What Candy Would Your Favorite Superhero Hand Out?

Oct-31-08

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

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

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

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

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

Hulk: Jawbreakers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Pym: He gives out miniature candy bars.

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

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

Got any more?

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

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

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

Skrull Kill Krew: Cow Tails.

Mr. Mind: Anything but gummi worms.


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How to make your lame villain scary

Oct-30-08

Both Marvel and DC have something in common; their superhero universes contain a lot of lame villains. Oodles. Marvel tried to correct the problem in the 80s when they introduced Scourge, a character who seemed to exist only to clear out some of the deadwood in the Marvel criminal community. However, not only did Scourge miss a ton of losers, but many of the ones he killed have seen their gimmicks and names passed to new thugs, so their legacies (such as they are) live on. Perhaps seeing that this attempt at eliminating pathetic evil-doers didn’t stick, both Marvel and DC seem to have settled on revamping many of their villains and making them, as the kids say, bad asses. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. Herewith are our recommendations for turning the Ringer into next year’s villain du jour.

1. Less blood, more threat: The most popular way to make a villain seem scary is to have them go out and rack up a body count that borders on genocide. Popular thinking seems to believe that, if your victims don’t number in the triple digits, you’re small time and might as well go back to fighting Captain Ultra. Alternately, you don’t have to kill a lot of people, if you kill just a few, but really gruesomely. Now, gruesome can have its place, but often times today’s comic writers seem to simply be trying to outdo the last gruesome death that saw print, and consequently, the deaths themselves mean little.

Let’s be clear: a huge body count is absurd, and it’s one of the things that’s pushed the Joker from menacing to maddening (for the readers). You don’t need to murder a stadium of sports fans to make a point, and how many villains are interested in doing that anyway? It makes your villains seem like crazy comic book villains if they’re going after huge masses of people. Most readers can’t relate to that sort of crime; none of us really expect to get blown up with lots of other people in a mass venue. That’s where people feel safe. Instead, keep your villains relatable; if they’re killing people, have them break into the house in the middle of the night, or catch someone walking home from the movies (perhaps after seeing a Zorro flick). Then you’re hitting your reader somewhere they’re more familiar and you’re more likely to dredge up some scares in them. Of course, this will work even better if you follow tip #2:

2. Let your reader get to know your victim: The better the reader knows the victim, the more impact it will have when your villain offs them. Of course, you don’t want to have Terra Man kill Lois Lane just to make him scarier, but you can introduce other characters for Terra Man to kill or threaten. The reader doesn’t have to spend a lot of time with the character; it can be a simple page or two, as long as you use that space to effectively convey enough of a piece of the victim’s personality so that the victim can be seen as a person, and not just as a piece of meat to be ground up by your villain.

3. Strip your villain back to basics: Often times what makes a villain even lamer is when writers try to give them more gimmicks and more toys in an attempt to make the villain more threatening. Unfortunately, this often backfires, and the villain comes off looking worse than ever. Let’s use the Ringer for example. For those who don’t know, the Ringer is a Marvel villain who’s gimmick was…well, rings. He had all kinds of different rings which did different things, and every time he appeared, it seemed he had a new set of rings that could do even more useless tricks. I would get rid of all of them and stick with one of his original gimmicks: constricting rings. Instead of having the Ringer tossing exploding rings across Times Square, have him sneaking through the dark alleys. He finds a victim, slips out of the shadows, and quickly slides a constricting ring around the victims throat. Then he watches as the poor person suffocates at his feet. Or perhaps he wants the victim for some future purpose. One ring around the body, which constricts enough to prevent the person from taking a deep breath (driving most of the fight from them) and then another around the wrists to bind the victim and make it easy for Ringer to capture them. That’s much more threatening than anything the character has ever done in the past.

4. No more primary colors: We’ve discussed a lot about art the last few days, but I need to mention it again. If you want a scary comic, you need art that provokes an atmosphere. It’s not just about the pencilling and inking, but you also need a strong colorist, who can keep the colors muted and provide a spooky setting, without making the book a bloody, dark and impossible to read mess.

