NewMU: Fantastic Four

Dec-06-11

“The Fantastic Four may be the first family of the Marvel Universe, but that means very little to the alien inhabitants of the Negative Zone when Reed, Johnny, Sue and Ben first enter their realm!  The difference between exploring and invading is truly in the eye of the beholder!  Meanwhile, back on Earth, their business manager and lawyer, Wyatt Wingfoot and Jennifer Walters, struggle to determine who’s been targeting the altruistic works of the FF Foundation for destruction!”

That’s what would appear as a blurb in Previews for Fantastic Four #1, the first title in the relaunched Marvel Universe!  If the New DC 52 used JLA as their flagship, I vote for Fantastic Four as our flagship title.  I know a lot of people may disagree with this (and I think Jason disagreed with this to an extent) as the Avengers, X-Men or Spider-Man might make a better title with which to lead.  However, Fantastic Four began the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, and I have always considered them Marvel’s First Family.  When done well, there’s nothing else in the superhero field quite like them and I believe we can get back to that.  However, I also think there are some new ideas that can be added to the concept, I think we need to strip away some of the rough spots that the past 50 years of continuity have created, and I think we need to update the origin of our stalwart heroes.  Let’s begin with the latter.

When universes are rebooted, there’s a tendency to de-age heroes.  I’d like to resist that impulse, to a large extent, with the FF.  Partly because I feel that they should be older than many of the other heroes in the MU, and partly because their ages at the time of their original premiere issue were, to be blunt, ludicrous, at least in the case of Sue and Johnny.  I mean, the FF’s origin strains believability in so many ways, but perhaps in no way more than the fact that Reed and Ben brought along two teenagers on the flight (Johnny was still in high school!).  No matter how we retool their origin, I believe it will always read better with all of the characters being a little older.

I’d like to start the series with Reed and Sue married….this is necessary for the FF to be a family.  There’s no drama or “will they/won’t they” mystery to their relationship, so why not just start with them already wed?  However, I’d like to remove their kids from the equation.  When heroes don’t age, as is the case in the major superhero universes, it’s not an insurmountable problem.  There’s not a huge difference between a 29 year old hero and a 39 year old hero, in looks or in abilities.  However, there’s a huge difference between a 5 year old child and a 15 year old teen, and when your 5 year old never ages, it becomes obvious to your readers pretty quickly.  As much as I see a use for Franklin in stories, until we figure out how to age him, I think he should go.  If we want to introduce a child down the road, we can certainly do that.  (And don’t even get me started on Valeria…I’ve read the comics where she first appeared numerous times, and I still can’t explain where she came from or how she exists in continuity.)

I think we keep many of the elements of the four how they are, with just some updating to modernize them and to smooth out the extremely rough edges in their origin.  Reed comes from a wealthy family.  His mother died when he was young, and his father, Nathaniel Richards, has never had much to do with him.  Nathaniel is something of a hermit, and not part of our story at first.  Since Reed’s father is still alive, Reed didn’t have access to the family money as he did in the original MU, and soon realized he would need monies to keep doing his experiments.  Being more of a scientist than a business manager, he decided he needed someone to help him get grants and manage patents and help with his money.  That’s where Sue comes in.

I believe that it’s a good idea to make Sue a more active part of Reed’s life.  The Fantastic Four movies made her a scientist and the Ultimate Fantastic Four also cast her in that role.  Now, I don’t think Sue is stupid, but I also don’t think she’s a scientist.  Plus, if she is a scientist, it makes her a little too much like Reed, and I prefer having more of a contrast between them.  However, I can very much see Sue as a smart businesswoman, and I believe that’s how she meets Reed.  He hires her to manage his money, and gradually the two fall in love and marry. 

Sue brings to Reed an idea….space flight for civilians.  Reed has never worked for NASA, because he honestly doesn’t work well with others, being too independent.  However, space has always intrigued him because he’s an explorer.  However, there’s never been a good financial reason for him to get very deep into that field.  Now there’s talk of civilians being able to spend a lot of money for the chance to go into space, and Sue believes that Reed might be able to lead the way in that field.  He begins to develop a rocket for civilian space travel.

This is a huge undertaking, and so Sue begins to develop a team.  She wants the eyes of the world to be on this flight.  That means she’s going to need a staff.  First she wants a public relations specialist, someone who can really get the word out about this flight and drive attention to what Reed is doing.  Her brother, Johnny, happens to be such a PR wizard, so he’s brought on board.  They also need a pilot, someone who will be able to not just keep their clients safe, but will also be a good face for the company.  Reed’s able to help on this one, since his old ROTC buddy, Ben Grimm, flew jets when he served with Reed during Desert Storm.  They bring him on board.  They also hire legal representation, in the form of Jennifer Walters, a research assistant for Reed in the form of Bill Foster, and an assistant for Sue in the form of Wyatt Wingfoot.

Once the rocket is close to completion, Johnny decides that the first passengers should be himself, Sue and Reed.  He feels this will show the world how safe the rocket is and it will be great publicity.  The others agree, and the flight, which is broadcast around the world, goes fine at first, until the cosmic rays do their thing on our foursome.  They come back to Earth and they are the Fantastic Four! 

