe: it was begun by Nazi sympathizers! Yes, Maynard Tiboldt led a ragtag group of German spies posing as circus performers. Their modus operandi involved gathering an audience, hypnotizing them and then stealing their stuff. That was about it. Although the magic of it all was that the victims didn’t remember being robbed, which meant the bad guys could move on to the next town without worrying about getting caught.

The lineup for the Circus of Crime most often included the following: Ringmaster (with his hypnotizing hat), The Clown (with a unicycle and juggling balls), Bruto the Strongman (who wasn’t all that strong), Human Cannonball (who, uh, was shot out of a cannon), The Great Gambonnos (two leather-loving acrobat brothers), Princess Python (who had a snake) and Live Wire (a cowboy with an electric rope). It was a grouping sure to induce fear at its very sight…or waves of uncontrollable laughter.

As things stand in current Marvel continuity, Ringmaster and the Gambonnos were captured during Civil War. The Clown, who I feel had the most potential, has joined the Gamma Corps as part of World War Hulk and is now the oddly feathered and clawed Griffin. And Princess Python is now on her own and was last seen at the funeral for her “husband” Stilt-Man. That leaves a dude in pretty good shape, some guy with a huge cannon and an electric cowboy…not the best makings for a powerful group dedicated to evil and mayhem.

Granted, some of the characters shown being captured during Civil War have already been seen back on the streets (see Trapster, Wizard, Hydro-Man, Titania and Klaw as the new Frightful Five), so it should be pretty easy to bring out Ringmaster and start fresh…but I recommend leaving the S&M twins in the pokey.

So where do we go from here? How do we make the Circus of Crime into impressive enemies? Circuses are kind of strange in today’s culture. A lot of the stereotypical characters are outdated. And the hypnotism angle is pretty one-dimensional. But it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, get ready for the most stupendous, most spectacular, most fantabulous revamp in the history of comics…

You know, for many lame, D-List villains, you have to work on giving them a personality. However, the Ringmaster has been used to great effect by some previous writers (like Peter David during his run on The Incredible Hulk) and he has a personality. I also agree that the circus angle is actually pretty cool; love them or hate them, circuses tend to evoke strong emotions in people, and evoking emotions is something you hope to do anytime you’re writing something. Plus, you have a lot of room to work with some rather odd, perhaps disturbing characters in a circus setting, since, to a large extent, anything goes!

Saying that, the entire concept never worked. The idea of hypnotizing everyone in the circus tent and then robbing them and leaving is truly absurd, even for the Silver Age. First of all, how could you possibly hypnotize everyone in a circus tent? In every drawing I’ve seen of the Circus of Crime, they sat people all around them, so at least 25% of the audience was staring at the Ringmaster’s back, while fully half of them could have only been getting his profile. That means you’d almost have to hypnotize the audience in stages, and how could the people who had not been hypnotized yet possibly have not noticed that huge chunks of the audience were now sitting still and doing nothing? Plus, what happened if someone left the main tent to go to the bathroom or something? If they walked back in when the looting was going on, wouldn’t that put a crimp in the plans of the Circus (although this could be prevented by locking down the tent right before hypnotizing began). One more problem: the Circus robs the entire crowd and then moves on (in their first appearance in The Incredible Hulk, if memory serves, they left town as soon as they were done looting and didn’t even finish the show. Plus, they looted the entire town, houses and all, not content just to loot the crowd at the big top. Apparently the entire town went to the circus. This town obviously loved themselves some clowns and trapeze artists). Surely, when hundreds of people find themselves much poorer, it wouldn’t take an Elongated Man to notice that they had all been to the circus and there would be quite a few arrest warrants out for the Circus. I mean, it’s not like they could hide….they’re a freakin’ circus!

Plus, the individual characters had their problems as well. The Ringmaster has one gimmick, and darned if he doesn’t drive it into the ground. If you’re blind (like Daredevil), close your eyes (as Spidey has) or grab his hat (which is pretty easy to snag), he’s powerless. Good grief, the hat doesn’t even look like it fits on his head snugly….I think he’d be defeated by a strong breeze! The most amusing character had to be the Human Cannonball, who often had to go into action sans cannon. In those instances, he basically put his head down and ran into people. I suppose I shouldn’t joke, as he put J. Jonah Jameson in the hospital that way once, but he looked ridiculously silly. Ugh.

But there’s hope for these malcontents yet! I like the Ringmaster, and would love to see him headline a new circus. However, I believe the hat has to go. Looking at modern circuses (which, I will admit, I don’t attend, so my research is being done through the magic of the internet), I’m not seeing anyone wearing a goofy hat like that. I think his outfit needs modernized. The hat looks silly, and to be honest, it’s too easily taken away. I’d recommend one of two options. The first would be to fit him with some sort of hypnotizing contacts. Too silly, you say? We’re talking about a man who leads a Circus of Crime, I say! My problem with it, actually, isn’t that it’s silly so much as it seems cliched. “The man with the hypnotizing eyes!” sounds like the title of a 1950s 3-D extravaganza, not the man we need headlining the Circus of Crime. Plus, it has nothing to do with him being a ringmaster, which, you know, is kind of his schtick. I’d instead recommend that the hypnotizing effect be built into his coat. Ringmasters still wear the more outrageous, colorful coats that old Tiboldt sports, so why not put the effect there? It’s more stable and not likely to fall off, as the hat was, and it looks better. Plus, he could make the coat durable (perhaps bulletproof it?) so not only does it hypnotize folks, but it also helps to protect his skinny ass from the Hulk the next time the Circus tours the southwest.

Even if the original Clown is now running around as the Griffin (and I have no idea how I missed that development, and more importantly, why it seemed to fit the Clown’s character) we need a new clown. In fact, we might want more than one. If memory serves, the original Clown rode a unicycle and juggled. While I have no doubt that these abilities gave Peter Parker nightmares, we might want to find another angle for our new Clown. Now, the juggling and unicycle riding did point out two traits of a good clown; balance and coordination. I see us being able to take a Clown in two different ways; we could go more of an acrobatic route, making him a tumbling, spinning loose limbed harbinger of destruction. However, that doesn’t yell out clown as much as it yells out contortionist or acrobat. So, I would say we could go more in the other direction and make him like the Jester. In fact, let’s make him the Jester! I mean, a jester is really nothing more than a medieval clown. Plus, many storylines over the years have revolved around the Ringmaster and the Clown vying for control of the Circus (geez, these guys have really got to aim higher). What if Tiboldt approaches the Jester, and the two form a partnership. The Circus is basically co-run by these two, although, of course, neither one trusts the other. It provides some interesting give and take within the Circus, as the two work together relatively well, while still trying to outshine the other and seize solo power, while giving us a Clown who’s more than just a guy on a unicycle.

I think having a strongman is a good idea, whether it be Bruno or someone else. Does he need to have his “powers”, such as they aren’t, updated? I don’t know. There’s always room for a guy who’s just human level strong. I think Bruno just needs a personality. Perhaps he’s driven to be as strong as he can be, since he knows he doesn’t have another gimmick. Perhaps, in his quest to be as strong as he can be, he’s started using steroids, and is hooked on them. He’s even bigger and stronger than we remember, but also perhaps a little more prone to rages and harder to keep under control. He also now has a more personal reason to steal money; to pay for more steroid treatments. I also think he’d like to try and show off his strength against the heroes they encounter. While he may not be a match for Spider-Man, he might be stronger than Daredevil, the Black Widow or many other non-super strength heroes.

I also think adding in some new characters is imperative. We had a lady that trained snakes, and that’s somewhat impressive I suppose, but there are a lot more animals than snakes at a circus (actually, now that I think about it, what circus has snakes?). What about trainers that have lions, tigers and elephants at their beck and call? Side point: using these trained animals also provides a nice way to dispose of snoopy townspeople who may think the Circus is up to no good. What about some trained horseback riders? They can do some amazing tricks, so surely that could be put to good use in a fight. I think that acrobats are important, even if the Gambonnos were not the best example of the breed. Plus, if we throw in a freak show, as you sometimes see at a circus (or carnival, and the Circus of Crime always seemed to be a mixture of both) you can really get crazy!

That’s a lot for you to chew on though. Go ahead, chew, and then let me know what you think. There’s lots we can do with this, though.

Agreed on all of the above. You actually made me laugh out loud and I had to explain this whole thing to my wife. She just stared blankly at me when I was finished. Different strokes, right?

Ringmaster is an interesting character that has been given a personality (albeit one that involves him getting beat up and running away a lot). A clown is necessary and, as you mentioned, perhaps more than one. Your Jester idea has promise. I’ve always liked Jester. However, what if we take the clown to its next logical conclusion: multiple clowns coming from a single source (similar to Madrox’s power)…that would solve the “how many clowns can climb out of a tiny car” conundrum. Perhaps you can even mix in a bit of Speedball’s original power. Could you see an entire team of clowns bouncing all over the place in total chaos? And he needs a ridiculous name like “Chuckles” or “Giddy” or “Jerky.”

I also agree with your feeling that we need more members. There’s two ways we can go about this: tack on some existing villains that would fit in with the Circus’s theme or create some new villains specifically made for the team. I’m just going to vomit up the ideas I scribbled down last night and see if anything clicks with you:

EXISTING CHARACTERS: Madcap (this old Captain America foe is impervious to pain and quite insane and his costume is ridiculously garish), Machete (the knife-thrower from Batroc’s Brigade), Puppet Master or Tinkerer (someone who can create marching toy soldiers or other weird circus-themed machines), Stilt-Man (currently deceased, but the suit is always up for grabs), Red Ghost and his apes, whatever is left of the Death-Throws(Knicknack, Tenpin, Ringleader), maybe even Taskmaster?

NEW CHARACTERS: You mention the sideshow freaks, which I think is a perfect idea. Let’s create a new shape-shifting character named Sideshow. Let’s get a new strongman but give him a Bane vibe where he can increase his strength through some sort of pump or something. We can name him Blockbuster or Big Top. Maybe Ringmaster doesn’t have his hypnotic powers anymore and is just a schemer like Lex Luthor. The new hypnosis guy could be a mystic Swami or Fakir, like a snake charmer. An animal expert is key too. Someone not unlike Kraven the Hunter, but with the Aquaman-esque ability to control the beasts. And then there are the generic stereotypes that could be worked into any of these characters to good effect…a midget, a carnie, a contortionist, etc.

