The Avengers: The Foes No Single Hero Can Withstand

Jan-20-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m spent.


The Tiny Titans: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Sep-12-08

In the early years of the 1960s, Marvel Comics seemed as if it could do no wrong. It’s early concepts were very popular and ushered in a new way of doing comics. These characters would go on to become icons and parts of popular culture, the members of a new mythology. These early characters included Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor…..and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Well, not every concept can be a winner. But why didn’t Ant-Man and the Wasp ever become the popular characters that the other early Marvel heroes became? What was it about them that made them perennial second stringers?

Dr. Henry Pym was introduced very early in the history of Marvel Comics, and is one of their earliest heroes. A scientist, he develops a way to shrink to the size of an ant, and after his wife is captured and then killed by Communists (ah, early Marvel, where Communists were the go-to villains) he uses this method to fight crime. He fights crime on his own for some time, using his amazing ability to grow smaller and control ants to thwart the plans of evil doers and was given his own series of stories in Tales to Astonish, where he became the cover featured hero. However, while he may have been featured on the cover, it seems Marvel felt that he was missing something. That something was apparently a partner, and soon Marvel introduced the Wasp to join Ant-Man on his adventures.

Janet Van Dyne was the daughter of a wealthy scientist. Her father had befriended Pym, and when her father was killed by creatures from another dimension, Van Dyne turned to Pym for support. Pym offered to share his powers with her, and she agreed. She gained the ability to shrink to ant-size as well, but unlike Pym, she could fly on her own, and had “wasp’s stings” which she could use to attack her foes. The two became partners, but more, they became romantically involved, although never as romantically involved as the Wasp would have liked. Pym kept her at a certain distance, as he was initially not over the death of his first wife, and then because he was a somewhat introverted, dedicated scientist who had more important things to consider rather than romance. Of course, the real reason he kept her at a distance was because Marvel, in those days, very much enjoyed the storytelling device of having two characters in love with each other, but not able to reveal their feelings (and if you think that this storytelling device would get a little tired when used in ten different comic titles each month, you’d be very correct).

Over the years, these two characters would undergo numerous changes. They would get married, get divorced, and then date on and off over the years. Pym would soon change his super-hero identity from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket to Dr. Pym the Scientific Adventurer and then switch back and forth between them. The Wasp would go from a flighty socialite more interested in men than in catching bad guys to the chairman of the Avengers for years to an oddly mutated wasp creature, and back to human. There would be new people to claim the mantle of the Ant-Man, other heroes who would call themselves Giant-Man and Goliath, and villains who would take the identity of Yellowjacket (surprisingly, no one else would try to call themselves Dr. Pym, the Scientific Adventurer). These characters still exist, 45 years after their creation, but they always seem to be at the periphery of the Marvel Universe; never able to crack into the mainstream media the way so many of their contemporaries have.

Why? All of the ingredients exist within these two that are within the other Marvel heroes that have graduated to the popular consciousness. As mentioned, there was the unrequited love that Marvel enjoyed so much (were there any happy couples at Marvel in the 60s? Even Reed and Susan Richards started out as engaged, and had to contend with Sue’s infatuation with the Sub-Mariner during their early years). There was the tragic origins, with the loss of loved ones, which seem to populate the origins of most Marvel heroes (Spidey lost his uncle, Daredevil lost his father, Captain America lost his partner, the Hulk lost his ability to wear a 32 inch waist). Some would say that they were underpowered and Ant-Man was too weak to make it in the big leagues, but those leagues were a lot smaller than we think. Early Marvel heroes were much weaker than modern heroes. The Human Torch couldn’t flame on for more than a few minutes at a time. The Thing was only half as strong as he is today, and not as invulnerable. The early X-Men were a very weak team…Jean Grey’s telekinesis enabled her to thread needles and move small logs over holes, the Beast was just a little stronger than a normal man, Iceman looked like Frosty the Snowman and the Angel could…well, just fly. That’s it. Besides, even if Ant-Man may have looked a little weak in the Avengers, alongside Thor and Iron Man, over at DC, the Atom was doing just fine in the Justice League and the Atom couldn’t even talk to ants!

