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.


Title Revamp: Nightstalkers

Jan-07-09

Jason and I have spent quite a bit of time over the last few months reimagining Marvel and DC characters, trying to reposition them for success in today’s marketplace. This is something that both companies do on a regular basis. However, alongside searching their vast catalog of characters for ideas, both companies also go back to failed series and try to revamp them. It can be quite a quandary, trying to determine what made a series successful enough to launch but not strong enough to survive long term. Intrigued by this challenge Jason and I also thought we’d take a look at some failed series and try to make them viable for 2009. For our inaugural expedition into the land of failed series, we’ve chosen one of the bright spots of the 1990’s: Marvel’s Nightstalkers.

No doubt all the comics fans out there are now thinking “Of course, the 1990’s. That’s where all the great ideas in comics originated!” <sigh> Oh, you cynical, cynical comics fans. Sure, the 1990’s were full of dark characters with mysterious pasts and no personalities; full of men with huge guns and biceps larger than their heads; full of characters with “Death”, “Dead” and “Blood” as part of their names; full of grim and gritty stories, full of characters choking on their own machismo and testosterone; and full of writers who misunderstood their craft, designing long run-on sentences, separated by semi-colons only, as if that made them grammatically correct. All of this is true. However, there may be some genuinely good ideas in that decade, and Jason and I hope we’ve found one in Nightstalkers.

First, some background. The year is 1992. Marvel has been finding great success with books that have a horror background. Characters such as Blade and Morbius the Living Vampire have joined Ghost Rider on the top of the sales chart; okay, okay, maybe the first two aren’t on top of the sales chart, but the fact that they’ve managed to land anywhere on the sales chart is a pretty miraculous feat. Marvel decides to capitalize on the success of these darker, more horror-oriented series by creating a line of comics under the banner of “Midnight Sons”. Marvel created a few new series for this line of comics and one of those series featured a group of vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers.

The three members of the Nightstalkers were all existing Marvel characters. The most popular one today would be Blade, the half-vampire vampire hunter that we all know thanks to three movies starring Wesley Snipes. However, the first of those three movies was still six years off, and Blade was not well known. He was joined by Hannibal King, a private detective who had been turned into a vampire while on a case, but who hated his condition and had never taken to drinking human blood. The final member of the group was Frank Drake, a normal human whose only claim to fame was that he was a direct descendant of Count Dracula himself. These three had worked together in the past, but had split up. Dr. Strange, who was being mysterious and self-serving, as 90’s comics heroes were wont to be, manipulated the three into re-teaming as the Nightstalkers, and history was made!

Sadly, the book only lasted 18 issues, but it drew on past Marvel continuity, referencing stories from the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the conclusion of the book, all three members of the team were believed dead, but in the intervening decade, they’ve all returned to life in the Marvel Universe.

Horror may not be the draw it was when these comics were introduced, but at the same time, I believe there is a market for it. This book has the potential to stand apart from most of the other series on the shelves today, and I think there may be a glimmer of potential here. Hey, if Buffy can go seven seasons, and enjoy a popular career in comics, with the riff of slaying vampires, surely this concept could work at Marvel as well.

What say you, Jason? Can we make this work?

Was there ever a character named Deathblood? That would’ve been totally awesome! If it doesn’t exist, we should will it into existence. I would read that book until my eyes gave out. Seriously. Imagine the possibilities! There would, of course, be some death…and probably a generous amount of blood. Maybe not necessarily in that order, mind you. I’m seeing a cross between Spawn and Punisher. Oh wait, didn’t Marvel try that with one of its Punisher relaunches? Never mind.

And I missed the part where you explained how Kolchak was involved in the whole team thing. What paragraph was that in?

*AHEM* Anyway…yes I think we could make this work. I’m not sure that the draw is all that strong for another teaming of Blade and a couple relative no-names. I’d rather see a new team put together that combines various expertises and makes sense. I’m not even sure I’d put Blade on the team. I think he’d play better as a form of competition for the group or someone who offers them advice, but can’t really be pulled from his own hectic schedule to assist. There should be a straightforward, non-powered human detective type, some sort of lower level magic wielder, and then someone more creature-based to assist in tracking and the brute strength category. Here’s what I’m thinking: Dominic Fortune, Brother Voodoo and Tigra.

No, seriously.

Stop laughing!

