The NewMU so far…

Jan-06-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO!

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

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

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

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

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

Do you agree with what I changed?  Any thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Avengers: The Foes No Single Hero Can Withstand

Jan-20-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m spent.


Character Revamp: Santa Claus

Dec-19-08

Marvel has long been known for taking characters from popular culture and making them stars of their very own comics. Marvel has published books focusing on Rom, GI Joe, the Transformers, Heathcliff, and if my memory serves, Barbie. They also had a hit with their long running series that starred Dracula. Well, Jason and I have heard rumors of their newest sensation, a popular character who is set to star in his very own mag: Santa Claus.

Some of you may have heard of Santa Claus, but for those who haven’t, he’s a powerful hero who maintains a base at the North Pole. From this base he monitors the world, seeking out the naughty and the nice, and distributing appropriate rewards or punishments, dependent on someone’s naughty level. He’s seen many evil beings rise up against him in the past, from everyday political adversaries, such as his original nemesis, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, to more powerful magical foes, such as the Winter Warlock, to even foes from other dimensions, such as the Boogie Man. Yet, still he soldiers on, doing his part for the people of Earth.

Now, we haven’t seen Marvel’s pitch for this series yet. I can’t say for sure how they’re going to play it. However, Jason and I….well, figuring out how to sell series like these and make them relevant to today’s audiences (or, at least, interesting to us) is what we do. So, we thought that we’d share our pitch for the new Santa Claus series, and then you can compare it with the eventual series that Marvel produces (the first issue of this series was supposed to ship this month, in time for the holidays, but it’s late, and will now ship in July).

So, we basically have to nail down three basic areas for our Santa proposal. First, we have to define Santa. Who is he? What powers does he have? Why is he doing what he does? Where does he live, and what sort of base does he have? Does he have a secret identity?

Second, we need to nail down his supporting cast. Who are his allies? Any family? Who helps him in his duties, and why?

Finally, we need to determine his villains. Who forms Santa’s Rogues’ Gallery?

Let’s start with Santa himself. The legends would have you believe that Santa is centuries old and has been waging his war on naughtiness for all that time. However, I posit that the man we know as Santa has actually been many men, who have passed the costume down over the years, somewhat like the Phantom. One of the main jobs of Santa is to locate a suitable replacement, bring that replacement into the fold, explain his secrets, and train the replacement. In this way, there is always a Santa, ready, willing and able to take over whenever he is needed.

Santa himself has no special powers, although all Santas are trained in various skills. Moreover, Santa carries certain technological and magical gadgets (provided by two of his allies; we’ll discuss those later) which aid him in his work. I believe we will keep his headquarters at the North Pole, but with the understanding that Santa can transport himself anywhere on Earth quite quickly, and would even be capable of covering the entire globe in the span of about four hours if necessary.

Before I get into detail, I’ll see if Jason has any concerns or wants to go in a different direction.

The biggest difficulty, and also the biggest resource, with this revamp are the various legends and attributes put upon “Santa Claus” by different countries and cultures. I would think, for the sake of appealing to the action/adventure aspect of the character, that we should eschew the whole “leaving candy for the kids” part of Santa’s lore. This action could show up as a final page wrap-up…almost like a calling card of sorts, but I wouldn’t want to base every storyarc around it. However, the reasoning for such behavior could play into his development. Santa Claus, in the comic book sense, stands for something more powerful and universal than seasonal gift satisfaction. He’s the ultimate protector of the innocent, the vanguard of an entire season, and the primary source of oversight for keeping everyone on the straight and narrow. Even when he isn’t in his prime period of activity, he still has to keep a vigilant watch over the easily swayed minds of the world’s wishful youth.

It’s a tough job and I like the concept of having a Santa succession schedule. I would guess that the average person behind the Santa costume would only last for a decade or so. The job is so draining, both physically and mentally, that an average person might go insane rather quickly. I would also like to put forward the notion that his support staff is made up of a line of legacy characters as well…almost like a solemn, dedicated branch of a religious group whose sole purpose is to aid this universal symbol. Their world is very insular and secretive, but abounds with joy, fulfillment and an inner peace brought on through their work.

Besides, a badass group of ninja monk elves would be awesome to witness in action.

I could also see Santa employing a multi-branched charity organization posing as a front for data collection. He needs to have an alter ego who can blend into normal day-to-day activities.

I do have an idea or two for villains and would like to offer at least one supporting cast member. However, it sounds like John already has some ideas brewing, so I’ll let him take the stage again…

I have a few ideas, and since there is interest in supporting cast and villains, let’s move that way first (we can always detail exactly what Santa can do later). Let’s start with supporting cast.

The original Santa’s origins are still somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend, which works well for all concerned. Honestly, no one in the know about who Santa really is wants the veil pulled away from Santa, since if someone knew much about the original Santa, they may start to realize that the current Santa isn’t that person. However, one thing we do know about the original Santa is that he met and fell in love with a remarkable woman, one who was the matriarch of an entire clan.

This clan was made of elves, elves who had been exiled/marooned/imprisoned on Earth centuries ago. These elves had tried to hide themselves from the outside world, but when their mistress met Santa, she broke their traditions and the two wed. When Santa began his calling of watching the world and doing good, his wife was in full agreement, and she brought her family inline with Santa’s goals, even convincing them to move to the North Pole, when Santa decided that they needed to be farther away from the people they watched over.

This clan of elves are not the long lived, virtually immortal elves that one reads about in The Lord of the Rings. Their lifespan is that of a mortal, and their numbers are not limitless. They obviously can’t continue to only mate among themselves without serious consequences, and Santa also realized that forcing them to spend their entire lives in the North Pole could be cruel. So, each elf is allowed a time in their life when they can go out into the world and seek a mate, living as normal humans do for a set period of time. The time period is indeed finite, and an elf (male or female) must find a mate within that window or they lose their chance. Complicating matters is the fact that the mate they find must be special, as the elf must tell their chosen one of their true nature before the time limit expires. If the mate agrees to return with the elf, they are made to appear to have suffered a fatal accident in their world, and can never return to it. If they do not agree to return with the elf, their minds are wiped of the information that was imparted to them, and the elf returns empty-handed.

Because of these strict restrictions, not every elf is able to find a mate, which is one of the reasons why their population does not expand beyond the capacity of their headquarters. Any children that a couple produces are raised by the entire elven clan, in a communal setting, which helps to placate those elves who never find a mate in the first place. Santa is not really the leader of these elves; instead the elves follow the descendent of that original matriarch, who may or may not be the current Santa’s mate.

These elves have a mastery of their own unique technology, which they use to help Santa in his mission. They perform the necessary maintanence around the headquarters, and provide Santa with numerous gadgets. They also count among their numbers experts at various fighting styles and they can train Santa in those arts as well.

Santa’s other ally is the Winter Warlock. Once a foe of the original Santa, he was eventually reformed, and became a steadfast ally of the man in red and white. As the Winter Warlock grew older, he began to investigate ways to prolong his life. He eventually realized that the cold of the North Pole seemed to have retarded his aging process, and he soon theorized that even deeper cold would stop his aging process completely. To that end, he used his magics to encase himself in a block of ice in the middle of the Claus compound. He is still conscious in that block, and can communicate with Santa, but he can never leave it. However, he still possesses power, and is quite helpful in providing magical aid to Santa in the form of information gathering and occasional magical trinkets for Santa to use. Most Santas would actually say that his most useful gift is his wisdom and willingness to listen. He now communicates telepathically, and is aware of what happens around him. He can see and hear in all areas of the compound, and were the compound to ever be attacked, he would be able to marshal his magic for a terrible defense.

That’s some of his supporting cast. Your thoughts Jason? Any you want to change or add?

Love it! I was trying to come up with a supporting character that could be a mentor of sorts to the incoming Santas, but I think you’ve handled it beautifully with the Winter Warlock idea. I see him as a version of DC’s Oracle character…someone who can offer advice and give direction to Santa during his adventures. There’s something interesting about having him be a former adversary too.

I think you nailed what I was going for with the elves. They’re old school. And their only purpose is to serve the mission of Santa Claus. However, they aren’t just cute little toy builders…these guys are a hardcore, focused “army” of assistants who have a multitude of skills. I can imagine elves with specialties…some are engineers, some are tech experts, some are trained in military operations (including intelligence and espionage). It’s the perfect scenario, almost like DC’s League of Assassins or a competent version of AIM from Marvel.

You’ve touched on the character of “Mrs. Claus” too. I like the notion that she may or may not actually be married to the current Santa. It could all just be a front to make them more acceptable in the public eye. That could offer a fun dynamic behind the scenes too. Maybe the two of them don’t get along at all!

The one thing that seems to be missing from the support side of things is an explanation of Santa’s abilities. How does he deliver goods to everyone on Earth all in one night? How can he be in so many places at once (I’m looking at you, mall Santas!)? How does he keep track of so much information? And how does he manifest the “holiday spirit” to affect emotions and generosity? I have a feeling you’re going to make a reference to the North Wind, and who knows what else, with that storyline.

As far as bad guys go, the first obvious choice would be Jack Frost (who may or may not be an elf himself). He’s the expected archenemy and I have no problem with that. However, I feel like he needs some sort of history and motivation. He could be the Lex Luthor to Santa’s Superman…a super smart foe who employs others to carry out his schemes. He uses fancy gadgets but doesn’t really have any powers of his own.

I’d also like to mention Black Pete. In Dutch and German folklore, Black Pete was Saint Nicholas’ assistant, but I think it would be cool to have him turn on Santa at some point…maybe he was persuaded away by something evil. This would make him similar to Marvel’s Winter Soldier or DC’s Tim Drake.

John and I spoke briefly about this topic before we posted and I told him about a vague idea I had for a villain that almost seemed to borrow themes from the supernatural (a la Swamp Thing or Sandman). I thought that Santa and his elves should be ever vigilant against a vast negative force called “The Never.” I see The Never as a network of evil, always evolving and adapting, a personification of children’s nightmares that draws its power from the darkness and the negativity of the general populace. This villain could look like anything really, but would most likely take forms similar to the Perchten of Germanic folklore…grotesque animal masks with horns and fangs, thick furs and pelts as a costume, almost like a version of a zombie viking. I could also see The Never as a group of shapechangers who taunt and harass Santa during his travels. They appear as a flock of ravens or a massive colony of rats. I could even see them spreading a sort of plague (of fear, of sickness, of darkness. etc.).

I dunno. Aside from the general nuisance villains who have their own schemes in mind to steal gifts or ruin the holidays, it seems like you’d need something that would pose a serious threat to the well-being of humankind without their knowledge. Santa is the secret defender. And The Never would be an excellent, yet nebulous, enemy for him to face off against.

Hopefully, John has some more follow-through for these ideas!

Okay, we seem to be on the same page as far as allies, and I think you’ve really nailed some neat villains. I couldn’t agree more with you that Santa needs a serious threat to combat, and I think The Never is a perfect one. The Never would be his Dr. Doom, his Dormammu, his Red Skull. I like that The Never isn’t defined and is somewhat nebulous, as it should be at this point. Perhaps, over the years of Santa’s run as a comics character, the Never may be fleshed out more and examined in detail, but that should be a slow process, taking many storylines. The Never wouldn’t appear in every plotline, but it would be a presence in the book almost constantly. Even when Santa is dealing with other villains, the Never would be a looming menace.

I like the idea of Jack Frost and I like that he doesn’t have any powers. If he doesn’t have powers, one must wonder why he took that name and what it is he does. One of the things that must be decided for every Santa villain is whether or not this threat has been a long term foe of Santa (and therefore has fought many different Santas over the years) or whether or not this is a more recent foe. It gives the villain a much different feel if he or she has been fighting the Santa organization, in some form, for centuries, or whether they just ran afoul of the current Santa much more recently. In this case, I’d like to cast Jack Frost as the former. In fact, I’d like to suggest that Frost did have powers at one point in time, and that he clashed with Santa in the early days, when the original Santa was fulfilling the role of protector. Here’s how I see it going down.

Frost was a rival of the Winter Warlock; they were both powerful supernatural beings, with Frost being an immortal of the same type that live in Asgard and Olympus, and the Warlock being a powerful mortal. When the Warlock fist clashed with Santa, and then began to reform, Frost saw his chance to eliminate his rival once and for all. Frost launched a devastating attack against the Warlock, wounding him deeply. Frost could probably have finished off his foe, when Santa intervened (perhaps it was this intervention that convinced the Warlock that Santa truly followed a path that appealed to the Warlock as well, leading to his final redemption and reformation). Thus did Santa earn Frost’s enmity. The two of them clashed repeatedly for the next few decades, with the Warlock joining the fray on a few occasions. Frost had nearly defeated Santa a few times, but the Warlock and Santa, working as a team, continually proved too much for him. Frost decided he needed to eliminate the Warlock as an ally of Santa, and conjured up a crystal which would drain the Warlock’s powers. He devised an elaborate plot to use the device (stories which will no doubt be told in the inevitable spin-off, Santa: Origins) but during the battle when the device was used, Santa inadvertently interfered with its operation, and Frost had his powers removed instead; everything except for his immortality.