5. Allow them occasional victories: Many villains are considered lame because they never win. Of course, when we’re reading this sort of story, we know the villains will lose in the end (unless you’re reading current DC) and that’s part of the tacit agreement we, the readers, make with the creators. However, it’s important to note that, unless you want your villain to be a laughing stock, you need to give them a win every now and again. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but if they never manage to bring any plans to fruition, they’re certainly not going to be scary. Perhaps some of their early plans succeed because the hero doesn’t know about them, or perhaps they even beat the hero a few times, when the hero isn’t expecting them or their abilities. In the end, it’s just important that they sometimes succeed, so the reader doesn’t know if they’re actually going to pull off the plan that will spell the end for a threatened supporting character. If the villain sometimes wins, they become credible, and then they can start to become scary.

There’re some ideas. Agree? Disagree? Have some of your own?

Yeah, I have a suggestion. Don’t ever again write a post that mentions both Terra Man and Ringer. That was the most frightening thing I ever read!

The one point you make that I feel the strongest about is #5. If the villain isn’t a credible threat, they’re never going to be taken seriously. Look at someone like Green Goblin. On paper, he’s ridiculous. But what was the first big thing he did as a villain? He offed Spider-Man’s girlfriend. Instant archenemy.

And I think #4 is an important rule. I mean, really, who’s scared of Shocker in his yellow quilted shirt? Or a giant orange Armadillo? Or Wizard in his fancy purple and red ensemble with the giant helmet (or, for that matter, the Leader and his giant cranium tucked into an orange and yellow turtleneck)?

If we’re talking about turning villains more towards the scary side of things in terms of tone and method, then I think there are three other points that need to be made:

6. Intimidation works. A strong baddie is an imposing baddie. And I don’t mean that he has to be huge or have some sort of magnificent power that cancels out the sun. Perfect example: Galactus is NOT scary (especially his movie version…ooooh, a cloud!). No, I’m talking about their mere presence sending a chill up someone’s spine. The foe could be old and frail, like Cassandra Nova or have a really bizarre look, like Emplate, and they would be more effective than Turner D. Century in his spiffy suit. This criteria is one of the reasons why Doctor Doom, Ultron and Red Skull have remained on the scene for so long. Plus, it helps to keep the main threat hidden for as long as possible in order to build up the suspense. Show a creepy hand or part of a horrific visage every now and then, but keep the big reveal until absolutely necessary. Evolution is a viable course to follow too. Take Annihilus for example. When he was first introduced, he just looked like a dude in a giant metal bug costume. However, his latest incarnation shows him in a more insect-like form and, I have to admit, he’s a bit skin-crawly now.

7. Go off the deep end on occasion. There’s something to be said about being organized and rational. Perfection involves a certain type of horror. However, that perfection can be elegantly offset with the occasional psychopathic outburst. Tear apart a puppy with your bare hands. Push a stranger off a bridge. Randomly erupt and beat the beejesus out of one of your henchmen with a nearby computer keyboard, cackling wildly as letters and numbers careen off his scalp. Divine madness goes a long way towards building a scary reputation. That’s one of the few things I’ve respected in good portrayals of the Joker.

8. Have a grand scheme. Anymore these days, villains are just out on personal vendettas which, while they have their place in history, do not build up a broad depth to your villainy. None of the bad guys seem to have any plans beyond eliminating so-and-so. What then? Now, I’m not saying we should go back to the days of simple bank robbing or awkward planning to poison water supplies with special fish, but there has to be a rational beginning and end to the rampage, aside from ending up in jail. To be effective, you have to follow through. An exception to this rule is taunting. A great villain needs to be able to taunt without remorse…kidnapping loved ones, stalking alter egos, harassing coworkers and implying even worse plans. That stuff always works. Not to say it couldn’t be augmented with some unrelated evil plotting.