Look, I can explain it all. The title begins with a focus on Fortune. He’s an older man who has given up the pretense of playing the hero. His swashbuckling outfit has been replaced by a drab, ill-fitting gray business suit. Sure, he may have let himself go a bit, but he can still tussle with the best of them if need be. He’s seen his fair share (and then some) of the crap that goes on in a hero-driven society and black clouds continue to follow him. He battled Nazis and zombies (not at the same time). He rescued diplomats from terrorists. He fought alongside the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Silver Sable. Yet after all of these adventures, and even because of them, he still watched his son die in his arms. This singular event has led him down a tragic path of divorce, depression and digging for lost dreams at the bottom of a bottle. To say he’s seen it all would be an understatement. The only logical next step for Fortune, the only thing that will give the rest of his shattered life purpose and help distract him from his own problems, is to help solve the problems of other people. Detective work!

His contacts and experiences take him to all corners of the world, from the classic gothic scenery of Eastern Europe to the mystical realms of deep Asia to the haunted swamps of the American South. Every encounter uncovers another supernatural mystery until he eventually decides that it’s foolish to undertake these things on his own. He needs a team.

Enter Brother Voodoo. He has recently packed up his costumed identity and launched a speaking tour of the country’s institutions of higher learning. Voodoo’s presentations on turn of the century occult figures and their relation to ancient tribal rituals pack auditoriums from coast to coast. With a bit of government consultation on the side, he’s leading a fairly happy lifestyle. That is, until the vivid dreams start keeping him up at night. He sees glimpses of the future: key locations, specific artifacts and blurred figures. Is it coincidence or fate that he bumps into Dominic Fortune on the busy streets of San Francisco one blustery, winter afternoon?

Honestly, that’s all I’ve got.

I really want to shoehorn Tigra in there because she’s been dragged through the mud the last couple years at Marvel. And the team needs a female presence. And Tigra’s pretty cool visually.

Can you do anything with that beginning? Do we need some sort of serious, tangible enemy? I see the whole thing playing out with a hard-boiled noir vibe. The narrator of the series would be Fortune and his dialogue would be blunt and clipped like a Sam Spade voice. I’d really like to tap into a sort of rain-soaked tension where it always seems to be dusk and everything happens in the shadows. Costumes would need to be modified or eliminated outright. Some special technologies would need to be invented, but still remain practical.

Yes? No? Maybe?

Interesting. I’m with you part of the way on this one. I was also going to suggest that we not reteam the original three members on this one, as they don’t quite work for me and I think we could do something more interesting. Your suggestions begin the work of something more interesting, but I have a few ideas for some different paths.

First, Dominic Fortune is a great idea. Wonderful character and he’d fit perfectly into this group. I really like the idea of someone who has seen it all and who doesn’t have any powers, but has skills. He’s burnt out, he’s tired, but deep down, he still wants to do the right thing. I’m good there.

I’m good with Brother Voodoo. He concerns me a little, since his name and costume can seem so silly, but I have always thought that he was an untapped resource in Marvel’s litany of characters and I would appreciate the chance to explore his history, his powers, and who he is as a man. With a darker book, we could go places with voodoo that more mainstream books don’t, and perhaps his costume could be tweaked a little to look more menancing and less like he’s at Mardi Gras.

I’m going to ignore Tigra for now.

So, what I think this group needs is a tie to the past. Hey, call me crazy, but I’d like to see this group tied into those who’ve gone before. I also think that this book needs a main villain to call it’s own. I have a solution to the first problem already. At the end of the previous series, all three stars are presumed dead in an explosion. However, it’s later revealed that Frank Drake (the only completely human member of the group) survived, although the explosion left him scarred and crippled in both body and mind. I’d like Drake to be set up in New Orleans; he has bought an old mansion in the city, one that got badly damaged during Katrina, and he’s been living there. Drake hires Fortune for a case. We don’t know it’s Drake at first; Drake doesn’t want to be seen, as he’s hideously scarred, and he’s also not quite sane anymore. Drake uses intermediaries and rather bizarre and unnecessary procedures to stay hidden from Fortune, but Fortune takes the case, as he needs the money. The case is related to the big bad of the series, and that’s what draws in Fortune.

I’d like to have Fortune encounter Voodoo in New Orleans while on this case. Is it a cliche to have them meet in New Orleans and to have Drumm there in the first place? Possibly, but there’s no denying that Drumm has spent a lot of time in that city, and it is viewed as a place with deep ties to voodoo. Fortune and Drumm end up crossing paths and Fortune asks for Drumm’s help, since Drumm knows not only the city, but the supernatural side of things much better than Fortune does. Drumm has those visions and dreams featuring Fortune that you mentioned above, so he’s willing to comply. As they begin working together, they get drawn deeper and deeper into the unpleasantness of the supernatural badness Drake is involved with, and by the end of the first story arc, they’re committed to staying together and fighting this big bad to the end.