So, why do you think these characters haven’t been able to attain a stronger fan base? And do they have potential today?

Wow. That was a very well written introduction. As I was reading it, I kept coming up with arguments in my head but then you would diffuse them in the very next paragraph. First I thought, perhaps their popularity waned because they were older, age-wise, than most Marvel heroes…but then you brought up the Fantastic Four. Then I thought, well maybe their unimpressive power set made them seem (pardon the pun) minuscule…but you answered that with reference to other weakly powered heroes and a mention of the relative success of Pym’s DC counterpart. Now I’m intrigued.

I have to admit that I am, at best, only familiar with these two characters through their interactions with the Avengers. I do own a few of their early Tales to Astonish appearances, as well as the Essential Ant-Man volume (which I really should read someday), but none of their adventures really stick out in my head aside from Hank’s overblown beatdown of Janet in the midst of his nervous breakdown. I never knew that Pym had been married before. I did not know that they met each other through Janet’s father. Ah…communists and inter-dimensional aliens…the backbone of early Marvel villainy.

When you think about it, and consider they were created in the Atomic Age and shared a lot of context with Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, it is rather odd that these two didn’t take off. Perhaps it was the title they were originally launched in. Tales to Astonish began as a science fiction anthology similar to its sister title, Tales of Suspense. They both switched to superhero-based stories in 1962. Ant-Man was featured in TtA while Iron Man became the star of ToS. In 1964, both books went to a split format. In TtA, Ant-Man shared space with Incredible Hulk. ToS saw Iron Man and Captain America splitting time. Without having any sort of sales numbers for reference, I can only infer that Tales of Suspense had the more popular configuration. I can also surmise this based on the fact that Ant-Man’s split adventures were quickly usurped after 10 issues by the Sub-Mariner. Obviously, something was wrong.

Was the tone too romantically inclined for readers? Too much “will they, won’t they” and not enough hard science and fantastical settings? Were the personalities all wrong? Pym, by himself, came across as an accomplished yet troubled professional. He had some tragedy in his past, but was trying to move past it and discover new things while also upholding some sort of honor…much like Spider-Man and Hulk. Wasp, on the other hand, came from privilege and was more concerned with fashion than feelings. There weren’t a lot of strong females at Marvel in those days. Aside from Sue Storm and Jean Grey, you’d be hard-pressed to find a prominent woman with her own strong views or any sort of personality (the turning point of this trend coming, of course, in 1966 with the classic introduction of Mary Jane Watson in Amazing Spider-Man #42). Maybe the characterization of Janet Van Dyne irked the title’s audience.

I can honestly say I’ve never been a fan of the Wasp. She just hasn’t had a consistent representation for me. My earliest memories of the Avengers have her playing dress-up in front of a mirror and shopping at exclusive boutiques. In fact, in those early issues I think she was more known for her costume changes than for her participation. She also looked to make Hank jealous at every turn, constantly talking about how handsome Cap and Thor were. She was kind of a snotty bitch. Then decades later, she suddenly grows a pair and is handed the mantle of Avengers leader completely out of left field (correct me if I’m hazy here). Captain America always talked about how strong-willed and reliable she was, but I just didn’t get it.

I also don’t understand how, if Pym gave her powers to her, she ended up with a different set of abilities from Ant-Man. How was she able to fly, but he wasn’t? Where did the stingers come from? Maybe she’s a mutant (as she’s shown to be in the parallel universe Ultimates…where she still isn’t smack-proof).