Scary is in the eye of the beholder. And I feel that there are very few villains in today’s comics that fit the bill. Most of them are just glorified punching bags. The most recent example of a good revamp that I can think of is Dr. Light. DC definitely made him a creepy dude. Of course, a swift kick to the nuts remedied that. Taking a previous example, I’m not sure we could ever morph Turner D. Century into a formidable foe, but I think the rules we’ve set out are a clear checklist for avoiding the pitfalls that created Mr. Century in the first place.



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!


Spider-Man: Where did it all go wrong?

Apr-08-08

Spider-Man has probably been in the news (not the real news; they don’t care about comic books, unless Captain America dies on a slow news day. No, I’m talking about the comics news, spread out across a gazillion internet blogs and websites) more than any other super-hero recently, thanks to Marvel’s “One More Day” storyline. Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you know very well what that storyline entailed, but on the off-chance that the only thing you know about Spider-Man is that Kirsten Dunst is a hottie, let me quickly explain.

In the comics, Spider-Man has been married to the beautiful Mary Jane Watson for (our time) almost 20 years. I believe they got married in 1989, but I’m too lazy to look up the exact date. No, I lie, I’m not that lazy. They actually got married in 1987, so they’ve been married for over 20 years. Apparently, there were those at Marvel Comics, led by Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who felt that their marriage had destroyed some of the very essence of what made Spider-Man the character in which millions had fallen in love. They wanted to get rid of the marriage, but how can you do that? If they get divorced, then Peter Parker has the baggage of a failed marriage. If she dies, then he’s a widower. Neither solution makes him the character he was in the 1960s and 70s.

The solution, from Marvel’s point of view, was “One More Day.” Here’s that quick synopsis I promised: Aunt May has been shot and lies dying. Mephisto, one of the many Marvel Universe iterations of Satan, promises to save May’s life if he can erase Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage from reality. They will not be married, they will have never been married, and no one will remember the marriage. Peter Parker weighs the options over in his mind. “Hmmm,” he thinks, “do I give up sex, love and a strong marriage with a gorgeous redhead who is a former model, or do I save my aunt, who’s 120 years old? What would my Uncle Ben do?” It’s an easy decision. Or it would be, if it had been made by the character. Sadly, it was made by a couple of 40 year old men who refuse to leave their childhoods. Parker took the deal, and the marriage was undone.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this subject. One school believes this to be the stupidest story in a long history of stupid stories, and a bad idea, since it rewrites two decades of Spider-Continuity. The other school believes this to be the stupidest story in a long history of stupid stories, but hey, at least it got rid of the marriage that had ruined their beloved wall-crawler, so alls well that ends well. No one seems to have liked the story itself, with the possible exception of J. Michael Straczynski’s accountants, when he cashed the checks he received from writing said story.

For our purposes, we need to look at where Spider-Man went wrong as a character, and what can be done to fix him. For the purposes of the “One More Day” story, the question is whether or not his marriage to Mary Jane was a mistake. Personally, I liked the marriage. My feeling is that, when you publish a character for over forty years, there has to be some sort of character development. By getting married, Peter was growing up, the exact same thing Stan Lee had him doing when he had Peter graduate from high school and go to college within the first three years of the comic’s existence. A married Peter Parker was an interesting Peter Parker, as he now had to consider how his actions would affect, not just his Aunt May, but his wife as well. Plus, the interaction between Peter and Mary Jane was phenomenal, and when they also interacted with his Aunt, they were a full realized family unit, realistic and relatable. They seemed like real people. It is an irony of which I am quite aware that the writer who did so much to make this family so interesting to readers was J. Michael Straczynski, who then was the one to destroy this family in “One More Day.”

But perhaps not everyone agrees with me, so I open this to the others.