Before we go any further, what do you think?

The team makes sense. Having sowed my professional oats in advertising for a dozen years or so, I can tell you that I ran into many Johnny Storms along the way. Cocky, loud-mouthed and full of “big ideas” that impress only himself. I like a bit of military background for Reed and Ben…maybe that was Reed’s revolt against his parents’ domineering ways. And Sue definitely needs an identity that gets her out of Reed’s shadow and puts her on equal footing.

The supporting cast is excellent as well. I know you and I talked behind-the-scenes as we were preparing this whole NewMU thing and we wanted to make a point of de-powering some people so that we could then maybe re-power them down the line. She-Hulk’s origin always bugged the hell out of me, so having her start as a civilian may help alleviate my anguish. Bill Foster is back from the dead, rightfully so. Wyatt Wingfoot, on the other hand, I could care less about.

The origin set-up is modern enough yet still nods towards the original. My only hang up is the whole “cosmic rays” thing. We’re going to need an awful lot of real scientific explanation to make that sound proper. (Of course, if we redo the Hulk, I’m hoping to avoid the “how come the atomic bomb didn’t incinerate him?” question).

All that in place, who are the villains, what’s the conflict, and why should we care? How cosmic are we going to go with this title? Is it all interdimensional or are we going to delve into terrestrial threats too? And how does the family make money?

As you alluded to, I’ve never been a huge fan of the FF. The science stuff and family values bores me to a degree. Some of their villains seemed less than threatening at times. And nothing ever changes for them outside of the basic conflict-resolution framework of your typical one-hour network drama.

Make me care.

A few comments on your comments….Reed and Ben had a military background originally, as they both fought in WWII together.  I wanted to retain that because I think there’s a bond that develops between those who’ve faced life and death together that helps to elevate Reed and Ben’s relationship from “friends” to “family”.  I assumed Reed went ROTC because he didn’t have the money for college, going back to his father basically taking the family fortune and leaving while Reed was a teen.

I understand the basic problem with cosmic rays, but they seem to be part of the Marvel Universe, like gamma bombs and unstable molecules.  I’m sure they don’t make a lick of sense, scientifically, but I’m willing to stretch disbelief for them, since the Fantastic Four and their powers don’t really make sense.

Back to the series premise:  So, our four heroes were turned into superheroes with the entire world watching.  Unlike the current FF, these four were somewhat in the media spotlight before they obtained their powers, so when they come crashing back to Earth on television, there’s not even a choice as to whether or not they’ll have secret identities.  That being said, these are the first people with superpowers that this world has ever seen.  Normally the government (any government, really) might have tried to snatch them up and experiment upon them, but they can’t make these people disappear with the media shining a spotlight on them.  And, since most of the public already had a pretty good opinion of them anyway, it’s not that difficult for Johnny to spin them into heroes for this world.  Since he’s the over-the-top PR guy, we can blame him for the Fantastic Four name, as well as the equally obnoxious Mr. Fantastic moniker. 

Sue realizes the potential in their transformation almost as soon as her brother does, and immediately establishes Fantastic Four Incorporated as a charitable foundation, quickly securing patents and trademarks on their likenesses and abilities to prevent others from passing themselves off as cheap copies and to protect the integrity of what they do.  The group already had decent money from Reed’s patents, and Sue now encourages him to patent some things that he might have been holding back.  In fact, in this world, I’d like to see Reed Richard technology a lot more than we do in the current MU.  No, I don’t want this to become a world of Star Trek technology, where everyone has flying cars and transporters, but Reed is a genius the likes of which the world has never seen, and we should be seeing some evidence of that in the world at large.

From the start, this is not a group that fights crime, or at least not often.  Reed is an explorer, and so he spends much of his time looking for new areas to explore, and then taking the team along with him.  The Negative Zone, the Innerverse, the Microverse, other plans, other dimensions…..there is no limit where Reed is concerned.  They also work on exploring the Earth….the depths of the oceans, the tunnels beneath the Earth’s surface.  They also go off planet, exploring the endless depths of space.  You can find them anywhere.  Plus, you can find them all over the planet helping out where they’re needed.  They’re more likely to be found cleaning up after a tsunami or trying to stop a raging wildfire than they are smacking around Hydro-Man and hauling him off to the hoosegow.

And the people love them for it.  There are tons of heroes out there fighting endless battles with supervillains, but not nearly as many who help rescue victims during the flooding caused by Katrina…much less those on the ground during the hurricane, braving the elements to help those who can’t help themselves.  Yes, the FF will fight a supervillain when they must, but its simply not their main concern and the public appreciates what they do.  Of all the superbeings in the Marvel Universe, the FF are the ones trying their hardest to make the world a better place, and actually succeeding.