I see Drake remaining as a peripheral member of the cast. Drake is someone who is clearly not completely sane, but he also knows a lot about the supernatural, having fought it his entire life. Still, that explosion changed him, and I don’t think the readers are ever entirely clear who’s side Drake is on. Why keep him around then? Because I think Fortune sees some of himself in Drake. Drake was the only human member of the original Nightstalkers, and while Blade and Hannibal King walked away from the explosion without major repercussions, Drake was mangled beyond repair. Fortune can see how that could be his fate, as he works alongside his two super powered teammates (yes, I haven’t forgotten Tigra) and it terrifies him. At the same time, he also sees the evil and destruction that the supernatural baddies cause, and Fortune feels that they will do even worse to even more normal humans if he doesn’t stand against them.

Does that work for you? In many ways, it’s your original idea. I just added Drake and moved the location. There are two things that we need to solve. The first is who the big bad might be. I don’t know that he would have to be in every issue, but I always like the idea of a monumental evil hovering over our heroes. Drake has been present for the destruction of two different vampire lords: Dracula and Varnae. I’d be tempted to bring Dracula back, as he’s a big name and everyone knows him. However, that feels like it’s been done, back in Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula series. It sure is tempting though, as he’s a fascinating character. If we don’t use Dracula, we could go with the current vampire lord, as Drake might want to destroy the successor to the creatures that ruined his life. Or, it might work better to move into another area of the supernatural and leave the vampires alone for now. Thoughts?

And then there’s Tigra. I agree that she’s been handled poorly by Marvel (which she has been almost throughout her existence with that company) and I agree that the group needs a female. Plus, while superpowered, she’s not overpowered and fits with the group. Finally, her ability to sneak around, her senses, and her close-up fighting style would all fit the feel of the series. So, I like her. However, I’d like to find a hook to bring her in. Do you see one?

It’s tough. Marvel has really painted her into a corner in recent months. She’s been beaten by The Hood’s Syndicate, played as a double-agent during Civil War, and now gotten pregnant by a possibly Skrulled-out Hank Pym. However, if you dig into her past, you’ll find stints as a SHIELD agent, a police officer and a detective (alongside Jessica Drew). She got tangled up in a mystical plot involving Morgan Le Fay, lived in aboriginal lands, ventured around the galaxy with Starfox, was influenced by Agatha Harkness and spent a lot of time alongside Scarlet Witch. Not to mention the fact that her powers and form come from an ancient race of Cat People! Any one of those instances could’ve spawned a connection to associates of Fortune or Drumm. She’s supposedly a member of the Initiative’s Arkansas team now. If we’re fighting the White River Monster or the Bigfoot from The Legend of Boggy Creek, then we’re golden!

On your other embellishments: I don’t mind involving Drake at all and I dig the angle you’ve given him…almost sets him up as the unseen benefactor of the team, the Charlie to their Angels! However, I think it is horribly clichéd to have Fortune and Drumm (and Drake) set up stakes in New Orleans. Too obvious. That’s the reason I pulled Drumm out of the area to begin with. I like the idea of Fortune and Drumm both trying their hands at something other than “superheroing” and then being quasi-involved in it again anyway. Just when I thought I was out…

Back to Tigra…the only thing I can think of to really connect her to our team is to have her announce her pregnancy to a gathering of the rest of her female hero friends. Someone could suggest that she get away to clear her mind. She has already talked about terminating the pregnancy and that alone could lead to her deciding to remove herself from the scene and seek out a quieter existence somewhere else. I don’t want to force a coincidence into the structure (because I hate it when teams are brought together for no apparent reason), but we could create a plot point that has all threeof these characters in the same place at the same time for three completely different reasons. I mean, I had Fortune and Drumm literally bumping into each other. Granted, Drumm was having visions and has that mystical background so he knew how to deal with the encounter. I dunno. Heroes always seem to find fights wherever they go!

As for the villain, I’m very tired of vampires. And zombies. Werewolves aren’t completely played out yet…skeletons…mummies. Maybe the team is debunking monsters of urban legends? Maybe the main baddie is Morgan Le Fay battling Drake for his bloodline. Or Drake could’ve run afoul of the Cat People during his rehab period (hence Tigra’s involvement…fighting on the opposite side at first?). Perhaps we merge two of the Midnight Sons titles and incorporate the Darkhold into this one (I know we mentioned it in our Defenders revamp last year too)?