That sets Frost up as more of a cross between DC’s Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage. Ever since that battle he’s been searching for ways to restore his lost power. To stay a credible threat, he’s also amassed as much power as he could in the physical world, studying science and the technology of the day, staying on the cutting edge of what is new and dangerous. This also gives him a motivation to continue to fight against Santa; he wants revenge for his powers being stripped from him and he wants to find a way to be powerful again.

That’s two great foes. Black Pete is a very interesting foe, who I think would also be aware of Santa’s true nature. And, obviously, Santa would fight much more conventional menaces too, as well as meeting some of the existing villains in the Marvel Universe (because, really, who wouldn’t pay good money to see Santa vs Dr. Doom? Or Santa vs the Kingpin: Battle of the Fat Men? I know I’d shell out $4 for some of that). Do we need to detail out any further villains? If not, then all we need to do is nail down his abilities. I’ll check in with you tomorrow to see what you think.

Again, kudos to you for all the inventive backstory stuff. I think we’ve detailed the essential supporting cast and supplied a solid inventory of villains. Of course, there will always be other characters (both good and bad) who pop up from time to time…but I think there’s a strong nucleus there to build a long-lasting title around.

Probably the best thing to do now is to delineate just what it is that Santa does and exactly how he does it. Applying basic comic book physics to what we know from the Santa-based legends, I’m assuming he has gadgets or magic items that help him teleport/move at lightspeed/displace time. His ability to squeeze up and down chimneys indicates a level of shapeshifting. He has certain resistances to the elements. His reindeer and sleigh can fly somehow. And Santa’s sack of presents probably has origins in a pocket universe where he’s able to store vast amounts of product…like a Bag of Holding from D&D. Can you explain all of that?

We seem to be rolling along well. Let’s get this thing wrapped up in time for Christmas!

Hmmm. Detailing exactly what Santa can do could prove slightly challenging, simply because there’s so much to choose from. Santa seems to be able to do so much. Let’s break it down.

I agree that transportation is our first priority. Let’s face it; the guy lives at the North Pole, which is probably not very villain infested. He could potentially fight that polar bear that shills for Coke, but otherwise, he’s going to have to travel to defend the Earth. Teleporting would certainly be the quickest way for him to get from place to place, but it doesn’t really fit into his mythology and it can also be used as something of a cheat by writers. I prefer something that’s more traditionally Santa, and something that doesn’t enable him to arrive at the scene instantaneously. I think keeping the sleigh is the way to go, although I’m not sure that it should be pulled by reindeer, or at least, not all the time. I imagine that Santa used to use the reindeer, which the Warlock had enchanted, to pull his sleigh when he wanted to travel. However, while he still keeps reindeer for emergency sleigh-pulling, the simple fact is that they were sometimes unreliable, and they needed to be fed and taken care of, and when Santa had to travel halfway around the world and didn’t come back the same night as he left, they were problematic. So, sometime in the past few decades, the elf clan constructed a technological sleigh for him. This new sleigh can move at fantastic speeds (several times the speed of sound) and comes with a retractable canopy so that Santa doesn’t have to worry about breathing when it’s moving that fast (and it can also be used in low altitude orbit or underwater, although it’s design isn’t very efficient in those environments). The elves have loaded the new sleigh with all kinds of gadgets, much in the manner of Blue Beetle’s bug, and are constantly experimenting with more, in the manner of James Bond and his Q.

I like the idea of shapeshifting as a way to move up and down chimneys, but I’m wary of making Santa too superhero, because if that’s the case, how are powers passed on from Santa to Santa? There certainly could be a way to do that, probably involving a ceremony between the outgoing and incoming Santas and the Warlock, but then there’s also the case of what happens when a Santa falls in battle (although his powers could then be transferred automatically, kind of like a Vampire Slayer’s powers are in the Buffy universe). Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like that last parenthetical aside. It could be interesting to see the powers transferred, either by ceremony or by automatic transference. What makes the latter such an interesting proposition is the idea that perhaps a Santa could die without locating a suitable successor. Normally, the successor is training at the North Pole, so if a Santa would fall, they would already be in a position to take over the role. But what happens if there is no one ready to take over? I could see a plot where the powers choose someone when the current Santa falls unexpectedly, and the Warlock and Mrs. Claus and the elves have to figure out where the powers went, have to try and determine why that person got the powers, and then have to locate them, bring them in and train them. That could be fun.

So, what are these powers? I agree that shapeshifting has to be one of them. After all, moving up and down chimneys is difficult without shapeshifting, and Santa is also someone who’s depicted at vastly different weights. It’s going to be difficult to fight the Never or Jack Frost’s goons when you’re morbidly obese, so he’s going to need to be able to go from overweight to fit and ready to fight. Shapeshifting also gives him a lot more options in combat, and that’s important. Shapeshifting can also be useful for entering those houses without chimneys, as he could make himself thin as paper, and slide under doors or around windows, or he could turn a finger into a key to open the door; there are lots of options with this power. In fact, I’m wondering if he really needs any others, or if that power is enough for Santa to have? I think it is.

Santa does have a sack with an immense storage capacity; another gift from the Warlock. Santa fills that sack with gadgets from the elves, gadgets which give him a wide range of options, which often change. As I mentioned earlier, the elves can be seen as a clan of Q’s from James Bond. These guys provide him with a huge selection of technological edges, and it might be fun if they’re all constructed to look like toys. That keeps a theme going with him, and still enables him to kick some butt.

What do you think of that power set?

I hate to say it, but the “gadgets disguised as toys” idea is hilarious. Not only could it be a running joke that the elves don’t know how to build something that isn’t toylike, but it also opens up a story or two about mistakenly leaving the wrong item under a child’s tree. Oops! Santa accidentally gave Timmy a freeze ray instead of the BB gun he asked for!

Your sleigh idea could be taken a step further. Since you brought up Blue Beetle’s bug, why not have Santa’s “sleigh” actually be a ship of sorts? Perhaps he has an image inducer attached to it to make it look like a sleigh being pulled by reindeer to the average passer-by. The truth is, however, that Santa’s ship is the same thing people have been reporting seeing in the sky all across the Midwest and Southwest. All those assorted UFO sightings and things that look like tin pie pans floating in the sky with flashing lights are really Santa going about his evil-fighting business. I like how that ties the Santa legend into everyday pop culture. It would also be fun to have his sleigh resemble Doctor Who’s tardis…where the outside is a defined size, but the inside is disturbingly larger, with numerous cabins and compartments, massive storage areas and sleeping quarters for dozens of helpers. The power of magic!

I also agree that Santa should have some sort of super-ability. I’d hate for everything to rely on tricky gadgets and amorphous wizardry. I don’t want to lean to heavily on Winter Warlock though. The process of finding, training and passing on the Santa powers should be a function of the elven lore. Perhaps they’re actually aliens and have highly advanced technology to imbue these powers upon their selected target. Maybe it’s something they really have no control over, but are just there to monitor. Or, and this is kind of a twisted spin, maybe the machine/gizmo/process they use is extremely dangerous and some of the Santa recruits haven’t survived the transfer of power…or, in a way of explaining Black Pete’s origin, maybe one of the subjects was affected differently by the transfer. Maybe Black Pete had been selected as a Santa apprentice (like Robin to Batman), gone through the training and all that, and then the power transfer didn’t work or screwed him up somehow and he vowed revenge for eternity!

Too dramatic?

Shape-shifting as Santa’s sole power covers a lot of bases. It could also explain how he blends into the crowd so easily and how no one sees him throughout the rest of the year. This could also play into the earlier idea I had about having his alter ego be the head of some large charitable organization. He keeps tabs on the world in plain sight of the everyday populace!

Wow…I think we came up with some valid ways to make The Scintillating Santa Claus! an enjoyable comic book. Final thoughts?

Just that I agree with you on everything you mentioned.  I had originally thought of suggesting that the sleigh be an actual ship that shared some of the properties of the Tardis, so that’s amusing.  I also agree that having Santa’s power transfer be a function of the elves rather than the Warlock is a good idea, and does help to maintain a balance between the Warlock and the elves, so one side isn’t obviously more important than the other.

I think this works!  This could actually make a comic; it would be a huge hit!  After all, if kids don’t buy it, they’re going to find themselves on the naughty list!


What Candy Would Your Favorite Superhero Hand Out?

Oct-31-08

So I took my boys trick-or-treating last night and was pretty amazed at the bizarre range of “treats” they ended up hauling in…things like a bag of Doritos, a tube of Go-Gurt and a pack of those Nip-Chee crackers you get out of vending machines. I thought it would be funny to imagine what the superheroes would hand out if they were part of the neighborhood. I’ll throw out my thoughts and then see if John has anything to add…

Superman: Obviously, he’d be handing out Clark bars (and absolutely no one would see the connection).

Silver Surfer: For a shiny dude who has traveled the entire galaxy, could there be a better treat than a Milky Way bar?

Mister Fantastic: I’m guessing he left a bowl outside the Baxter Building filled with gummi bears, bubble gum and salt water taffy.

Captain America: There’s no way Mr. Straight-Laced would be handing out candy. No, his immaculately decorated house would be the one mercilessly TP’ed after he offered up apples and toothbrushes…or worse, savings bonds.

Hulk: Jawbreakers.

Iron Man: I’m guessing there’s a hefty collection of those airline-sized bottles of liquor clogging up a closet somewhere on the Stark compound.

Hawkman: Cans of Red Bull. It gives you wings!

Thor: Skittles, in memory of the gateway to his homeland, the Rainbow Bridge.

The Joker: Aside from the obvious, like gumdrops laced with poison or brownies filled with razor blades, I think he might go for something subtle…like Snickers. Get it? Snickers?? ‘Cause he laughs a lot?

The Blob: Empty Chunky bar wrappers…because, well, y’know…

Martian Manhunter: He’d give out Oreos, until the legal department caught up with him, when he’d switch to Chocos.

Human Torch: He’d be too busy running around with the Thing playing tricks on everyone, but I’m sure he’d leave a bowl of Hot Tamales next to Reed’s candy.

The Thing: His bowl next to the Torch’s would have pieces of rock candy.

Dr. Doom: I bet trick or treating is a lot of fun in Latveria. “Who dares TP Doom’s castle? Is that you Richards? Curse you and your automatic egg thrower! I swear on the soul of my dead mother, Doom shall lay flaming poop on the front stoop of the Baxter Building!” In any case, I imagine his gives out gummi Reed Richards, filled with a strawberry jelly, so his subjects can actually have the pleasure of ripping the accursed Richards apart and feasting on his entrails.

The Wasp: I think she gives out fashion tips. “Dear, I don’t care if you are dressing up as a ghost, that plain white sheet is booooring. Wait right there and I’ll be back with something to spruce it up!”

Dr. Pym: He gives out miniature candy bars.

Mr. Miracle: Rubik’s cubes and Chinese finger traps.

The Spectre: He gives out unholy vengeance to all those who dare to play tricks. “I saw you TPing that house! I shall now transport you to a dimension where you are made of toilet paper and the John Goodman Impersonation Society has just finished eating at a Mexican buffet!”

Got any more?

Aww…wouldn’t Wasp hand out Bit O’Honeys? And Mars bars for J’onn J’onnz (he’d keep all the Chocos for himself)?

Green Goblin: He’d have a satchel full of those little pumpkin-shaped candies, the only problem being that he’d be throwing them at everyone and cackling madly. Oh…and they might explode.

Wolverine: Candy cigarettes (if the Marvel editors will allow it).

Skrull Kill Krew: Cow Tails.

Mr. Mind: Anything but gummi worms.



The other FF: The Frightful Four

Aug-12-08

Every superhero or superhero team has it’s archenemy, the one villain or group of villains which act as their opposite number, the foes who return to bedevil them on a constant basis. In the case of some superheroes, there may even be multiple villains vying for that honor. Who’s Spider-Man’s archenemy? Dr. Octopus? The Green Goblin? Venom? That can be a hard question to answer for some heroes, but there’s no doubt that all of the options presented for Spider-Man are well known archvillains. Other heroes also have archenemies who are very well known and respected. In the case of the Fantastic Four, their archenemies are….The Frightful Four!

Right? What, you expected me to say Dr. Doom? Well, I guess you’d be correct, but how could a villain group that patterns itself after the heroes they wish to destroy come in second on the archvillain countdown? In fact, many people would say that the Frightful Four come in a lot worse than second, contending that there are plenty of other Fantastic Four villains who are more dangerous and respected than the Frightful Four. Those people would be correct. So why does the Frightful Four suck so much? How can they be better? Let’s take a look.

The Frightful Four have been trying to destroy the Fantastic Four since 1966, so they’ve quite a bit of history behind them. The group was originally created by the Wizard, a mousy little genius who used to entertain people with his scientific tricks. Then Reed Richards popped up, and the Wizard suddenly didn’t look so cool. He vowed to destroy Richards to prove that himself smarter, and formed the Frightful Four for that purpose. He recruited his closest partner, Paste-Pot Pete, who renamed himself the Trapster. Perhaps recruiting someone named Paste-Pot Pete, who’s power was the ability to use a glue gun, was the first step on the road of suckiness for these guys, but if so, the Wizard was blissfully unaware. He next snagged the Sandman, Spider-Man’s villain. These three characters, for years, would form the nucleus of the Frightful Four. The last recruit was Medusa, the queen of the Inhumans, although she was suffering from amnesia at the time and didn’t realize she wasn’t a villain.