I also agree that we need to take a different look at the circus theme. When I think of a circus these days, I think of two things. The first is the traditional Ringling Bros. show. The second is something along the lines of Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque angle provides a new level of weirdness and creepiness…the colors, the music, the very strange scenes. Ooh, that gives me an idea too. What if Ringmaster plays a hypnotic calliope (sort of like Hypno-Hustler…hehe)?

What characters do you think work best? How many do we want in the cast? And how do we put this all together organically?

Wow. Lots of great ideas here. Let’s take a look.

I love your new clown! Combining the powers of Speedball and Madrox makes for a surprisingly formidable opponent (perhaps too formidable, to the point where I’d recommend limiting the amount of duplicates he can create at perhaps five or six, so you don’t have an army of Speedball types overwhelming any good guys, and more importantly, overwhelming the other members of the Circus) and I also like using one of the names you suggest. Giggles would be my pick for the new Clown. I’m not sure that we couldn’t use both Giggles and the Jester, but certainly the Jester would not be necessary.

I don’t see Machete in the Circus. He seems too serious to me, although I admit his ability with knives is perfect for a circus setting. However, it could be interesting to have a former South American freedom fighter (if I remember his origin correctly) working with the Circus. My question would be why would he work for the Circus? I guess he could do it for the money, since that’s why he joined Batroc’s Brigade. Still, he wouldn’t be my first choice, although I think a knife thrower is a good idea. Perhaps someone younger, a little more punk…let me think on that.

The Red Ghost also doesn’t seem to fit, personality-wise. The only way I can see him working is if he ran the Circus, and I prefer the Ringmaster in charge. We could have the two of them in a partnership, as I suggested with the Jester, and there is some potential there. Certainly his super-apes would fit in perfectly with the Circus; perhaps we could have the apes, but not the Red Ghost? I’ve never liked the Red Ghost anyway, and he doesn’t really fit anymore, now that the Communist threat he personified no longer exists. Perhaps something happens to the Red Ghost, and the apes escape, and the Circus finds them? That could be quite interesting, as they form a bond with their new trainer (who would probably treat them better than the Ghost ever did), and eventually, when the Red Ghost came searching for them, lots of interesting plots could ensue.

The Taskmaster doesn’t work as well for me, as again, he’s pretty successful on his own, so why would he work with the Circus? The Puppet Master is a possibility, but I don’t think he’s a perfect fit. The Tinkerer might be, since he could work behind the scenes and make some money; I’d say that he should be available to supply the Circus with their needs, even if he’s not an actual member.

I’m not trying to discard all of your suggestions, since I think they’re good. I love Madcap with the Circus; I don’t know if he’d stay, since he’s insane, but that’s also just as good a reason for him to stay. The whole concept of the Circus seems like it would work well for him, and he’s certainly dressed for it. The Death-Throws are perhaps the most perfect fit in the entire Marvel Universe, and I’d sign them up immediately. Someone new using the Stiltman armor also makes sense. You could also grab whoever the heck the current Ringer is and use him, and I think you’d be in good shape. The Circus could be a great way to grab some of the poorly used (or rarely used) Marvel villains and really make them matter again.

I do like your Sideshow idea, and I also like a snake charmer. However, while I can appreciate the appeal of a Lex Luthor, I’d really want to give the Ringmaster some sort of abilities. In the end, he’s a decent schemer, but he’s not the best, and I’m not sure that’s where his strength lies. I certainly don’t think that we want to make him too good at it, since he’s certainly never been the criminal mastermind in the past. Hypnotism always made sense for him, since it was the job of the Ringmaster to grab the attention of the audience and keep it. If we’re going to remove that power (which works, since we already wanted to get rid of the stupid hat), I’d like to replace it with something else that fits the Circus or Ringmaster theme. How about some sort of light powers? It may not seem to make much sense, but I think it could. Using mechanisms sewn into his jacket, he can raise and lower light levels. As a ringmaster, he would use this to raise and lower the lights in the different rings of the circus (again, drawing an audience’s attention to where he wanted it by lowering the lights in one area and raising them in another), and as a supervillain, he could create darkness or blinding flashes. It’s still not tremendously powerful, which fits him, but gives him a gimmick, which I think he needs.

With that being said, how is the Circus going to commit crimes (or what sort of crimes are they going to commit)? If the Ringmaster isn’t hypnotizing the entire town, what are they going to be doing for money, as they tour the country?

Imagine the chaos the Circus could create if they had half a dozen clowns bouncing around, coupled with every small-time projectile-hurling villain throwing out their weapons of choice. It’s like the perfect storm! Add in an armored dude on stilts, a maniacal contortionist with a bubble gun, an Indian fakir commanding a crowd of wild beasts, a shape-shifting freak, a ‘roid-powered brute, and an army of remote-controlled toy soldiers…all led by the hypno-hype of Ringmaster…and I think you’ve actually made the Circus of Crime into formidable foes. I can hear the happy-go-evil pipe organ music already.

Despite my ideas and your counter-ideas, I’ve come to the realization that Ringmaster should be left as is. Sure, his power is a bit sketchy and pretty handily diffused, but his personality and his background are well established and he makes sense as at least the figurehead of the team. The snake charmer can couple as a controller of tigers, elephants, baboons and other native Indian animals. That makes sense. You didn’t comment on my suggestion of a Bane-like strongman but I think it’s a logical progression (and could add some tension in the group if his usage gets out of control). Hell, Madcap could just wander in and out of the team as he pleases. We’d need to come up with some sort of twisted origin for the Sideshow character…I’m thinking something to do with coming from an inbred family of former circus freaks (eww). Finally, even though it was my idea, I’m not completely sold on the idea of the Tinkerer in the group either. Though I could see a path involving he and Ringmaster coming to some sort of agreement to aid each other.

As far as actual crimes go, it has to be wide open. Look, everyone is going to see them coming from a mile away. I would assume that at some point in Marvel’s history, its inhabitants have been made aware of the weirdo in the top hat running the evil carnival. With that in mind, and with the powers of the group we’ve established, I say they go after big targets with big crowds. I’m thinking Times Square on New Year’s Eve…big ticket political fundraisers…high-profile charity events…public unveilings of prominent structures or exhibits…anything that would attract a lot of people with a lot of money. Hell, they could slip in unnoticed at an amusement park and pretty much hold the place hostage too. There’s no way Spider-Man or Daredevil could take them on by himself. This positions the Circus as major foes for a heroic team.

The big step is the origin story. Obviously a group of Nazi sympathizers is a little anachronistic these days. Of course, with Ringmaster and the concept of the Circus of Crime already established, they don’t need a full-blown origin…just more of a “hey, where’d all these new folks come from?” update. But what’s their motivation? Pure crime? And who do they end up tangling with? Put it all together for me, please…

I don’t think the Nazi sympathizer angle has been mentioned since the early 60s, and honestly, I’m not even sure it was mentioned then. It may have just popped up in a Marvel Universe Handbook, linking the Circus to a like named creation from the Golden Age. That being said, I also agree that we can easily ignore this little bit of continuity.

So, what’s their new origin? Well, the Ringmaster has been having a rough time of it lately. Actually, he’s always had a rough time of it. He’s been abused and made into a punchline (which, admittedly, isn’t too difficult when you run with a clown, a couple of twin acrobats and someone who thinks head butting is a super-power) and he’s rather tired of it. He tried to cooperate a few times with SHIELD and the federal government, and got nothing for it. He’s broke, he’s frustrated and he doesn’t know where to turn. That being said, he really only knows one thing; committing crimes with his crazy circus crew. Sadly, that crew hasn’t worked too well in the past. He decides to talk to the Clown and see if the Clown has any ideas, since the Clown always had a devious brain. When he tries to contact the Clown and finds out that the Clown has become the new Griffin, Ringmaster is despondent….even the Clown is poised to hit the big time, and he’s a freakin’ clown! But then the Ringmaster stops….if the Clown can reinvent himself so wildly, why not the Ringmaster?

The Ringmaster decides to rebuild the Circus, bigger and better than ever. Using his hypnotic hat, the Ringmaster can commit enough small and petty crimes to get himself some traveling money (how hard would it be to knock over the local gas station or liquor store if you could just hypnotize the clerk into giving you the money?) and he starts scouring the globe for his new recruits. In whatever series the new and improved Circus would make their first appearance, I’d start showing little tidbits of the Ringmaster’s search…a page or two for a few issues of him meeting some of our new characters and convincing them that he can make them a lot of money. It may be a hard sell for the Ringmaster at first, since it’s not like the Circus of Crime is a big name that criminals will flock to, but I think he can do it. In the long run, a ringmaster is a salesman and they’re good at getting your attention, so I think he could be successful. I mean, he’s always been a little geek in a blinding suit and he got the original Circus to follow him for decades.

Once his Circus is assembled, he knows they’re going to need some tech supplies. He contacts the Tinkerer, who’s in retirement, and offers him an interest in the Circus if the Tinkerer will supply them with their gadgetry. The Tinkerer is a little dubious, but the Ringmaster promises that the Tinkerer doesn’t have to be involved in any of the overt legal activity and the Tinkerer finally relents (perhaps he sees this as a steady source of income so he can retire somewhere nicer, like the Caribbean, or perhaps he needs money for a child or grandchild that’s in trouble). In any case, he’s around in a part-time capacity. I don’t see him traveling with the Circus, but I do see him showing up on-site occasionally, to make adjustments to his equipment and to see exactly what the Circus requires of him.

So, we now have the Circus assembled, and we’ve been teasing it in a page or two for the past few issues of our title. We can then reveal them in their full glory and set them against our hero team. Yes, I said team; while they could go up against a single hero, I always like setting teams against teams. Let’s put them up against our new Defenders, from a few posts back. To me, however, the important thing that makes this Circus so much better than the old is that they don’t lose, at least, not at first. I’d prefer to use them like the old Serpent Society in Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run. Let’s allow them to commit some successful crimes, and perhaps, let’s see a little of them in smaller groups, where perhaps two or three of them are committing crimes on the side (sanctioned by the Ringmaster, I think, although it could be interesting if they’re doing it without his knowledge, especially if they jeopardize the larger operation).