Let’s dwell on that for a moment…

I understand your hesitation in using New Orleans, and I suggested it for two main reasons. First, I think that there’s certainly a lot of atmosphere and mood that’s inherent in the setting, which would be great for a horror themed title such as this one. Second, I think that, after the devastation of Katrina, New Orleans has emerged as an interesting urban area with a lot of stories to tell, as people rebuild and the city continues to redefine itself for the 21st century. Still, I don’t have a problem relocating them elsewhere. San Francisco doesn’t thrill me simply because it’s where the X-Men currently are, and I’d hate for them to cross paths, although there are approximately 20 gazillion heroes in New York, and they rarely cross paths with each other. I’d like a city with more atmosphere and the potential for horror. Boston springs to mind, but we had suggested that for our Strange revamp, and Strange would run in the same circles as this group, so it makes it implausible that they would all be in the same city and not meet. I can’t think of another city off the top of my head that would have the necessary atmosphere, and San Francisco certainly does have atmosphere, with the winds and the fog and the older areas of the city, so that works for me.

So, Fortune comes there at the behest of Drake, and he runs into Drumm, who has been having some odd visions and dreams that include Fortune anyway, so the two of them are now working together. Tigra, meanwhile, has taken a leave of absence from the Initiative to deal with her child. Honestly, I hate the idea of her being pregnant, and I don’t care whose kid she’s carrying. It just doesn’t fit Tigra, who seems, at her best, to be so strong and independent. One could make the argument that a child would mature the character and there could be a lot of plots spinning out of the child, but honestly, they’re not plots I’m either interested in telling or reading. Generally, I think introducing children hurts books. It works for a group like the Fantastic Four, because it reinforces the idea that they are a family, and all you’re doing is expanding that family, but for a loner like Tigra….no, it doesn’t work for me.

So, I believe that Tigra takes a leave from the Initiative and deals with the child. Does she have an abortion? We can leave that open to debate and never show it. I think she would, but if you don’t want to court controversy, she could have simply miscarried. I mean, she’s a member of the race of Cat People and the father was a Skrull. What are the chances that these two species would even be able to procreate? It seems that such a pregnancy would be difficult to carry to term, and a miscarriage is quite likely. So, the baby is gone, and she’s trying to find herself and center herself after the recent events in her life.

I’d like to integrate Tigra more seamlessly into the team, rather than just having her pass by the scene of a fight, have her join Fortune and Drumm, and then have her decide to join their group. Yes, such things happen, but I think that you give your group a certain cohesion if you can give everyone a reason to stay, and Tigra really wouldn’t have one. Tigra does have a few connections to the world of the supernatural, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to work a plot around the cat people. I think that such a plot is possible, but I also think that I have little interest in it. I’m not sure why, but the cat people have always struck me as being somewhat cheesy. Possibly this is because I’ve only ever seen them in the West Coast Avengers comic, drawn by Al Milgrom, and everyone looks cheesy when he draws them (that’s not as much of a slam as it sounds; Milgrom’s work is very clear and he can tell a story well, but his West Coast Avengers issues had a certain “old school” look to them that made the book seem like a slightly cheesy 70s title. This look worked perfectly with the stories Steve Englehart was telling, and their run on West Coast Avengers is without a doubt the high point of the entire series for me, but that being said, I still have problems reconciling the Cat People Milgrom drew with the ones that we would have in a horror title). More importantly, they’re not much of a draw for anyone, and I still think that this title needs more name recognition.

Tigra’s other supernatural contact, Morgan Le Fay, doesn’t have tons of name recognition, but she has more than the Cat People. Moreover, I think there’s a story here. Morgan Le Fay is a woman from the past, who was born and lives during the time of King Arthur. However, she seems to have a fascination with, and desire to move to, the present day. Many of her schemes have centered around the present day, and she even attempted to take control of the body of Jessica Drew in an attempt to live in the present day. Morgan Le Fay has crossed paths twice with Tigra, and has decided that Tigra will be the perfect conduit for her. The first time she met Tigra, they were battling to stop Le Fay from taking over the body of Jessica Drew. As defeat loomed for Le Fay, she mystically implanted a lifeline in Tigra. This lifeline provides Le Fay with a tether to the present day, one she can use to monitor our world, and for short periods, to manifest in our time. Why choose Tigra? Two reasons: Tigra’s association with the Cat People gives her a touch of the supernatural, making it easier for Le Fay’s lifeline to take hold. Plus, Tigra was peripheral. She didn’t seem that important, and so Le Fay hoped her lifeline would go undetected.