So, the original Frightful Four contained a 90 pound weakling who could fly, a nut with a glue gun, someone Spider-Man beat once by sucking him into a vacuum cleaner, and a woman with the power of super-hair. I have no idea why this group wasn’t taken more seriously.

After a few failed runs at the Fantastic Four, Medusa remembered she wasn’t a villainess, and left the group. She was replaced by Thundra, a super-strong woman from an alternate dimension….who soon decided that she wasn’t a villain either. Hey, at least she had a real power and didn’t try to beat people up with her hair.

The Frightful Four tried quite a few people to fill that last slot in their roster, but no one seemed to stick. They even had tryouts, where they had various supervillains audition for a role in their little criminal group. Yeah, that didn’t end well either. Finally, the Sandman reformed, and perhaps realizing that the Trapster was a total loser, the Wizard decided to rebuild his group from the ground up. He actually went out and recruited some people with power, including Hydro-Man (another Spider-Man villain), Klaw and Titania. He then went one step further, and recruited a rogue Watcher, making them then Frightful Five, but sadly, this proved to be a mistake, as the Watcher betrayed the Wizard’s team.

The latest iteration was originally a team of five again, but the Trapster was soon removed from play by the Wizard. This left the Wizard himself, his ex-wife Salamandra (a half-dragon), Cole (their daughter, who can change her mass) and Hydro-Man. This quartet was beaten because Cole betrayed the team, but the team escaped and is considered viable by those folks at Marvel. But what’s next for them? Is there any room for them in the Marvel Universe? They’ve never been particularly respected or feared; can they make a name for themselves as a super-villain team to beat?

How dare you demean Paste-Pot Pete like that! That man is a legend. Of course, considering the fact that the Wizard recently threw him under the bus, I guess I can’t blame you either. Hell, the guy saves Wizard from floating off into space on his faulty gravity disks and he repays him by throwing him into some weird time suck years later. That’s true friendship for you.

I find it kind of humorous that the Frightful Four is always brought down from the inside out. First Medusa pops out of her amnesia funk and turns on the group. Then, in their next go-round, Sandman decides he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. They make the fatal flaw of dragging a hypnotized hero, in this case Spider-Man, into battle alongside them only to have him turn on them. Wizard goes on to recruit an outright ridiculous lineup…Trapster, Man-Bull and Dreadknight…which gets its butt handed to it by some dude named Turbine and the Rangers (who???). Oh, and then there’s the incarnation featuring Constrictor, Taskmaster and Deadpool which is defeated by Ben Grimm and Franklin Richards. FRANKLIN f’in RICHARDS. The Frightful Four was bested by a child! Man, the only thing “frightful” about that group was Taskmaster’s mask.

I think the strength of the Frightful Four (or Five) is the fact that it attempts to set itself up as an opposite version of the Fantastic Four. That’s probably the reason why a lot of these lineups didn’t work. Wizard is always supposed to be the anti-Reed (it’s that whole smart guy ego thing) and I assume Trapster is supposed to match up with Human Torch. Right? Beyond that though, where do they go? Blastaar, Thundra and Titania all have a similarity to Thing, I guess. Not sure about the Invisible Woman doppelganger…was that supposed to be Klaw? Do sound waves counteract invisibility…uh…waves?

That’s where the whole premise unravels for me. If you’re not modeling yourself as direct opponents to your enemies, then you’re just a bunch of lame bad guys trying to make a name for yourselves and you’re going to get beat. Why do you think Spider-Man was always fighting groups of villains calling themselves the “Sinister Six” or the “Eerie Eight” or even the “Dubious Dozen?” They knew they couldn’t handle him alone because none of them matched up well with his powers. And numbers usually win. Except in comics.

The latest grouping, as odd as it was, actually made some sense as a parallel to the Fantastic Four. However, they seem to have taken it too far with the whole family aspect mirroring that of the Richards/Storm clan. Who knew Wizard had time (or the necessary skills) to land a half-dragon ex-wife, let alone create a child? And just how old is his daughter Cole? When did all of that happen? And, living up to the Frightful Four curse, Cole ends up turning on her daddy and causing the group’s defeat.

So how would I tweak things to make them more useful in the Marvel Universe? Well, the first thing would be to force Wizard into retirement. Seriously. He just can’t seem to grasp the notion that he’s not quite on the same level as Reed Richards. Granted, he will never step aside or turn over the name to another villain…so let’s just work with what we have.

Wizard lines up with Reed (at least in the implied intelligence realm…not at all on the powers side of things). I think there was a bit of ingenious casting with Hydro-Man in the most recent group to cancel out Human Torch’s abilities. I’d recommend including Hydro-Man’s buddy Shocker into the group just for the witty banter, but I know that would just lead to some sort of convenient in-fighting sure to doom the group’s success. A female wouldn’t be a bad addition and would play well against Sue…but who would that character be? It shouldn’t just be a female, it should be someone whose power is an opposite force. What’s the opposite of invisible? Not really a power, huh? And then, certainly, you need some sort of strong type to battle Thing. Rhino? Armadillo? Absorbing Man?

Hmm…I’ve always liked Absorbing Man. And he has an interesting skill set. Plus, he’s battled both Hulk and Thor to near standstills. Should effectively go toe-to-toe with Thing. The only problem is that puts two dudes on the team with the word “Man” in their names. Blah.

The female could be…uh…um…I dunno. Can you think of a female supervillain with the relative power of manipulating solid matter? Someone like Terra in the DC Universe maybe? Or someone who can control the air around her? Wind powers? Flight? I’m at a loss. I’m sure there’s someone obvious that I’m forgetting.

That’s a start though. Let’s build a team we think lines up nicely against the FF. Then we’ll try to figure out a motive (besides the obvious “Wizard is pissed that he keeps getting his ass handed to him” angle). Cool?

Lines up nicely against the FF how? It seems you’re leaning towards matching powers, and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go. I mean, does super-strength match up with super-strength, which seems to be where you were going in the above entry? If the answer is yes, then shouldn’t we match a villain with fire powers against the Torch rather than Hydro-Man?

I had always assumed that the Wizard, in wanting to beat Richards at his own game, kept his membership steady at 4 people, since if he beat the Fantastic Four with the Frightful Forty, he’d be in for some valid criticism that you don’t need to be a genius to win with those kinds of odds. However, if the Wizard is trying to beat Richards at his own game, what are the criteria he would use to choose the members of his foursome? All of the Fantastic Four are pretty competent, which should suggest that the Trapster should have been ditched a long time ago; is it possible that the Wizard believes that, if he beats the Fantastic Four using real loser supervillains, he’ll seem even smarter? Are we looking at a new team composed of Wizard, Trapster, Shocker and the Kangaroo? Then, when he stands over the defeated Richards he can scream, “And I did it with these pathetic rejects!”, thereby ensuring an even sweeter triumph?

I find the Wizard a fascinating character. He has such a high opinion of himself, and occassionally he is displayed as having a modicum of style and competence, but he’s never been someone I could consider an A List villain. Back in the 1990’s, Marvel had a crossover called Acts of Vengeance, where the most powerful and important Marvel villains teamed up. Wizard was one of those villains, but it was obvious that he barely qualified, and even the other members of this core group of archvillains considered him a loser. He was like the little kid brother who wanted to go play with his older brother and the gang. In fact, I think he was the only one of that group of master villains who was captured at the end of the crossover; I believe everyone else made a clean getaway. It’s like he has one foot in the big leagues, but he can’t quite crawl up there and take a seat at the adult table.

I think this is where the Wizard’s motivation comes from. He wants to prove he’s smarter than Richards, but more importantly, he wants to prove that he’s got it. The Wizard isn’t respected by anyone in the Marvel Universe; he gets no respect from the heroes, from the other villains, and probably from the general populace. The Wizard started out as a villain because he desperately craved the respect he felt Richards had stolen from him. I don’t think he’s still fixated on Richards (although I’ve no doubt that he’d love to make the stretchy hero pay for past indignities), but he sees beating the Fantastic Four as the first step on the road to the power and respect that he feels he’s due. I think that’s what the Wizard is doing; he’s creating a team that he can use to beat the Fantastic Four once and for all and show everyone that he’s the master villain he believes himself to be. He can’t win by brute force; he has to win in a way that shows off his cleverness and planning abilities, and if he can also prominently feature a few inventions of his, well, that would be icing on his cake.

Does that work as motivation to you? It’s kind of the old motivation, but expanded on and focused. Once we know the motivation he has, then we can figure out what sort of group he’d be likely to assemble.

There is something to be said about assembling a near-mentally-challenged group of baddies to take down one of the most respected clans in the Marvel Universe. Maybe Wizard is just so obsessed with proving himself that he feels he needs to surround himself with co-conspirators who are beneath him so that he can attempt to “shine.” Ridiculous thought, but conceivable nonetheless.

My attempt to line the two groups up hero-to-villain makes tactical sense…counteract their strengths or exploit their weaknesses. There’s not much you can do to fight a big, strong guy other than throw another big, strong person at them. However, you can effectively fight fire with water (or sand or…uh…glue?). That’s where I was looking when I was matching them up. The powers you can’t tangibly cancel out, like super strength or super smarts, you just have to try to line up toe-to-toe with. Which makes me think that you may be able to go a step further to battle back against the Invisible Woman…pit her against a person who can manipulate darkforce (like Shroud or Darkstar or Blackout or maybe even Spot).

Anyway.

Yeah, Wizard is widely disrespected. Maybe that’s why Trapster sticks around? I dunno. Although it makes me think of loser characters that writers have turned around in the comics and made interesting again. The first one that comes to mind is Vanisher, the old X-Men foe. He was completely useless with the most ridiculous costume. Then, decades later, he shows up in a slick business suit and becomes a sort of Fagin to the young mutant thieves known as Fallen Angels. It was a nice turnaround from obscurity to relevance. Maybe we need to do that with Wizard before he’s taken seriously again? Have him actually pull something off that he can brag about or just have him reinvent himself in a new image that makes people stop and think.

That’s two directions right there. Either surround him with complete tools and try to pull off the nigh-impossible…or rejigger his entire persona and make him viable as a leader again. What would you like to do?

You know, we also might consider the fact that he often staffs his team with losers like Trapster because that’s all he can get to work with him. As we continually state, he’s not got a lot of respect in the supervillain community. I would imagine he finds it difficult to get more powerful and competent villains to join his team, since they may be thinking that there’s no reason for them to hitch their wagons to this loser.

For that matter, a lot of villains may be unsure why they’d want to work with the Frightful Four anyway. I mean, what do they get out of it?

Wizard: “Come, join the Frightful Four! It will be glorious!”

Green Goblin: “Great! So, what’s the plan?”

Wizard: “We shall use my brilliant plan to destroy the Fantastic Four!”

Green Goblin (clearly excited): “That’s great! And then…”

Wizard: “And then we shall tell people that we used my brilliant plan to destroy the Fantastic Four!”

Green Goblin (perplexed): “Um, yeah, that’s great Wiz, but I mean, beyond that, what will…”

Wizard: “And then I shall have respect and people will fear me, and I’ll be invited to Doom’s barbecue’s and will finally be able to taste Kingpin’s award winning baked beans and…”

Green Goblin (rolling his eyes): “I’m outta here.”

I’m actually amazed he can even get the Trapster to join his team; what exactly is he offering these people that entices them to join his gang? In any case, all of the problems with the Frightful Four have to be traced back to the Wizard. He’s assembled the group, he’s created the plans, and I believe it’s his loser stench that permeates the group. You asked whether to surround him with losers and try and make him a legitimate villain. I’m not sure that the two are mutually exclusive. I am in love with the idea of the Wizard saying to himself that his victory over Richards will mean so much more if he’s using Mr. Fish from the old Power Man comic as a member of his team. However, even if we go the route of him using losers (and I’m not sure we should), the Wizard has to first be repositioned as a force to be reckoned with. As long as he’s seen as the loser of the Marvel Universe, his Frightful Four, no matter the membership, is going to be a joke.

So, our first mission has to be to make the Wizard dangerous. On the surface, that shouldn’t be too horribly difficult. First, the Wizard actually is very intelligent. That’s been shown again and again. Second, he’s ruthless. In some ways, he may even be more ruthless than your typical villain. This is someone who had no problems kidnapping a four year old Franklin Richards and torturing him for a plot. He made a deal with the Plantman to help him escape from prison, and when Plantman became a liability, he shot the poor sod into space, leaving him to asphyxiate. He is not a nice man and he has no real pretensions of being one.

I think the Wizard has one huge strike against him; he’s a tiny little guy who looks incredibly non-threatening. I think a new outfit is called for, one that makes him seem bulkier and more menacing. Right now I’m pretty sure I could punch this doofus out. While he doesn’t need to look like he can take the Thing in a fist fight, he should look a little more solid. Plus, I’d change his colors; right now his outfit has too many pale reds and light colors. I’d go with more blood reds and blacks. It’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s essential that we try and make the little twerp look more threatening.

Other ideas?

You make much sense, Kemo Sabe. The Wizard is a fool. Surrounding himself with other fools (whether greater or lesser than himself) is a fruitless effort that will continue to lead to defeat. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t really have anyone beating down his door to join up. Slim pickings lead to slim chances, right?