Thoughts?

See, it’s the little things like that last idea that could make this villain team interesting again. Some of them end up being like rogue factions of their own team. The strongman has a drug problem. Maybe the new Clown or the Fakir beastmaster or Madcap just rubs some of them the wrong way. There are a lot of little subplots we could throw in there that would make it even harder on Ringmaster to hold the group together. And maybe, ultimately, he can’t hold it together.

Perhaps Ringmaster doesn’t have the charisma to collect the team and he’s actually begging all these new recruits to join up, making promises that he can’t really keep. He needs the Tinkerer (or Jester) to step in and help him control the chaos. The Serpent Society is the perfect comparison for this. I remember the build up with that group…they had their own compound, there was a constant struggle for leadership, and they actually made some progress in their agenda. Plus, the Serpent Society had that same kind of kitschy, classic comic book villain vibe. They have a goofy theme that fits so well in the comic book world. I think that’s why I always had a thing for the Royal Flush Gang over in DC’s universe too.

I’ve also always liked those two or three-page backup stories that appeared in certain series. The oddly paced buildup, the curiosity as to what was going to happen, those kind of things are great for comics too. The sad thing is that Marvel doesn’t have a lot of team books. I’m not sure this group would make sense against the supernatural concept we devised for the Defenders. At the same time, they don’t seem powerful enough to face either of the Avengers teams that are currently in play. Obviously, none of the X teams are a good fit either. Is there a new New Warriors title out again? That could work. In the long run, I don’t think the Circus of Crime is actively looking for anyone to fight. They’re going to try to make as much mischief as they can while also avoiding any potential beatdowns.

Sure, we could have them randomly appear in any number of titles just to be token villains that get their butts handed to them in every appearance. But if we really want to up their image and make them formidable again (or for the first time, really) I believe there are two perfect titles to showcase the new Circus of Crime. The first is Marvel Comics Presents…a book that would allow us to tell our own story, standing alone from the more rigid continuity in certain key titles (and also allowing the Circus to be the main focus of the story instead of whatever hero they were fighting). The second book might make even more sense, and lead to an extra long story arc: Avengers Initiative. Imagine, if you will, the Circus of Crime touring the country on a crime spree and having confrontations with the Initiative team in each state. It would be a great way to show how these state teams work and allow us to showcase various members of the Circus and how useful they are. At the end of the run, the Circus of Crime would either be impressive enemies or soundly defeated and never heard from again.

Bingo! You nailed it, I believe, with your last suggestion of using them in Avengers Initiative or MCP. The fact of the matter is that they don’t want to fight heroes (or, at the very least, the Ringmaster doesn’t want to….perhaps some of his new recruits would like to take down some heroes, which, again, could create some interesting problems within the ranks), and I don’t see them being the main villain for any team out there right now. However, showcasing them in a title where they could run up against multiple heroes is a brilliant move.

I also really like the idea of the Ringmaster starting out confident that he’s created a new and much more impressive Circus of Crime, and slowly coming to realize that he’s actually succeeded far beyond what he had intended. This Circus is simply too much for him to control (perhaps the reason the Circus was always so lame is because they were being held back by the Ringmaster). He eventually reaches a point where, to maintain control, he realizes that he’s going to need help, and partners with someone (or, perhaps, tries to have the Tinkerer upgrade his powers and abilities, hoping that new ones will help him retain control). There’s actually a few different ways this could go, as the Ringmaster struggles to maintain order in his Circus. Does he succeed? Is he forced to forge a partnership with someone else (and if he does so, is it really a partnership? If he chooses someone who can control the Circus where the Ringmaster can’t, why would this second person need the Ringmaster? His best bet would be to choose someone who can’t control the Circus without the Ringmaster’s help, to maintain a balance of power in the partnership, but would the Ringmaster realize this? Or will he be too desperate at this point in time to think that far ahead?)? Or is the Ringmaster driven out of the Circus he helped rebuild, and who would take his place?

Yes, there’s some great stuff here. Perfect for a run in Marvel Comics Presents, I’d say.


Dr. Strange: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love this Character

May-16-08

I am a huge Dr. Strange fan. Considering that he’s been around the Marvel Universe since the early 1960s, that he’s been published on a semi-regular basis since then, and that he’s been a member of both the Defenders and Avengers, one might think that many people agree with me. However, it’s the “semi-regular” publishing schedule above that seems to be the problem. Dr. Strange has had numerous series, but seems unable to sustain one that lasts much past 100 issues. When one looks at the talent that have worked on these series, including such respected writers as Roy Thomas, Roger Stern, J.M. DeMatteis and Warren Ellis, as well as such popular artists as Butch Guice, Paul Smith and Mark Buckingham, it causes one to stop and think. Why doesn’t he enjoy enough popularity to at least keep a series going? And how can one reposition him to be a character that can keep a series going?

Part of the problem with Dr. Strange, I believe, is that he is a sorcerer. I’m not sure if I can explain why this is, but it seems that most magical characters have trouble maintaining a popular following. I would say this is true for any magic-based character in any superhero universe. Strange’s counterpart at DC, Dr. Fate, has the same sporadic publishing schedule as Strange. No other magic-based hero in either universe seems to have made even that much of a splash. Marvel includes such characters as Talisman, Shaman, Dr. Druid and even, to an extent, the Scarlet Witch, and none of these characters has ever been able to carry a series. In many ways, one might think that DC would have better luck with such characters. DC has the Vertigo imprint, which has often focused on magical worlds and characters, but even their premiere magical hero, Tim Hunter, has never been able to sustain a series. In their mainstream universe, Shadowpact, a series with many magical characters, also failed to survive. What is it about magical characters that seems to turn off readers? Or are these results typical of many comics published in the major superhero universes, and they have nothing to do with the magical nature of their stars? After all, a lot of comics characters have had problems maintaining an ongoing series. Still, when you compare Strange to his other contemporaries of that time in Marvel, and look at the track record of his original creators (Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the co-creators of Spider-Man), it certainly doesn’t look like you want to be a magic-based hero in the Marvel Universe.

I’ve read and loved Dr. Strange stories from the sixties through the current decade, and some of the runs on the character have been brilliant. I have to mention (as I seem to mention him in every thread) that Roger Stern did one of the best runs on Dr. Strange in his publishing history, particularly the storyline where Dr. Strange goes up against Dracula and attempts to destroy all the vampires in the world. Truly remarkable storytelling. There have also been times in Strange’s publishing history when even I was ready to drop the book; Geof Isherwood, you were a great penciler, but I’m not sure you were ready to write the series. But again, can’t this be said of any character that’s existed for as long as Strange has? What is it about the successful times that works for Strange?

One of the things that I feel every successful comic series truly needs is a supporting cast. Many times, Dr. Strange doesn’t really have one. We always have Wong, his faithful manservant….and that’s often it. Roy Thomas gave Strange perhaps the largest supporting cast, with an apprentice, Wong’s fiancee, an undead brother, two female friends, a business manager, and Strange’s girlfriend Clea. I think that’s one of the reasons that Thomas’ run on Strange (which Thomas wrote with his wife) is so successful; there’s a community within the book, and lots of characters to interact. One of the other things the Thomases did was to bring Strange down to the level of mere mortals. I think part of the reason that Strange can be difficult for some people to like is that he isn’t really very….normal. I know, I know, who is normal in a superhero universe, but if we pick someone like Peter Parker (the typical example) he’s someone that the reader can relate to. He has the same problems, fears and speech patterns that we do. No one thinks or talks or acts like Stephen Strange. He’s truly in his own little world. Now, for some readers, that’s probably a plus, as it makes him more interesting, but I imagine for every person that prefers Strange be offputting and odd, another three find him cold and unrelatable.

I think another part of the problem is that Strange is a more cerebral hero. While cerebral heroes can be popular (both Mr. Fantastic and Professor X have been around for some time), they don’t tend to headline their own titles. Most characters that do headline their own titles are action oriented. They have a problem, so they hit it. Or stab it. Or web it. Whatever they do, they take decisive action to neutralize it. While Strange can certainly hold his own in a fight, that’s not really what he’s about. He’s much more likely to find out about a problem which he can deal with, study it, research it, and then come up with a solution. That doesn’t always make for scintillating comics.

So, I’ve identified some of the problems with Strange and why it’s difficult to write him in a successful series. How about other ideas as to why his series don’t end well? Ideas on how to fix these problems?

Ah, good. This one is a bit more difficult to hammer out. I’ve also been a fan of Dr. Strange for a long time. I have a near-complete run of the original Strange Tales, a HUGE Defenders collection and mixed issues from pretty much every incarnation of Strange’s eponymous titles. That said, I can’t really put my finger on why I like the character. The sad thing is that it’s probably the costume that first drew me in. And the Steve Ditko style with the crazy hand gestures and psychedelic backgrounds.

If you look at the root of the character, he’s pretty much a jackass. Don’t know if you caught the direct-to-DVD cartoon that Marvel released last year, but it was pretty faithful to Strange’s origin…he’s a stuck-up surgeon who pities himself when he gets in a car accident that ruins his career. He goes on one of those “meaning of life” searches and climbs the proverbial (and literal) mountain to find the wise man. He’s selfish. He’s accustomed to a certain way of life. And he’s oh so lonely.

Obviously you’ve nailed one of the big problems with the character: his lack of a supporting cast. There have been times in his existence when he was surrounded by some interesting people…Wong is always good (check out Brian K. Vaughan’s The Oathminiseries with art by the Ditko-like Marcos Martin), he plays nice with the Night Nurse, and he and Spider-Man make a good Butch and Sundance team. I’ve never really cared for his pseudo-wife Clea or any of the assorted apprentices he took on. The challenge is that, by definition, the Sorcerer Supreme is fairly independent and doesn’t keep a big social calendar. There are about a billion artificial ways to surround him with “friends,” but none of them stays true to the basis of the character. Personally, I don’t like him as part of the Avengers for this very reason. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to him being a part of the team (other than the fact that Bendis likes to write him). So that’s step one: how do we get him involved with others?