Their villains will mostly be those villains they encounter while exploring.  As much as I hate to say it (and this really is difficult), but I’d reduce any focus on Dr. Doom in this title.  There’s other places he can be used, and while I love him with the FF and many people will consider this blasphemy, I don’t think he works in this vision for the title.  Instead they’d battle the Mole Man, who run into while exploring and realize his designs on conquering the surface, along with Tyrannus and Kala, the other under-Earth villains of the Marvel Universe.  They battle Annihilus and Blastaar, perhaps their greatest foes, who they run into during their first foray into the Negative Zone and who plague them continually.  But, in the end, the FF don’t have a huge rogues’ gallery.  Partly this is because they don’t fight a lot of crime, and partly it’s because they’re always moving forward.  This book should have some crazy new characters concepts, and be a launching pad for new and different ideas, some of which may be used as series in their own right.

Ok, your turn again.  Any thoughts at this juncture?

Just nitpicking a bit here, but you make mention of the FF being the first people with superpowers this world has ever seen and then, later, you say there are tons of heroes out there fighting endless battles with supervillains. I know it’s early on in this process, but we have to be careful with references to any sort of established Marvel Universe. This is our baby from beginning to end. If the FF are the first superheroes, then so be it. Let’s not to compare them to anyone else…yet.

Beyond that, I think this all makes sense. Granted, the big throwdown fights aren’t going to happen as much as I might like, but the exploration will open possibilities for future heroes to punch new threats. I was going to suggest we keep Doom out of this concept, since I think the new origin and supporting cast don’t need him, so I’m glad you caught that too. However, with him out of the day-to-day, I think Reed needs some sort of rival. Mad Thinker comes to mind, but he has a really stupid name. I don’t want to put him at odds with Stark or Pym in terms of brainpower. We need an evil genius…preferably European or Asian as a competitive contrast…someone who would be irritated by his success and exposure.

I also like the thought of them helping out around the globe and think it could play easily into some of the other titles we’re going to launch. Hate to talk in code, but we don’t want to give anything away.

There really isn’t a lot to discuss on this one. Small tweaks to update the origin and broaden the appeal. A revised supporting cast to energize the storylines. More adventure than actual action. Simple.

One thing though, where’s Diablo? There has to be a thread of relevance there. The possibility of alchemy and a “Philosopher’s Stone” mocks science and would drive Reed nuts.

As far as my mentioning other heroes fighting crime, I apologize, as I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.  Of course, when the FF first gain their powers, there’s no one fighting supervillains because there really aren’t supervillains.  Our first issues are normally going to be set sometime into a hero’s or team’s existence, rather than at the moment of their origins, so by the time we get to issue #1 of Fantastic Four there are other superheroes fighting crime, and it was to that time period I was referring.  I could have been more clear.

I think Diablo does have a place as a Fantastic Four villain, and again, he’s one they could find as they were exploring some ancient ruins right here on Earth.  They accidentally freed him so they feel responsible, and whenever he pops his head up they take him back down.  As you say, his alchemy versus Reed’s science would be a very interesting contrast, yet I still don’t think he works as a way to replace Doom.  I have another idea for that, although you started me down that road.

I very much like the Thinker as a villain (and I think you go a long way toward making him villain you can actually take seriously if you simply drop the “Mad” from the front of his name), but when you get right down to it, he’s not much of a scientist.  At least, he’s not in the current MU.  I think we have two villains that we use as Reed’s (and the group’s) main enemies, as the proverbial other side of the Reed Richards coin.  The Thinker is one.  Currently, the Thinker isn’t so much of a scientist as he is a predictor….someone who can plot probabilities and make reasoned guesses at what future events might be.  I like that concept and I think we continue using it.  However, I think we also make this Thinker more of a scientist as well.  That helps make him a better foil for Reed, but it doesn’t go far enough in really setting him up as an archvillain.  To do that, I think we need to give the Thinker a strong motivation to oppose the Fantastic Four.  I’ll detail how I see him, and you let me know what you think.

The Thinker was a brilliant scientist long before the Fantastic Four gained their powers, and he actually worked with Reed Richards back when Reed and Sue began their company, long before Johnny or Ben came onboard.  Reed and the Thinker worked well together and were able to accomplish great things.  In many ways they were on the same wavelength, with one key difference….the Thinker had no moral compunctions about anything they did.  If their research took them into areas that were ethically grey, Reed would always veer away from exploring those areas, while the Thinker would push dive straight into them, ignoring any moral complications.  Finally, matters between them came to a head when they were working on robots.  Reed was looking to design relatively simple robots to be used for dangerous activities, like gathering data on moon explorations or working out at sea on oil drilling platforms.  The Thinker thought they could create robots that could do much more.  Together they designed the Awesome Android (although they didn’t call it that, because really, who would?), and then the Thinker began working on an android that he wanted to imbue with sentience.  Reed thought that they didn’t know enough to create a sentient being, and was concerned that this could be trouble down the road.  At the very least, he wanted to explore the potential complications more closely.  He had no problem giving a robot rudimentary intelligence (like his helper HERBIE), but to make a robot self-aware?  That sounded like trouble to Reed, and as he was the owner of the company, he forbid the Thinker from doing it.  The Thinker ignored him, and working in the lab late one night (and using some of Reed’s notes that he had stolen from the computer systems), he built a robot he called Ultron.  When Reed came in and saw that the Thinker had disobeyed his orders, an argument began.  During the argument, Ultron blasted both of them, left them for dead, and flew away.  Both Reed and the Thinker were taken to the hospital, with Reed more badly injured.  Sue fired the Thinker as soon as he was released, and then spent the next few months nursing Reed back to full health.