I like the idea of updating his look, however I think it will take far more than superficial tweaks to make him a worthy opponent for anyone shy of the Power Pack. There’s a tried and true cliché of villains pretending to go straight in an effort to lure their enemies into a trap. In the Wizard’s case, I think it holds a little more relevance than, say, Green Goblin attempting to do it for the billionth time. We can make it a really twisted game on his part too.

Take him out of his costume for a while. Let’s have him make a name for himself outside of being a dick. Perhaps he invents something infinitely useful in the Marvel Universe. He gains a level of acclaim, starts going on talk shows and headlining symposiums. We can really let his intellect shine. And then we can have him setting up a charitable organization and showing up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. All of this publicity would eventually get under Reed Richards’ skin…imagine the ridiculous twerp that your family beat up time after time going on to become someone famous. Your name is bound to be mentioned in every speech and interview he gives, yet he will increasingly be shown in a positive light.

The funny thing is, Wizard wouldn’t be doing any of this for any reason other than growing his prestige so he can recruit a better class of villain to assist him in taking Reed down a notch or two. It’s a creepy idea that is also pretty sad when you think about it. However, it would be impressive if he actually pulled it off and it would put him into a new level of evilness. You don’t see too many storylines where the villain wins. I’m not suggesting Wizard destroys the FF, but it would be interesting to actually have him beat them at some level and then escape to fight another day…kind of an “immoral” victory.

Of course, then it would be funny to have him do something stupid and get caught right after his glowing success…just to remind everyone that he’s still the Wizard. Is it wrong that even when I want him to succeed as a plausible villain, I still want him to revert back to his old ways? Is that just Marvel messing with my head for the past 30 years?

The Wizard is sitting in a dark, empty bar on a Tuesday afternoon telling some hack reporter about the one time he was really cool. And then he has to call Walrus to come drive him home, because he’s too drunk to operate his gravity disks…

Poor Wizard. Man, he just can’t catch a break! Even when he’s on top, you want to pull him back down!

Actually, your idea (as far as him becoming a celebrity again) is a superb one. It’s how he started out, and he does have a skill set which should allow him to amaze the masses. I very much like that idea, and I think it could work.

My first thought is not to have him go back to being a complete screw-up though. Of course, it could be argued that there’s no need to give the Fantastic Four a super competent villain in the Wizard; don’t these people already have a rogues’ gallery headlined by Dr. Doom? Do they really need anyone else on their case? I’d argue that yes, you can never have enough cool and competent villains, and when your rogues’ gallery also includes the Impossible Man, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the Puppet Master and the Mole Man, yeah, I think making the Wizard more villainous and keeping him that way could be a good thing. Let’s face it, the Fantastic Four may have the best villain in comics as their archenemy, but you can’t fight Doom every issue. Many of their “villains” have turned out to be misunderstood heroes (like Namor, the Inhumans and the Black Panther), and the rest of their villains tend to be pretty lame. And before someone suggests it, no, Galactus is not one of their villains, and isn’t even really a villain at all. Besides, if you can’t fight Doom every issue, you sure as hell can’t fight Galactus every issue.

I think that a more media savvy Wizard would be hesitant to get his hands dirty. Once he had the love of the masses, he’s not going to want to lose it by getting caught knocking around a four year old kid, or smacking a blind woman who got in his way. I think he’d step back to do more planning, and probably only actually go into action when his new Frightful Four actually took on the Fantastic Four in a fight. I also think, because of that, the Wizard would want a more competent group of allies, so no Trapster in this version of the Frightful Four. So, who would he recruit?

You make an important point about Wizard not wanting to get his hands dirty after achieving some sort of positive notoriety. I was thinking that myself and came to the conclusion that he would probably seek to recruit an entire Frightful Four sans himself. Four people who are wired in to his communication feed would allow him to be the leader without risking his reputation by being unmasked in the field. Plus, as you pointed out previously, it’s not like he’s some sort of combat expert or anything. Hell, they’d probably have a better chance of succeeding without him to slow them down in battle. And it would be rather sneaky of him if he used his intellect to devise some sort of remote-controlled Bluetooth devices that he could literally fry from a distance in case they get captured…like a secret agent placing a cyanide pill under his tongue…eliminating any evidence that could be linked back to him. Of course, he wouldn’t tell his recruits about this failsafe.

So, the question becomes who would he trust or think he could control, that would also be effective in the field. It’s hard to think of any successful villains in the Marvel Universe who don’t already work for themselves. Being a huge fan of the character, the first person that comes to mind for me is Taskmaster, the quintessential mercenary. However, he’s currently working for the good guys as a trainer with The Initiative (although rumor has it that The Initiative will be ending soon). I’ve already mentioned that I think Absorbing Man would be an adequate foe…he’s got a power that is nearly limitless and has gone toe-to-toe with Thor and Hulk repeatedly.

If you want to think about who could best neutralize the Fantastic Four, you have to consider what those four members are good at and what they sort of fall short in. Reed is the thinker, Ben is the brute, Johnny is the hotshot and Sue is the consummate defender. In that group, there really isn’t anyone who counters psionic abilities like telepathy, telekinesis or the like. And there’s no one in that group who has anything to do with magic. Those are two areas we could explore for additional villains.

And, to tell the truth, I don’t really mind Hydro-Man as a member. He makes a certain amount of sense, although he really isn’t the brightest bulb in Marvel’s villain ranks. I think we need a group of four who will not only work well together, but will also understand what they’re supposed to be doing. Don’t be too quick to throw out Trapster! I have a feeling he could hold a grudge and end up throwing a wrench into the group’s plans somehow…or not. He’d probably just end up gluing his hands together or something.

My internet access is a little wonky right now, so you’ll have to do a little more research on the villain side of things for me. Anyone stand out to you as a potential recruit for the Frightful Four?

The more I’ve thought of it, the more I love the idea of the Wizard achieving some mainstream fame, and being loathe to lose it. One of the things that makes the Wizard so boring at the moment is that he has nothing to lose. You know that, when he goes up against the Fantastic Four, he’s not going to win, and what happens when he loses? He goes back to jail….again. Oh, the humanity (read that in your best possible monotone for the full effect). By giving the Wizard something that can be taken away, we give him something to lose, making him a much more interesting character and a deeper villain (will his plans be better now, as he fears being caught? Will he do even more desperate things to avoid being captured?).

The first time he organizes a Frightful Four and doesn’t take a role in the battle, he can allow the group to know his identity, as he could take steps to make sure that, even if the villains are captured and rat him out, there would be no evidence to link them to him. After that first time, it might become more difficult for him to entice people to work for him, if they see him as throwing them under the bus when the going gets rough. That being said, he might be able to help his allies if they are captured without implicating himself, and I like the idea of him rarely taking direct action, but instead setting himself up as a controller and manipulator.

As for members….while we all tend to dismiss the Trapster as a useless stumblebum, he has on occasion been competent, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. Not only does he have an unbreakable adhesive that has managed to root Thor in place (and to the best of my knowledge, there is only one solvent that affects it), he also is a master of many sorts of traps and gadgets. Effectively directed, Trapster is the perfect member of a team such as the Frightful Four, and could honestly be useful in keeping any of the Fantastic Four out of a fight. Moreover, he’s someone the Wizard can trust, even though the Wizard has betrayed him in the past. I mean, Trapster either has a huge crush on the Wizard, or he’s the dopiest guy in the Marvel Universe, considering what he’s put up with dealing with the Wizard, and he keeps coming back for more!

The Absorbing Man certainly has the power to fight the Fantastic Four, that’s for sure. He’s also not someone that usually works on his own, and would probably be amenable to being a part of the group. Again, while he’s something of a super-strong guy, his powers are more versatile than they first appear, and he can really take on any member of the team. If he touches the Human Torch, he could easily duplicate his powers. He could take the Thing on, brick for brick. He could be rubbery like Mr. Fantastic; and wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when he touches one of the Invisible Woman’s force fields? Yeah, the Absorbing Man could be incredibly dangerous, bouncing around the battlefield, absorbing different powers as he needs them. He’d also be great against a lot of Reed’s inventions, since he could also absorb a lot of their properties.

I’d be tempted to add his wife Titania to the team. She’s been a team member in the past, and like her husband, she’s not someone who works well on her own. She’d cover the super-strength angle, giving the Absorbing Man more of a chance to absorb other sorts of abilities. This also gives the team a husband/wife coupling. I know we’re not trying to match the family feel of the Fantastic Four anymore, but I think it’s always interesting to have that sort of relationship between some members of your team. There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with a married couple, particularly when they’re the villains of the piece.

For the final member, I’m going to toss out Hydro-Man for someone who also does his best work when partnered with others, and someone who has also been portrayed as a loser. That would be Mentallo. This gives us someone with telepathic powers, which, as you pointed out, is something that the Fantastic Four have no real defense against (and precious little experience with). Moreover, if Mr. Fantastic’s brain is one of the Fantastic Four’s best weapons, what’s the most expedient way to neutralize that weapon? Find someone who can read his mind (telling you what that new invention is going to do before you get blasted by it, or knowing his plan before he even has time to tell his teammates), and potentially shut down his mind.

There’s my Frightful Foursome, who could combat the Fantastic Four under the direction and planning of the Wizard. All four of them can be effective, none of them are the leader type or likely to try and wrest control of the group from the Wizard. I think they could give a very good showing of themselves, and with the right plan, I think they could win.

I have a few thoughts on your selections, some positive and some questioning. First, the good stuff: Titania is an inspired selection. I knew she had a past with Absorbing Man, but I didn’t realize the depth of it. Not only has she previously been a member of the Four, she would also be the catalyst to bring Absorbing Man into the group…something I had been trying to figure out how to do. Also, the WIzard had attempted to use his family in the last incarnation as a sort of mirror of the Fantastic Four’s family dynamic. That didn’t seem to go so well. However, using Titania and Absorbing Man as the “family” is a way to inject that part of the team aspect without involving the Wizard and having him order his own peeps around.

I’m not as sold on your other half of the group though.

You spent the first half of this post dogging Trapster for being a loser and then you want him on the team after all? I have two thoughts on why he shouldn’t be involved. First of all, he and Wizard don’t seem to be getting along so well lately. I’m not even sure why Trapster continues to come back for more punishment, especially after Wizard maliciously put him in that time-loop thingy. Secondly, I don’t think Trapster has it in him. His abilities seem to work best in one-on-one fights against street-level heroes. He has beaten Daredevil and Spider-Man on separate occasions, but he always falls short in team situations. I still think Hydro-Man makes more sense and matches up well against Human Torch.

And Mentallo came to mind for me as well. He has a past in team-up situations and he has fought against Thing and the Fantastic Four. However, upon further research, his powers have some severe limitations. He can’t really use his talents against moving targets (???) and he’s susceptible to psionic feedback. I’d just be concerned that he’d be the weak link in the group (if Trapster is already taken out of the picture). So I’m on the fence about him right now. If you can make a credible argument for him, that’s fine. Perhaps it’s as simple as retooling him a bit…like we’ve talked about doing with Wizard. I mean, Mentallo is one of Marvel’s oldest villains (as is Trapster for that matter) and it would be cool to give him some new life as a character. It worked for his old partner The Fixer, who is now a long-term member of the Thunderbolts.

I don’t know if you read the recent Modok’s 11 miniseries, but Mentallo showed up in that (as did The Spot, a former member of the Legion of Losers, that I had talked about earlier on) and they added a few interesting personality bits to him and the others. Not a great story, but it had some cool character moments in it…and showed how treacherous it is to work in a group of back-stabbing, self-serving villains.

Like I stated in my previous response, I think it would be an intriguing side story to show Trapster irritated at being left out of the group. Maybe he tries to start up his own answer to the Frightful Four at some point and makes a complete fool out of himself. I dunno. There’s got to be some way to stick to the traditional view that the Frightful Four can’t cut it and yet have them win at the same time. It’s like I’m only half-serious about making this a successful revamp, huh?

I certainly understand why my feelings about Trapster seem a little schizophrenic. The reason I think he could work is because he actually is a talented maker of traps and glues, and used intelligently, he could be very effective in a team situation. In some instances, he has been effective within the Frightful Four, although that was mostly back in the 1960s when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first introduced this villainous quartet. So, yes, he has been portrayed as a total loser for years, but it seems that somewhere in there we have a character with potential, and one that really needs to be in a group. After all, the Trapster doesn’t really hurt people with his abilities, but instead he sets them up for other people to hurt. He needs those other three people.

The reason I keep trying to remove Hydro-Man from the team (he is so going to be your next one-shot, since you obviously have some sort of special place for him in your heart) is because he has NO personality. He is a walking gimmick, a set of powers to be used, but there’s no character behind them. He reminds me of the old Silver Age DC villains, where all you had was a neat costume and a specialty, so you got to be a villain, personality be damned. Trapster, on the other hand, has a personality, and if he’s trying to prove himself in this group, it makes him even more interesting. Why would the Trapster return to the group, and why does he keep submitting himself to the Wizard’s bullying? I think it’s obvious that the Trapster has a crush on the Wizard, and the Wizard knows it, and so he knows he can treat the Trapster any way he wants, and the Trapster will keep coming back for more.

Don’t like that? I’m okay with your not liking it, but if you really don’t want the Trapster (and I do like the idea of the Trapster creating his own team; he’d have to staff it with total losers. That could be a great story, and I could go that route.) could you possibly supply the team with someone besides Hydro-Man, someone who has a personality? Or at least come up with a personality for him?