The other problem you mentioned goes to the core of his history. Magic doesn’t sell books. Even the folks at Marvel know this. Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada tackled this issue a couple years back in a Newsarama interview where he stated that “There are no rules to his universe and from a storytelling perspective that’s problematic.” Sorcery has no boundaries. Every conflict is solved just by the writer making something up out of the blue. Until we can attach some limits to what he can and cannot do (and, consequently, what his fellow magic-based allies and enemies can and cannot do), this problem will never go away. Because of this, Strange is often relegated to the corners of the Marvel Universe. He’s either dealing with the things that no one else is aware of or can’t deal with themselves. Or, he’s forced into an advisory role like his business card should say “Magical Consultant” or something.

Those are two big problems to work around and/or eliminate. Now, what are the strengths of Doctor Strange? What are the things that make him unique and interesting…besides his costume? I’ll start the discussion by offering these insights: 1. He has a unique perspective of the Marvel Universe, having teamed up with many different characters and visited locations and dimensions that others never even knew existed. 2. Vice-versa, his experiences have put him on a higher plane than many of the folks he engages with on a day-to-day basis (perhaps he feels more comfortable around individuals like Silver Surfer and Thor as opposed to everyday folks like Captain America and the tech-based Iron Man). 3. His background provides creators a lot of leeway when it comes to creative foes and abilities.

And, as a beginning storyline, I think there’s something to the idea of finding the source of magic power in the Marvel Universe and organically placing rules and limitations on how it is used. Thoughts?

You’re quite correct when you say that Strange has teamed up with a large proportion of the Marvel Universe. When anything magical effects someone’s life in their title, it’s almost a guarantee that Strange will be present. He’s the go-to magic guy and it’s given him exposure to a great number of heroes. That being said, does that work as a hook for his own book? (And I’m not saying that I thought you were suggesting it, as I don’t think you were….I’m just working through some of the points you mentioned.) Of course, it really doesn’t work that way. Marvel tried that basic idea with their Secret Defenders series in the ’90s, when Strange gathered a group of heroes to him in every issue to go fight something that Strange had detected, but didn’t want to deal with on his own. Unfortunately, not only is that not much of a Dr. Strange book, it’s not much of a book at all, with no strong storyline running more than a few issues. Marvel also seemed to try to make Strange’s book a team-up book itself during the Thomas’ run, when they had a guest star every issue (which was made even worse by crossing over constantly with ever single Infinity Whatever miniseries that was currently being released). Basically, those issues turned Strange into a guest star in his own book, and that didn’t work either.

I certainly think that he relates better to fellow mystics and to more powerful beings than he does your run of the mill superhero (and I agree that he does not fit into the Avengers at all. His inclusion on the team is made even more non-sensical because he refused to get involved in the Civil War, but is now suddenly fine with taking a side and fighting this fight. Great timing Strange, but you’re a little late as the war is over. Perhaps, had you gotten involved sooner, you could have helped to give the war a different ending…). I’d also venture to suggest that your typical superhero isn’t too comfortable around him. Yes, he’s at all of the big crossovers, and he’s often a relatively important figure in them, but he’s also aloof from most of the heroes he encounters. But how can we make this work in a series?

Perhaps a team-up series is what is needed, but not one in the traditional sense. Perhaps a new apprentice is needed, but someone both expected and unexpected. What if we started a series with Dr. Strange training his new apprentice, the Scarlet Witch? In current Marvel continuity, Wanda has been depowered and is living a peaceful life. However, it’s a sure bet that her enemies will find her, and they won’t be too pleased with her. Since she doesn’t have her hex powers, she’ll need to find a way to defend herself. She’s shown an aptitude for magic before, so what if she were to decide that magic is a path she should pursue, to defend herself from those who would do her harm. She and Strange have always been shown to be somewhat close and I think Strange relates to her better than he does to most heroes. Would he train her? I think he would, if she asked, especially when you consider that Wanda has proven herself mentally unstable, so the discipline that magic demands of one would be the perfect way to help Wanda gain control over her mental difficulties (plus, if she did start to slip again, you’d have Strange right there to contain the situation).

This gives us someone who is not a novice in magic, but also someone who has never really delved deep into its secrets, staying with Strange. Wanda could serve, to an extent, as the eyes of the audience, learning things as we do. Although only one other person in the cast (which would include Strange and Wong), she should provide enough of a contrasting personality to make for some interesting interactions around the Sanctum Sanctorum. Plus, Wanda also has ties to the superhero community, which could force Strange to sometimes deal with other heroes, which would be a great way to express how removed he is from the typical do-gooder. If Hawkeye or Wonder Man swing by the Sanctum to chat with Wanda, how do Strange and Wong deal with them? Is there anyway these people can relate to each other?

That’s just one idea. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on other Strange pitches, or on this one.

The Scarlet Witch is a great way to organically include some of the superhero community in a Dr. Strange title. And she seems like a good fit, especially playing off her mental instability. I think it would be a great set-up to have Strange take her in and then she makes up an entire relationship (far beyond what really exists) in her head…almost like Fatal Attraction…which would be made even more tense once we introduce Night Nurse as Strange’s love interest. We could turn the book into not just a magic-based title, but also a sort of romance book (which I think works lovely considering the almost Gothic background of Strange’s powers).

There’s a fine line you’d have to toe with this kind of title. Strange almost needs to stand alone in the Marvel Universe. He needs to explore bizarre dimensions and encounter offbeat characters. At the same time, you need to infuse his book with some regular superhero guest stars in order to tie everything into regular continuity. And there’s the rub (and most likely the reason why his title always falls to the wayside): too many superheroes spoil the book. Magic and other powers don’t work well together…the dynamics clash, the realities contradict each other. Too many guest stars and the book loses its focus. Too few guest stars and the book loses its broader interest.

A few of the plot ideas I worked up for our Defenders post would play here just as well. Dr. Strange has toyed with Black Magic in the past. It would be intriguing to have him come face-to-face with his “dark doppelganger”…the yin to his Sorcerer Supreme yang. I could also see a lot of the magic/superhero characters appearing in this book, folks like Brother Voodoo, Morbius, Werewolf By Night (and the other fringe characters from the Night Shift), Gargoyle, Hellstorm and Terror Inc.

I’d love to see some camaraderie among this group of heroes. Maybe they get together regularly and play poker or paintball or something. Maybe they trade war stories over some drinks at a dive bar somewhere. Strange always comes off as kind of pompous around the hoi polloi of the Marvel world, but maybe among his peers he has a different personality. Maybe they even pick on him or make fun of him. And perhaps they pull magic-based practical jokes on each other! It reminds me of some of my favorite Avengers moments when you see the heroes out of costume just interacting with each other as people.

Personally, I think Strange needs a tangible rogues gallery too. He’s battled against Mephisto, Nightmare and Dormammu so many times that it’s become routine. Let’s create some real human-based threats, some really creepy folks with the worst intentions in mind. Darker villains mixed with more light-hearted characterizations could be a nice dichotomy.

So give me a fully-formed pitch using some of these elements. I forgot to do that with my Namor tweaks (and should probably go back to it). Let’s put our heads together and come up with something we’d all like to read…

Hokey smokes! Could I agree more with your thoughts on Strange’s villains? No, I don’t think I could. I am not a fan, in any title, of using the abstract cosmic entities as regular villains. All of them should pop up from time to time when you’re writing a character at Strange’s power levels, but they should not be the core of the character’s rogues gallery, and they’re pretty much all Strange has. Sure, some people would say that Baron Mordo is a member of Strange’s rogues gallery, but unfortunately, he’s really been beaten down so many times, and we’ve been told so many times that he is weaker than Strange, that he’s lost any amount of threat he once possessed. Also, he’s dead, or at least he was the last time I checked.

Mordo is, however, the direction I would recommend for villains, in that he is human. I know that conventional wisdom dictates that the hero’s adversaries be stronger than the hero himself so that they can be considered a threat to the hero. Unfortunately, with Strange it’s difficult to make his foes more powerful than him, and not have them be cosmic menaces. I think, though, that power is not everything. Luthor and the Joker have been tormenting their respective heroes for over half a century and they’re both physically weaker than their counterpart. A true villain doesn’t just need power to be a threat, and I think your idea of making the villains more in tune with a darker, Gothic style would really work well for this character.

I also like the idea of a love triangle. For decades, Marvel thrived on the love triangle; Stan Lee seemed to want one in every single early Marvel title. You don’t see it as often in current Marvel titles, but it is a good choice for drama and intrigue. It works even better with a character like Wanda involved, since she may not be tied to reality very closely. If Strange is supposed to be helping her retain her sanity, and yet his relationship with Night Nurse is threatening that sanity, what would Strange’s reaction be? Where does his responsibility as Wanda’s friend, physician and teacher end and begin?

I think a pitch is beginning to come together. We want a darker tone; not grim and gritty “Let Me Pull Your Head Off” dark, but something more Gothic and tilting toward horror. We want Wanda in the Sanctum, but she is going to be just part of the story and we don’t want her to overwhelm. I think guest stars can be done organically, and I really like the idea of Strange being different around them. If nothing else, there must be some magical lingo that these guys and gals would throw around when they’re together that most of us wouldn’t know. Surely there’s a sense of camaraderie that exists between them. I mean, the magical world is one that is so different from what the rest of the world sees as reality, that being able to walk in that world must be somewhat like joining an exclusive club. Strange would almost have to be a somewhat different person around these people.

I sincerely hope that I have not just reiterated what you already said in your post. I think we’re getting close here, but I simply can’t seem to write this without being interrupted; I’ve been writing this for an hour, and I’ve been interrupted at least seven times, so I’m going to sign off now, and let you put this all together in a pitch. Hey, you’re great at that stuff!