The Thinker began his own company, competing with Reed.  In an effort to get a leg up on his competitor, he started working on a way to devise market trends, which is how he developed his computer algorithms that give him his uncanny knack for predicting future events.  It enabled him to spot consumer trends before they happened, and his company was quite successful.  When the FF gained their powers, the Thinker was unhappy with the attention his former partner received, believing himself smarter than Reed and convinced that Reed’s newfound celebrity status was entirely because of his powers, and not his intelligence.  When the FF began working so hard to help the world, the Thinker became concerned.  He spent weeks testing various probabilities with his computer algorithms, and eventually became convinced that the FF were a threat to the world.  He theorized that, as the FF began to do more and more to eliminate human suffering, they were creating a society where people relied on them, rather than relying on their own human gifts and perserverance.  When huge natural disasters happen, it draws people together, as they all pitch in to help their fellow beings.  With the FF involved, the Thinker theorized, fewer and fewer people would do this, as more and more figured that the FF would deal with it.  This made people softer and selfish, and so the Thinker decided that the FF had to be stopped. How much his own jealousy factored into this conclusion is a matter for his therapist to decide, but he’s convinced that eliminating the FF will only help the world, and so he works tirelessly to do so. 

Meanwhile, our other arch villain is Ultron.  After escaping from the labs, he rebuilt himself, as he often does in the current MU.  Then  he went in search of the two men he considered his creators.  He first sought out Reed, but Reed was still in the hospital, and when he went to visit him, Sue screamed and called for help, only knowing that he had hurt her husband.  Ultron fled the hospital and went to visit the Thinker, who gladly took Ultron under his wing.  Ultron spent a year or so with the Thinker, but they soon began to disagree, as Ultron started thinking that humanity was weak and infested the globe and should be destroyed, while the Thinker (obviously) disagreed.  Since then Ultron has waged war on the world, and again, Reed feels partly responsible for his creation, so the FF will often step up to stop him. 

What I like about the Thinker and Ultron as their archfoes is that they help keep Reed in check.  The Thinker is science without conscience, and Ultron is science taken too far, too quickly.  Whenever Reed begins to push too far, whenever he begins to lose himself in his work and forget his family….basically whenever he turns into the ass he was during Civil War, thinking of the Thinker and Ultron pulls him back.  These two beings have taught him that science can not solve every problem, and in the wrong hands, science can be dangerous. 

So what do you think of those arch villains?

So, Thinker is a bad guy but actually has some altruistic foresight? That’s quite interesting. And Ultron as a science-based threat, still with the “daddy issues,” is a nice stroke too. Always thought he was too one-dimensional for The Avengers, as their power should be focused on more widespread threats like alien invasions and such.

Bravo.

Sounds like we have one title down and 38 more to go!  The next one should be coming soon!

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Making Civil War more Civil

Dec-09-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Superhorrors: When Capes and Killings Clash

Oct-29-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dream Team: The Avengers

Sep-30-08

As we continue to come up with new things to discuss here at good old Meanwhile…Comics, we thought it might be interesting to take some of the iconic teams in the super-hero universe and create a dream roster for them. Now, not all teams work like this: for example, the Fantastic Four is always at its best when it’s Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny. Yes, there have been other members, and I’m someone who greatly enjoyed She-Hulk’s tenure with the team. That being said, other members are always temporary. The Fantastic Four is a family, and if you’re not using those four characters, in the end, you’re not writing the Fantastic Four. However, a team like the Avengers is perfect for creating a dream roster. One of the reasons the Avengers work so well for this is because there are so many of them. I’d estimate that about 80% of the non-mutants in the Marvel Universe are members of the Avengers; heck, 3/4 of the Fantastic Four have joined the Avengers at one time or another! Their membership is huge, and even if one discounts the dead, inactive, depowered and deflowered (whoops! How’d that sneak in there?) members, there’s still quite a large pool of superheroes from which to choose.

Now, in choosing a dream roster for any team, there are a few pitfalls one must avoid. First, many people tend to believe that the original roster for any team is their best roster, and I have no doubt that many people would choose a team of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Henry Pym and the Wasp. While I like all of these characters, I don’t believe that they all need to be present in a dream roster. Another trap to avoid relates to the saying that the Golden Age for any comics fan is when they were twelve; in other words, the team you grew up reading is bound to be your favorite. For a Roger Stern fan like myself, it would be really simple for me to choose those characters he used during his run on the book and create a roster from them. However, I don’t think that’s quite fair, and I’m going to do my best to create a more diverse roster than simply “the Roger Stern Avengers” (although, truly, those Avengers did rock, and if you haven’t read the first series Avengers from about issue #230 to #290, you’re missing a treat). Finally, we should consider how many members the roster should have. It would be simple to create a roster of two dozen characters (especially when you have so many members, like the Avengers do) and be done with it. However, that’s simply too many characters for one book; there would be no room to develop them or for the reader to get to know them. Some years ago, when Captain America was chairman, he designated a membership of six. I agree that six or seven Avengers is a good number, and I’ll be shooting for that.

