The NewMU so far…

Jan-06-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO!

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

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

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

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

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

Do you agree with what I changed?  Any thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moon Knight: Brought into the Light of Day

Nov-06-08

Moon Knight, oft described as a Batman clone, has had a long but relatively undistinguished career at Marvel Comics. Personally, I’ve always felt the Batman clone comment was unfair; yes, they’re both superheroes who are millionaires and mostly fight at night, but otherwise, the similarities are pretty nonexistent. I mean, Wayne’s loyal butler is English and Moon Knight’s is French; I don’t see how their lives could be more different.

Moon Knight is Marc Spector, a mercenary and soldier-of-fortune who fights another mercenary named Bushman, and loses badly. Left for dead in the Egyptian desert, he is rescued by devotees of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon and Vengeance. Unconscious and near death, Spector has a vision in which Khonshu appears to him and offers him a new chance at life if Spector will be Khonshu’s avatar on Earth. Spector agrees, his life is saved and, when he returns to the United States, he creates the Moon Knight identity.

Not a bad origin, although, as mentioned, it hasn’t led him to much success in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps he should have surmised times would be tough when his first appearance was in Werewolf by Night, one of Marvel’s titles in the 1970’s which tapped into the horror market. This was in 1975, and after that appearance Moon Knight jumped around the Marvel Universe a little (even joining the Defenders for a few issues), until finally securing his own series in 1980. Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz chronicled these adventures and, while the book was critically lauded, it didn’t do wonders in sales, and was cancelled in 1984. Since then the character has appeared in numerous one-shots and limited series, and has also received other chances to carry an ongoing series; he’s currently on his fourth.

None of these series have been spectacularly successful, although all have had brief flashes of fame. Normally, it is the artist that seems to make the public take notice of a Moon Knight comic; Bill Sienkiewicz was in the beginning of his career when he pencilled Moon Knight, and it helped to push him into the spotlight; Stephen Platt was his penciller in the mid-90s and was quite a hit with those who enjoyed his very Image-esque art style; and his current series started off strong with pencils by fan-favorite David Finch. Oddly, while Doug Moench, his co-creator and original writer, gets some credit for his early stories, most other writers are rarely thought of in connection to the character.

Perhaps one of the reasons for that is Moon Knight’s striking visuals. His costume is distinctive and jumps off the page at the reader; the flowing cape and the contrast between the white of the costume and the dead of night work together to make Moon Knight a character to remember. However, his personality often seems to be ignored in the rush to focus on his visual representation, and I’m not sure that’s wise. The character actually could be quite interesting, if properly developed. So, the question before us for the next few days is: How do we make Moon Knight the interesting and successful character he has always had the potential to be?

Nail on the head with that last paragraph. Sienkiewicz set the tone for every Moon Knight story that will ever be published. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. At the time, his style was quirky and gritty and maintained a certain level of darkness and chaos. The art had a quasi-supernatural feel to it which fit the character’s design and his backstory well. I think Finch did a nice job in capturing that roughness in both his posing and his costume design.

The only problem (and it’s a big one) is that Moench’s ideas were a bit ahead of their time. See, Marc Spector was a mercenary and he realized that he was no Clark Kent…meaning that it may be obvious to the fine folks of Chicago that Spector and Moon Knight are one in the same. So, he takes the blood money he has earned and invests it, becoming a millionaire. He then creates the identity of Steven Grant to rub elbows with the upper crust folks. To keep up with what’s going on at the ground level, he also creates the identity of cab driver Jake Lockley. Let’s recap that. We have Marc Spector the mercenary, Moon Knight the superhero, Steven Grant the rich dude and Jake Lockley the common man…all in the same body. Helping him with this marvelous charade are his pilot/butler Frenchie and Marlene, the daughter of an archaeologist he tried to save from Bushman’s greed. It was a brilliant concept that allowed Moon Knight to mingle in different social classes without anyone suspecting his true alter ego. Imagine the long sleepless hours, the precise yet hectic schedule and the general confusion this kind of lifestyle would create. The story potential was limitless.

Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after only 38 issues.

And here’s where the problem of Moench’s ideas comes in. See, no one else knew how to handle the multiple personality thing. So instead of trying to use the concept creatively, Marvel’s editorial department allowed it to just be shoved aside and retconned away. When the Fist of Khonshu miniseries was released (with an all-new creative team), all of the established bits of Moon Knight’s background were stripped off. Alan Zelenetz, who had taken over writing chores on the last few issues of the ongoing series, was tapped to “reinvigorate” the Moon Knight concept. So what did he do? Well, let me break it down for you: Marc Spector abandons the identities he has created, including Moon Knight (bad move). He gets telepathically summoned to Egypt by the Khonshu followers (huh?). They give him a bunch of “mystical” weapons…some of which were created by Hawkeye that one time the Avengers got sucked back to ancient times (…speechless…). He absorbs the Spirit of Khonshu which gives him limited superhuman strength based on the phases of the moon (which is kind of cool, except when he has to say “I can’t fight this week. The moon’s in a waxing gibbous. Sorry.”). And he turns his back on his supporting cast to go hang out with the West Coast Avengers (and later finds out that it was actually Khonshu who wanted to join the team because he was always picked last for dodgeball or something). About the only really cool thing to come out of that miniseries was this Sienkiewicz cover:

So that’s the first reason behind the character’s continued wading in the bottom-feeding realm of Marvel’s cast. But I’ve got another pretty valid reason too: his rogues gallery. Check out this short list of villains that he has faced throughout his adventures: Bora, Bushman, Coachwhip, Commodore Donny Planet, Conquer-Lord, Flag-Smasher, Grand Bois, Hatchet-Man (his brother Randall), Hobgoblin, Jester, Karg, Killer Shrike, Master Sniper, Midnight Man, Morpheus, Phantom Rider, Ringer, Secret Empire, Sons of the Jackals, Stained Glass Scarlet and Werewolf by Night. Not exactly any Ali-Frazier matchup in the bunch, huh?

And let’s not forget that he’s been killed at least three times during his career too. I don’t want to make it sound like that’s a unique thing in the comics world, but when your character isn’t in a top tier book a needless death/resurrection thing can really throw off sales.