Pym never really resonated with me either, until his days in the West Coast Avengers. He always seemed to be used in a utilitarian manner. For example, if something was at risk of falling over, Pym was called upon to get big and hold it up. If a door was jammed, Pym was asked to shrink and climb into the lock mechanism. However, he was never asked to actually fight. What could he do? Call some gnats to pester the Wrecking Crew? Ruin Ultron’s picnic? Take a bath in Red Skull’s coffee mug? It wasn’t until the emphasis was taken off the size thing that Pym was treated as a useful member of the team. By rejiggering his Pym Particles and their purpose, Marvel was able to turn him into some sort of armory master always at the ready with the right device or weapon. Even though his costume would make fashion designers go blind, Hank was kind of cool.

You know I eventually want to turn this conversation towards Stature and the new Ant-Man, but I think we need to talk about Hank and Jan some more first. Can you see any glaring reason as to why these two never hit the big time? Do you agree with anything I’ve thrown out there? And are there any solutions that could bring them around in this new age of comics?

I’m honestly not sure why they weren’t more popular, and it’s often confused me. I believe you hit on part of the problem when you say that you don’t remember any of their early stories. I’ve read quite a few of them, and even I don’t remember them. Part of this may be because Stan Lee didn’t write most of them. After the first few stories, he just plotted them and let his brother, Larry Lieber, do the scripting. Plus, Jack Kirby also jumped ship after only a few issues, and the penciling duties went to Don Heck. Now, I’m not here to knock either Lieber or Heck; both of them did fine work for Marvel throughout the 60s, and Heck is especially known for drawing the Avengers and Iron Man for respectable runs. That being said, they were kind of considered the B team of the Marvel Bullpen. Without their top talent on these stories, did the readers not care? Did they feel they were getting the second string, so these characters must not be very popular?

It’s also often said that a hero’s measure is seen in the quality of their villains. We can name Dr. Doom, Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, Magneto, Loki, and the Mandarin as some of the Silver Age Marvel villains who helped to catapult their heroes to stardom. Ant-Man and the Wasp had no villains of note. I suppose Pym’s archenemy was Egghead, but even if I tell you nothing else about him, I’m guessing you won’t imagine Egghead as being an incredibly impressive villain (which is kind of a shame, as he was used tremendously effectively by Roger Stern during his run on The Avengers). Many of their other villains are even worse. Their book introduced the Living Eraser, who was just as his name suggested, and for years was considered a punchline by most people, when discussing lame villains. Many of their other villains were assorted monsters and communists, which worked occasionally in other strips, but certainly couldn’t have been the basis for success for those characters that did become popular.

I also think part of the problem is that they kept changing Pym’s identity. Sure, he wasn’t working out as well as they had hoped, and they were trying to find something to make him tick. However, he changed identities four times in six years, which is practically unheard of in the annals of comics (I can’t think of another time it happened). It made the characters seem somewhat schizophrenic, and would become another punchline centering on this character. I think that perhaps, if Ant-Man wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, they might have considered giving him new and different powers, but keeping the identity the same. One change, that to Giant-Man may not have been a bad idea, if nothing else worked, but the two changes beyond that were just overkill.

I’d also point out that not every concept that came out of the Marvel Bullpen in the 60s was a success. The X-Men did horribly for the first fifteen years of their existence, almost being cancelled, and going to bi-monthly reprints for over a year. The Hulk saw his book cancelled after only six issues, and almost disappeared before he got stuck in Tales to Astonish after floating in limbo for a year. Daredevil, while considered popular now, was quickly knocked back to a bi-monthly schedule after being introduced, and stayed that way for over a decade. Perhaps the difference between all of these eventual success stories and Ant-Man and the Wasp is that these other characters managed to maintain their own titles. Even the X-Men, while in reprints for a year, were at least in the public eye. They were also portrayed consistently, unlike Pym, who never met a new identity he didn’t like. And we might want to throw in the Wasp’s costume changes you mentioned. While I think it was a neat addition to her character (hey, we don’t wear the same clothes every day. Why should super-heroes?), her constant costume changes meant she looked different every time a casual reader saw her. It’s hard to become iconic when you have a different appearance every month.