Aw jeez, you had to throw it back in my lap, huh? This one is a lot harder to wrap my head around. We have a lot of beats so far, but no real plotline to weave it all together. I think we have to establish a few unique villains. We need to set up a new apprentice, a love interest and a deeper supporting cast. We need to delve into the origins and limits of magic in the Marvel Universe. And we need to give Strange more of a personality and more of a sense of community (at least among his peers). I don’t have a complete answer for any of these problems, but I’ve got some notes that I’ll share with you. We should be able to hammer something out together.

Taking my points in order, let’s first look at potential villains. As I’ve said, my initial thought for an archenemy (a la Luthor or Joker) is to establish someone as Strange’s polar opposite whose ultimate goal is to see Dr. Strange fail. The easiest thought here is to bring back someone who crossed paths with Strange long ago…someone like Cyrus Black. Or to bring in someone who has a past with supernatural characters and demons, such as Dr. Glitternight. Either one would come as a surprise to Strange and could be slowly revealed over the course of the story. As far as new and different characters go, there are a lot of themes we could follow. The first that comes to mind for me is something classically Gothic or Victorian-inspired. This could take the form of a character based on someone such as Edgar Allan Poe or Lizzie Borden. We could bring back a character like The Hangman, but make him much more sinister…surrounded by the ghosts of crows, like shadows (interestingly enough, a group of crows is called a “murder” and “A Murder of Crows” would be a great title for a story arc). Perhaps a character called the Undertaker that has more of a gritty Western or even a straight-off-the-Mayflower feel and he could have a host of minions, like Children of the Corn, setting him up as their Fagin. That’s pretty creepy. Maybe some villain that has something to do with the ancestors of our forefathers and their Freemasonry ties…connected somehow to the secrets of America. Pirates are always a good foil…historic and knee-deep in murder and lost souls. Maybe there’s some value in pursuing the spectral manifestation of his deceased sister as a villain? And last but not least, perhaps Strange should face someone who represents the next generation. What if we gave him a younger foe who employs all the trappings of the Steampunk genre? I could see a bad guy who looks a lot like the Jack Knight Starman, with his goggles and pulp serial-influenced staff. Maybe he has a bunch of magically-imbued gadgets and whiz-bang inventions. I like that a lot, a bit of the old and the new.

We’ve already selected Scarlet Witch as his new apprentice, and I think that’s a perfect fit and makes a great amount of sense. Inject Night Nurse as the love interest and, like we discussed, you can build a lot of friction and potential (the story arc title of “Bizarre Love Triangle” just screams out to me). But these two, along with Wong, don’t make a very full supporting cast. Personally, I’d love to see more of Brother Voodoo and Michael Morbius hanging around and offering advice and assistance. Beyond that, there must be people that Strange interacts with on a professional, if not personal, level. How about giving him a historian/librarian figure for research purposes (ala Buffy and her Watcher)? A professor of the occult would make sense, as would a psychologist or social anthropologist…or even an FBI profiler if we get involved in weird serial killers or crime patterns. It would also make sense, given his collection of magical items, that he would be acquainted with a monster hunter (or relic hunter) such as Elsa Bloodstone. Finally, in a storyline concept I haven’t mentioned before, let’s give Strange a career. What if he wrote a book about his life? Would he have an agent? Perhaps some “magic groupies?” For a little humor, what if he goes on a book tour and has a stand-up comedian as his opening act? It may seem a little out of place, but it could also offer an outsider perspective to Strange’s daily life.

The next point may be the hardest to crack: the origins and limitations of magic in the Marvel Universe. I’m just going to throw these things out there and see if anything sticks. Most of the magic found in literature and legend seems to stem from religion, specifically lesser religions like Wicca or Voodoo and native groups like Druids, Shamans, Witch Doctors and the Aborigines. This would imply that magic has a natural base attuned to the Earth itself. Now, what if magic is powered by the Gods, who are actually the true denizens of Earth, and each pantheon has its own followers. The Gods with the most followers have the most power, but their magic has less effect due to being “watered down.” The most potent magic comes from those who haven’t lost their relation to the planet. But the source of the magic isn’t the Gods themselves. What if the source was something called The Belief and it was held inside something intangible called The Tapestry (stick with me, I’m going into Grant Morrison mode). Now, The Tapestry is made up of threads called “reality rifts” that allow the magic users to peer into the truth of the planet (kind of like The Matrix). And what if there was a limited amount of magic because there are only allowed to be a set number of magic users…each one acting as an anchor or “hem point” for a particular rift? There is a true balance needed in order to keep The Tapestry whole and to keep The Belief contained. Perhaps there are too many magic users and it gets to the point where magic is being rationed…when someone is using it, someone else cannot. This could lead to natural limitations on magic in order to keep it flush with power. Let’s say that magic can no longer be used to harm, only to dissuade or distract. it must be defensive or protection-based. Even dark magic can no longer damage an opponent, instead it causes fear or confusion. This could easily be mandated across all of Marvel’s magic-based characters.

Springing from that comes the idea for another group of characters who could be allies or villains: the insane. Perhaps they’ve caught a glimpse of The Belief and cannot fathom its truth. We could bring back characters like Mad Jim Jaspers, Tatterdemalion or even Jamie Braddock and his crazy quantum strings. They could act as prophets or guides for Strange. They could be protectors of The Tapestry. Or hell, they could just be there to fight.

The last point should occur organically after all of these other things come into place. By putting Strange around more people, his personality will develop. We can create a magic lingo similar to the style in the Ocean’s 11 movies…where the characters discuss grifting schemes and famous ploys, but this lingo is based in terms of Vaudeville acts, early stage magicians, various turn-of-the-century inventors (Tesla, Edison) and a number of religious references like saints and relics…the Double Houdini, the St. Crispin’s Folly, the 23 Skiddoo. etc. Could be a lot of fun actually.

Couple all of these ideas with a general theme headed more into the macabre and horror side of magic, that focuses more on the “what could happen if…” side of things, and I think you’ve got a winning formula that would touch on the dark, the different, and the uncomfortably humorous all at once. Strange needs to be less about the 1960s cosmic vibe with its weird dimensions and backgrounds and more about the counterculture of today with its effects on the planet and its resources. Think less hippie and more Emo or Goth, right? It may even be worthwhile, if we pursue the young Steampunk angle, to make Strange the proverbial fish out of water who doesn’t understand this cultural shift and can’t quite come to terms with it.

Wow…that’s a lot to think about. I’ll give you the weekend to mull it over…

I’ve had to read this a few times, but my final feeling is….wow. There’s a real story here. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure that magic needs to be strictly defined and structured; to me that somewhat defeats the purpose of magic. Yes, I know in the hands of a lazy writer magic can become its own deus ex machina and every story can be finished by the magician literally pulling a rabbit out of their hat. That being said, I think you can have a strong story without those clear definitions. However, I also think your ideas on how to define magic are very strong and could make for some interesting stories, so I’d certainly support that direction.

It sounds to me like we’ve got some arcs ready to go. The first story arc, I think, should be where Strange actually takes Wanda in as his apprentice. By giving Strange an apprentice, we have the opportunity to delineate the rules of magic you’ve created, since Strange would be explaining things to Wanda. We wouldn’t want to dump lots of information on the reader at once, but you could spread the exposition out over the course of many issues, parsing the information out to the reader in ways that would make them want to know more. I see Wanda, Wong and Night Nurse as our regular supporting characters; those characters who we see in every story arc, and really, in every issue. Wanda and Wong live with him, and Night Nurse must visit quite a bit (kind of like Morgana Blessing in the older issues, but not as annoying). The other types of characters you mention are a great idea, but I think they need to be introduced slowly, over multiple arcs. Strange’s world is so different from the world of other hero’s that I think we want to allow the readers to grow into it organically, rather than shoving many characters at them in the first arc.

I think the villain in the first story arc should be someone more “classically” magical, so to speak. Reinventing an older supernatural villain would be a fine choice. Your description of the new Hangman is a little too much like the Scarecrow (Marvel, not DC) for me and Dr. Glitternight sounds a little too silly for me to take him seriously. I like the name Cyrus Black, and if you don’t mind Harry Potter fans confusing him with Sirius Black, I think he might be the way to go. I still don’t think that Black can be as strong, magically, as Strange is (the job title of Sorcerer Supreme kind of precludes others from having the same magical powers as Strange), but I think he’s a planner, perhaps one with access to some powerful artifacts or monstrous servants (enter Elsa Bloodstone). I also love the idea of Strange having a Watcher-type of contact, who helps with research, and could help him figure out what some of the magical items of power Black is using might be.

I think the second story arc might best focus on a more gritty, grim villain, someone based on Poe or Borden as you suggested. They know some magic, but where they really become a threat is in their ruthlessness and, perhaps, insanity. Their magic is more cult based and much of it comes through ritual. I think that Strange may be somewhat surprised and taken aback by the sorts of crimes this villain would commit, and the lengths this villain would go to in order to achieve his goals. This would be a good time for Strange to seek out and become acquainted with a new ally; the FBI profiler type that you mention. Strange and his allies are somewhat out of their element with the crimes this villain is performing. Strange has seen some crazy stuff, but there’s always been an element of civility behind it. Mordo may have been a gruesome creep, but he didn’t do a heck of a lot in the way of human sacrifice. This guy does, and it throws Strange for something of a loop. This also might be a good time for him to seek aid from Brother Voodoo, since voodoo (in my admittedly limited knowledge) also tends to be more ritual based.

I’d save the Steampunk baddie for another story arc, although he’s my favorite, I have to admit. I love the idea of someone mixing science and magic (it’s an area of Doom’s character that I never felt was addressed enough); there’s so much that can be done with it. Again, it also gives the villain an edge over Strange without making him more magically powerful than Strange. And again, it’s also an area where Strange is somewhat at a loss; sure, he can counter this guy’s magical abilities, but how much does Strange know about technology? Can he even program a VCR? It also gives Strange a need for another ally; enter Dr. Michael Morbius, who knows all about technology as a scientist.