Wait…wasn’t Straczynski the same hack who got Gwen knocked up by the Green Goblin? He’s the reason I stopped reading Spider-Man comics in the first place (and I’ve got a pretty impressive collection). Much like nearly every other modern comic being produced today, I felt that Amazing Spider-Man had gotten weighed down by “real life” and wasn’t the fun book I enjoyed growing up.

That said, I’m torn on the marriage thing. I remember buying the wedding issue (one copy of each cover, thank you) and thinking “Wow, this carefree, wisecracking young hero is getting tied down. How sad.” Of course, I was in high school at the time and didn’t really relate to marriage. Things change. Now I’m married with kids and Peter Parker seems like a guy who wants to make things work but, regardless of his Uncle’s responsibility adage, can never quite get it together.

On one hand, being married takes a lot of independence away from Spider-Man. Like I said, he always seemed like the high-flying, fast-talking type to me. He stays out late. He doesn’t clean up after himself. He just wants to have fun.

On the other hand, he and MJ really work as a couple. And hell, there are very few marriages in comics, good or otherwise. It was a genuine relationship that built over the years and reached its logical next step.

Here’s my thoughts on the storyline: Aunt May is freaking old. She’s served her purpose. May acted as Peter’s conscience. She represented his vulnerability. And she anchored him. Big deal. Let the bonebag die. Seriously. What’s the big loss? Hasn’t MJ embodied all of those aspects in her own way already? By losing Aunt May, but holding onto MJ, does anything really change in Peter’s life?

Wow…a deal with the devil. That’s original. Look, it doesn’t even make sense on paper. How did that get through editorial? By eliminating the marriage, they’ve set back Spidey’s history by 20 years. Everything that happened to him since 1987 can no longer technically exist because the circumstances that caused the history have changed. It’s some sort of bizarre chaos string theory in reverse. People that he’s met, words that he said, things that he did. All gone. And, in practice, that blank slate has to emanate to every corner of the Marvel Universe. Anyone who crossed paths with Petey during that time must be revamped too. Events that he took part in can no longer be put forth as fact. IT’S ALL WRONG.

Of course, eliminating 20 years of continuity also gets rid of the “Gwen had the Goblin’s twins” storyline AND the -shudder- “Spider-Clone Saga.” I guess that’s not a bad thing.

The problem here is that Marvel has painted itself into a corner where the only “logical” solution is to just make the relationship never happen. It’s almost as bad as the Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower move. Like John said, they couldn’t kill off MJ because then Peter would seem weak or damaged for not being able to protect her. And they couldn’t divorce them because then Petey would either come across as a victim or a jerk (depending on who did the dumping). Even when they briefly separated the couple, Spidey became all whiny and woe-is-me. I got tired very quickly of his inner monologues about how he had screwed everything up. It was almost annoying as most of the scripts from the 90’s animated series.

Oddly enough, it turns out that the “Mephisto Gambit” was also proposed as a solution to the horrible 90’s Clone Saga, but was dismissed as being “out of Spider-Man’s league.” Hmph.

The question before us is “What next?” If I recall correctly, the Clone Saga was followed up by a completely forgettable storyline. Of course, that’s not really fair. Most of 90’s Marvel stories were completely forgettable. So is that the solution? Just write a bunch of filler issues until everyone forgets the debacle and then hope against hope that the readers will eventually come back?

Before I answer Jason’s questions, I have to make a couple of comments. Yes, Straczynski wrote the reviled story where Gwen had sex with Norman Osborn. Yes, we all shudder to think of it. However, if one strips away that story, I think they’ll see that Straczynski has a very good grasp of the character of Spider-Man and of his supporting cast. There were also a lot of people who didn’t like his take on “Spider Totems” and Ezekiel, and the idea that his powers were more magic based than science based. Having read those stories, I think Straczynski actually does a brilliant job of saying, “Maybe my magical explanation works, but if you don’t like it, the science explanation still works just fine.” He didn’t set his new continuity up as a definite, but just as a possibility, and in the end, I thought the story was very well done.