I will also agree that personalities were all over the place. Pym started with a consistent personality, but his buttoned down persona had already caused him to act slightly irrationally within his first year as an Avenger, when the Wasp was shot, and Pym practically had a breakdown trying to save her life. Sure, every Marvel hero in those days was overdramatic (they never met a piece of furniture that they didn’t feel couldn’t be improved with a little chewing), but he was really losing it. This theme was repeated over and over during his tenure with the Avengers, until he had his first actual mental breakdown in 1968. Sadly, this seemed to set the stage for future writers to simply allow Pym to act however they wanted. During the infamous storyline where Pym hit Van Dyne, and then attacked the Avengers, many fans were upset. I myself was also upset, not because it was a horrible storyline, but because it came out of nowhere! Jim Shooter had just started writing the book, and before he came onboard, Pym was fine and stable. The first issue Shooter wrote, it was like someone else inhabited Pym’s body, as Pym suddenly was an emotional wreck. Many other writers would do the same thing, twisting Pym’s personality to fit whatever storyline they wanted to tell.

Janet Van Dyne didn’t make out much better. A flighty female of the worst variety, this is a woman who married her husband after he had suffered a mental breakdown and thought he was another person. Yes, Pym was convinced that he had actually killed Pym and that he was a completely different person. Van Dyne knew this. And she married him anyway. There’s something wrong there. She retained her role as the “flighty socialite” until she was smacked by her husband, when her entire personality changed, as she became more businesslike. I certainly believe that an incident like that would change someone, but her change seemed a little sudden. Through it all, though, I do believe she has a well written personality, and her changes have made sense. Still, it must have been confusing for the casual reader to pick up a book and wonder what happened to the Wasp he had read about before, as she switched back and forth from being a competent and hardnosed leader to being a silly flirt.

Whew! More than I intended to write and more than anyone cared to read, but there it is. Do I think that there’s hope to make these two work in today’s marketplace? Well, I love both Pym and the Wasp. I think both characters should be used more often than they are, and should have a lot more respect, considering they are founding members of the Avengers. However, there’s so much history and water under the bridge with these two. I think it might be best to continue to use them as they are, working independently in the Marvel Universe. After all, there’s a new Ant-Man, and I think there’s a partner out there that could be teamed up with him to make a new team that could be much more popular than the old one.

Again with the excellent assessment! We make a good pair, you and I. You’re able to find the truth behind a character or situation and I’m able to take that truth and re-purpose it to improve the storytelling aspects. You set ’em up and I knock ’em down. We’re like a Fastball Special…y’know, if you were a big metal Russian and I fancied cigars.

You’ve hit the nail on the head on so many points. I had forgotten how many of the second-tier Marvel characters were kept on life support. Makes me wonder if the same would’ve happened to Hank and Janet had they been in their own self-contained series. The villain situation really was dire for the duo. Without at least one credible archenemy to fall back on, their adventures seemed aimless and disposable. And you probably wouldn’t notice it as much these days, but the costume thing is really a big deal when a character is first introduced. You need that frequency and repetition to reinforce the image.

However, after reading your thoughts on Pym’s various identities, I can’t help but think that this may have been the initial poisoning of the characters, the fatal flaw that they were born with. See, Ant-Man was pretty cool by himself. Ooooh! He can shrink down and show us the wonderful world of the near-microscopic. Then they added a female love interest. On face value there’s nothing wrong with that, but then it turns out that her powers nearly mimic those of Ant-Man to the letter. What was the point of having two characters in the same book with the same powers? That would’ve been like pairing up Hulk and Thing and expecting greatness. Sure, they’re good for a misunderstood fracas every now and then, but how boring would it be to have the two of them pounding on inanimate objects page after page after page?

I can only think that if there had been a greater dichotomy between the two of them, it would have made the stories more interesting, the situations more complicated. That’s why I believe that our crusading couple hit their collective stride when Pym became Giant-Man. Now we’ve got a huge dude with his little partner. And, just so it doesn’t look like I’m being sexist, the situation may have been even more interesting if he had stayed Ant-Man and she had become Giant-ette (or something).