As an aside, it was this lifeline that caused Tigra to revert to her feral form during her time with the West Coast Avengers, during Byrne’s tenure on the title. The mystic energy of Le Fay threw her Cat People/Human balance out of whack, reverting her to a feline.

Le Fay has been busy with other plots in the past, but now she is going to use this lifeline. Le Fay wants to possess the Darkhold, something she has tried to obtain in the past. She’s been thwarted in her attempts to steal the Darkhold in her time, so she’s decided to steal it in the present. Le Fay then becomes the big bad of the series, trying to collect the various pages of the Darkhold while our group tries to stop her. Not every adventure would revolve around her or her quest, but she would always be there in the background, scheming and plotting.

In any case, Le Fay would be subconsciously directing Tigra to San Francisco, since that’s where one of the pages of the Darkhold is. Drake knows someone is after the page, so he sends Fortune after it, and Fortune runs into Drumm, and they all run into Tigra. At first, I would keep the lifeline a secret. We don’t know who is sending people after the Darkhold. We also don’t know that there’s anything wrong with Tigra, and when she joins the group, she does it for another reason; possibly just because she feels like this is a good place to be while she figures out her life. We can dole this information out in small doses, before doing a big reveal.

Whew. Thoughts?

Wow. Did you just make all that stuff up about Morgan Le Fay or was that actually already written into previous plots? If it’s all you, then that’s an impressive way to wrap up a bunch of divergent stories in a way that forms some sort of logic, albeit comic-based. That’s no small feat in itself! However, you took it all a step further and actually incorporated my bizarre, fractured thoughts on villains and subplots into the whole thing too. You’d make a damn good editor. I need to win Powerball so we can start our own comic publishing business!

Morgan Le Fay and her pursuit of the Darkhold are the perfect catalysts for this team to come together. Drake sends Fortune to retrieve pages. Le Fay subconsciously sends Tigra for the same thing. And Drumm shows up to find Fortune and help him explain the visions. Perhaps he senses a “disturbance in The Force,” so to speak. No one knows that Tigra is acting as a double agent of sorts, not even Tigra. And, to be honest, no one knows why Drake is trying to collect the Darkhold pages either. There could be a vicious twist hidden in this whole thing.

I would also see an instant connection between Fortune and Tigra, one where she sees him as a father figure. They’ve both been through a lot, culminating in the loss of a child for each. Tigra is a rather old character too, tracing roots back to a pre-feline run as The Cat…she’s more of a contemporary to Fortune than Brother Voodoo. Voodoo, however, has the strongest connection to the types of threats the group is facing and is able to function on a level closer to Drake himself. I like the potential interactions among the group. Good energy there.

As for location, I completely forgot that the X-Men were now in San Fran. We did put Strange up in Boston during our revamp. So, sticking within our own version of the Marvel Universe and our initiative to “spread the wealth” when it comes to hero concentrations, we should probably find another spot for this group to at least be based out of. I agree that we need a location that has the atmosphere necessary for a horror-esque title. Seattle has the weather, but not really the type of history we need. New Orleans is just overplayed for me and the recent Hellstorm miniseries took place there too. Aside from Boston, New England is fairly nondescript. The midwest is blah (and we placed Moon Knight in Chicago and another adventure in Kansas). What about somewhere in the Antebellum South that ISN’T New Orleans? I’m thinking specifically of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a very old city that has dealt with everything from pirates to slavery to multiple wars with multiple nations. There’s a cultural diversity there similar to New Orleans with many religions and ethnicities, even a unique African-American subset of the population with their own dialect and traditions (could be something that draws Brother Voodoo in). Charleston is also a place with both military and smuggling backgrounds which could play into a lot of secrecy and mystery. So that’s my solution to our location dilemma.

I like the sound of this new Nightstalkers book.

Yes, that was all me with Morgan Le Fay and it took more research than I’ve had to do on one of these in a while. Still, I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had resurrecting a stupid 90’s title like Nightstalkers! I had no idea where we were going to go with this when we started, except I knew that I didn’t want to reunite the original three members of the team. I think we’ve created a very strong book, with the potential for some great character interactions and some really surprising twists for the readers. I love the idea of Drake wanting the pages, and the readers not really being sure why. Is he trying to protect the world from the evil of the Darkhold, or does he have a more sinister agenda?

I also think that Charleston is an interesting choice for a setting. Once you said that, I was tempted to counter with a city that I had forgotten about until you mentioned Charleston: Savannah Georgia, which I think conjures up even more of an atmosphere. However, Charleston is much fresher and an area that hasn’t ever really been tapped, so I agree that we should go with that.