Basically, it comes back to the tenets John and I espouse for every revamp we detail. 1. You need a unique selling point. In this case, Moon Knight had it with the multiple personalities. 2. You need a strong supporting cast and some relevant foes to fight. The former was taken from him while the latter never developed. And finally, 3. You need some consistency. Stick with it. Make something of it.

In Moon Knight’s latest ongoing series, writer Charlie Huston brought the character out of a self-induced exile and revealed his waning faith in Khonshu, his apparent addiction to prescription painkillers and the trouble he’s having rebuilding past friendships. That’s all a great start. He’s even hallucinating from time to time. Great! The only thing I wanted to see more of was some sort of mental imbalance from trying to play so many different characters throughout his career. Unfortunately, the later issues of Huston’s run have turned into a stream of brooding heroes and punching contests. He did re-introduce Midnight, the poorly-conceived sidekick that was foisted upon us all during the second Moon Knight ongoing title, but that whole plot turned into a watered down version of the Miracleman/Kid Miracleman dynamic.

There’s more to say here about direction and mistakes and missed opportunities, but I’ll turn it back over to John for now. What can be done to re-energize this property? Can Moon Knight be made into a top player in the Marvel Universe? Should he be?

Well, making Moon Knight a top player in the Marvel Universe suggests making him front and center in the Marvel Universe, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I enjoyed the issues when Moon Knight was in the West Coast Avengers, but it never truly fit the character, and he always looked out of place with the team. In addition, because the Avengers rarely run around during the evening, he was forced to fight a lot during the day, and amongst the rest of the team, he just became another costumed hero. I don’t have a problem with him being an associate of the hero community, but I think he should be on the edges, and if he gets involved in things, he should be allowed to do things his way. I’d recommend few guest stars in his book, at least from the heroes and those that do drop by should expect to be dragged into Moon Knight’s world, rather than vice versa.

That being said, I truly do like the character. I’ve perused a few issues of the current run, and honestly, I thought they were practically unreadable. I found them to be full of mopey, over rendered characters speaking in tortured prose that made absolutely no sense. I read three issues in a row, and never really knew what was going on or what the character’s motivations were. The art was, I believe, attempting to be dark and moody, but sadly was simply dark and ugly (this was after Finch left the title). I was very disappointed, because I did enjoy Moon Knight and thought that a lot more could have been done with him.

The multiple personality bit was brilliant, and I enjoyed the fact that it could serve almost like a superpower in some cases (at one point during Moon Knight’s tenure as a West Coast Avenger, the villain Dominus paralyzes the Avengers by affecting their minds; Moon Knight is immune, because every time Dominus hit him with the ray, it just knocked out one personality, and another was always there to take over). However, I never saw the downside to the multiple personality really explored, and it needs to be. The man is at least three different people and there are literally hundreds of issues worth of stories that could be written on that premise alone.

I also believe that the visual style of the character is very important. The demands of it are not easy for any one artist to draw, especially if you play up the multiple personality aspect of the character. The world of Moon Knight is a dark place, and it needs to be drawn dark, but still readable, straddling that fine line between a horror book and a superhero book. Steven Grant’s world is that of high society; it’s bright and well lit and needs a different feel. Jake Lockley is more of a dark, noir feeling, since he’s on the streets with the people. Finally, Marc Spector is a straight up action mercenary, so a cleaner action style works best for him. To really emphasize the different personalities, you really want to portray their lives in distinct styles of art, which is going to be difficult for a lot of artists. There are some who could do it, although it might be best to hire two or three different pencillers, or to have different inkers working over one penciller to really make the book look unique. The differing artistic styles could seem jarring, but I think they’re necessary to really get across the fact that there are so many different people in Moon Knight’s head.

Even with that being said, we still have to work on his supporting cast and his rogues gallery. I think his supporting cast has potential. Marlene is a gorgeous woman who’s been shown to be strong as well. The interesting thing to explore there is how does Marlene love a man who is actually four different men. Does she love them all? Just some of them? How can she help him integrate his four personalities into one? (For that matter, does he even want to integrate his personalities?) What kind of woman can live like this? I also think that Frenchie could be used more. He’s run quite the gauntlet, and has been beaten up and paralyzed numerous times over the years. They’ve also recently decided that he’s gay. He’s Marc’s oldest and only true friend, and he needs to have a place in the series. He’s not just an “Alfred”, but a very involved participant in Moon Knight’s activities, with a long history of experience as a mercenary and the mechanical expertise to keep Moon Knight’s gadgets working.

The rogues gallery though? Yeah, that’s going to take a bit more work.

The thought of having more than one artist on an ongoing Moon Knight title is not only brilliant, it’s practical. Sure, setting the right mood is important for the book. What may be even more important to the success of the book though is its schedule. Marvel is notorious for its lateness. Having multiple artists means less pages for each and could (if everything is planned well) result in a shorter completion time. Of course, if one of the artists falls behind, then it could also spell certain disaster. It’s tricky.

I agree that Moon Knight needs to stay on the fringe. And the idea of visiting heroes adopting his tone is crucial. It’s like what we talked about with the horror setting. You need consistency to pull that stuff off correctly. Spider-Man is a good fit. Punisher may have his place. And Daredevil seems to work on the same outskirts of the Marvel Universe. Hulk? Not so much. Iron Man? Too techy. And the team thing is right out the window.

The multiple personality aspect HAS to be brought back. That’s what made him different from Batman. He actually played different roles all the time and it didn’t seem silly (Matches Malone, anyone?). Plus, it gives the opportunity to wonder which one is the REAL character. So many ways to play that theme out.

His supporting cast is small but important. Frenchie gives support and Marlene grounds him somewhat. I think there’s a big opportunity to expand the cast though…add some tension.

The rogues gallery has me stumped right now. One would think that his archenemy should be Bushman, but there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the character. He’s just an angrier version of Marc Spector. No, Moon Knight should be dealing with the more shadowy types. Conspiracy theorists. Twisted religious causes. Human trafficking. Back alley genetic experiments. The kind of overtly creepy stuff that the other heroes don’t want to get their hands in, let alone acknowledge.

We’ve established a general tone and at least one or two things to explore. You want to take a stab at the rogues thing? Maybe throw some names out and I can see if I can make them fit? Other ideas for expanding the supporting cast? And didn’t we make mention, during our Go West musings, that we would relocate him back to Chicago? Is there something we can do with that?