As for Mentallo, I’ve never seen enough with him in it to say how well his powers work in a fight. If you think he’s underpowered, it would be simplicity itself to have the Wizard devise a helmet that could boost his powers. Or, perhaps Mentallo is more powerful than we’ve realized. I did read Modok’s 11 and Mentallo was killed in that series, only to reappear alive and well a few months later. Maybe he’s always downplayed his power so that people would underestimate him. If we don’t want Mentallo on the team, who else could we use?

I had more written, but the blog ate my post (which is “the dog ate my homework” for the new century). I wanted to suggest past members like Sandman or Klaw, but honestly, they aren’t really doing it for me. I also considered Volcana, since she has cool powers, and a history with Titania, so we could try and draw a Reed/Ben comparison with these two, but Volcana is a goodie goodie, and would never join the team. The Wizard could also do the mind thing with her that he did when the Sandman reformed, making her evil, but then would she have a personality?

We have half the team agreed on (Absorbing Man and Titania) and I think they’re excellent choices. Who rounds out this team?

After doing a bit more research on Wizard, Absorbing Man and their various connections, I’ve come to a few conclusions. First of all, there are a lot of useless villains in the Marvel Universe. And most of them appeared at one point or another in the Masters of Evil. Folks like Eel, Whirlwind, Tiger Shark, Gypsy Moth and Melter should probably never have been created in the first place. I do have a soft spot for Grey Gargoyle though.

My research also led me to accept Trapster as a necessary member of the Frightful Four. I mean, he is one of the founders of the group and has appeared in nearly every single incarnation. Also, if we’re going to remove Wizard from active battle, we should probably have someone out in the field who will easily represent the group. Trapster’s skills are a plus in team combat…did you know he has a powder that can render Mr. Fantastic’s “unstable molecules” inert? I’m not sure how turning the Fantastic Four’s uniforms into normal cloth will help in combat, but the visuals would be amusing. Add to that the bizarre love-hate history between Trapster and Wizard and I think you have the makings of some good comic books.

And I also discovered a one-off connection that could prove useful to the team. Wizard and the original Mysterio teamed up to battle Spider-Man once. That probably doesn’t mean much on the surface, considering Mysterio’s powers basically revolve around stage magic and a fishbowl helmet, but the newest Mysterio has much to offer the Frightful Four.

See, Kevin Smith introduced Francis Klum in his long-delayed Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries. Francis is a mutant with teleportation and telepathic powers. After being forced to kill his brother and then being attacked by Spider-Man, Francis vowed revenge. He contacted Kingpin and purchased Quentin Beck’s original Mysterio costume (along with a warehouse full of weapons and devices). Here’s where I think things could get interesting. Klum’s mutant abilities allow him to control people’s bodies without actually controlling their minds. He can also teleport himself (or just parts of his body) and has the full range of Mysterio’s costume tricks at hand…from smoke machines and leaping boots to electric-blasting gloves, dissolving acid fingertips, holographic projectors, hallucinogenic gases and built-in sonar. Lots of stuff to confuse and incapacitate.

Wizard, with his tech prowess, could most likely contact this new Mysterio through his suit somehow. He’d have no way of really knowing that this wasn’t the original Mysterio that he had teamed up with in the past. Could build an interesting dynamic. And, as a side note, could expose the fact that Wizard has been surreptitiously keeping tabs on all of his former associates.

Mysterio adds the mental power angle we were looking for, without tossing a perennial loser like Mentallo into the mix (though I could see Mentallo in an advisory role at Wizard’s side). And, with the addition of Trapster, gives us two characters who can run the whole “confuse and capture” angle of any successful superhero conflict. They provide the set-up while Absorbing Man and Titania execute the takedown. Mysterio and Trapster also give us some weapons that don’t involve hand-to-hand combat…distance and range can be effective tactics on their own, especially if they allow the rest of the team to get closer without as much danger to them.

So what do you think of that lineup? And how do you see the whole thing scenario playing out…from gathering the team, to laying down the plans, to following through?

I love that team! I’m a huge Mysterio fan from way back, and he’s always been my favorite of Spidey’s villains. I was quite perturbed when Kevin Smith killed him, but it looks like the new one has even more potential than poor old Quentin Beck ever did. Honestly, Absorbing Man and Titania have so much raw power between the two of them that the new group doesn’t need more power; having people with more subtle powers and powers that allow them to set up the bad guys is much more useful to the team (and can I say how much I love the idea of neutralizing the Fantastic Four’s unstable molecule clothing? Sue would have to expend extra power to make her clothes invisible, Johnny would be naked, and Reed would be stretching out of his clothes all over. I’m not sure if there’s combat potential here, but it would be amusing).

How does this play out? Okay, the Wizard gets out of jail and starts his plan to become the darling of the media, and gain popularity and the cover spot on People. He’s successful, but realizes that he still needs to show up (or destroy) Reed and his team. However, Wizard is loathe to lose his newfound acceptance, and also realizes that it can be helpful to his plans in the future. So, he needs to put together a new Frightful Four, one he can control (so no heavy thinkers) and one that has a chance at destroying the heroic FF. However, he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s behind this. What can he do?

He needs someone that he trusts, and the only person he knows who won’t betray him is the Trapster. Wizard had hoped to put this group together without including this guy, but he knows that the Trapster is loyal to the Wizard no matter what happens, so he approaches him. He explains to the Trapster that he wants to reform the villainous FF, and that he wants Trapster to lead the team in the field. Good old Pete is beside himself with glee, as it means that the Wizard is finally being nice to him and finally recognizing that he has some potential. Of course, that’s not really what this means, it just means the Trapster is the perfect fall guy, but hey, Pete can think whatever he wants to, and the Wizard sure as heck isn’t going to correct these misconceptions. The Trapster is in; he knows to never mention the Wizard and not to let anyone know the Wizard is involved. The Wizard also gives Trapster a new earpiece, with which the two of them can communicate.

Wizard knows the new team needs raw power, and Titania, a former member, has raw power in spades. He sends Trapster to recruit her. At first Titania is unimpressed with the idea of joining a group led by Trapster, but the Trapster (at the Wizard’s prodding, through the earpiece) offers her much money and the chance to take on Spider-Man (as a revenge fight) after the group is done with the Fantastic Four. He also outlines a little of the plan against the Fantastic Four; enough that Titania feels he knows what he’s doing. She agrees to join, with one condition; her husband, the Absorbing Man, joins as well. The Wizard is thrilled, as he wanted the Absorbing Man anyway, and the deal is sealed.

That’s three of the four. Wizard then sends Trapster to find Mysterio, and the scene before more or less repeats, using a form of persuasion more likely to entice the new Mysterio, although that might not be difficult, since Mysterio could see this as a chance to establish a new rep. There’s your foursome. Now they fight the Fantastic Four.

I think the fight would be a victory for the Frightful Four, and a victory in a public place. The victory would come from the plan; the Frightful Four would fight with the Trapster leading them, while he is receiving instructions from the Wizard (who can be a better leader now that he’s out of the battle and can sit back and observe). Once they beat the heroic FF, they keep them captive, and that’s when things go bad. The heroes get free, and without the pre-planning, the new FF lose; however, this isn’t a total rout, and they manage to escape, keeping them free and allowing us to do more with them in the future.

Also, while you could go through the entire story of the Wizard talking to the Trapster, and the recruitment of the team, which could be interesting, you could also do it a different way. Perhaps the first time we see the glimmerings of the new team is when the Trapster goes to recruit Titania. When he informs her that he’s restarting the Frightful Four, she asks about the Wizard. Trapster scoffs, saying that his former partner has gone legit, but just because the Wizard has left the field, it doesn’t mean that the Trapster has. This continues for the next few issues, and we move forward to where the Frightfuls beat the Fantastics. “But, how could you beat us?”, a broken Sue asks right before she slips into unconsciousness. “How indeed?”, replies the Trapster, as the camera zooms to his earpiece, and we then see the Wizard sitting at his control board, watching the scene and laughing to himself. “Yes, how indeed?”, he reiterates. Then we keep the Wizard’s involvement secret until late in the plot.

I think there’s a lot we could do with this villain group, and I’d want to keep these five together for quite a awhile, exploring the relationships between them. You?

The setup makes sense, but the way it is carried out has to be clear. If we’re going to spend time setting up the Wizard as a “winner” again, then it would be pretty silly to try to hide from the readers the fact that he’s behind this new Frightful Four. I mean, the Wizard’s comeback would be the backup story in the Fantastic Four title for a few months and then, just as he achieves something, we suddenly forget him and focus on this scene of Trapster recruiting members? Overall, I like the idea of holding back some info, but this way just seems rather jumpy to me.

In my college writing classes, I was always taught to start the action as late into the scene as possible. Perhaps we take some of that advice and tell the story in a disassembled outline…similar to Tarantino’s vision of Pulp Fiction…or we start at the end sort of like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Also, I think some of the problem is that we’re trying to tell two different stories here at the same time. Wizard’s rise to fame needs to happen almost on its own, with a few issues’ worth of pause in between before the new Frightful Four recruitment drive begins, just so readers can let it all settle in first. Or, even after Wizard reaches the top, we can continue to show backup stories where his new public persona really starts to get under Reed’s skin. There are definitely a few ways to handle it.

I’m also not sold on the idea of the Frightfuls holding the Fantastics captive. I’d much rather see some sort of hit-and-run attack where they survive to cause havoc another day. Better yet, I’d like to see a series of victories that really force the Fantastics to reevaluate the way they do things. Could start out with small wins like disabling Johnny for a while, then stealing some gadget of Reed’s, then popping Ben into another dimension, and so on until the big faceoff. Let’s give the heroes a real threat that keeps coming back to hit them in the jaw…divide and conquer, rattle their beliefs, instill some doubts and fears. You’re right that there’s some real power in this foursome and there’s also some really conniving individuals who have been beaten down repeatedly and are looking for some payback in any form possible.

And you’re right, there are a lot of internal relationships we could explore in the group…from Crusher and Titania’s marriage to the volatility between Wizard and Trapster to the unknown identity issues of Mysterio. There’s also the new dynamic of Trapster being some sort of a “leader” in the group versus what is really going on behind the scenes. Lots of layers there. Layers are good.

So I’ve reached a resolution within myself not to push so hard to make these guys a failure again. I’m behind the revamp 100% and I think our reasoning is pretty sound. And I think we can deliver a shocking arc that really gives some strength and emotion to the sometimes namby-pamby feel of the Fantastic Four book.

Y’know, then we can get some Doom in there!

I like it! Your points are well taken, and I think this can work. I also like the suggestion of some hit and run attacks on the Fantastic Four, and while we’ve been focusing on the villains, this team has the real potential to affect the heroes as well. I love the idea of Reed becoming annoyed at the Wizard’s success. He’s often shown as being above all human emotion, but of course he isn’t. It’s not so much that he is jealous of people, but the Wizard has tried to kill Reed and his family many times in the past; of course Reed would be frustrated when this guy starts becoming popular!

I also see Johnny and Ben being annoyed that this team of lame losers, who the Fantastic Four have defeated handidly in the past, now is beating them, even if it’s just small victories in the hit and run style. Those small victories might not normally be enough to really annoy anyone, but because they’re being won by a team that the Fantastic Four had written off as useless makes them that much more meaningful (I can hear Johnny worrying about what Spider-Man will say when he finds out that the Trapster somehow got one over on the Torch).

You ended this so well, but I had to make a few comments, because this me more excited than any revival of the Frightful Four rightfully should. But here, since your ending was good, we’ll just use it again.

So I’ve reached a resolution within myself not to push so hard to make these guys a failure again. I’m behind the revamp 100% and I think our reasoning is pretty sound. And I think we can deliver a shocking arc that really gives some strength and emotion to the sometimes namby-pamby feel of the Fantastic Four book.

Y’know, then we can get some Doom in there!


It starts here! Marvel’s Secret Wars!

Jul-29-08

Ah, summer. For comics fans, summer is often known as the season of the big event. Just as the movie studios release most of their large blockbusters during the summer months, the big comics publishers also tend to pack the summer months with huge mini-series which promise to fundamentally alter their universes and after which “…nothing will ever be the same”! It’s an exciting time for some fans, and a frustrating time for others, but this has been the status quo at Marvel and DC since the mid-1980s. It was in 1984 that Marvel began releasing what many people consider to be the first of the huge mega-events, Secret Wars, or more accurately, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.

By today’s standards, Secret Wars bears little resemblance to most mega-events. First of all, it was twelve issues long, which is much longer than any event has been since (with the exception of Crisis on Infinite Earthsat DC, which would be another post). Today, these events tend to somewhat derail the storylines of most titles, and the companies don’t want that going on for an entire year (well, except for DC the last few years, which mega-events haven’t really ended since Identity Crisis, but that’s unusual). The other difference is that Secret Wars didn’t really crossover into any other comics. While there were issues of various books which showed heroes reacting to a strange structure that suddenly appeared in Central Park, which whisked the heroes away after they entered it, these scenes were very short and not very important. Otherwise, books didn’t crossover with Secret Wars. Again, today, when a mega-event is happening there are bound to be many regular series which break into their ongoing storylines to feature tales that relate to the crossover, and there are usually special mini-series that also relate directly to the main story. Of course, when Marvel decided to do a sequel called Secret Wars 2 the following year, they addressed both of these problems; the sequel ran only nine issues (which is still somewhat long by the standards of today) and there were crossovers galore.