I won’t condemn Straczynski for deciding that Gwen would do the nasty with Norman Osborn. I didn’t like the plot, but he had enough credit from his previous stories that I let it slide. To me, the characters are more important than the plot (which is not to say plot is unimportant, but I think character trumps it) and Straczynski knew these characters inside and out. In fact, I find it interesting that rumors abound that he wanted his name removed from some of “One More Day”, because he didn’t like the way the story was progressing, and the eventual outcome.

Jason mentions that he sees Spider-Man as a high flying and fast talking hero. Some people feel that he’s more interesting as a single man. I’ve read numerous commentators (including Mr. Silver Age, who writes for the Comics Buyers Guide) who seem to think that these are intrinsic parts of his character, as are his status as a hard luck hero. Perhaps I’ve always missed the point of Spider-Man, but I consider only one facet of his character to be intrinsic: his innate sense of responsbility. It’s his understanding that with great power, comes great responsibility. That’s what makes Peter a hero. That’s what makes him interesting. I know that the original stories often cast him as a hero with the worst luck imaginable and more problems than he knew what to do with, but if you look at his origin, I don’t think that the hard-luck hero is part of it. Sure, he was picked on, but that just made him a geek. Otherwise, the only bad luck he had was when his uncle was killed by the same burglar that Peter had allowed to escape him (which, I have to admit, is horrifically bad luck), but it wasn’t so much bad luck as it was necessary for his origin to work. I’m not sure that you need the hard-luck hero to write good Spidey stories.

Yes, Aunt May is expendable. In fact, they’ve killed her already. In Amazing Spider-Man #400 she died. J.M. DeMatteis (what is it with hard to spell names that I have to look up like his and Straczynski….why can’t I be typing about Jim Lee?) wrote a touching and heartfelt story where May and Peter spend some time together, and then she passes away silently in bed. It makes me cry everytime I read it. And they did just fine without her for a few years, before someone decided that they needed to bring her back.

So, how does this get fixed? Well, I have to admit, sometimes there is more harm to be done by trying to fix bad continuity than there is in simply throwing your hands up in the air, giving up, and ignoring it. That worked fine with the Spider-Clone storyline, because in the end, there were no changes to continuity, and you could cut those years out of the Spider-Man mythos without really changing much. Sadly, that doesn’t work for “One More Day”, since we’re left with a screwed up continuity. If we ignore it, then what? If Peter starts getting serious with someone in a relationship, we’re basically going to be treading much of the ground we already tread with Mary Jane. I suppose they could put him with someone who’s personality is much different than MJ’s, but I think that many of the problems faced in a relationship are somewhat universal, and it still seems like they’ll be retelling the same stories all over again.

This also brings up another problem with “One More Day”. This plotline again shows us how short-sighted Marvel Editorial is. What sort of future can Peter have? If he gets serious with another woman, what are they going to do? They can let them date for awhile, but after dating for years, it’s going to begin to look bad if Peter won’t take the next logical step. Besides, once a relationship gets serious, you start to have some of the same issues you have with marriage, even if the participants aren’t actually married. So is he never going to be allowed to be serious with a woman again? If he gets serious, are they going to start dropping them off bridges again, as they did with Gwen? It seems that Peter is either destined to always be moving from relationship to relationship and never getting serious (which is likely to eventually make him look like something of a cad) or he’s destined to get in a serious relationship and make more deals with Satan knock-offs. What kind of solution is this?

I think something has to be done about “One More Day”. I’m not sure what. Not much time has passed; how about Peter waking up, and Mary Jane is in the shower and the whole thing is a dream?

Zing! And we’re right back to the Dallas solution. I agree with your assessment about relationships. Marvel can’t honestly hook Peter up with another woman or the readers will scream foul. Then we get into Bruce Wayne territory…which is to say, every time a new female character shows up as a love interest in Batman , DC has Pavlov-dogged us to know that she’ll either turn out to be evil or she be killed within four issues. It’s similar to the new red-shirted dude on any given episode of Star Trek or the mysterious stranger that shows up at the Peach Pit on Beverly Hills 90210. That kind of mindless redundancy is what destroys the limited credibility of comics.