I’m going to start by discussing the rogues, since I think we agree that a hero stands or falls on the strength of their Rogues Gallery. You mentioned some of the people he has fought in the past above, and I’ll start with them. I should make sure I agree with you on Bushman first though. Bushman is, quite simply, dull and uninspired. The only reason he’s stuck around is because he was part of Moon Knight’s origin, but that ship has sailed. Time to use a better class of villain.

My first pick for a member of his Rogues Gallery would be Killer Shrike. I’m well aware that Shrike has never had a large role in the Marvel Universe, and this has puzzled me for some time. First of all, I like his visual look, and in the Moon Knight title, that’s important. He has a neat, streamlined look, with a nifty cape. The colors of his costume are dark, and he’d fit in quite well in a darker, moodier comic. Killer Shrike may need an attitude adjustment, or perhaps we simply need a new Shrike, which should be easily accomplished. Visually, I think Shrike is as close to Moon Knight’s opposite number as currently exists.

Another possible villain for him would be Hobgoblin. I fully understand that Hobgoblin is seen as a Spider-Man villain, but with the Green Goblin back among the living, Hobgoblin has faded from the scene in the Spidey titles. Let’s give him a new lease on life with Moon Knight. Again, Hobgoblin has a great visual look and is actually a rather scary looking bad guy; I’ve always felt he was a much more menacing villain than the Green Goblin. There have been quite a few men behind the mask of the Hobgoblin, and we could use any of them, or create our own Hobgoblin. Or, if we simply must keep Bushman in the picture, make him the new Hobgoblin. He wouldn’t be the first mercenary to don the costume, and you can retain the connection he has with Moon Knight and reinvent Bushman as a more interesting villain at the same time.

Sadly, Moon Knight’s past foes are really rather pathetic (although this could be a place to use the Ringer I mentioned in our “Building Better Villains” posts over Halloween), but I did notice Coachwhip. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Serpent Society, and perhaps we could gather a few of their former members (including Coachwhip) into a smaller Serpent Squad to bedevil our heroes. Most of them are fairly freaky and would work in an edgier story.

After that, I fear we’ll be creating villains for Moon Knight. It might be interesting to create at least one villain that’s seen more often for one of the other identities. For example, a corporate bigwig who runs in the same circles as Stephen Grant could be interesting. He could either be a true villain who simply likes to run with the jetset or he could be more of a weak man, who does bad things because he needs to in order to maintain his lifestyle. The interest would be in seeing how Moon Knight handles him when this guy stumbles into that area of Spector’s life. It could be even more interesting as Moon Knight’s personalities begin to overlap; he can normally keep them separate because their worlds are so different. What happens when those worlds touch? How do his personalities interact when someone crosses from one life to the next?

That’s a start at a Rogues Gallery. I’m sure we could find some other villains being underused in other areas of the Marvel Universe, dust them off, and give them Moon Knight as a sparring partner. I think Xemnu the Titan is free…

After your “time to use a better class of villain” comment, I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but the selection of Killer Shrike as a main foe is brilliant! I feel dirty inside. To tell the truth, Shrike and Moon Knight have a lot in common. Both were mercenaries before they became costumed types. Both have generally succeeded on their own skills, with the exception being Shrike’s powered armor. And both have pretended to be something they’re not…Shrike has actually posed undercover in a number of criminal organizations. To take it a step further, there’s the topic of vengeance. In one of his earlier adventures, Moon Knight faced Shrike (with Ringer and Coachwhip) who managed to shoot down the Mooncopter (don’t laugh) and nearly kill Frenchie. Shrike was never punished for that daring act.

Now pardon me for a minute as I digress into another revamp, but I think we need to update Killer Shrike as well. I don’t mind the guy in the suit. He has that military background and extensive experience working in the underworld with various unsavory types. However, he has a few faults too. First of all, I don’t know about the cape (or the goofy plume on his head…if he still wears it). I could picture some sort of wing-like thing similar to Black Bolt’s costume. Secondly, his name is just silly. Can we drop the “Killer” part and just call him Shrike? I mean, from a scientific stance, all shrikes are killers. They’re creepy little birds (also referred to as “butcher birds”) that like to impale their prey on thorns or sticks. Why can’t we adopt some of that nastiness in his characterization? If Marvel wants to have a more visceral, ground-level title, this could definitely be it.

Your next pick was Hobgoblin and I have to disagree with you. As much as I like his look (even with its similarities to Moon Knight), in my mind he is inexorably tied to Spider-Man. Each man behind the mask had some sort of tie to the Spider titles and most of Hobgoblin’s encounters took place with Spidey. If we took the character and put Bushman or another meaningless person under the cowl it really wouldn’t make sense or be an original story. That’s a dead end to me. I would suggest we could use Demogoblin, because he had a previous run-in with Moon Knight too. However, I think his demonic origin may be a bit too “out there” for a grounded title. Let’s just skip the whole goblin subset.

Coachwhip is an interesting possibility. And she would add a villainous female to the ranks. I would absolutely LOVE to construct a new Serpent Society and the Moon Knight ongoing series is the perfect place to present a darker, dirtier lineup that could become involved in some of the less-flashy types of crime I mentioned earlier in the post. I’d include some of the members with interesting names and powers like Boomslang (which is actually one of the most venomous snakes in the world), Puff Adder and either Sidewinder (useful powers) or Cobra (creepy powers), plus create a couple new ones perhaps based on snakes like the Keelback, Lancehead and/or Pit Viper.

As far as creating new villains goes, there are a lot of options. The one you mentioned seems like a sort of Kingpin/Norman Osborn thing…which is an expected, though not altogether horrible, direction. Although I must say that “The Committee” sort of serves that kind of purpose for him right now (without the personality involvement you mentioned). It would be intriguing to have a bad guy who Moon Knight encounters in his various personas…a ruthless tycoon that gladhands with Steven Grant then badmouths Jake Lockley as the lowly driver. It would be kind of cool to demonstrate how someone like that acts when they have to interact with those they deem below them. Of course, this same guy might look up to Marc Spector and need to hire him for some nefarious scheme.

I could also see us creating a sort of anti-Moon Knight character as perhaps the champion of another Egyptian God, one that is in conflict with Khonshu (and, as an aside, didn’t the Serpent Society pal around with a version of Set – the Egyptian God of chaos?). Or perhaps we could set up an underground group that worships a different interpretation of Khonshu and is at odds with Moon Knight (sort of like radical Islam versus traditional Islam). That’s one direction.