I think one of the things I like about this book is that it would really help two characters. Tigra is a character that has grown on me over the years. She is, in many ways, a very real person. She’s been sometimes written as a one-dimensional flirt, but when a writer really delves into who she is, we find that she’s someone trying to do their best, who doesn’t always find the life of a hero to be an easy one. When Jim Shooter had her join the Avengers decades ago, we saw her falter and run in the face of dangerous menaces. When Steve Englehart used her in the West Coast Avengers, we saw her fighting her cat side, and even contemplating murder to accomplish her goals. She’s not larger than life, and she’s not perfect, but she does try to do the right thing, and she needs a book where she’ll get time in the spotlight (as she tends to be ignored in team books) and get a chance to show what sort of hero she can be.

I also like giving Brother Voodoo a chance to be more than a supporting character. He’s been around the Marvel Universe for decades, either starring in obscure zuvembie stories in the 1970s, or playing sidekick to more powerful magic wielders in later years. I think Marvel has never been entirely comfortable portraying voodoo in their comics, and their discomfort surely hasn’t done Voodoo any favors as far as finding him a permanent home. Perhaps because of this, he’s never been truly explored, either in his abilities as a practitioner of Voodoo, or in his personality. I think this book would be the perfect home to do both those things.

I almost always come away from these revamps thinking that the one I’ve just done is my favorite, but I have to admit, I really like this one.



2009 Superhero Resolutions

Dec-17-08

When we’re not trying to save a forgotten character or rehabilitate one that seems to have fallen off-track, we (or at least I) always seem to end up taking the industry to task for one reason or another. I guess blogs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have anything to complain about! As the clock winds down on 2008, it’s easy to look back and point fingers. At the same time, this joyous and comforting season provides the perfect opportunity to look ahead and resolve to make changes. While I promise to try to be funnier without being so caustic (except when it comes to Bendis), I figure some of our favorite Marvel and DC heroes and villains are also hoping to make some positive changes in their lives too.

With that in mind, here are our thoughts on what some of those New Year’s resolutions may look like:

Spider-Man: I resolve to find true love. I really think it’s time that I settle down, find a wife, and get into a solid domestic relationship. That’s the one thing in my life that seems to be missing. Seriously. Like, it was there and then it wasn’t. Weird, huh?

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Hulk: I resolve to be a better father. Kids learn from example. I can’t be leaping all over creation smashing stuff and speaking in broken English. What kind of precedent does that set for my little Skaar? Less mindless violence and more dedication to the arts, that’s my goal. Maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Aquaman: I resolve to…hello? Is anyone listening to me? HELLO?!? Stupid fish aren’t even paying attention anymore.

Punisher: I resolve to only kill people who deserve it. And by “deserve it,” I mean “does something that falls within my broad and ever-changing definition of evil…from kiddie porn to jaywalking, on any given day.” Honestly, that guy driving that Miata the other day? He was just asking to be blown up into tiny pieces with a bazooka and about a half-dozen other high-explosive armaments. Should whack his family too. What kind of person drives a Miata?

Luke Cage: I resolve to never join a group called the Dark Avengers. Kinda sends the wrong message, ya know? Sweet Christmas!

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Iron Man: I resolve to start drinking again. Can you blame me?

Blue Beetle: I resolve to stay relevant regardless of losing my solo series and becoming a quasi-legacy to a character who was never all that fabulous to begin with. But hey, as long as I keep making appearances on a keen new Batman cartoon, everyone will love me! I mean, look at the headliners I’m appearing with…Plastic Man, Red Tornado, uh…Aquaman? Damn it. I’m screwed.

Madrox: I resolve to stop sending doubles in to deal with the crying baby. It’s not fair to them and it doesn’t really teach me anything. Although, on the bright side, at least I’m not the one who has to put up with all the screaming and crying. Considering half the kid’s genes are from Siryn, that’s probably a safe thing.

All-Star Batman: I resolve to stop talking like a goddamn retard.

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too…ah, crap.

Dr. Strange: I resolve to be the central character in a Bendis crossover this year, meaning I also resolve to act horribly out of character as long as that advances the plot, no matter how nonsensical that may be.

Cyclops: Now that my current honey, Emma Frost, looks to be going evil again, I resolve to find another skank to bring home to my bedroom. I wonder what Selene, the Black Queen, is up to. Jean would be so proud.

Wolverine: I resolve to only appear in fifteen books a month. Wouldn’t want to become overexposed.

Thor: Verily, I doth resolveth to speaketh in English most plain, so as not to confuseth those who doth find themselves arrayed around me.