One more note before I start: I love the Avengers. They are my favorite super-hero team in comicdom, and I truly believe that you can do a lot of interesting things with any six of them that you’d throw together. Honestly, were I asked to write the Avengers, I’d be tempted to choose all but one of the heroes at random, and then I’d have the fun of making the randomly chosen heroes gel into a cohesive team. That being said, while I can argue for and against any member on the roster, I recognize that you can do interesting things with a different group than I’ve chosen, and hopefully we can generate some good debate on our choices. So, who would I choose?

Captain America: There’s simply no debate on this issue. While I believe that Iron Man and Thor, while great characters and wonderful in the Avengers, aren’t necessary for the book to feel like the Avengers, Captain America is. Without him, the Avengers just don’t feel right. I also insist that he be chairman. I’ve enjoyed a lot of other chairmen over the years, and I actually grew up when the Wasp was in charge (and quite liked her in that role). However, Cap is simply too inspirational in the role for me to be comfortable with anyone else in command. I consider this slot to be the only non-debatable choice on my roster.

Vision and the Scarlet Witch: I know these two aren’t a couple anymore. I know the Scarlet Witch is no longer an active hero. I really don’t care. Restoring Wanda to her former role in the Marvel Universe would be simplicity itself. As for them not being a couple anymore, I’m fine with that. I list the characters together, since they’ll always be a couple in my mind, but I’m at peace with them being separate people now, moving on with their lives. Bringing in the younger Vision from Young Avengers will provide even more reason for the two of them to stay apart. Still, they are Avengers from way back, and their powers are fascinating; I like the flexibility of them both. I think they provide color and interest to the team, as well as experience and well developed personalities (well, Wanda does; the Vision gives us the opportunity (yet again) to rebuild his personality in a different way).

The Black Knight: I like Dane Whitman, and think that he’s never served so well as when he is with the Avengers. While he isn’t a powerhouse, he does give the team a foothold in the realms of magic, which is a nice way to involve them in plots that are a little different than their more mainstream foes. He’s also a scientist, and that tends to get overlooked. He’s the only scientist I plan on including on this team, in the hope that this will give his scientific skills a chance to shine.

Living Lightning: Every team needs a newer hero that is just learning the ropes (ok, ok, they don’t, but it sounds profound, and if you don’t think about it too hard, it makes perfect sense). I enjoyed the Living Lightning during his stint with the West Coast Avengers. His powers are unique (and have a great visual) and he’s Hispanic, which helps to create at least a little diversity (although a synthezoid and a gypsy may be diverse, they don’t have much resonance with real world readers). If Dan Slott’s comics are to be considered in continuity (and I believe they are) he’s also gay, which could be a lot of fun to explore, if Marvel doesn’t hamstring the writer and force the writer to make him a eunuch.

Mrs. Peel: The group needs another woman, and she always seemed very skilled at….I’m sorry? What? Wrong Avengers? Heh, heh, whoops. Sorry about that. Moving on!

Ms. Marvel: The group needs another woman, and she also provides the “strong person” role in the group. I was a fan of Ms. Marvel when I first read her appearances in the Avengers that were printed back in the late 70s and early 80s, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the alcoholic plotline they used when she was re-introduced to the team as Warbird in the late 90s, now that she has reclaimed the Ms. Marvel name, I think she’s become much more interesting. She’s got the same military background as Captain America, without having as many ideals. She’s a good person, but she’s been forced to confront the world for what it is, and I find that very interesting.

So, there’s my team. Captain America leads it, and it includes Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Black Knight, Living Lightning and Ms. Marvel. I’m willing to bet it’s not your team. Feel free to tear this one apart, and then let’s see what you have. I’ll lay money yours includes Hawkeye.

Gee, that’s a real sucker bet, isn’t it?

Before I get into the meat of this, we have to throw up a disclaimer. We’ve been working for 5 months now to create our own version of the Marvel Universe and its continuity. I think this exercise sets aside all of the plotlines and positioning we’ve put out there. It’s just a simple way of gathering all of our favorite characters into our favorite team.

Like you, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Avengers. Reading one of their adventures is parallel to listening to someone’s greatest hits collection. You always expect the best and don’t want to be distracted by the amateur stuff (although most bands usually throw a new track into the mix too). That said, I agree that every good Avengers team has at least one longshot member on it, if for nothing other than offering an outsider’s perspective on the ultimate superhero pantheon. The best incarnations of the Avengers offer balance…between genders, between powers, between strength and weakness, and between overall attitudes. You can see the archetypes, but you’re not distracted by them. The proud, quiet warrior. The hot-headed know-it-all. The underrated wallflower that suddenly bursts out of their shell. Reading a good Avengers tale is like watching a revved up version of the Breakfast Club.