I’m all for making Killer Shrike simply Shrike, since that’s less typing. Let it be done! Actually, I agree with everything you mentioned about him, and truly believe that he could be a first class villain for our hero.

I could disagree with a lot of your Hobgoblin comments, and while I agree that he’s tied to Spider-Man now, I don’t think it has to stay that way. After all, Sandman was another villain tied to Spider-Man, who moved over to become a Fantastic Four villain, and of course, the Kingpin was every inch (and he has many inches) a Spidey villain, who’s now more universally thought of in connection to Daredevil. These seem odd at first, while a reader’s mind adjusts, but soon the villain becomes associated with their new antagonist. I’d also point out that Jason Phillip Macendale, one of the Hobgoblins, was very pragmatic and I think he’d be happy to continue his criminal career avoiding Spider-Man. I could make these arguments, but I won’t. I’m more than willing to concede the Hobgoblin, mostly because you like the idea of a new Serpent Society!

I like the concept of keeping it smaller, with more like 5 or 6 members, rather than the 15 or 20 they had at one time. I think the character of Sidewinder is a fascinating one; he had gone straight, I believe, to be able to spend time with his child, but there are many ways to bring him back to the bad side of the street. That being said, I’ve also learned to like Cobra, a character that I never thought much of. Mark Gruenwald really fleshed him out during his Captain America run, and I think the Cobra would be very interesting; combining him in a group with Sidewinder could lead to some clashes, since both of them led the Serpent Society at times, and the two of them aren’t getting along right now.

While I recognize the cliche of the evil businessman, I think a character that can interact with all of Specter’s personalities is too valuable to dismiss. Besides, we don’t have to make this character a ruthless planner, which does tend to be the stereotype. Instead, he could simply be a weak willed man, who is desperate to hold onto what he has and will do reprehensible things to retain his wealth, his power, or maybe even his wife. Perhaps his wife is shallow and vain, and will leave him if she doesn’t get the jewels and valuables she covets. Perhaps the man is a city politician who had a skeleton in his closet, and was determined to hide it during a re-election campaign. He was forced to associate with less than reputable people to accomplish this goal, and unfortunately, he opened a door that he has not been able to close, as these people continue to force him into other actions or risk losing his political clout under a scandal. Perhaps he’s a young man who’s running his parents’ business, and not doing a very good job of it, and is willing to do anything to keep the business solvent so his parents won’t be disappointed. My point is, we don’t have to use the Norman Osborn archetype for this character if we don’t want to.

As for a secret organization, like the Committee or the Secret Empire, I like the thought of one, but the reality always seems to fall far short. In the end, they seem to either have no personality and/or very nebulous goals. If we were to use such an organization, we’d have to know exactly why they were formed and what their motivation is, and I’d want to detail out at least a few prominent members so that we had some personality we could infuse into their appearances. I think one of the main problems with the Secret Empire is that everyone has their identity hidden by those bloody faux Ku Klux Klan robes they wear. Normally the identities of the important members is a secret to the reader, as they’re someone the writer wants to reveal down the road, so they aren’t given personalities, in the fear that this could clue the reader into their true identity. Phooey! I say give them individual personalities; it makes the organization so much more interesting than any minor mystery about who’s actually hiding behind the hood.

A counterpart to Moon Knight, embodied in the avatar of another Egyptian deity? I can see that. The only other Egyptian deity that ever regularly appears in Marvel comics (and certainly the only evil one) is Set or Seth, depending on who’s writing him. You mentioned tying him into the Serpent Squad, which would make sense, because of the snake motif. However, we could also go with Sekhmet, a lion god that has fought the Avengers and the Black Panther. Even more interesting could be using an avatar of Anubis, the Egyptian god of funerals and mummification. In fact, Moon Knight had a run in with one of his priests already. A modern day priest of Anubis, Sheikh Ahmad Azis declared himself the reincarnation of Aram-Set and named himself Anubis the Jackal. He was killed in a confrontation with Moon Knight, way back in the first issue of his second series. Perhaps this Sheikh actually was connected to Anubis, and Anubis annoints someone else as his avatar to get revenge for the Sheikh’s defeat?

So, we have Shrike, a new Serpent Society, an unscrupulous businessman, a new Committee or Secret Empire (choose your favorite) and an avatar of a rival deity. That should keep Moon Knight busy, and the other heroes won’t laugh at his Rogues Gallery anymore. What about his supporting cast? Do we stick with just Marlene and Frenchie?

Your idea of having a Set-based avatar running alongside the Serpent Society makes me chuckle. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because it reminds me of Cobra and their dealings with Serpentor. Ridiculous. There are, however, some interesting paths to explore in the Egyptian pantheon. And I think that stuff could be mined to great effect. Also, I think one way to expand his supporting cast would be to introduce some sort of native guide or foreign professor steeped in the mythologies. If it were a guide, it could be someone who is determined to serve at Moon Knight’s side, in honor of Khonshu, and that would lead to some funny encounters with Frenchie as they both try to help Moon Knight. Perhaps the professor type could be female and Steven Grant could meet her at a museum fundraiser…the two of them hit it off and he uses her as a resource. I think we have to be careful to build up his alternate identities and make at least one of them strong enough to stand on its own. That’s another Batman trap we don’t want to fall into, where the costumed character is a bigger presence than the man under the mask.

Frenchie and Marlene should be the all-time core of the series. Building up both of their personalities apart from Moon Knight will help strengthen the storylines overall. And we can have supporting cast members bloom out of those characters too…Frenchie’s new boyfriend or a new love interest for Marlene that ends up being part of our new Secret Empire. The multiple personalities give us a lot of chances to introduce new characters, both useful and disposable.

I’m interested in the move to Chicago. There’s already an established image of political corruption there, which would lend itself to some sort of evil underworld. Crime has been up in the city recently as well. The Serpent Society might set up house there, seeing it as ripe pickings and new stomping grounds away from a gaggle of heroes. The Windy City backdrop gives us an easy in for pretty much everything we’ve talked about so far.