Hercules: Verily, I doth resolveth….hey Odinson! Getith thine own resolution. Fine. I doth resolve to ne’er move from the fine publication in which I currently reside. It is mine now Hulk, you poor excuse for a hero! You shall ne’er move me from it!

She-Hulk: I doth resolve…sorry. It’s contagious. I resolve to get my own title again. I wonder who can relaunch me this time? Maybe I’ll give Byrne a call….it’s not like he’s doing anything important right now.

Sub-Mariner: I resolve to enter rehab this year. I mean, have you seen me lately? I look worse than Tony Stark did after a three month bender!

Dr. Light (female): I resolve to turn back the clock on my personality and act like I did in 1986 again. It may not make sense to anyone else, but there’s a reason I’m ignoring the last 20 years of my life and acting in this manner. Honest.

Obsidian: I resolve to go back to the JSA and fade into the woodwork again, since the only title to explore my character is now, <sigh>, cancelled.

Scarlet Witch: I resolve to return to comics to say what I should have said in 2005: “No more Bendis.”


Marvel and DC: The Horror, the Horror!

Oct-28-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Oct-15-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Casting Call: Dr. Strange

Sep-18-08

The last casting call was so much fun, I thought we’d try another. This time, we’re going to cast a Dr. Strange movie, based on the proposal that we created back in the spring.

I think we’re going to load this a little heavier on the heroes. We need our titular hero, Dr. Strange, of course. We need his apprentice, the Scarlet Witch. We need his love interest, Night Nurse. We need his manservant, Wong. Plus, I’d like to sneak in his ally, Jericho Drumm, also known as Brother Voodoo.

On the villain side, I’ll stick with one, although he can have lots of flunkies if necessary. This is going to be someone that we created ourselves, someone that has never been seen before: our cyberpunk villain.

This casting call creates some unique challenges. While Strange, the Witch, Wong and Brother Voodoo have an established history, Night Nurse wasn’t used for years, and then she appeared for only six issues, and we’ve never seen our villain before. That means it’s going to be a little more difficult for us to argue who would be good in those roles. However, I have faith in our ability to argue anything, so I’m sure we’ll succeed on this as well.

Take it away! The casting couch is open!

I figured this is the one you’d pick next. You’re so predictable, but hopefully, my choices for the roles won’t be (meaning I won’t tap George Clooney as the good doctor even though he used to play one on TV).

Whoever plays Doctor Strange has to be a rather lithe man, someone who looks young-ish for his age and has the demeanor to pull off a serious yet dry-humor-dotted script (so he should most likely be British). He has to be believable, basically. For that kind of pathos, I turn to…

Rufus Sewell. I love this guy as a darker, smirking professional with a glimmer in his eye. You may remember him from A Knight’s Tale opposite Heath Ledger or, more recently, in the HBO miniseries John Adams.

That was a relatively easy choice for me. However, the female roles are a bit harder. There are a lot of qualified females out there who fit the general look and feel of both Scarlet Witch and Night Nurse. Wanda’s role needs to be filled by someone who seems a little confused (to play up her recent breakdown) and delicate, yet has an inner strength that is apparent, minding the fact that she used to be very powerful. This one will surprise you:

Linda Cardellini. She has most recently been seen on ER, but has a longer history which includes Freaks and Geeks and two runs as Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies. She has a bit of a tomboy feel to her while also remaining strongly feminine. She also looks like the type who could get jealous easily (and make you pay for it dearly).

Night Nurse, as you’ve pointed out, is fairly unknown to most people, civilian and fanboy alike. However, based on the recent vision of Marcos Martin in the Doctor Strange: The Oath miniseries, we know that she’s a brunette, she’s very self-assured and she appears to have some bit of Asian ancestry. I’m going to select another of my favorite females on the planet, Miss Olivia Munn.

She can be seen weeknights on G4TV’s Attack of the Show where she makes geeks drool. She also has quite the acting chops, having appeared in weekly parody skits where she has donned the memorable costumes of both Wonder Woman and Princess Leia. I could definitely see her holding her own in a smart-ass exchange.

The character of Wong pretty much screams for a Chinese national. I can think of no one better than the star of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, Stephen Chow. Shave his head and he’s good to go.

And, the person who would best portray Brother Voodoo came to me rather quickly as well. I briefly debated whether or not Voodoo should be older than Strange, but finally decided that it wasn’t really relevant. As long as he has the right kind of face, the character should be easy to portray. That’s why I turned to Chiwetel Ejiofor…

He’s a bit younger than Rufus Sewell, but I think he looks like a contemporary. Besides, he needs to be attuned to a different type of magic, something that may keep him younger or in better shape than the less rigorous monitoring that Strange performs. Ejiofor is English-born and has spent nearly his entire career in small film roles from American Gangster to Children of Men to Serenity.