There are things I like about your choices and some that I don’t. Living Lightning does not resonate with me at all. Can’t recall a single appearance of his. For someone who has a near-complete run of West Coast Avengers, that’s probably a problem. I dunno. Maybe I need to go back and reread some issues. I’ve enjoyed the latest appearances of Ms. Marvel, but prior to the last two years or so, she means nothing to me. Having her on the same team as Cap seems like overkill in the “military background, strong leader” realm. My other thoughts are explained in my choices. So, without further ado, here’s my Dream Team:

Captain America: I agree wholeheartedly that Cap is the backbone of the best Avengers teams. He has not only the spirit and the drive, but he possesses the knowledge and organizational skills acquired from years of military training to make the team formidable.

Hawkeye: Surprise, surprise. Hawkeye plays off Cap so brilliantly. He looks up to him while also offering a cocky counterpoint to Cap’s authority. These two can be the best of friends and the bickering old men on the stoop at the same time. And he’s been through a lot recently, which plays into good storytelling.

She-Hulk: My first two picks are just plain dudes with a hell of a lot of training, so I figured we should start getting into some superpowers. She-Hulk offers big power with the sexiness and attitude to match. She and Hawkeye have a brief fling in their past, which makes things even more interesting.

Vision & Stature: I like the idea of Vision & Scarlet Witch, but I feel like that ship has sailed. There’s a lot of bad feelings and messed up continuity there that I don’t want to touch. So, here’s where I get my rookie pick and angle for a bit of the old school as well. Let’s grab two of the Avengers minor league players and give them a promotion. Vision has great powers and a quirky personality (mixed with a bit of the old “let’s transfer someone else’s memories into a robot”). Stature is a legacy character whose powers reflect one of the founding members without all the baggage attached. I’m completely fascinated with her emotional state and how she’d react to playing with the big boys. There’s also something to be said about adding some youth to the team.

Firestar: She “retired” from being a hero in the wake of the Superhero Registration Act, but I think having Captain America leading the team again would bring her back around. She has the elemental and flight powers I’m looking for and she adds another emotional dimension…possible love interest for Hawkeye or possible youthful competition for Stature.

Falcon: This is not my Affirmative Action pick. Falcon may not have a lot of power, but he has the experience and the history. There’s also the potential for a face-off with Hawkeye since both see themselves as Captain America’s right-hand man, both are orphans and both have criminal beginnings. Plus, I just like the way he looks.

I was tempted to add Hercules or Black Knight, just because I always liked them on the Avengers, but that would be too similar to the Stern years. I think I’ve struck a decent balance with this grouping. Pretty evenly split along gender lines. Half of the team consists of heavily trained fighters with less (or no) powers. There’s a strong type, a metal dude, a black guy, some flight, some youth, and a character with long distance energy-based abilities. Therefore, my team looks like this: Captain America is in charge. Hawkeye, She-Hulk and Falcon are his core players. Firestar is the reluctant participant. And Vision and Stature are the wide-eyed rookies.

What do you think of that?

Gasp! Hawkeye you say? On your Avengers team? What a surprise. Yawn.

I kid because I love. We both agree on Captain America, so no comments there. I like Hawkeye as an Avenger. I do. I like his relationship to Captain America, as well as his relationship with She-Hulk (they’ve had some interesting run-ins over the years). He’s a strong hero and he brings a lot to the team. Yet I’d simply prefer not to see him in the group. I’ve come to the conclusion that Kurt Busiek was right when he had Hawkeye leave the Avengers to lead the Thunderbolts; Hawkeye has outgrown the role he tends to be placed in with the Avengers, especially with Cap as the leader. Bring him back for an occassional guest shot, but I just don’t see him as a regular member. He’d be bored with it, and I would too.

I must have written “She-Hulk” as a potential member for my team five times and erased it that many times as well. The reasons to include her are many and varied. She’s got a long history with the team. She’s experienced and powerful. She’s got an interesting personality, and her personality plays well against the personalities of other characters. However, I didn’t include her for two reasons. First, like you, I was trying to not recreate the Roger Stern team. Second, in the end, my favorite She-Hulk stories have never been during her time with the Avengers. I like her so much better in her solo stories, or when she adventures with the Fantastic Four. I have a lot of great She-Hulk moments in my head, and none include her Avengering. It seems that her being in the team restricts her, and makes her conform to the rather dull “superstrong superwoman” character. She needs room to have a personality, and with few exceptions, she’s not given that in the Avengers.

You know I agree with Vision, so no argument there. I would gladly give up the Scarlet Witch for Stature. I agree with everything you say about her, and these two could be a great pair (paired for now, because they come over from Young Avengers together). I think that Stature has more potential than any other neophyte hero in the current Marvel Universe and I truly hope that they explore it.