I’m certainly all for moving him to Chicago; think how cool his cape will look in the wind out there! I also like your idea of an expert in the Egyptian pantheon. One thing to consider about his supporting cast touches on something you mentioned, which was that we wanted to make sure his secret identities are all strong characters in their own right. By doing that (and I agree that it’s essential that we do it) we create a situation where Moon Knight almost is his own supporting cast. We now have a book tracking seven characters, if we include Frenchie, Marlene, our new expert, and all of the four Moon Knight personas. It also would probably be wise to introduced a few supporting characters for each personality who don’t deal with any of the other sections of Spector’s psyche. For example, Jake Lockley might have a few informants who only ever deal with him; Spector would have a few mercenary contacts and Grant would have some high society friends. We’d need a few recurring characters for each of these personalities if we’re going to sell them as independent of each other.

I would see the structure of the book being similar to the Green Lantern title that DC produced back in the early 90s; one story arc would deal with Hal Jordan, then one with John Stewart, and then one with Guy Gardner, with occassional stories involving them all. Of course, Moon Knight would always dominate the book, but I could see one story arc putting more focus on his Jake Lockley persona, and then another spending more time with his Steven Grant side….that sort of thing. The first story arc would have to introduce all of the personalities to the reader, but there would be plenty of time to flesh them out down the road.

Hmmm. We covered supporting cast and villains; we’ve discussed how to structure the series, and what we think the important beats are….did we forget anything?

Well, I don’t know if you have any opinion on it or not, but I think we should do a quick examination of Moon Knight himself and see what works and what doesn’t. As things stand, he’s pretty much Batman in white. We’ve talked about increasing the presence of his various identities, but we haven’t discussed what we might change about the guy in the fancy outfit. Does he have any sort of powers? What are his limitations? Does he rely on painkillers to get through his adventures? Is he a gadget hound? Does he have a Mooncycle and a Moonmobile and a pair of Moonskates? Let’s do a quick inventory of what makes Moon Knight tick.

I would like to see his “lunar-reliant” abilities make a return, not necessarily in reference to the various phases (though it would be cool to remove any additional powers during a new moon and have his powers go overboard during a full moon) but more in the “better at night than in the daytime” sense. He could be similar to a werewolf but without the creepy transformation. Honestly, he looks ridiculous fighting in broad daylight but the full whiteout effect would be pretty effective at night.

I think his painkiller addiction should be front and center in dealing with all of his various identities. The drugs will color his entire life, but each alter ego will handle it differently.

And the gadgets have to go. I don’t mind him having some sort of staff or a couple bladed weapons that may have been given to him by followers of Khonshu. However, the mass-produced throwing weapons and the helicopters and submarines and dirigibles have to go. I don’t like the “funded by a millionaire” quality of the character. It makes him too much like Batman. He should be more of a ground-level hero…relying on his skills and his environment to take out the bad guys.

I agree that returning to him his Khonshu derived might is a good idea.  If he’s Khonshu’s avatar, he really should get something out of the deal, and I love the idea that these abilities are dependent on the phases of the moon.  Ditto your feelings about the powers perhaps getting a little too strong and out of control during the full moon.

As for gadgets, I think he has to have some.  I mean, he is a millionaire, and surely he does something with his money.  I wouldn’t give him a utility belt and a submarine, but I’ve always liked his flying Moonjet (or whatever he calls it) and it does provide him with transportation, which every hero needs.  However, maintaining that would probably be expensive enough; certainly I think he should fight with his traditional weapons, like the ankh. 

I will admit that the painkiller addiction seems a little too Desperate Housewives to me.  I’m not fond of it.  That being said, it makes perfect sense; how would a human who gets beat on as much as he does, with no real powers to speak of, survive that sort of pain.  Of course, if we’re returning a measure of superstrength to him with his Khonshu given powers, would he still need the painkillers?  I’m thinking that, when the moon is waning, he would need them, since his powers are at their weakest.  However, for much of the rest of the month they wouldn’t be as necessary; of course, he’s addicted to them, so he’s taking them all the time.  Do they interact with his powers?  If he breaks the addiction, what does he do at those time when his powers aren’t strong enough, and he needs relief from the pain?  There is some potential in this concept.


Superhorrors: When Capes and Killings Clash

Oct-29-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marvel and DC: The Horror, the Horror!

Oct-28-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Angel & Iceman: Best Friends Forever

Oct-06-08

Do you think Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington wrote the typical messages in their Xavier Institute yearbooks? You know, all of those “have a great summer” lines and “remember that time we gave Cyclops a wedgie?” quips. I would conclude that they did, indeed. Why is that? Well, for the simple reason that the two of them seem to be inseparable in the Marvel Universe. So what makes these two heroes such tight teammates?

Let’s try to find some answers, shall we? Angel and Iceman made their first appearances in X-Men #1 way back in September 1963. Since that time, you rarely see one without the other. They remained on the original X-Men team through issue #94 in August 1975. My first inclination would be to say that they were so used to being teammates, that when the first incarnation of the X-Men split, Angel and Iceman thought it would be best to continue on together. Beast was too cool for school and had already left to join the Avengers. Cyclops stuck around to lead the new team. And Jean Grey was too busy being killed and reborn for nearly 12 years to be bothered by any sort of continuity.

Being post-teen mutants in the swinging 70’s must’ve been too much for Warren and Bobby, so they decided to take a cross-country trip to Los Angeles and join the most disparate group of comic book weirdos ever assembled (since trumped by nearly every Defenders gathering ever). Until January 1978, they were members of The Champions. Evidently, writer Tony Isabella wanted The Champions to be just Angel and Iceman, but editorial intervention brought in Black Widow, Hercules and Ghost Rider (and later, Darkstar…with Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts waiting in the wings). Aside from the completely obvious pairing of two mutants with a Russian spy, a Greek demigod, and a flaming demon on a motorcycle, The Champions was most noteworthy for having the team face off against Swarm, the Nazi beekeeper. That was good stuff.

Times must have been tough after that powerhouse group disbanded. For the next couple of years, Angel and Iceman make scattered appearances, primarily in a few issues of Spectacular Spider-Man , Marvel Two-in-One and What If? And, while Iceman was busy on his big television debut in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Angel had a recurring role in early Dazzler issues.