In amongst these plots, we have the slow simmering love triangle between Wanda, Strange and Night Nurse, which can explode into it’s own plot at some point. Plus, we throw in some scenes which shows what Strange does when he’s not being the Sorcerer Supreme, as he hangs out with the other magical members of the Marvel Universe that we’ve mentioned. The only point I’m stuck on is his job. I somewhat see where you’re going; after all, where does Strange get his money? He hasn’t held a job since he became Sorcerer Supreme and he spent all of his fortune before that day. To an extent, writing a book would work for him; he could set his own hours and he certainly has a lot of experiences from which to draw. What sort of book would he write? You suggest an autobiography. I’m not sure if that would work for two reasons. First of all, Morgana Blessing wrote his biography when she thought he was dead in the early 90s (he even went on a talk show to discuss it). Second, I see Strange as not really wanting his life to be open to the public; I don’t think he’d want people to panic when they realized what he’s been through. Perhaps you were suggesting that he write a book about his life before he became the Sorcerer Supreme, which could be interesting, but it doesn’t have much of an ending if he wants to keep his life secret. “I had a horrible accident, became a drunk, but everything got better and now I….don’t do much.”

At the same time, there’s potential there. Perhaps Strange would spin his non-magical story into a self-help type of book? Perhaps he’d write about the non-mystic teachings of the Ancient One, exhorting people to throw off the shroud of commercialism and live a life of peace and tranquility. It’s a little cheesy, but it also seems like the sort of thing Strange might write. I almost suggested he write fiction (maybe fantasy or science fiction, based on his adventures, but which he markets as fiction), but I’m not sure I see him doing so, as it seems to trivialize what he does. I’d love to do something like market him as a romance novelist, but that seems way too far out there for him. Besides, if we want him doing a book tour, we need the sort of book that lends itself to those tours, and people love them some self-help books. And who wouldn’t want to write the scene where Strange guests on Oprah?

That seems pretty pitchy to me. Thoughts?

I think it’s great how you’ve managed to work an additional supporting character into each story arc and you’ve pinpointed which one would work for each aspect of the story. I’m still a little unsure of how we work the villains into the action. Obviously, if we use Cyrus Black, there will be scenes showing him plotting a comeback (without revealing his face). He has a beef with Strange that was never fully explored. That one makes sense. And the opening arc with Wanda and Night Nurse is easy enough to establish. But beyond that, how do we approach making the bad guys a threat to Strange. I mean, the guy never seems to leave his house. I can’t imagine that his potential foes would just walk up and knock on his front door. Perhaps we need to give him a job to get him out in the public and have some interaction. You can only get away with so much coincidence and mistaken identity ploys before it gets ridiculous. I also wouldn’t want to rely on his allies coming to him for assistance as a way to launch every plot.

So the big stumbling block is still his career. How does he put food on the table? Stephen Strange has a smarmy personality. I could see him hamming it up on those celeb-journalism shows. I don’t know how much the public knows about him in general. Does anyone remember him as a surgeon? Does anyone know he is a magician? He could potentially write a New age sort of book…a spiritual health book written by a real medical doctor would create good buzz. Maybe he’s bored of being trapped in his secret home all the time and decides to get a little public face time by becoming a stage magician (a la Zatanna). He could write a book on the history of magic, but put a realist spin on it (coming from the medical field) to mask his true background. Or perhaps there’s some sort of political turmoil in the Ancient One’s homeland of Kamar-Taj (or Tibet) and Strange comes out as a pseudo-celebrity to defend the country. Any of these could be pre-established in our first story arc and then fleshed out as the base for the whole Wanda situation.

I totally agree that any new villains should be a different type of problem for Strange. The cosmic situations and the continuous magic-versus-magic fights get old quick. The steampunk angle enables us to show Strange getting frustrated. Any historically-based opponent allows us to add an element of research to the confrontation. And then the horror cult thing is just weird and disturbing (I still like “A Murder of Crows” as a title).

Ooh…I know a way to start this whole thing. What if there’s a truly bizarre serial killer haunting the Marvel Universe? Maybe using a team of possessed children to commit the murders (eww…twisted)? Dr. Strange has just finished a book about psychic investigators and mystical ways to solve crimes, using his medical background as a sort of anti-authority. During an appearance on his book tour, he’s approached by the FBI profiler we’ve discussed and he gets brought in to the search for the killer. Along the course of the investigation, he ends up revealing his true position to the profiler…this brings trust and adds the profiler to Strange’s inner circle. The plot also puts Strange out in the public eye, which could be a launching pad for others to seek his help or want to stop his interference.

Damn, now I’m thinking it might be smart to have him write a book “debunking” hauntings from the studious medical point of view and have his book tour take place in supposedly haunted locations. Is that too much of a cop out? Meh.

Either way, the book tour thing really helps progress the arcs we’ve proposed. New locations offer more chances for conflicts, experiences and information. It would add an additional element to have his supporting cast spread out across the country (or even the world, depending on his tour stops). People coming in and going out of the storylines organically, as you’ve mentioned, makes it seem more natural than the whole “Scooby Gang” vibe of something like Buffy.

Hmph. Seems to me that we’ve come up with about two years worth of material, depending on how it all pans out, and the potential to keep the series going in a great direction for a long time to come. I really need to work my contacts to get in touch with some Marvel editors. I wonder how they’d feel about our little blog?


Iron Man: Is he in need of an overhaul?

Apr-29-08

Iron Man. Tony Stark. The Armored Avenger. ShellHead. Call him what you will, he’s been one of the mainstays of the Marvel Universe since the early 60s. As a founding Avenger and the star of his own series, he’s been involved in almost every major event that has plagued the denizens of the Marvel Universe for decades. However, he really took center stage during the recent Civil War that rocked the Marvel Universe, becoming the spokesperson and main proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act, leading the forces who supported that Act, becoming director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and revealed as a mover and shaker for years behind the scenes as the creator of The Illuminati. Many people who read Civil War and it’s various crossovers came to regard Iron Man as a villain, and he has been often portrayed as a fascist over the past few years. When we take a closer look at his recent actions, we can begin to answer the question: does Tony Stark need to be revamped, and his continuity cleaned, in the current Marvel Universe? My answer…not so much.

Civil War was really a question of vigilantes over official law enforcers. We accept vigilantes in our super-heroic fiction, as they are a staple of the genre. However, when considered, do you really want someone with the power to blow up a city block to be running around without supervision? It makes tremendous logical sense to try and identify and train super-humans, rather than allowing them to act with impunity. It would also make sense that, if such a law were passed, even if someone with superpowers did not agree with it, they should register. If they register, they are in compliance with the law, and can attempt to make changes to it from within the system, which is really the only way legislation can be changed. if they don’t register, then they are criminals, further enforcing the stereotype that super-powered vigilantes can’t be trusted, and these superheroes are now unable to change the legislation, since they are now operating outside the law.

Honestly, the entire attitude of Captain America and his anti-registration forces made no sense. What, exactly, were they trying to achieve? They spent most of their time trying to figure out how to beat up Iron Man. Had they won their war against Iron Man, then what? Iron Man neither created nor passed the Registration Act, and his defeat would not have repealed it. Defeating Iron Man would have simply made Cap and his followers appear more dangerous and unstable, which again would have strengthened support for the Act. In many ways, I felt Captain America’s reputation was more damaged than Stark’s during Civil War, as I’ve never seen Cap so unwilling to try and talk through a problem, and I’ve never seen him fight for so long without some sort of plan for victory. However, talking about Captain America and his continuity after Civil War is another post, and besides, Cap managed to avoid dealing with his actions during the War thanks to his assassination.

So, with all that being said, why would anyone call Stark a fascist? Well, unfortunately, there were certain issues during Civil War, both of the main series and of some crossover issues, where he came off looking really bad. Now, anytime you have a character starring in multiple books written by multiple writers like this, you’re going to get slightly different variations on a main character. Some writers simply don’t understand the character, and some writers will force the character to fit the role they require the character to fit for their particular issue, effects on that character’s continuity be damned. There’s also the problem that the writer and guiding force behind the main Civil War series, Mark Millar, is about as subtle as a freight train carrying cinder-blocks down a steep hill. If he wanted to make the argument more even handed, and favor Captain America and his allies, Millar simply had to make Stark act like a fascist prick.

Some of the problems with Stark may have arisen out of problems with the Registration Act itself. For example, the Act proclaimed that anyone with superpowers had to register, whether they intended to use their powers or not. I loudly disagree with this; registration makes sense if you plan on donning tights and punching Dr. Doom on his schnoz the next time he attacks the city, but if you are going to live quietly in the suburbs, raising petunias, then I see no need for you to register. For all we know, Stark may have disagreed with this provision as well (I don’t recall him defending it) and he may have felt that it was unimportant and could be dealt with later, after the rebellion had been put down (and really, how many super-powered people in the Marvel Universe decide not to use their powers?). Either way, it’s not really a reflection on Stark. Sadly, it’s also not why most people call him a fascist.

Stark was culpable in two major incidents that led to the fascist label, and sadly, I can’t argue as convincingly in his defense on these points. The first was the creation of a clone of Thor, a clone that would eventually go wild and kill Bill Foster. The second was the creation of a prison in the Negative Zone for use in incarcerating the heroes who refused to agree to register. Both of these events are mind-bogglingly stupid, and I can only believe they were used (particularly the clone) because they wanted a moment of shock and awe in the books. I don’t believe for a second that Stark would attempt to clone Thor. I know that Stark is a fan of science, but the simple fact remains that he and his forces did not need the extra power to defeat Cap’s Resistance Movement, and even if they did, he would be much more likely to create different suits of armor and use those against the Resistance than he would be to participate in the cloning of someone he had considered a friend. As for the Negative Zone Prison, there is a certain logic in noting that the public might be safer with the offenders locked away somewhere away from innocent bystanders, but I do not believe he would condone locking people up without allowing them access to due process and their civil rights. It went against everything that he stood for by supporting the law of the land, and I simply have no words to defend it.