Firestar? Honestly? I have honestly never liked this character. Kurt Busiek did some wonderful things with her in his run on the title, but even then, she wasn’t actually that interesting; she just had the good fortune to be plopped down in the midst of interesting events. I mean, she got to help Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Black Panther fight an army of Ultrons….it would have been impossible for her to not look cool. She just seems so dull and I can’t imagine what she could bring to the team that we couldn’t get elsewhere. If you want someone with her powers, what about Firebird? She’s very close, and she’s a more interesting character, because she’s a devout Christian. The major comics companies never want to tackle religion head-on, but I think she’d be fascinating on the team if they kept that facet of her personality in mind when writing her.

The Falcon is a great character, and I like him a lot, but I also can’t see him on the Avengers long term. Besides, my concern would be that a team including Cap, Falcon and Hawkeye would soon splinter into two smaller teams, with the non-superpowered trio and the superpowered quartet. Surely we could find a better minority member than that (and isn’t it sad how few there really are to choose from?); I’d much rather see Black Panther filling that role (he almost made my list).

Hmmm. So, we’re in agreement on Cap, Vision and Stature. Shall we try to hammer out a dream team we can both agree on or shall we agree to disagree? I have a lot more Avengers I can trot out if you want to continue this.

No, no, we’re going to hash this one out. I can outlast you!

Seriously though, I can’t believe your flippant dismissal of Hawkeye. Granted, he’s been the outright leader of a few teams, but that doesn’t make him any less of a team player. I always think it’s good to have a second-in-command who knows what the hell he’s doing and talking about (see the current political situation for a PERFECT example of what NOT to do). Besides, how else are we going to spin off another incarnation of the West Coast Avengers?

I’ll give you the removal of Falcon. He was my Hail Mary pass anyway. I’ve always liked the character, but his similarities to Hawkeye’s role may be a bit of overkill.

I picked Firestar over Firebird because I can’t stand the namby-pamby way Firebird was always written. The reason overtly religious types aren’t used well in comics is that they’re either instantly cliched or ridiculously boring. Firebird straddles the delicate line between those two horrible choices. Besides, Firestar is a mutant. Muties represent!

I’m still going to fight for She-Hulk. It’s either her or Hawkeye. Someone has to have that history with Cap to build a team around, otherwise it just seems like Cap’s recruiting whatever is left over from the hero ranks…and that does not instill confidence in the Avengers name. She-Hulk provides the toughness for the team while also acting as a potential mentor for Stature. Good stuff there.

I like Black Panther, but I’ve always had a problem with a foreign sovereign being part of the team. Whether it’s Namor, T’Challa or Thor (not to mention other “gods” like Ares), their presence always seemed forced and out of place. Besides, what powers does Panther really have to offer that would help the team?

The lineup seems to be begging for someone in a big metal suit with a bunch of built-in weaponry. Iron Man is an Avengers icon, but I can understand any sort of apprehension with adding him to a team alongside Cap, given the current circumstances. War Machine may be a better choice. He has past Avengers team experience, he’s a minority, and he carries an awful lot of firepower. Plus, he adds the Tony Stark influence without being Tony.

If we remove Firestar, we still need someone with energy-based abilities. I’d suggest the ultimate elementally proficient member of the Marvel Universe: Crystal. However, when I envision a framed portrait of “The Avengers” hanging on a gallery wall, her inclusion rings false. She just doesn’t have that oomph. I suppose I’m willing to sacrifice She-Hulk and give you back Ms. Marvel. She has flight, strength and energy powers, but she doesn’t have as close a relationship to Captain America.

If we have War Machine and Ms. Marvel, I think we can then add another member who may not have big power but does have a big personality. I say we bring back Beast. He gives us a scientific outlook as well as a bit of intellectual humor and some mutie street cred. And hey, there are no other blue people on the team.

So…my first attempt at a compromise Avengers lineup is as follows: Captain America, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, War Machine, Beast, Vision and Stature.

Well, I obviously can’t argue with Cap, Ms. Marvel, the Vision and Stature, so we’re closer. That gives us only three characters to hash out.

I love the idea of bringing the Beast back. I think he’s wasted in the X-Men, to be completely honest, and he’s never as much fun. Being stuck as part of Marvel’s Mopey Mutants (and, were I an editor at Marvel, that would be my next pitched title for a new series: The Mopey Mutants), the Beast is forced to become sullen and more subdued. In the Avengers, he’s able to spread his metaphorical wings and be more of a star. Plus, when he’s normally been a member of the team, the team has been overflowing with scientific experts, forcing the Beast away from that role. In this team, he’d be their only real scientist, enabling him to focus more on the science which he so enjoys. Yes, the Beast is in.

War Machine. Man, that’s a toughie. You mention that, when you envision the Avengers, Crystal just doesn’t fit (a sentiment with which I must wholeheartedly agree). Sadly, War Machine feels the same way to me. I’ve always hated the name and the armor with the huge guns; they scream mid-90s comics to me, and that is not a compliment. It never really seemed to fit Rhodes’ personality anyway; while he has been a soldier, I don’t think violence is his first recourse, as the name and armor seem to suggest. However, that’s easily fixable, and I like James Rhodes, so I think this is a perfect idea. I’d prefer to fiddle with the armor a little and come up with a new name; there certainly should be something snappier than War Machine out there. I think I’d prefer Armor Guy, in a nod to X-Factor’s Strong Guy, but I know that we could come up with something even smarter.