Angel & Iceman somehow dragged themselves out of character purgatory and dove headfirst into the eighth circle of Marvel hell, the Defenders. In October 1983, they joined their fellow former X-Man Beast in the New Defenders (Beast having joined up with the non-group after his run with the Avengers). I don’t have the issue in front of me, so I can only assume that Bobby and Warren agreed to come aboard after a conversation with Beast that involved a lot of crying and begging on his part. I don’t know. Maybe they lost a bet? That seems likely.

When that group broke up for good in February 1986, the duo came together with their Xavier Institute alumni to form the original X-Factor. Yes, they were saved from falling back into obscurity by becoming mutant hunters. See, X-Factor (aside from unbelievably bringing Jean Grey back to life and facilitating Cyclops leaving his wife and newborn child) was set up on the basis of reverse psychology. They “hunted” mutants, but were secretly mutants themselves and only “hunted” other mutants in order to save them from persecution. Shh! Don’t tell anyone.

Of course, realizing that calling yourselves mutant hunters was probably bad PR for mutants in general, they soon abandoned that premise and were promptly taken over by the government who quite enjoyed the mutant hunting notion. By this time, the main catalyst for keeping the original X-Men from rejoining the flock (Magneto as leader) had been removed and Angel & Iceman were free to return to the fold. Oddly enough, the two of them continue to come and go together from the X-Men pretty much up through present day.

Are they just good friends? Are they MORE than friends? Is it something about their powers that work well together? Is Bobby Drake really shallow and just hanging out with Warren Worthington because he’s rich? Is Angel sticking close to Bobby because his powers are cooler and make up for Angel’s inadequacies?

There HAS to be an underlying theme here!

It’s interesting that you bring these two up as a couple, since there were rumors swirling in the late 90s and early 00’s that Iceman was gay. That would have supplied an interesting reason for why he hung out with Angel so much; he had an unrequited crush on our winged mutant. However, Marvel, no doubt feeling that one gay mutant was more than enough, quashed these rumors pretty quickly, and started trying to give Iceman feelings for any woman he came in contact with, which always struck me as being incredibly forced and uncomfortable. I’m not saying I think Iceman is gay, as much as I’m saying that having a crush on every girl he met had never been his thing before, and trying to shoehorn it into his personality now just didn’t seem to work.

In the end, I think these two have a nice little bromance going and they certainly have spent more time together than any other mutant duo I can name, except for Cyclops and Jean or Havok and Polaris, which isn’t really helping their claims of being no more than a bromance. Iceman, we may remember, actually did try to break up the Angel/Iceman bromance with an actual romance; when Polaris was first introduced, her boyfriend was Iceman, and the two were rather inseparable. Well, inseparable for all of about ten issues, until Havok was introduced. His golden hair, chiseled features and Summers boy ability to have women fall all over him quickly seduced Polaris, and she left a very hurt and angry Iceman to chase after a man who couldn’t control his powers, and could emit mortal blasts of concussive force at any time. Polaris wasn’t too bright in her early appearances.

It is interesting that Iceman and Angel have ended up together so often. If one reads the early issues of the X-Men, when they appeared together, or even the issues of X-Factor in which they starred, they don’t tend to pal around much. Both of those books almost always paired Iceman off with the Beast; they were the Scooby and Shaggy of the mutant set. I would consider Angel the Daphne of the group (some might think Jean should have that position, but I would argue no; after all, Daphne is useless, which fits Angel, Jean has red hair, just like Velma, and in the end, Angel is prettier than Jean), and we all know that Daphne never runs around with Scooby and Shaggy. Indeed, Angel usually spent time with Cyclops and Jean, especially in the early issues of the title, when Stan Lee and subsequent writers were desperately trying to create some tension in the Cyclops/Jean relationship by making us think that Angel might sweep Jean away before Cyclops got his chance. Sadly, it’s difficult to build that tension, since it was obvious that Jean had no romantic interest in Angel by her thought balloons, so unless Angel was going to kidnap her and force her to marry him at gunpoint, the reader could be confident that Jean and Cyclops would eventually be together.

Iceman and Angel both have tried to separate themselves; they’ve both had limited series and one-shots, and as I’ve mentioned before, Iceman even went back to college and became a Certified Public Accountant. Surprisingly, this career does not appear to have held his interest. Apparently, he preferred dealing with Magneto over dealing with the IRS.

I don’t believe their powers are incredibly compatible, and they don’t seem to complement each other much in that regard. Of course, as we’ve noted, except when he had the metal wings created by Apocalypse, Angel is basically worthless. In 1963, as I’ve also mentioned before, most of Marvel’s heroes (except for Thor and the Hulk) were much weaker; the whole Marvel Universe was probably a 1/3 of the power that it is today. Over the years, both heroes and villains got stronger, and where the ability to fly was relatively unique and interesting in 1963, by the mid-80s almost everyone in the Marvel Universe could fly, even Aunt May (that time she became the herald of Galactus). Upgrading Angel to Archangel and giving him metal wings was a very necessary way of keeping the character relevant, but it has sadly been reversed, and he is now useless once more. Certainly, as I’ve said before, the personality is more important than the power, but when your power is the ability to flutter around the villains, smacking at them with your little pink fists, you become difficult to write, and generally frustrating to read about. Hey, I liked Cypher of the New Mutants too, but the ability to understand languages earned him a grave before he was out of his teens.

I’m sure the real reason that Iceman and Angel so often find themselves on teams together is because someone in Marvel editorial feels that, by placing them both on a team, you can get some of the magic of the original X-Men. This is also highly absurd, as the original X-Men had no magic; if they had, their book would not have been bimonthly and they wouldn’t have been in reprints for two years in the 70s. Still, putting either Iceman or Angel on a team means nothing, and conjures up no images. Putting them together makes one think of the original mutants, and that means something. Storywise though, it also makes a certain amount of sense. If you’re launching a new venture, surely you’re more comfortable with an old friend at your side. Since the original X-Men were rather insular and didn’t mix much with the rest of the Marvel Universe (much like the current X-Men, come to think of it) Angel and Icemen don’t have a lot of friends beyond their immediate teammates, and the original X-Men class certainly shares a bond that would be hard to break. I would imagine that it’s this very sense of camaraderie that keeps these two close through thick and thin.