There is one other point that many dislike, and that is the use of super-villains in helping to track down and capture the heroes, particularly the Thunderbolts. I honestly don’t have a problem with the idea of using some super-villains for this purpose. However, I will be the first to admit that the choices that were made in the villains they were using, again, made no sense. No one in their right mind would use extremely unstable individuals, with no record of being controllable or penitent, like Bullseye and Venom. They are both extremely psychotic and strong willed, and using them seemed to be a large risk for little payoff (especially Bullseye; he’s your high-powered help?). The only excuse I can make is that these are all villains with which Stark was not familiar; he was not a regular opponent of either of them (did he fight either of them, ever?) and I can see him dismissing Bullseye as a threat, since Bullseye has no powers. Perhaps Stark simply didn’t feel that either of these people could really give him any trouble, and if they got out of control, he’d simply take them down. Still, it’s a very weak moment.

So, there are definite instances of Stark acting badly out of character during Civil War. Yet, I’m still saying we shouldn’t try to fix his continuity. Why? Well, everyone involved in Civil War(or almost everyone) acts out of character. I’ve already said that I found Captain America to be extremely poorly handled. Mr. Fantastic also comes off extremely poorly throughout these issues, also appearing fascist. I believe the Thing acts out of character, by refusing to choose a side during most of the conflict. Dr. Pym seems out of character; he may be mentally unbalanced at times, but again, here he comes off as a demented mad scientist. The Wasp appears to have had her personality removed for the entire series. I’m not sure that I buy Dr. Strange’s actions, ignoring the whole thing, until the last minute when he finally feels he needs to get involved. There are many other instances, and I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained by running around trying to explain why everyone was acting out of sorts for that period of time. Let’s just say that some people got a little carried away and leave it at that.

Secondly, Tony Stark left Civil War in a very interesting position. First of all, he’s the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a great move. If any hero could hold that position, I believe it’s Stark. He understands S.H.I.E.L.D., as he helped to create it and has worked with it for years, and he also understands running large organizations with levels of bureaucracy. He is a good man, which is needed to lead the biggest intelligence organization in the world, yet he also understands that occasionally rules must be bent, a necessity for the spy trade. Plus, Stark is interesting when he’s out of his armor as well as being resourceful, and I like the idea of him leading missions out of the armor when such actions would be appropriate. Moreover, Stark now has a leadership position in the super-hero community and his relationships with the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe have either been strengthened to a great degree (as with Henry Pym and Ms. Marvel) or have been damaged to a great degree (as with Spider-Man and the New Avengers). These updated relationships have helped to make a character fresh, and for a character that’s been in the Marvel Universe for 45 years, that’s no small feat.

So, my suggestion is to ignore the mistakes of Civil War and don’t spend time trying to explain why he made some bad decisions. Use those bad decisions as part of his character and use it to explore who he really is. When he runs into someone from that time period (like Ben Grimm, for example) let Grimm bring up the death of Bill Foster, and let Stark try to defend it. It could be quite an interesting scene. Trying to undo that time would mean undoing all of the interesting things that have happened to Stark since then, and to return him to the status of mere super-hero and a more mediocre existence. Let him shine as a star for awhile.

Ooh…this one’s gonna get juicy, because I disagree with nearly everything you said!

First off, I don’t want to base any sense of “fixing” any Marvel characters off the anachronistic and convoluted events in Civil War. Tony Stark is a character out of time. By basing his origin directly in the time of the Vietnam conflict, Marvel has dated him irreparably. Which is fine. Let’s work with that then. He’s getting older, weaker, more reliant on his technology to survive. Perhaps Iron man is the perfect hero for Marvel to use as a dynasty…pass the armor on to someone else. Let’s put Tony in an elder mentor position like Bruce Wayne takes in the Batman Beyond cartoon.

But that’s just one idea I have. Let’s go back to Civil War and point out a few major discrepancies in character development. Granted, this could turn into one big diatribe about Civil War itself, so I’ll try to keep it focused. First of all, what are Tony Stark’s superpowers? Why would he even have to register as a superpowered human? Secondly, If you look at the “big picture” of the event, wouldn’t it have made more sense if Iron Man and Captain America had switched their allegiances? Cap isn’t always a blind follower of the government, but he would seem more likely to take the law’s side on this point. And Stark has always been portrayed as being wary of the government and holding back his best technology from them. Stark could have easily created some sort of stealth tech that could have kept the renegade heroes hidden from the Registration forces. And, finally, don’t even get me started on the whole SHIELD thing. How can Tony Stark take the place of Nick Fury? When was Stark ever in the military? Where did he learn wartime strategy and tactics? When did he become a master of espionage? Hell, his heart isn’t even strong enough to put him out in the field (outside of his armor). Just because he built some high-powered armor doesn’t make him an expert on state affairs. Putting him in charge of the world’s covert intelligence system makes nearly as much sense as putting a former equestrian judge in charge of emergency management.

Tony Stark is flawed, physically and mentally. He has his demons (which I don’t believe have been explored much lately). And, quite frankly, he doesn’t have many close friends. There are a lot of things I would do with him if I had the chance. First off would be creating a solid cast of supporting characters. He used to have a group like this…not the greatest, but they were there. Who does he have now? I think the version of Stark in The Ultimates is vastly more interesting as a character. Stark in the traditional Marvel Universe is boring and one-dimensional. Who are his arch enemies? Who are his love interests? What happened to make him such a vessel for the current jingoistic views?

Bring him into current history. Maybe he meets up with the grandson of Yin Sen (the other prisoner that helped him design the armor) and they forge a relationship that turns into a fierce competition. Or maybe Yin Sen’s ancestors successfully sue him for a portion of the armor rights. I dunno, but it’s an intriguing concept. How would Stark handle it if someone was better than him at creating these suits of armor? Would his ego be horribly crushed if he came to the realization that Yin Sen may have contributed more to the original armor design than previously acknowledged?

I would love to see Stark stripped of all his technology and dropped into a situation where he has to MacGyver his way out if it. A plane crash into a remote mountain range. Lost and disoriented in the back alleys of some mid-Saharan nation after a failed assassination attempt. Whatever it is, get him away from his increasingly omniscient and immortal armor and show us the man underneath. There are so many things that can be done with this character. To me, he just seems to be a broken record right now.

Let me jump around a little bit. First of all, I agree completely that one of the problems with Civil War was that Iron Man and Captain America were on the wrong sides. Captain America was a solider for goodness sake as well as a police officer; if anyone should have argued for training superhumans, it should have been him. Heck, he fought like crazy to keep the Young Avengers from actively adventuring because they weren’t trained, so why would he fight it like this. And again, even if Cap thought that the Registration Act violated civil liberties, he knows that you can’t fight that sort of thing in a super-hero brawl. Moreover, Iron Man has fought the government in the past over their attempt to appropriate his technology and resources, so yes, he makes more sense in the anti-registration side. I’d also agree that the series was vague on who exactly had to register. Tony Stark should have been immune, since he had no powers. For that matter, so should Captain America. So would the Black Knight, the Falcon, the Black Panther and numerous others. I assume that there was some sort of wording in the law that took these sorts of people into account, but the series just never explained that; just another area where the Civil War we got was not nearly as good as it could have been.

That being said, it is the Civil War that we got, and I think we have to live with it. Trying to change it now would require continuity backflips that I don’t even want to contemplate, although I’d be open to any suggestions you have. You suggest that Tony Stark, since he is tied to Vietnam, should be aging. I like that idea, but he can’t be the only one to age. If you age Stark, you have to age everyone in the Marvel Universe, since they’re all connected. That’s a huge undertaking, and I can’t see it going over well. Stark can’t remember founding the Avengers forty years ago, while Pym, Janet Van Dyne and Captain America remember those days as being five years ago. Stark’s history is much too intertwined with other heroes to not create a domino effect by aging him.

Is Tony an expert on military or intelligence matters, and can he lead S.H.I.E.L.D.? Well, no, no and yes, in that order. Some of the early issues of his comic that show him as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. point out that he’s trying to run the world’s premiere intelligence organization like a business, and why that’s causing problems. He has some great scenes with Dum Dum Dugan, as Dugan is incredibly frustrated with how Stark is running things. I mean, we don’t want him to run it exactly like Fury, since if that’s the case, we may as well have Fury running it. The interesting parts of that story deal with how things are different now, and what sort of organization will S.H.I.E.L.D. become with somewhat different at the helm? We’ve seen Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades….let’s use this as an opportunity to freshen up, not just Stark, but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well.

Your comments about his supporting cast are well taken, and they’ve not been used much recently. Happy Hogan died during Civil War, Pepper Potts has been working with The Order (although with that title being cancelled, she should be free again) and James Rhodes is working with The Initiative. I would like to see more supporting cast, but I think a new group has to be created, and that could best be done with him installed in S.H.I.E.L.D. as its head, since he’ll be around a whole new group of people. Your other ideas, about Yinsen and his armor, are very interesting, but there’s a problem; you’re working with the Iron Man you want, not the Iron Man you have. If you’re not fond of what’s been done with him, and you don’t think it’s the best direction to take the character, how would you get him from where he’s at to where you want him?

Well, obviously we need a scandal. Isn’t that the way most of these things are handled (at least on a quasi-governmental level)? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to discount Civil War, but we have to move on from that somehow. Otherwise, the continuing scenario makes him a controversial character for pretty flimsy reasons.

So how do we pull the trigger without horribly damaging the character? An inappropriate relationship? That might make Tony Stark some sort of pariah, even if it’s merely a misunderstanding. Some sort of fraud? Too damaging to his business persona, even if it’s proven to be a well-choreographed set-up. Perhaps a stress-induced relapse with his alcohol problem? This option is definitely believable…alcoholics struggle with their disease every day. It would make him sympathetic while also giving him an avenue to redeem himself. Maybe being the head of SHIELD is more than he bargained for. It starts out as something he turns to to calm his nerves, but knowing how one drink can lead to many, it could quickly spiral out of control and affect his crucial judgment when it comes to international security (and not to sound cloying, but it’s also a good window to introduce his problem into a film sequel). Bottom line: he makes a horrible mistake and is forced to step down.

In all honesty, I can’t see him garnering a positive supporting cast simply from the SHIELD ranks. Their agents are mostly pretty anonymous and it might come across as forced to create specific personalities just for Stark’s interaction. I can see him gathering a crew of loyal cohorts through these various “tests” I would put him through, a group of people with varied talents and interests beyond his. Making Tony more multi-dimensional through these adventures and relationships would be a priority and a natural progression…adding a spiritual, intellectual and emotional depth to him. Plus, there could be an entire storyline in there with “Where has Iron Man gone?”