Which brings me to the simply inspired pairing of Eric O’Grady and Cassie Lang.

Let’s be realistic. Hank and Jan are a bit too old and historic to be revamped at this stage. In the “Meanwhile…Comics” universe, Hank Pym has already been reassigned to Hawkeye’s west-side support team. And we may as well just let Wasp do whatever she deems appropriate. She’s been portrayed as a fashion designer and a talk show host already. Why not have her pursue life as a psuedo-celeb or government official (really the same thing anyway, right?).

Eric and Cassie are the future of size-based adventures. She’s the previously sheltered daughter of Pym’s successor as Ant-Man. After her father’s unfortunate passing, she rebelled against her family to pursue a path of heroic duty. He’s a former SHIELD operative with less than adequate respect for women (or anything else) who stole an experimental update of Dr. Pym’s Ant-Man costume right from under his nose. He’s been shown as a cocksure, sarcastic and selfish “hero” who is trying to work the system for his own benefit.

PERFECT. MATCH.

I’d like to explore a Wasp/Ant-Man cooperative sort of storyline with these two as the stars. And Janet could play a role as a MILF type character! Kidding…or not. I can see Eric and Cassie bickering constantly, with Eric sticking his foot in his mouth at every turn. There’s also a big difference between the morals and goals of these two that allows them to play off each other. Potential abounds. What say you?

I think these two are exactly what you called them: a perfect match.

These two are your stereotypical odd couple. One of them is part of a heroic legacy, values heroism and believes that being a hero is a higher calling. One of them is a snotty punk who managed to luck into some superhero gear, and has been trying to figure out how to make it work for him. What’s great here is that these two characters would never work together. Luckily for us, we have the Initiative (and isn’t this the mark of any successful writer in a shared universe? The ones I like the most are the ones that can take a company mandated direction, like the 50 state initiative, and make it work for them, rather than fighting it.) and both of these people are signed on with it. So, we simply have the Initiative pair these two. Now they have no choice but to work together.

We’ve already discussed how not every state has a superteam assigned to it, and how it seems like Marvel is scraping the bottom of their super-barrel to find heroes for every state. It seems likely to me that these two could be the only members assigned to one of the more out of the way states. Perhaps they could be sent somewhere like Nevada (does that state have a team yet? Whoops, looks like they do). Ok, scratch that. Let’s try Virginia. Considering that it’s very close to Washington DC and does contain at least one large city, I’m surprised that it doesn’t have a team yet, but it seems up for grabs. So, we send our duo somewhere like that. Then we watch them try to learn to live together.

Eric is a man who’s probably about 5-10 years old than Cassie. He’s got few redeeming qualities, and is more concerned with getting laid and getting rich than he is with helping people. Cassie is trying to live up to the legacy of her father, and seeing this man in her father’s old costume would certainly begin to bother her. Eric, for his part, probably cares not a whit for the previous holder of his super-human moniker, and I can’t imagine he’d have much time for someone he would likely view as a young girl (unless he thought he could get her into bed). I think watching these two trying to learn how to work together, without killing each other, would be a lot of fun.

There’s an interesting aspect to Cassie’s powers which I think Eric could exploit. It seems that her growth powers are affected by her emotions…growing when she’s angry and shrinking when she’s shy. Even though both of them can increase and decrease their sizes, I find it most interesting to have Cassie as the bigger of the two of them. It plays to their personalities. Cassie has big ideals. Eric is really a small and petty person.

Look at me doing all the philosophicalizationating!

I could eventually see Cassie growing (heh, get it?) to like having Eric around, maybe building a crush on him in spite of herself. I also think Eric would be oblivious to the whole situation, more concerned with where he’s going to get his next piece of tail or score his next paycheck and completely missing the fact that Cassie is right there ripe for the picking. There’d be a lot of that “he said, she said” stuff mixed with missed opportunities and tied up nicely with a bunch of crossed wires. It’s the feel good comic of the year! A genuine rom-com romp through superhero trials and tribulations!

I give it five stars.