Secret Wars was written by Jim Shooter, who was then also Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, and it was pencilled by Mike Zeck. The plot couldn’t have been simpler: a powerful extradimensional entity called the Beyonder teleports Marvel’s most famous heroes and villains across the universe to a planet that he created just for them. He then tells them that they must fight, and whichever group wins will be granted anything they desire. There’s your premise. It’s basically every comic reading child’s fantasy, forcing team-ups (both heroic and villainous) and fights galore.

Secret Wars did well, sales-wise. Very well. It also spawned a line of action figures. After Marvel saw how profitable it was, they decided to do the follow-up series, Secret Wars 2. Jim Shooter again wrote the main series, this time aided by Al Milgrom on pencils. The plot this time was that the Beyonder had come to Earth and wanted to understand….well, everything. He wanted to understand humanity, his place in the universe, good versus evil…he was insatiably curious.

There is so much to discuss here, and I’m not sure where to start. These two series couldn’t be further apart in tone, style or appeal. They also bring to mind discussions on how they relate to the event series of today, what could have (and perhaps should have) been done differently in them, and what the heck was up with the Beyonder in the first place. Where should we start?

Let’s start with a list of all the great things that came out of Secret Wars:

  1. Spider-Man’s black costume
  2. Denver’s comeuppance
  3. White guys dressing like Michael Jackson
  4. Action figures (all with the same body) packaged with lenticular shields.

That’s about it. And, really, #4 is a stretch. How many times have you seen Wolverine going into battle carrying a bulky shield with his face on it? But, dammit, Denver deserved what it got!

I think there’s a lot we could say about both of these series. The completely divergent storylines are the first headache that come to mind for me…especially the unnecessary ridiculousness of the sequel. After that’s covered, I think we should explore how the Secret Wars phenomenon translated into a mess of big company crossover event books (like all the ones Marvel pumped out during Annual Season every year).

You make a good point with DC’s continuing crisis. I can’t recall a time when so much effort was invested into condensing a comic universe into a singular (in)coherent event. It screams of insincerity to me. Obviously, there are other things going on in the lives of these heroes and villains that would garner their attention. For that matter, there are other heroes in other countries who could care less about how Batman is handling the arrival of Darkseid. Honestly, forcing the issue into some sort of line-wide gospel is extremely short-sighted and only works towards hurting readership on those titles whose readers don’t want to get involved.

You can point to dozens of instances where a certain family of books is drawn into a crossover event, and that makes infinitely more sense to me. If Spider-Man is being bothered by the ghosts of his parents in Amazing Spider-Man, then it stands to reason that that annoyance would continue across Sensational Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Pretty Cool Spider-Man, Kinda Hungry Spider-Man, and all the other 73 Spider-Man titles that Marvel publishes. See also, the X books.

But first, Secret Wars: What’s up with that?

Well, I have to admit….I like Secret Wars. Is it high art? Um, not even close. Was it a cynical marketing ploy designed to sell toys. Well, yes. Was it good, straight-forward superheroey fun? I say yes. Now, the sequel? That was a train wreck from the word go. Let’s examine how these two series couldn’t be further apart in terms of quality and execution.

The original Secret Wars miniseries, as we mentioned above, had no real crossover issues to speak of. It was twelve issues, self-contained. This is a good thing, as it allowed the entire story to be told by one creative team, and it also kept the story focused. Secret Wars had a definite plot, and it moved along that plot without veering too far afield. Every reader knew what the final goal was, and yet there are still some twists and turns here. It would have been easy to simply have the heroes and the villains fight it out, but Shooter kept most of our cast in character, and so we saw the heroes splinter, when the X-Men left their group, and we saw problems with the villains, starting in the first issue when Kang tried to assassinate Dr. Doom. Yes, the last few issues bog down a little when Doom steals the Beyonder’s power, but mostly the series is good clean fun.

Moreover, Secret Wars did something that all of these event series promise, and precious few deliver; it made changes to the Marvel Universe. You laugh at the changes it wrought, but it actually did make some long lasting changes. Besides introducing Venom (or the costume which would become Venom) it also introduced Volcana, Titania and the new Spider-Woman (now known as Arachne). This series is where She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four (which caused huge changes in that title), and it’s where the Molecule Man went from being a villain to being…well, whatever he is now. It started Magneto on his way to being a hero (although he’s changed back to a villain now, so perhaps we shouldn’t count that). Some of these are important to the Marvel Universe even now, but at the time, the Marvel Universe really was different after Secret Wars.

Now look at the sequel. This sequel had tons of crossovers, with just about every title that Marvel published crossing over at some time. Interestingly, Marvel seemed proud of this, and they even boasted that this was crossing over with all of their titles. It was so crazy that Circuit Breaker, a character from their Transformers comic, which was a comic that didn’t even share a continuity with the Marvel Universe, appeared in an issue of the series. It’s tempting to say that it was the huge amount of crossovers with the main miniseries that caused the story for Secret Wars 2 to become diluted and hard to follow. In actuality, that’s probably because the storyline for this series was so nebulous and hard to define as it was. While the original miniseries had a straightforward premise, the one for this series was harder to pin down. The Beyonder wants to learn about….humanity? Himself? Life, the universe and everything? Why the hell was he here anyway? No one seemed to know, and since his personality went all over the place during the miniseries, I never knew either. Some issues he was curious, sometimes he was angry, sometimes he was helpful….it was like the writers had a personality dartboard, and that’s how they determined what was going on with him.

Meanwhile, everyone learned something that should have been obvious from the start, but apparently wasn’t: cosmic beings are dull and boring. Seriously, who wants to read about the omnipotent? If the heroes have no chance of beating your antagonist, the story has no drama. Slugfests against those who can shatter universes, especially when some of the people involved in the slugfest can’t even lift a Buick, makes for a dull slugfest. The Beyonder could do anything, so what was the point? Ugh. The entire affair was horrible, just horrible.

At least, that was my take. Yours?

Well, you know, I’m not a fan of the cosmic storylines or the omnipotent villain types (even if they’re just “misunderstood”). But one thing that the first Secret Wars had going for it was the fact that they created an entire world just for the storyline. You didn’t have to worry about forcing a character into a setting that it wouldn’t work in…you merely plucked them from their own existence and put them on a pseudo-Earth. That way, the story could take place in its own sort of continuity, free from outside interference.

I can’t recall off the top of my head…how was it explained that these particular heroes and villains were missing in action for a year? Weren’t they only missing from their own books for a single issue or so? I seem to remember Spider-Man disappearing and then coming back with the black costume (and wasn’t it a chicken-and-egg type situation where people were saying it appeared first in Secret Wars and others said it appeared first in Amazing Spider-Man?).

My memory is obviously hazy, having only read the series when it first came out waaaaaay back in 1984 when I was going on 13. However, I do recall being slightly annoyed by the Beyonder. It seemed like they were just making up powers for him as they went along…until I realized he was able to do pretty much anything. Then I really got annoyed. How are you supposed to have an intriguing storyline pitting the good guys against a common threat, when there’s absolutely no plausible way for the heroes to win? They had to make up an excuse for beating him, like one of them tapped him on the shoulder and, while he was distracted, they used a space vacuum to suck the lifeforce out of him…or something like that.

I will commend them for keeping the action contained in its own series. There’s definitely something to be said for that these days, especially looking at the latest Previews and the ridiculous amount of spin-off miniseries that DC’s Final Crisis has inspired. At the same time, you have to question the intelligence behind a 12-issue maxiseries. The storyline wasn’t that strong to begin with, and then they wanted to drag it out for an entire year? Wow. Like you mention, the only other 12-issue series I can remember are Crisis on Infinite Earths (which encompassed the entire DC Universe) and both Squadron Supreme and Watchmen (which were their own self-contained adventures). Attention spans just don’t seem to be what they were anymore, huh?

At the same time, Secret Wars II was a unique miniseries too. By putting the Beyonder on a sort of “quest” to find himself or the source of humanity, they gave the plot a flexibility that enabled it to crossover into such wildly divergent titles as Rom, Dazzler, Power Pack, Alpha Flight, Cloak & Dagger, Doctor Strange, Power Man & Iron Fist and New Mutants. Too bad the story itself sucked.

The Beyonder started dating Dazzler, became the head of a crime syndicate, killed Death, turned the Heroes for Hire building into gold, inspired a cult, killed the New Mutants, then changed his mind a undid everything before Molecule Man “killed” him and his energy returned to the pocket dimension it originated from. We learn later that Beyonder was just some sort of immature Cosmic Cube. And THEN, Bendis rewrites history during his Illuminati miniseries and says the Beyonder was just some sort of mutated Inhuman with delusions of grandeur. Ridiculous.

People lambast Secret Wars II for being such a load of crap, which it is, but as far as convoluted crossover miniseries go, I don’t find it to be that offensive. Since the story didn’t make much sense to begin with, you weren’t required to catch every single affected title to understand what was going on. Compare that to the headache-inducing Atlantis Attacks event that ran through all of Marvel’s titles’ annuals (and interludes in two regular issues as well) which assumed that every Marvel reader read every title and collected every annual. That story made no sense if you didn’t read every part…and Marvel was notorious for doing junk like that every year…Evolutionary War, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, Operation: Galactic Storm, Infinity War, Infinity Crusade, Maximum Carnage, Age of Apocalypse (which confused the hell out of me), Maximum Security, blah blah blah. Out of those, only The Evolutionary War took place solely in annuals, but you get the point anyway. Seems like Secret Wars broke open the floodgates.

So, here’s an idea. Since our blog is all about reimagining things to make them better, do you think we should talk about how we would’ve made Secret Wars better (*cough*DON’T PUBLISH IT*cough*) or do you think we should tackle how to make long-form comic book events better? Hmm?

First, let me correct a few points of confusion for you. Yes, the mini-series was 12 issues long and took a year from start to finish, but that didn’t mean the heroes were gone from the Marvel Universe for a year. Remember, this is Marvel time. The entire Secret War lasted about two weeks, if I recall, so the heroes weren’t gone long at all. Still, their absence was noticed in the Marvel Universe at large, and it was quite a big deal. As for how they dealt with the fact that heroes returned one month after they left (real world time), but we wouldn’t find out about their adventures for an entire year, well, all the heroes had agreed not to discuss the events of their little Secret War, on the advice of Reed Richards. Reed had decided that, if regular humanity had any idea of the cosmic events the heroes had witnessed, or knew of the existence of someone whose power was on the scale of the Beyonder’s….well, old Reed thought that normal people couldn’t handle that sort of knowledge. So, everyone agreed to keep the war a secret. In my opinion, what’s the difference to a normal guy between the power level of Galactus and the power level of the Beyonder? They’re still omnipotent to any one of us.

Also, while the Beyonder was somewhat annoying in the original miniseries, he wasn’t important. He shouldn’t have annoyed you, because he served simply as a plot device. He needed to exist to bring the heroes and villains together and to create the patchwork planet on which they would fight. He’s in the first issue, and then isn’t seen again until #10, and then he returns for the finale in issue #12. All told, he probably has about 20 lines of dialogue in the entire series. I’m not sure why Little Jason would have been bothered by the Beyonder when he read the original series, because the heroes weren’t supposed to fight him. Nobody was supposed to, and the only one who did was Doom. The Beyonder was like the Grandmaster, but even more of a Maltese Falcon; he existed solely to set up the plot and move it forward. Yes, he was contrived and he was a blank slate, but he was a simple way to get things moving, and he served his purpose well. The mistake was to bring him back for the sequel and try and craft a story around someone of his power level.

In response to your question, I’d rather tackle the problem with these two series alone, and we can hit other events if we feel like it. I’m sure we’ll discuss how to do events better as we go along, but for now, I’ll just focus on these two series.

First of all, let me say that, on the surface, I have no problem with these huge crossovers. I think that most superhero fans enjoy this sort of thing, where heroes and villains team-up, and these crossovers help remind readers that these events all occur in the same universe. The largest problem with crossovers (in my eyes) is when they derail a lot of strong titles in a comic universe with crossovers, and when they meander along with no real plot. The first Secret Wars didn’t commit either of these crimes, and the sequel was guilty of only the latter (most of the crossovers for this miniseries that I read seemed to fit into the ongoing storylines pretty well). I certainly would have published the first Secret Wars. I think it’s fun. It’s not Watchmen, Maus or Fun Home, but it’s a good summer blockbuster. You buy your popcorn, you sit down, and for twelve issues you watch colorfully clad characters cavort. I think the miniseries stalled and almost dies in the last three issues (when Doom challenges the Beyonder for his power and the aftermath of that; certainly that was in character for Doom, but the story stops dead at that point and never really picks up again. It’s easy to see why, since I’ve been praising the book for keeping the omnipotent Beyonder off the stage and once Doom becomes omnipotent, we’re stuck with him as a main character for the last three issues. Yawn). I think it was a huge mistake to have Doom actually steal the power of the Beyonder, and were I writing it, I would not have gone that route.