I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but thinking about it, the dream bit makes a lot of sense in this situation. Petey’s under a lot of stress from the “unmasking on national TV” thing…he’s bummed about his aunt’s health…maybe he has a wicked ingrown toenail or something…why wouldn’t he have a fever dream about the devil?

You’re right. This isn’t an ignorable offense. This changes everything. And it needs to be changed back before it’s too late.

Well, I had a great post all written, and it was witty and insightful and would have netted me that Pulitzer for sure….and the computer ate it. Somehow. I have no idea. These new fangled computer things sure throw me. I had originally suggested to Jason that we simply chisel our thoughts onto stone tablets, as we did back in my childhood. Jason felt that we would not receive as much attention as we would posting onto a blog. “Well, what if we threw the stone tablets at people, asking them to read them? Maybe drop them from airplanes. That should get us attention,” I suggested, proud that I had reached a solution for the apparent problem. Oddly, Jason said nothing, but simply slowly backed out of the room.

On the plus side, this means that this post will probably be more concise and easier to read. You’ll have to imagine that it is much wittier than it really is, and trust me that all of the good snarky comments and funny jokes were actually eaten by the computer. In fact, feel free to assume that about any posts I make from this time forward.

I’m not sure that fixing Spider-Man would be that difficult, and I think we can even do it without using a plotline from a nighttime soap opera that aired over two decades ago. First of all, can Mephisto really bend reality in this way? I know he’s cosmic level, but I thought he was more Galactus level. I don’t think Galactus can rewrite reality for an entire planet. That seems like something that only someone on the level of Eternity can do. If we assume that this is slightly outside Mephisto’s power range, that means that this never happened. What happened? Here’s how I would lay it out.

We keep doing the stories in Amazing Spider-Man for a few months, as we’ve been doing. However, Peter starts waking up from dreams. In these dreams, he’s married to MJ, and he’s very happy (as they often were). The dreams are good, but he’s somewhat sad when he awakens, since he now has no one with which to share his life. Meanwhile, while awake, things start going bad for him. Small things at first, but they escalate, and soon he’s dealing with some relatively major problems, all depressing and disheartening. Meanwhile, he’s still having these dreams of his marriage to MJ, and they’re getting more vivid.

I wouldn’t drag this on for more than a few months. Soon, his new life is crumbling around him, but his dream life is strong. However, he’s beginning to remember more of this dream life including the deal he made with Mephisto to give up his marriage. Something about that rubs him wrong, the first thing in his dream life that has done so. It just doesn’t seem like something he would do. As problems continue to mount in the waking world, he retreats into his dream life, all the while beginning to realize something is wrong. Suddenly, in a burst of emotion, he wakes up to find himself confined in Mephisto’s realm.

It turns out that Mephisto, always eager to break a noble person (as he’s continually tried with the Silver Surfer), saw Peter Parker before “One More Day”. Peter was incredibly vulnerable at that time….his aunt was dying, he was on the run from the law, many of his super-hero friends were unavailable to him because of Civil War, the population hated him more than normal, he had just dealt with Captain America dying, he had been fired from his source of income…so Mephisto grabbed him and took him to his realm. There, he tried to break his spirit, but Peter fought back.

Perhaps his escape from Mephisto’s illusionary world was facilitated by Dr. Strange. After all, Strange was a teammate in the New Avengers, and if Peter was missing for a few days, no doubt Strange would have tried to find him. Strange found Peter in Mephisto’s realm, and he comes with a group of New Avengers. The New Avengers fight some miscellaneous demons, while Peter faces Mephisto, and beats him in some sort of philosophical discussion (so the victory remains Peter’s), or if that seems dumb, perhaps Strange just grabs Peter and they get the heck out of there.