I agree with you for the most part. I’m trying to recall any significant romances that either Angel or Iceman have had in their documented existences. Iceman had a fling with Opal Tanaka, who ended up leaving him for a former villain. He dated Lorna Dane on and off over the years. And he flirted with Havok’s nurse Annie for a bit. Angel has done slightly better for himself, pursuing both Jean Grey and Dazzler, bagging Candy Southern during the Champions years, hooking up with Psylocke later on, becoming close with a police officer as Archangel and even having an implied fling with the much younger Paige Guthrie.

Angel has always come across as being above everyone else around him (perhaps that’s a subliminal reference to his angelic name and abilities). He was a superhero on his own before being located by Xavier. He helped house and fund both the Champions and the Defenders for some time. And he supposedly left the X-Men for a while because he thought Wolverine was a “brute.” Seems pretty metrosexual to me.

Bobby plays like more of a hanger-on. He’s younger than Warren and probably more unsure of himself and his place in the world. At the same time, he’s also more laid back and easy to get along with. Iceman, as you’ve noted, has palled around with Beast and is friendly with Spider-Man.

I, for one, was completely horrified when Angel lost his wings. And then, when Apocalypse turned him into Archangel, I was pretty ticked off. It wasn’t so much that they had messed with one of my favorite characters, it was that they used that lame villain to do it. I can’t stand Apocalypse. Archangel’s metal wings seemed like a pure 90’s thing to me. And they were out of place for such a grounded character whose entire identity was originally based around trying to hide his wings and then learning to live with them. Man, the writers really put him through the ringer emotionally during those years too. His wings are cut off and replaced, he watches his girlfirend be killed, then he has to deal with Apocalypse. Poor guy.

His lack of significant power doesn’t bother me. He just has to be used as more of a tactical weapon than a powerful one. And he has his purpose…he flies up high and looks at stuff. Whee! Plus, I think his newly revealed secondary mutation of having “healing blood” is much more in line with the angel imagery.

As far as the idea of constantly placing Angel and Iceman on teams together, I think there is some resonance for readers. Sure, the beginning publishing history of the X-Men is laughable at best, but over the years the characters have become rather iconic. There are worse things that Marvel has done than trying to build a team around a few original mutants (*cough*Spider-Clone*cough*). Hell, there wasn’t any other common thread holding the Champions together, was there? And the Defenders actually started to feel like a team when Beast was leading a group that included a couple former teammates and friends.

Honestly, it’s weird for me to think of Iceman and Angel in separate lights. They’ve been side-by-side for so long that one without the other just seems odd. I was completely taken aback when Iceman was on TV with Spider-Man. It just didn’t make sense (not to mention how much better the show would have been with Iceman AND Angel). And the few runs where Warren worked in tandem with the Avengers just felt awkward to me. I remember being excited to see Angel and then feeling dirty after reading the issues…like I just witnessed something I shouldn’t have. Of course, those weren’t the best years for the Avengers either.

Maybe this entire history is why I suggested we set Bobby and Warren up as leaders of the X-Men. The two characters have been ingrained in my brain as a permanent team. Man and man, side-by-side. Two former schoolboys sticking up for each other through thick and thin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Dream Team: X-Men

Oct-01-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep…eight is enough. What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!

Sep-02-08

Our last topic on Hawkeye and where we wanted to take him got me thinking about the Marvel Universe map. The House of Ideas prides itself on building a universe that is steeped in the “real world.” Their biggest heroes fly above the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the travails of our world are often mirrored in their own…from wars and disasters to celebrities and politics. Of course, establishing that, it often makes me wonder why nearly 100% of the Marvel Universe characters live and work in the New York City area. There’s a whole wide world out there!

I just wanted to rally together a post where we can bring up storylines that took place outside the Big Apple city limits. I’m talking major activities, not single issue excursions. And I’m thinking maybe we can propose some meaningful relocations or invent some new situations that would require the attention of superheroes elsewhere in America. Granted, the Initiative has been launched and, ultimately, there will be teams assigned and active in each of the fifty states. Though I don’t think that should limit our thoughts.

So let’s first show our hands on what “Westward Ho!” storylines we can recall from Marvel’s glorious past:

  1. The Champions – Marvel’s first attempt at making a left coast splash was a bit strange, with a membership that boasted a Greek God, a Russian spy, two members of the original X-Men and a demon on a motorcycle. The “group” located themselves in downtown Los Angeles and are most famous for fighting Swarm, the awesome Nazi beekeeper-turned-skeleton dude. Rumor has it, had the title continued, Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts would’ve been added to the roster.
  2. West Coast Avengers – Obviously. The team set up headquarters outside LA. The series lasted for 102 issues and then begat the horrendous Force Works which lasted an additional 22 issues and is notable for its cringe-worthy artwork and nonsensical plots. West Coast Avengers, however, was pretty dang awesome.
  3. The Order – Matt Fraction’s short-lived series about the new California Initiative team placed the team in Bradbury on the northeastern edge of Los Angeles.
  4. The Defenders – During their “New” period, the non-team centered themselves in a Colorado property owned by Warren Worthington’s family.
  5. Daredevil – Temporarily relocated his heroics to San Francisco alongside his then-girlfriend Black Widow.
  6. Incredible Hulk – Of course, Marvel’s re-imagining of the Jekyll and Hyde classic originally took place in the deserts of the American Southwest.
  7. Wonder Man – His brief solo series positioned him as a wannabe actor/stuntman in Hollywood.
  8. Spider-Woman – Jessica Drew began her costumed career in Los Angeles.
  9. Werewolf by Night – Poor, cursed Jack Russell lived in Malibu, California.
  10. Moon Knight – Not sure where he was officially based back in the day, but Marc Spector was born in Chicago and spent quite a bit of time (whether chasing werewolves or joining the Avengers) on the West Coast.
  11. Howard the Duck – Originated in the Florida Everglades and lived in Cleveland, Ohio.
  12. Great Lakes Avengers – Proudly representing the Upper Midwest.
  13. Uncanny X-Men – Recently relocated to San Francisco. Time will tell what that move holds.

Can you think of anyone else in Marvel’s stable who has spent considerable time somewhere in the United States that isn’tNew York (or New Jersey, which is pretty much just New York’s jockstrap)? And, furthermore, can you think of anyone who should spend time outside of Manhattan? Chicago, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis, Las Vegas, anywhere in Texas, even the New England states? It’s a big country. There’s bound to be some stories to tell out there somewhere.