If it had been my series, I would have had the heroes realize what Doom was planning (and really, would that have been so difficult? It’s classic Doom behavior….of course he’s going to try and steal omnipotence!). The last few issues would have dealt with the heroes attempting to halt Doom, and they would have succeeded. In the long run, that’s a heck of a lot more heroic than watching your deadliest enemy succeed at his plans, which is what happens in the story. Once the heroes had won, the Beyonder could have made his second (and last) appearance in the series (after introducing the plot in issue 1) and sent everyone home. Anticlimactic? I think not, since basically the series did end with the heroes just sending themselves home. Perhaps they could have made it more interesting by having the heroes actually capture Doom and plan to put him on trial when they returned to Earth. Doom has never been tried for his crimes, and if his usual defense is diplomatic immunity, well, this time he was caught in an area where he has no diplomatic immunity. Now he’s been apprehended, and he is going to be tried before a World Court for crimes against humanity (like Magneto was).

As for a sequel…..I’m not sure if a sequel would have been necessary. If there was one, I would have never shown the Beyonder, or allowed him much time in the spotlight. The Beyonder could have actually had a long life in the Marvel Universe, showing up as a cosmic deus ex machina or as a plot device when needed. Would people have wanted to know more about him? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean you give them more. The Beyonder should never be explained. He should be a voice and nothing more, except perhaps for a light from the sky or something equally mysterious. I understand why they didn’t want to have him grab more heroes and villains for another Secret War (that would have been redundant), but there has to be a better way to go than trying to define the undefinable. I think I would have left the series after the original and not done a sequel.

You’re right. Little Jason was recalling an amalgamation of both Secret Wars series. However, that does not mean that the Beyonder shouldn’t annoy me. Just look at the guy. You know I have an inherent aversion to all things cosmic and the Beyonder manifests all of the phenomenon’s worst attributes in one jheri-curled mess. I refuse to believe that the Beyonder should have ever been created…and his was a ridiculous origin (and an even more bizarre series of retcons) from the beginning. And, even though you seem to be advocating his return on some level, I can’t even fathom his existence as a “spirit voice” or plot device in the least. What’s the point? I mean, he’s already dated Dazzler…the Paris Hilton of the mutant world.

Taking it one step further, what was the point of the first Secret Wars itself? To pit heroes against villains? Doesn’t that happen organically anyway? Marvel seemed to be instituting just another version of their Contest of Champions from a year or two prior.

Y’know, now that I have a chance to reconsider my opinion, I may not be so enamored with the idea of a 12-issue maxiseries in this format. If you look at the entire product, Watchmen and Squadron Supreme are much stronger stories than Secret Wars. The standalone aspect of these books lends itself better to an extended storytelling format where characters can develop without having to worry about affecting overall continuity. Secret Wars was kind of awkward.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with anything you’re saying, except that I think you’re taking Secret Wars too seriously. Do I think the Beyonder should come back? Good grief no. I don’t at all mean to advocate his return. What I was saying was, if Marvel felt they had to use him again after the first series, they never should have tried to make him a character. The Beyonder is not a character; he’s a plot device. He’s a clunky, awkward plot device. He existed to make Secret Wars work. Was he needed? I’d say probably not, since the Grandmaster could have basically done the exact same thing, and he was already established. Still, the Beyonder was created to fulfill a role, not to establish a character. It was when Marvel brought him back for the sequel that they tried to make him a character, and that was there mistake. What I was saying was that, if the Beyonder had to be brought back, he should have been brought back as an enigmatic cipher, as he was in the first Secret Wars, and he should never have been developed. No physical form, no attempt at a personality….nothing. That was a bad idea.

In the end, we seem to agree on one thing: cosmic characters ruin storylines, particularly when they’re placed in the center. We also seem to agree that crossovers started as an excuse to sell toys and comics, and not as a story that really needed to be told. I think that, once you get past the contrivances, the first ten issues of the original Secret Wars was good solid fun, like a good summer popcorn movie. You seem to disagree. And we both agree that the second series had no redeemable qualities whatsoever. These were not exactly the perfect models from which to build future crossovers. Unfortunately, many of the negatives we’ve mentioned would continue in the future.


Sub-Mariner: Playing the Prince or Acting the Fool?

May-09-08

Prince Namor, ruler of the fabled Atlantis, is really just a half-naked dude with wings on his feet…a half-breed in a Speedo…a pointy-eared ne’er-do-well who plays the heavy as often as he plays the hero. Namor’s early exploits painted him as comicdom’s first true anti-hero. He had a fierce loyalty backed by a short temper. Of course, these are the same early days that portrayed both Batman and Captain America toting guns and flaunting some rather graphic violence.

It’s hard to believe that one of Marvel’s top three original characters (alongside Cap and Human Torch) has fallen so far from favor in today’s comics. Who would’ve thought that a fish-man in a swimsuit could drum up such high sales numbers in his early career? But somewhere along the way, he lost the audience. And, much like the early success and subsequent disinterest of both Ant-Man and The Wasp, Sub-Mariner has faded into semi-obscurity.

The history of the character is a bit twisted and contradictory (not much of a surprise for early comic book creations). His career began with a fight against the original Human Torch. Then, he joined forces with the Torch against Hitler as part of the All-Winners Squad. Later, Marvel history would be retconned to create a group called The Invaders that he also adventured with (not sure what they were invading or what The Avengers were avenging for that matter). A few brief revivals kept the character in comics, but as superheroes faded in popularity, so did Namor’s appearances.

When the Fantastic Four made Marvel a household name again, Namor wasn’t far behind. He has been tied to the team for decades, based on his unrequited obsession with Sue Storm. The character has been both a member of the Defenders and the Avengers, as well as a repeated ally of Doctor Doom. He has waged war against the surface dwellers and repelled attacks by Atlantean insurgents. He even once married his cousin. But he has never really found his niche.

Part of the problem is that no one has ever definitively explained who he is and what he’s capable of. He once exhibited the powers of various undersea lifeforms, channeling electricity like an eel and expanding in size like a puffer fish. At times, his creation was based upon the kidnapping and rape of his mother while in another instance he fought valiantly alongside his father. He’s been given wings on his feet and gills in his neck (and subsequently had both taken away and restored at various intervals). One interesting run had him heading his own business and fighting pollution. He even recently murdered his newly discovered son. Basically, Namor has been all over the place.

But look, this is the Marvel Universe. Anything can happen. With that being said, where does Namor fit? What are his strengths? Who does he surround himself with? How can Marvel somehow make him a relevant, interesting and involved character again?

Ah Namor. You know, I never really enjoyed this character much until John Byrne’s series from the early 1990’s, which I thought was the first time I had really seen the character start to move toward fulfilling his potential. Now, going back and reading a lot of Namor comics from the past decades, I can state that I rarely find him particularly interesting. That’s not to say that I don’t feel the character has potential, because I do. I just don’t think very many creators have used him as well as he could be used. Besides Byrne, I also enjoyed the (very short) time Roger Stern used him in the Avengers (yes, I’m going to praise the Stern run on the Avengers again. Look, it was a creative high point for that title….deal with it unbelievers!). I thought that Namor worked well in that setting. He’s a powerful monarch and head of state, and he’s being ordered around by a woman who’s power is to grow small, sprout wings, and design costumes. There’s obviously going to be friction! Plus, I thought playing Namor against Hercules was a very inspired move, as it brought out the best in both of them. So he worked in a team, but on his own?

I think one of the things that really defines Namor (and its why, although I like him in team settings, he rarely stays in them for long) is that he is a loner. He has no real long term relationships amongst the superhuman set, with a few notable exceptions (I would say Captain America and the Invisible Woman being those exceptions, with perhaps the original Defenders being included as well. I would argue that you can’t really include any of the Fantastic Four except for Sue, since the men really have never seemed to like him much at all.). Most other heroes either don’t like him, don’t understand him, or don’t know him. Even if some of the older Namor comics from the 1960s and 1970s, when he ruled Atlantis, seemed to rarely show him with much of a connection to even other Atlanteans! You can’t even really count his love interests, since both of his wives (Dorma and Marrina) died very shortly after he married them. He has had passing dalliances with others and short lived alliances, but really, there is always a sense of cold distance between Namor and his allies. I think that makes him somewhat unique and I think it’s something on which to focus.

I don’t necessarily believe that Namor acts like this because he wants to be alone. He’s someone who has never really known his family and who has been thrust into the role of ruler, and usually protector, of an entire nation. A nation which, powerful though it may be, is often on the brink of war with the rest of the world. I think that the recent storyline where Namor killed his newly discovered son is a perfect example of what makes him such a fascinating character in the right hands; he’s truly willing to do anything. I remember reading that series, wondering what Namor would do, and continually saying to myself, “No way will they have him kill his son.” Yet that’s exactly what they did, and it made perfect sense from the aspect of the story. Namor did what he felt he had to to protect his people and it’s his willingness to make those kinds of sacrifices, his ability to be the anti-hero when need be, that I really like about him. I don’t get the impression that Namor particularly enjoys the things he must often do (as when he killed his son). Instead, he has an air of gravity about him, as he realizes that he simply must do these things.

How to make him relevant? I would argue that he’s already relevant; he’s the leader of a foreign power, a power that is strong, that is independent, and whose goals are not entirely known to us. If that doesn’t make him a perfect fit for much of the world today, I’m not sure what would. Some people in the Marvel Universe consider Namor and the Atlanteans to be terrorists and violent warmongers, and they certainly have good reason, considering the amount of times Atlantis has attacked the surface world. I think those smoldering political tensions could make for an interesting backdrop to tell stories featuring Namor.

I must admit that I already had a path in mind for my Namor revamp when I originated this post and I was hoping you would validate some of that with your response (which you did). He is, ultimately, a loner. Plus, he’s the boss. He runs an entire kingdom…even though it’s only ever shown as one big underwater city. The only major complaint I have about him is that he comes across a bit like Tony Stark. And by that, I mean that his supporting cast is virtually nonexistent. He makes all the decisions himself and has no outside judgment to help guide him. To tell the truth, I think he’s better “friends” with Doctor Doom than with any other surface dweller.

So, let’s push him to that extreme. Why shouldn’t the Sub-Mariner focus all of his energy on politics and intrigue? Let’s give him his own title or miniseries that is less about punching other heroes in the neck and more about the drama involved in potential war. And wouldn’t it be entertaining if that war was with Latveria and the one monarch he probably respects more than anyone? I like tension.

There are a few things we need to understand first, the most important of which is scope. Atlantis is supposed to be a kingdom…an empire, if you will. Well, that would most likely mean that it encompasses more than one gigantic city, right? Every other country on the planet is a collection of lands and metroplexes. Why shouldn’t Atlantis be the same? And, since water takes up more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, ruling over the mega-country of Atlantis would be one huge ball of nigh-overwhelming stress every day of the year. What’s the economy of Atlantis? Where do they get their technology (and how does it work underwater)? How do they communicate with each other over such massive amounts of space? Hell, I want to know why things are always so bright in Atlantis when it’s hundreds of feet under the ocean!

I have my own answers to those questions, but I want to know what you think first.

It’s so interesting that you would mention that Namor seems closer to Doom than most superheroes, since I was thinking the exact same thing when I wrote my original response. I think focusing on the ruling of Atlantis is a great idea, and Marvel’s in a position to do this. Besides Doom and Namor, we also have T’Challa, the Black Panther, who rules the country of Wakanda….that’s three monarchs who hold places of importance in the Marvel Universe. Add in Black Bolt and Attilan, and we could do some fascinating political stories that center on the superhuman side of the equation….there are also numerous stories that could be done with countries not ruled by superhumans as well.

I think that trying to capture the essence of an underwater city is difficult, and while I’m not an expert on any of the undersea characters that have appeared in comics over the years, I’d say that no one has successfully managed it yet. I believe it can be done, but many of the questions you ask need to be answered. I certainly agree that it has never made sense that Atlantis is simply one big city. There should be multiple settlements scattered through the oceans, with Namor as the ruler of them all. However, each city would have to have it’s own, regional, leader. Whether they be mayors, governors, or a more feudal title like lord, regent, duke or baron (or, perhaps even more likely, a title unique to Atlantis), I believe introducing these characters into Namor’s story could only be beneficial. They may not be supporting cast in the traditional sense of the word, since I don’t know that they could be considered friends, but they’d be political allies and rivals, and could help to give Namor’s title additional characters. Having multiple cities in the kingdom of Atlantis also gives Namor a chance to be out and about and away from the capitol, which is important, I believe, for the action.

As for creating the details of their society, you ask some fundamental, and vitally important, questions. How the heck does their technology work underwater (and not just any water, but salt water, which would corrode and short circuit almost any technology that we have created). Just how much technology do they have? We often don’t see a lot of technology in their day to day lives (I don’t recall seeing anything like a radio or TV, and when you see people in the city, they don’t seem to be using much technology), but when they go to war, watch out! Suddenly they have massively sophisticated battle cruisers and weapons, dwarfing much of what the surface world can produce. I believe that somewhere along the line they may have suggested that they found a cache of Deviant technology or the like, but why would another race create technological devices that could be used so well underwater? Still, it seems that most of their technology is geared toward making war, and that’s something I think I would want to follow up on. Whether through choice or design, it seems significant.