To take it one step further, how about sending Tony on a healing quest after his SHIELD failure? With his alcoholism reasserting its grip on his psyche, Tony Stark decides to drop off the grid and clean himself up old-school style. Put Iron Man aside for a while and delve into Tony Stark as a person. He travels, he gets involved with locals, he finds intrigue…like a modern Indiana Jones without the relics. Tony rediscovers his humanity after being so consumed by technology (some of his health problems have been made rather extraordinary…he installed a chip in his spine and effectively “rebooted” himself?!?)

Hell, in the long run maybe he returns to society as a pacifist and that’s what leads him to pass down the armor to a younger successor (perhaps Yinsen’s kin?). He realizes that Iron Man is still important to the world landscape, but he just doesn’t have the drive any longer to don the suit himself. He becomes the mentor and the benefactor. Iron Man’s greatest supporting player could be Tony Stark himself!

I think there’s certainly some potential in what you’re doing here. However, I have to admit that the alcoholism subplot seems somewhat played out. How many times are we going to go down that road? Yes, I understand its part of his character and it something that all alcoholics deal with every day; that being said, using it again in a work of fiction makes it seem like a convenient plot device, and it also seems to weaken Stark’s strength and resolve as a character. He’s a hero and falling to the disease again, even to a lesser extent, seems to chip away again at what makes him a hero.

I also agree that Stark is an interesting enough character to support a book if he doesn’t show up in armor. However, it may not be very popular to do a book called Iron Man without the title character ever appearing. Perhaps a name change? Tony Stark doesn’t make for exciting cover copy; Tony Stark, International Man of Mystery? How do you write a book like this? If you remove Stark completely from his technological background, have you moved him too far from the source of his character? I mean, at that point you might as well write Indiana Jones, since some would argue that you’re no longer writing Tony Stark. While I think a short (one story arc, tops) break from the world of technology would be a nice change, any more than that and you’ve gone too far. Tony Stark is the cutting edge of technology. It’s part and parcel of who the man is. I still think you would have a more interesting story by allowing him to stay in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and dealing with how this man, who is in love with technology and ran a business for years, would run the world’s premiere intelligence agency.

I actually think the idea of him being a mentor to someone else in the armor has potential, although Denny O’Neill played with that a little after Tony Stark recovered from his second bout with alcoholism and James Rhodes was in the armor. Still, I do think that Stark could survive in a position of mentor to a newer hero, as long as he had that technology to tinker with. I think if you could get him to that point without pulling the old alcoholism chestnut out, and without having him wander the hinterlands, you’d have a stronger book and one more in touch with the character of Tony Stark.

I’m thinking we’re not going to agree on this one. I’d say we should let the readers decide, but I’m not sure if we have any.

Oh, you’re not getting off that easily! This is a big deal for me…that’s why I picked Drunk Tony as my avatar!

You don’t want to back down on the alcoholism thing because of Stark’s “strength and resolve” and you believe that using his disease would be going back to the well one too many times. But I say it’s just the opposite. He became an alcoholic and then he relapsed once (during the time you mentioned). That’s it. Are you honestly going to tell me that someone with his status and celebrity, with all the stress he’s under and the expectations piled upon him, is going to have such an easy time dealing with his problem? I call shenanigans.

Look, the strength of the Marvel characters (at least in their heyday) is their flaws. They make mistakes. They have angst. It’s a natural progression. You expect me to believe that someone with that kind of money and lifestyle isn’t going to fall into the same traps again? I’d list all of today’s celebrities that’ve gone down that path, but I’d quickly run out of fingers and toes to count on. It’s almost as if it’s just expected these days that relapses will occur. The stories you don’t hear about are the ones who’ve successfully controlled their disease. And you know why you don’t hear about them? Because they’re not interesting. Comics are supposed to tell intriguing stories with action and emotion, ups and downs, facing enemies head-on and conquering them over and over again…not just about some famous dude who had too many drinks once but now he’s fine. YAWN!

But that’s okay. We’ll let the drinking thing go. I still say he needs conflict. I don’t want to read another book about political situations and black-ops missions and unbelievable tech solutions to every single problem. That’s what really bores me about Stark. Everything is so easily overcome just by slapping some circuitry onto it. You say that Stark is all about the cutting edge, but I argue that that’s what makes him so one-dimensional. What else do we know about him? Where’s his depth? There are no friends, no love interests, no other connections to the real world. Even when he’s out of costume, his life is still all about being some sort of superhero. He’s so vanilla.

So here’s the one-word scenario that’ll keep your SHIELD option open (even though it seems like the equivalent of letting Halliburton officially run the CIA) while still giving Stark some much-needed character: COMPETITION.

As Director of SHIELD, I assume Tony Stark would be responsible for outfitting the organization with the best equipment they can get. Tony’s ego won’t allow him to imagine that someone would have better products to offer than his own company (And as a weird aside, isn’t it a conflict of interest to have the Stark CEO as Director of SHIELD? I have to admit I haven’t been reading the title lately. Was that ever explained?). However, he has to at least entertain bids from other companies to keep everything on the up-and-up. Let’s say that he and a select group of advisers attend a convention for Tactical Weaponry and Defense Systems. They stumble across a small company that just blows away everyone…their tech is simple and efficient, their designs are streamlined and intuitive…to put it plainly, Tony is pissed.

This small company earns a contract with the US government. When a fanatical right-wing militia tries to take over DC, the units using this technology neutralize the militia members quickly and effortlessly before SHIELD can even mobilize. Stark doesn’t like this idea. He sends SHIELD agents to investigate the company. The agents are captured after trespassing on the company’s grounds. The ensuing media coverage is a huge blow to Stark’s standing.

The back and forth continues with SHIELD and this company until Iron Man gets involved and discovers that the lead designer for this new firm is actually Yin Sen’s grandson and the company is run by Yin Sen’s daughter (*cough*potentialloveinterest*cough*). Then AIM gets involved and manages to steal some of this new technology. SHIELD must work side by side with Yin Sen’s family to shut down AIM’s plans and recover the prized tech.

When all is said and done, Tony’s ego is bruised but he also realizes that he isn’t necessarily the bee’s knees when it comes to the future. Maybe this is his opportunity to take a break, expand his point of view and go explore the world. I agree it shouldn’t be for more than a single storyline, but it would give Tony a chance to meet some people and forge some new relationships (Speaking of Forge, why doesn’t he work for Stark?). And Iron Man doesn’t need to be put aside completely. If Tony decides to fall off the grid, I’m sure he has the means to make sure no one can track him. That said, he could leave Iron Man in the hands of Yin Sen’s grandson…could be entertaining to have him in the suit and everyone interacting with him while thinking he was Tony Stark. He would be overwhelmed and slightly confused, but would rise to the occasion.

My major complaint with Stark right now is that it’s hard to make him a compelling character by putting him behind a desk and handing him some papers to push around. Competition, doubt, ego-breaking and the subsequent relief and need to wind down could play out nicely and reinvigorate a rather flat alter ego. The resulting adventures with Yin Sen’s grandson as Iron Man could also add some depth to an Iron Man character that for years has been all about just flying in and blasting some bad guy. And this plot surrounds him with new faces and new locales. I think it’s pretty win-win, if you ask me.

Wow. Maybe it’s the week off from work; maybe it’s spending five days in Vermont and actually having clear air to breathe (the lack of pollutants in my bloodstream is making me punchy); perhaps its the incredible amount of work I’m shoving to the side of my desk while I instead read and reply on the webpage….whatever it is, I think this approach has potential. First of all, it recognizes where Stark is right now in the Marvel Universe. Second, it harkens back to his origin by using relatives of Yinsen.  Quesada, while writing the book, had created “The Sons of Yinsen”, a group of Yinsen’s disciples who had created a cult based on the man. However, I see no reason why this cult’s existence would invalidate their actually being blood relatives of the man. Here’s how I see it working….Yinsen was obviously in political hot water and he knew it. He helped to slip his family out of the country right before he was captured by Wong Chu. His family, not knowing the resources or determination of Wong Chu to hunt them down, decided it would be safer to change their names and live in secret. However, Yinsen’s offspring inherited their father’s brilliance, as well as some of his early designs that were incorporated into the Iron Man armor. They begin their work to build a global technological empire, but still don’t keep their connection to Professor Yinsen hidden. I’d even say that it would be a mystery for a few issues after they’re introduced, and then it can be a big reveal.)

I love the idea of putting Forge and Iron Man together for awhile, or simply using Forge as a supporting character in the book. Man, if we’re trying to hurt Stark’s confidence, how difficult would it be for him to work with someone (or have someone working for him) who’s a better inventer and designer than he is? I mean, Stark is good, but Forge is a freaking mutant, and this is what he does; he invents things. Think of the improvements that Forge could make to the Iron Man armor. Perhaps, we have Tony and Yinsen’s daughter running around the world doing the globe trotting you seem so determined to get in the book. Meanwhile, Yinsen’s grandson stays behind to be Iron Man, with Forge working with him as a mentor and available technology help. What could be very interesting here would be if Yinsen Jr. and Forge make a better team and a more effective Iron Man than Stark ever did alone. Again, let’s nail Stark’s insecurities. I think there is real potential here.

Weird…I just read the first issue of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and he sort of plays up Stark’s insecurity about technological competition (he also includes a brief battle with members of an AIM side project). The only difference between Fraction’s story so far and the idea that I came up with is that Stark’s competition is a bad guy…Obadiah Stane’s son, to be specific. I love Fraction’s writing, but I think this kind of paints him into a corner. They’ve already set Stane’s son up as being a bit of an evil jerk. The only way this storyline can end is in Stane’s eventual defeat. So, in the long run, Tony gets another enemy. I feel like our revamp offered Tony a new group of friends and branched out the Iron Man character in new directions as well. I suppose both results are necessary at some point in the title’s continued history. Meh…maybe I’m just jealous that Matt gets to play in the Marvel sandbox while I remain a meager blogger!