I suppose we should mention Alpha Flight, who spend their time in the beautiful wilds of Canada, and Excalibur, who spend their time in jolly old England. With that being said, I agree that New York City has been overused to the extreme by the creators of the Marvel Universe. Of course, the original reason (so the legends say) that Stan and his co-creators used New York City so much in the early days of Marvel was because they all lived in the city, so they knew it. As time has passed, many creators of Marvel titles have left the city and now live all over the country, so this reasoning should no longer hold true.

I suppose you could make the argument that there is more crime in New York City than in many other places, but is there really more crime in NYC than there is in Washington DC? In Los Angeles? In any major city in the United States (and probably in other countries as well)? An argument could also be raised that there’s more going on in New York City to attract criminals, and more money for criminals to make. While I would certainly agree that it may make more sense to hit a bank in the middle of NYC than to rob a bank in the middle of Missouri, when you factor in the chances of being caught in NYC over being caught in Missouri, I’ll take Missouri, thank you very much.

As silly as it seems for their to be so many superheroes based in NYC, it makes even less sense to have so many supervillains based there. Why wouldn’t someone like the Shocker head out to Kansas or to Florida? He could clean up! We tend to look at someone like him as being pretty lame, and having stupid powers, but that’s just because Spider-Man makes the Shocker look ineffectual. Against normal policemen, the Shocker would be very difficult to beat. So, why doesn’t he go fight regular policemen, and stop banging his head against the wall that is Spider-Man? The same could be said of so many villains around his power level; they may not be perfect against superheroes, but they would do well in areas that doesn’t have so many super-powered do-gooders. Why would they stay in the superhero capitol of the world?

I’ve never understood why Captain America didn’t relocate to Washington DC. I know he doesn’t work for the government, but he’s concerned about protecting it, and shouldn’t the symbol of our country be located in the country’s capitol? Did he just stay in New York so he could hang out at Avengers Mansion?

The Avengers should certainly move out of the city. If they want to stay close to the city, for whatever reason, that’s fine. But the mansion has too often come under attack, and that endangers all their neighbors. They tried to move the mansion once, to a floating island off the coast of the city, but Doom sunk it, so they went right back to their old location, right in the middle of the city. I’m not sure why they’re so fond of the city, but at the very least they should be in a suburb. Maybe they can rent the X-Men’s old mansion in Westchester?

Of course, there are those characters that really do belong in the city. Spider-Man shouldn’t move out of New York, as he’s as much a part of the city as Batman is a part of Gotham City. I think the Fantastic Four should stay in the city; they were there first and it truly does help to ground them as humans first and heroes second. However, I would say that the other New York heroes, like Daredevil and Dr. Strange, should feel free to get the heck outta town.

I’d love to see Dr. Strange move somewhere a tad more atmospheric than Greenwich Village. Perhaps he could relocate to Boston or to Salem. It seems like New England would be a perfect area for him, one steeped in history and ancient secrets. Or, perhaps he should move to Louisiana, into the old French Quarter of New Orleans. There certainly must be areas that scream magic more than his current digs.

This has been a little scattered, I’ll admit, simply because there’s so much to discuss, and I’ve been throwing out ideas left and right. Do you have some ideas you’d like to focus on?

Well, Alpha Flight and Excalibur are givens (and both have had extensive runs in the past). I was focusing more on activity within the US borders. I just remember how DC dropped Chemo on the city of Bludhaven during Infinite Crisis and I can’t help but think of the near-complete super-community loss if Marvel were to do the equivalent with their Big Apple.

Hmm…Doctor Strange in New England is an interesting premise. Didn’t the Defenders have at least a temporary HQ up there? That’s where the Hellstroms were based, right? And, of course, Brother Voodoo is usually based out of New Orleans. But being that none of those mentioned are nearly as prominent as Strange, it would be an easy transition to get him out of town…especially considering all the troubles with Skrulls and Registrations and magical conflicts.

Relocating Captain America is an inspired no-brainer in itself. Look, Marvel clearly creates most of their heroes and villains based off of certain archetypes, stereotypes and themes. By extension, those characters should be placed in the cities that most perfectly mirror their most important attributes. For example, put the cocky, scene-stealers in LA…the political-minded folks arrive in DC…the down-to-earth hardworking heroes go to Chicago and other midwest towns…it all makes perfect sense.

I also LOVE the idea of a villainous mass exodus from the streets of downtown Manhattan. I can just picture one of those patented Marvel bad guy rallies in the basement of some abandoned church (or at the Bar With No Name) where the collected group just says “F*** This” and hits the road, hobo packs over their shoulders. That would make for a funny, if not enlightening, miniseries which could delve further into the operation and effectiveness of the 50-State Initiative. There’s no fighting the logic that even corny villains will do much better holding up the First National Bank of Wichita, then waiting in line with all the other thugs to rip off the same ATM machine across the same street from Peter Parker’s apartment building.

This would also create endless scenarios for up-and-coming characters to make a name for themselves. If I were trying to prove my worth, I certainly wouldn’t want to be battling evil on the same city block as the Fantastic Four. How can you compete with that? How do you get noticed (in a good way)?

I suppose we have to be careful with who we try to move where though. Some of Marvel’s oldest heroes have their origins built around their surroundings. As you’ve said, Spidey and the FF stay in New York. I also think, because of his strong ties to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, that Daredevil has to stay put as well. As far as other folks with their own titles: Punisher seems to be everywhere at once, so it’s hard to rectify him being based out of NYC. For a hero whose motivation is based around removing corruption, I’d rather see him working in DC…Hulk is all over the place and rarely ends up in Manhattan anyway…Iron Man should clearly be located in a region that is more tech-heavy, somewhere like Seattle or San Francisco or The Triangle in North Carolina (though I can’t picture Tony Stark with a southern twang)…Iron Fist, due to his background, is fairly global…Black Panther is in Africa…Moon Knight could easily be placed in Chicago…Ghost Rider is on a motorcycle…Thor is, uh…

Quite frankly, I could care less where the X-Men call home. Their melodramatic adventures take them all over the universe, and their headquarters get blown up at least once an issue anyway.

I guess the biggest problem is the villains. If you remove them from the equation, then there isn’t a need for the hero density in downtown New York either. Villains are stupid.