You make good points. Even though the Marvel Universe is mostly based in our universe, it does have its own differences. Marvel claims that its strength lies in its reality, but we never really see that reality come into play unless it’s to the extreme. We’ve seen one or two references to President Bush and, of course, there was a strong reaction to 9/11, but there isn’t a constant underlying theme of our Earth’s political structure.

Here’s a great opportunity to bring in some intrigue and tension without it revolving around someone getting hit or zapped. Wakanda and Latveria are both run by powered beings (I’m not even sure where Attilan is anymore…the Moon? Himalayas?). And let’s not forget other established Marvel countries like Silver Sable’s homeland of Symkaria, the High Evolutionary’s Transia, the Ancient One’s Kamar-Taj and the island nation of Madripoor. Any combination of these countries’ interests, resources and reasons to rumble would make for some good stories and long-lasting consequences. There’s a chance in here to shape the Marvel Universe for the better by adding much-needed depth and dynamics.

Let me start with my thoughts on Atlantis. In current Marvel continuity, the city-state of Atlantis is no more, with Namor allowing it to be blown to bits in an effort to destroy Nitro. The Atlanteans have been scattered. And, to tell the truth, this is the perfect set-up for my ideas. Look, Atlantis made no sense. I understand that it was a thriving continent thousands of years ago, rivaling even the ingenuity of Greece and the power of the Roman Empire. However, once it sank beneath the ocean, that effectively brought an end to its relevance for the surface world. The people all became a subspecies called Homo Mermanus…Mermen (and mermaids). There’s no reasonable explanation for the fact that they continue to wear robes and fancy jewelry like the court of Camelot, yet their city looks like something out of The Jetsons with its futuristic shapes and advanced technology. The entire scene is anachronistic.

So the whole place goes BOOM. Excellent. Let’s start over from scratch. What is the Atlantean economy based on? Who do they trade with and what are their products? If there’s a trade agreement with some nations of the surface world, I would guess that it’s based on fishing and mining. And, if it’s not, it should be. The Atlanteans are much better equipped for procuring those resources than anyone in the surface world. Plus, if you look at Atlantis like any other country, wouldn’t it have drilling rights on its own land? And, extrapolating that idea a step further, if a surface nation owns the airspace over its land, wouldn’t Atlantis actually own the shipping routes that run above its land as well? Those are some interesting facts to base political maneuvering upon.

The other economy that makes perfect sense, based on the location and circumstances of Atlantis, is piracy. If we establish that the nation of Atlantis is actually many smaller cities and outposts spread out across all the planet’s oceans, then it would be plausible that some of these smaller locations would supplement their survival by robbing passing cruise ships, helping themselves to the various goods found on merchant vessels, and even capturing some armaments from smugglers and submarines. This could lead to a lot of conflicts and potential showdowns.

Further exploring the New Atlantis, I would guess that it would be a massive undertaking to rebuild their capital city. Perhaps they don’t do it right away. What if they take to whatever natural shelters they can find? Let’s say that their cities are now based around shipwrecks, caverns and underwater ruins…a loose collection of villages connected by the currents. Each one of these “states’ would be run by a governor (a Mer-Duke or Mer-Chief…or, taking Greek/Roman reference, Argos or Archos for “leader”) and these leaders would make great friends and foils for Prince Namor’s rule. Depending on which direction we take Atlantis in, they could even build a “mafia”-like relationship among the leaders where each state is run by a boss who reports to Namor and Namor in turn has his consigliere for direction.

I’m not an actual scientist, but I’d throw it out there that sound travels further underwater. Perhaps they can set up some sort of rudimentary communications system based on that premise (like whales speaking to each other). And, while the previous Atlantis was bathed in glorious sunlight, it would make sense if New Atlantis was mostly shrouded in darkness. Their main light sources would come from phosphorescent algae, plants and fish. Maybe there’s a specific species of coral that can be treated to glow. It’s already been established that the Atlanteans controlled the planet’s “magma vents” to keep their cities warm, so I would suppose that their nation’s scientists would be focused on other needs…like lighting and communication technology.

Speaking of technology, let’s put it out there now that any sort of Deviant cache has been completely obliterated in the old city’s destruction. If there is to be new bleeding edge tech, it will come solely through pacts with surface allies. No more ominous battle fleets, laser weapons and similar doohickeys. The typical citizen of Atlantis will gather their “technology” from whatever they can salvage (and salvaging itself would be another form of economy)…spearguns, shields and armor made from pieces of ships’ hulls and giant seashells. I picture Namor’s throne room looking like the captain’s quarters from the Titanic, all decked out in fine linens, dark-stained wainscoting and gold-rimmed teacups. Hell, I could even see his court advisers wearing naval-style uniforms with gold epaulets and buttons. What their military may now lack in resources, it will more than make up for in sheer numbers and viable locations to attack from.

How do you like the set-up so far? I could go on and on (and I’m sure my next response will be just as long), but I want to give you a chance to react before I pitch my “big idea” to the world.

You have obviously thought more about Namor than I ever have. I’m awfully tempted to simply stand out of your way and let you go crazy, but I have to make a couple of comments.

In many ways we’re on the same page, but I have one nit-picky problem. Atlantis will, unless I’m mistaken, always be located in an ocean. An ocean means salt water. I mentioned this in my last post, but is there anything that is likely to corrode materials of any kind as quickly as salt water. I’m not talking about just technological items, but doesn’t salt water corrode most everything in it? Wouldn’t the Atlanteans have been forced to come up with some process of treating materials to protect them from the harmful effects of salt water? Or am I incorrect in my assumption on the dangers of salt water. I’ve been searching online for answers, and am having trouble finding anything helpful.

Beyond that, however, I do believe we’re in total agreement here. I had forgotten places like Symkaria, but countries like that are wonderful ways to draw in even more superhumans for the stories, yet, as you say, still tell stories with a little more meat on them. I really like this direction you have going and I think I will step out of the way and let you continue. I find it fascinating.

Again, I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure metals react differently in salt water. Gold, platinum, titanium, aluminum and stainless steel can all stand up pretty well to the ravages of the sea…although no metal should be placed up against another metal or galvanic corrosion could occur. A coating of protective paint, a wax finish or self-vulcanizing tape can help prevent potential damage. Oh, and ceramics are pretty much immune to corrosion. LESSON OVER. (But wouldn’t it be cool to see the Atlantean army all decked out in gold armor with big nautilus shells as helmets?)

Anyway, there are a few directions I’ve been thinking about for Sub-Mariner and Atlantis. The first theme would be something the Atlanteans could do on their own. Like I mentioned before, Atlantis should own its “airspace.” That means they control the shipping routes and they have say over who goes where and when. If someone breaks those agreements, the Atlanteans are free to take control of the situation. This could easily lead to the capture of nuclear submarines, the repossession of oil supplies and the taking of any number of import/export materials. Hell, they could seize control of the entire world’s economy if they saw fit. Might be a bit of a HUGE step for Namor’s goals, but it’s playable.

There’s also the piracy angle. Small bands of Atlanteans taking what they need from passers-by. Controlling, to a degree, the world’s tourism industry…or, conversely, working as the world police by cutting off illegal shipments of drugs and weapons. This storyline could start out with a few renegade governors allowing their city-states to proceed with piracy. The surface world could bring this to Namor’s attention and a civil war could break out within Atlantis. I’d also love to see the Atlantean Ambassador to the United Nations (has that been done before?).

I think the most complicated angle I’ve come up with involves Doom and Latveria. From the Marvel maps I’ve seen, Latveria is completely land-locked (with Transia and Symkaria in the region). But what if Doom decides that he needs a naval fleet to compete with other countries, or if he merely wants to set up his own shipping ports without having to rely on other countries to make deals with him? I say he strikes a deal with Namor to provide the locations. The Atlanteans may even take possession of a few small islands in the oceans and hand them over to Doom to strengthen his position in the world. The problem arises when Doom strikes alliances with other hostile countries and is soon mobilizing for war using the resources Namor has provided. Atlantis has been struggling to be more like Switzerland, but they end up working both sides of the equation in their efforts to remain neutral. Could call for some spiffy diplomatic showdowns.

The possibilities are endless, when you think about it. Atlantis is a country, but its boundaries are unlike any other in the world. And Atlantis itself has never really been examined as an entity…it’s always been about Namor getting overthrown or waging war with the surface world. We can put Sub-Mariner in a larger perspective while also adding to the depth of the Marvel Universe itself.

I think there’s also an avenue to explore some Lovecraftian villains in the title, something darker and deeper and more hideous than just a dude who dresses up like a shark. Another possible villain (or ally) comes out of left field…Diablo! Yes, the old Fantastic Four foe can alter the elemental make-up of matter. That’s something that could play huge in a civilization that depends on its water to breathe. His wizardry could aid the Atlanteans somehow too. Interesting, yes? Or maybe the Mole Man makes a play to have Subterranea recognized as a nation and Namor supports the effort…that’s one individual who threatens the existence of Atlantis because he controls the land underneath it. I’d love to see the UN meetings with all these various “nations” being discussed and represented.

Unfortunately, as much as the water environment adds interest to Namor’s world, it can also be a huge hindrance. His rogues gallery right now consists of mainly fish-based enemies. There are limitations to the back-and-forth allowed in any relationship he has because of the whole “most people can’t breathe underwater” thing. Makes sustained battles difficult, as well as romantic relationships with those who aren’t of his race. This is probably a big reason as to why Namor has never reached the same level of success as some of the other heroes.

By pursuing a chain of stories revolving around the politics and preservation of Atlantis itself, I think we can neutralize some of these limitations. It’s also a great opportunity to explore the politics of other Marvel nations and maybe even create some new countries. For instance, I’d love to see the Sub-Mariner dealing with the corrupt cartels in Madripoor. The place is an island and Atlantis could effectively put a stranglehold on it if they saw fit. Maybe that’s one reason why Namor and Doom get along so well…their countries have no direct contact with each other.

I dunno. I still see an image of Prince Namor sitting behind a huge desk in a room that looks like a turn-of-the-century ship captain’s office, all decked out in naval finery and plotting his attacks. Lots of ideas there. Pick your favorite or add to the list. This discussion must have brought up some concepts that you could expand on.

Lots of fun stuff in here. I certainly would love to see Doom as more or less a supporting character in the book. Doom is one of the most interesting characters in any universe, and he’s always going to make a book more complex. Political intrigue is something at which he should excel, and as we’ve seen in his most recent miniseries, Namor is no slouch in that area either. They both have enough experience with the other to know that they can’t trust each other and watching them trying to out-maneuver each other should be fascinating. Throwing in wild cards (like the Mole Man) is even better; but let’s try and take some of these concepts in baby steps.

Your concept of Atlantis owning all shipping lanes in it’s “airspace” is a fascinating one, although I’m not sure that I would use it as bluntly as you do. To me, this seems more like something that would make a good bargaining chip with the UN, something Namor could use to pressure them into working with his demands (“Well, if we wanted to, we could disrupt all of the shipping taking place above our territories”). Of course, the UN would need to know where that territory was, and more importantly, they’d want to verify it. It’s easy to know the airspace of France….France is right there on the map. We can see it. No one can see Atlantis, and if Namor says that his country sits under a certain shipping lane, the UN is going to want proof. By the same token, what if that area isn’t actually a good spot for Atlantis to be situated. Would Namor bluff his way along, claiming that Atlantis is wherever he currently needs it to be? If the UN came down to investigate, could Namor mock something up to protect his bluff (it’s not like the UN observers would be hanging out once they’d established that a city was where Namor said it was). Or perhaps they would stay; could they set up an underwater “embassy” from a UN country that would stay to monitor the Atlanteans. Then what does Namor do?

You mention Lovecraftian villains, and I think that’s an interesting idea. The Atlantean civilization is one of the oldest in the world. There should be myths and legends from it’s past that could be used as fodder for plotlines. Surely the Atlanteans possess secrets unknown to the rest of the world. When Namor first appeared he brought with him Monstro, a giant whale creature. Where did this creature come from, and does Namor have access to more like him? Perhaps this creature is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the Atlanteans are acting as jailors for others like him; creatures from the Earth’s dark and distant past that the Atlanteans keep trapped to protect the world. What if the surface world, when tensions are high because of some of the events we’ve outlined before, attacks Atlantis and accidentally succeeds in releasing one of these creatures? Would they appreciate the centuries that the Atlanteans kept the creature contained, or be upset that Namor never revealed its existence? As an aside, this would be a perfect crossover with our Defenders team, mentioned many posts ago.

You’ve certainly helped make him an interesting character and shown that he can be taken in exciting new directions. I like a lot of your ideas. Surely Marvel would like to see one of their original characters succeed.

Ooh…you’re right! That would be a good storyline for our Defenders (and a nice way to acknowledge the original team’s lineup). The UN angle is important and could be played out in a number of ways. Have they ever touched on the whole aspect of making Atlantis an officially recognized nation? And having Doom as a regularly recurring character is a nice touch, seeing as how he doesn’t show up as much in the Marvel world anymore. Hell, throw in a little Hate Monger and some Red Skull and we can do a Super-Villain Team-Up relaunch! Okay, maybe not.

With the way things have played out recently, I think Marvel has a superb opportunity to reimagine Atlantis and its role in the Marvel Universe. Namor is a character who deserves to be given some added facets. And, if Marvel wants their playground to stay relevant, politics should take a larger role in the goings-on of the superhero community.