This returns Peter to the real world. He rushes to the hospital and gets to speak with his Aunt May one more time, before she dies. He has MJ to comfort him, and together, they move on with their lives. The end. Well, except for the fact that we now have a ton of plots open to us. I have more thoughts, but I want to try and post this, and see what the others think first. And there may be a better way to undo this, which I’d be more than willing to entertain.

Holy crap! That’s BEAUTIFUL. Have I mentioned how much doubt I had about this website working correctly and how that all disappeared with your latest response? No? Okay, then just forget I said that. Wouldn’t want your ego to get any bigger.

I’ve always hated non-tangible villains like Eternity and Death and all that stuff (almost as much as I dislike most cosmic characters, but that’s for another post). Give me a guy you can just punch in the face and I’m satisfied. Mephisto is better left in a drawer somewhere and, hopefully, this retcon would put him back there for another decade or two. It makes perfect sense with Spidey’s New Avengers connections and the general paranoia gripping the Marvel Universe right now. It’s a perfect mirror-verse brought on by Peter’s vulnerability under the circumstances.

And we get rid of Aunt May in the process. Huzzah!

Thank you. You’re too kind. What saddens me is that no one at Marvel Comics will take the time to devise a solution like this one (and I don’t mean a solution that uses these elements, but any solution that solves a major problem with their continuity). Of course, Marvel doesn’t see the problem here, and I suppose that saddens me more than anything. Look at what happens if we get rid of “One More Day”, let Aunt May die, and continue Peter in the Marvel Universe married to Mary Jane.

First of all, the relationship between Peter and Tony Stark can never be the same. Even though we know that Peter will always blame himself for his Aunt’s death, just as he does his Uncle’s, he surely is going to acknowledge the part that Stark played in everything. Had Stark not convinced Peter to unmask, the chain of events that led to May’s death would not have happened. Had Stark not pushed through the Superhero Registration Act, and at the same time, begun acting like Iron Fascist, Peter and his family would not have been forced out of Avengers Tower, and May would not have been vulnerable. Stark is indirectly responsible for May’s death.

Now, I don’t think you use May’s death to make Peter grim and gritty. That’s not Peter, and if Ben’s death didn’t turn him into Blood-Spider, I don’t think May’s should. I don’t see Peter infiltrating the Helicarrier with an Uzi to take out Stark, especially since we know that Peter will ultimately lay the blame at his own feet. That being said, when the craziness of Civil War subsides, and all the heroes love each other again, which is bound to happen, there will always be some bad blood between Peter and Stark. I think you could write some very interesting scenes between the two of them, the next time they end up in the Baxter Building during one of those huge cosmic crossovers, where all the heroes plan how to beat the cosmic villain with an afro.

What about the Kingpin? He ordered May’s death, and he did it from prison. How does Peter react to this? He’s fought the Kingpin for years, but now it’s personal. This isn’t the Kingpin getting Matt Murdock disbarred; this is the Kingpin ordering the death of Peter’s only living blood relative. Again, I don’t think Peter should put a Spider-Skull on his chest and go gunning for the Kingpin (although, am I the only one who thinks it would be amusing to see the Spider-Punisher, with a little spider skull and crossbones on his chest?), surely Peter is going to want to see justice done. But the Kingpin’s already in jail. So what can Peter do him? Killing isn’t an option, and neither is incarceration. Peter’s resourceful, and I think there could be an interesting plot there as well.

Finally, for those who approved of “One More Day” for making Peter closer to his original incarnation, we get that too. He spent years being guilty over his actions being responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben. However, over time, that has somewhat faded (it won’t ever fade completely, but you can’t be guilty about something for forty years). Now, he can have that with the death of his Aunt May, which again came about because of his actions. That’s some good psychological drama there.

I think there’s more possibilities in this direction, more stories to be told, and new ground to be tread, rather than old ground to be retread. Now all we need to do is get someone to agree with us. Who has Joe Quesada’s phone number?