Finally, a young villain who has no small amount of confidence in his abilities. He’s bright-eyed and eager to impress, but he’s also deeply disturbed and willing to do anything to get his way. I’m thinking a quirky mix of Jude Law and Macaulay Culkin…a younger Robert Downey Jr. or Justin Timberlake without all the annoying qualities of Justin Timberlake. So…

He’s the new Chekhov in the new Star Trek movie! He played admirably alongside Mr. Downey Jr. in Charlie Bartlett. He was even kidnapped by the aforementioned Timberlake in Alpha Dog. This is Anton Yelchin and he’s my vision for a badass steampunk/cyberpunk bastard sure to jab a sharp thorn into Doc Strange’s side.

What say you? How did I do?

Petrfect casting. Next!

Oh, it’s not quite that simple, except that it kinda is. First of all, for the record, I debated quite a bit about whether or not to cast this group, and almost suggested we cast our group of criminals in Manhattan Kansas. It was only the sad lack of actors in Hollywood who have the head of a fish that helped me decide to go with the Strange group.

That being said, I actually don’t have any problems with any of your choices….not really, anyway. They’re all perfectly good choices, and they certainly came out of left field. You chose an interesting group of actors, and I really only have a problem with one of them, and even that one isn’t one I’d fight too hard to change.

Rufus Sewell is a good actor, and I can easily see him as the good Doctor. I can’t believe that you think I would have cast George Clooney, just because he played a doctor on TV. That would have been silly. I was actually considering Hugh Laurie. I kid, although Laurie might be able to do a passable Strange. Still, Sewell would be a better choice.

My favorite choice of yours, and the one that made me smile was Linda Cardellini as Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. Brilliant! Gold star for you. I couldn’t possibly improve on that casting if I tried.

My least favorite pick, and the one I have the most chance of arguing, is Olivia Munn. Dude, she hosts a show on G4TV. Why didn’t you just pick someone off the view, or pick Connie Chung? That being said, I haven’t watched her show, so I shouldn’t throw stones in her direction; a lot of actors and actresses have started with more humble beginnings; Greg Kinnear started out hosting Talk Soup on E! and he has certainly done well for himself in the field of acting. So, for me to dismiss her on that basis would be petty and close-minded.

I like Stephen Chow quite a bit, but I’m not sure why he should be cast as Wong. Wong needs to radiate tranquility and I’ve not seen anything in Chow’s filmography that suggests he can do that. I’ve also never seen him in a serious role, and I think Wong is pretty serious. I’m not hating Stephen Chow in the role, but he seems, to be honest, kind of random. I’m going to suggest someone else. I’m going to suggest Rick Yune, who can be seen (bald!) in Die Another Day.

If you ignore the junk on his face and figure how he might look bald, but without the make-up, I think it would be a good fit for Wong. Plus, Yune can be silent and just stand in a scene, since that’s what he spent most of his time doing in Die Another Day. I almost hate to use him in this part, as I think he’s a good actor and might want to cast him somewhere else, but right now, I think he might be a slightly stronger choice than Chow, unless you have a better argument for Chow.

Your Brother Voodoo is a great choice as well; and your choice for our villain is somewhat inspired. It completes a list of actors who operate on the fringes of the mainstream, which is perfect for a group of Strange actors. All of these actors fit together well, and everyone seems to belong, except for the talk show host and the guy mostly known for doing broad comedies. I’ll let the woman go, but I’m just not sold on Chow.

Would it help settle your uneasiness about Olivia Munn if I told you that she spent two seasons on a show called Beyond the Break about a bunch of girls surfing? How about if you knew that she’s set to star in a film with Rob Schneider? Or playing an asylum nurse in an upcoming horror flick? See? A NURSE. Case closed.

Honestly, I briefly considered Rick Yune, but couldn’t get past his perfectly coiffed hair. Heh. Seriously, I thought Wong exhibited a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor in Brian K. Vaughan’s masterful miniseries and just thought that Chow had those chops. Of course, I guess there’s a difference between dry smarminess and outright buffoonery. So, I concede the role of Wong to Rick Yune at your insistence. So, our cast:


Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!

Sep-02-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

May-16-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seems pretty pitchy to me. Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Iron Man: Is he in need of an overhaul?

Apr-29-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Defending the Defenders.

Apr-15-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s that for a new Defenders lineup?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, Patsy knows fashion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NEW New Defenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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