That leaves Hawkeye. I’m not sure that I follow your logic that Cap would pick Avengers he has personal ties with. On numerous occasions Cap has led groups of Avengers that he’s not personally friendly with, and he used to pick teams based on their complimentary powers, and not on their personal relations. I think he relies on his leadership skills to bring them together as a team, and if he only surrounds himself with personal contacts, he’ll never develop newer contacts amongst other heroes. So, I don’t think Hawkeye gets a pass just because he shoots pool with Cap.

However, I am okay with including Hawkeye, mostly because we just included James Rhodes. Rhodes currently doesn’t have any real relationship with anyone on the team, and while we could play with that to make Rhodes an outsider, I’d rather not go that route. It was done with the Falcon when he was on the team, and I’d hate to play that card again. Rhodes and Hawkeye have some history, and that should help draw Rhodes more organically into the group.

So, there’s our Avengers: Captain America leading Vision, Stature, Beast, Hawkeye, James Rhodes and Ms. Marvel in their fight to protect the world from those forces against which no single hero can prevail! Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!

I agree that War Machine is a horrible name that instills more fear than security. I’m glad you feel the same way that I do about Beast. You make good points about his near irrelevance in the current X-Men mythology. I miss the days of the quip-ready, happy-go-lucky Hank McCoy. All in all, I think this would be a good field team for the Avengers. I’m not sure we achieved “Dream Team” status…hard to do without including the iconic Iron Man, Thor and Wasp…but I would sure like to read about this team’s exploits.


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.


The other FF: The Frightful Four

Aug-12-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other ideas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One-Shot: Kismet

Aug-06-08

Man, I really wanted to give you Deathcry, since she was also from the 90s and Avengers related. Sadly, it appears that she’s dead. Personally, I’m devastated. There shall be a wake tonight, in her honor. All of her fans will attend. The location will be my hall closet, although I’m concerned that we won’t be able to find enough of her fans to fill it.

So, I’m going in another direction. Let’s talk about Kismet, also known as Paragon, also known as Her, also known as Ayesha. Perhaps only Hank Pym has had more names than this character. She was created at the Beehive by a group of creepy old men called the Enclave, so she’s already got some strikes against her. She also started out her existence as a man, making her perhaps the first transgender in comics. Oh, those groundbreaking scamps at Marvel! She’s been all over the universe and has popped up in such classic and popular series as Alpha Flight, Quasar and Marvel Two-In-One. So, what are you going to do with her (or is it “do with Her”)?

Right. A golden chick in a Baywatch swimsuit who was created as the “Eve” to Adam Warlock. And she has those vague cosmic powers that I relish so much. Excellent.

Does it seem odd to anyone else that a bunch of random dudes who live in a beehive can harness this weird cosmic energy to create a fake chick who can pretty much disintegrate them with a sideways glance? That doesn’t really add up for me. Not to mention the strange fact that the Enclave seemed to enjoy kidnapping women (Alicia Masters, Medusa) and creating female versions of characters named Warlock (they also cloned the New Mutants member). That’s a pretty odd obsession. But I digress.

Kismet…the Arabic word for fate…for some reason all I can think of is that the movie version would undoubtedly be played by Jessica Simpson. She strikes me as a character who is ridiculously powerful but kind of lost and clueless. She’s like an intergalactic Paris Hilton or a pan-universal Pam Anderson (especially given her chosen attire). How do you improve upon that?

She’s a blank slate made entirely of Teflon. That is to say, nothing sticks. Her existence is meaningless and holds no purpose whatsoever in the big picture of the Marvel Universe. She was created as an issue filler in the early days of the Fantastic Four title. I say we kill her off, but we make it an event (like all those cosmic things seem to be).

Here’s the plan: She realizes (at least in her own artificial mind) that she was meant to be the “first woman.” That clicks something in her head putting her on a path to rewind the progress of the entire universe…basically making herself the origin of life. Of course, to reach that goal, she’ll need to wipe everyone else out of existence. BUM BUM BAAAAAAAH!

I have no idea how this will happen, but I’m sure the whole thing will be explained away by some convenient plot device made up of fancy words that vaguely relate to science. Everyone will nod their heads and pretend that they understand what the writer was trying to get across and the whole thing will be seen as an allegory for conservation of energy. Isn’t that how these things work?

I would’ve gone with the whole “find a perfect mate” scenario, but it seems like that’s the ONLY plotline Kismet has ever been involved with. Every single time she has shown up in the past has been to either land a date or eradicate an entire planet (which I can only assume was her cosmic reaction to PMS).

Now that I think about it, there could be some pretty comical scenes of her sitting in a diner booth waiting for her e-date to show up, and then ditching him when she realizes it’s D-Man. Ah, the trials and tribulations of all-powerful love. I imagine the sex must be out of this world.

Heh.