Seeing how long our extended conversation was going on this topic, I decided to break it out into its own entry. I’ve included the key bits of the dialogue that led up to this discussion, so that this entry can stand on its own. For more reference, please refer back to the “Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!” post. And now, on with the groovy ideas…
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 there 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 don’t have so many super-powered do-gooders. Why would they stay in the superhero capitol of the world?
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)?
Great idea! A limited series where a bunch of villains finally figure out that staying in New York isn’t getting them anything except continually jailed by all the big name heroes around! Six of them (as a convenient number for a team) decide to go somewhere less populated, like Kansas. Of course, every state is supposed to have an Initiative team, but they haven’t all been announced. Either team in Kansas isn’t set up yet, or (and I like this idea better) we can create our own group, probably consisting of a lot of the…um, lesser known superheroes. Ok, the dregs of the superhero community. Then we can have the loser villains against the loser heroes! Hey, it gives the villains a chance; I’d rather fight Frog-Man over Spider-Man or the Thing. And may I, as an aside, point out that Frog-Man is already on an Initiative team; he’s stationed in Kentucky.
So, what villains could we use? Who always operates out of New York and gets their butt handed to them on a regular basis because of it? I have to say, I’d start with the one we’ve already named, and in fact, I’d make him the mastermind and leader of this little field trip. Yes, I think the Shocker should be the one to decide that New York is no longer healthy for him. Tired of being a joke and being smacked around, he decides to gather up some of his buddies and hit the road. Who else could he take with him?
Well, I see that Marvel has introduced a second Kangaroo. This is obviously a sure fire winner, since the idea of a bad guy who can….um, jump, and can…well, he can kick. Jumping and kicking bad guys have always been successful, as seen by such luminaries as Toad and Batroc, who are very successful and popular. Anyway, I think the new Kangaroo should get the heck out of town with the Shocker and his crew.
How about Electro? Honestly, Electro has mad power and should be an A list villain, but instead, he gets beaten by everyone he fights (how did Daredevil beat this guy? Electro throws lightning bolts from his hand. Daredevil smells well). He can do better.
How about the Hypno-Hustler? C’mon, we have to use him! The 70s are back, man! And the Hypno-Hustler, he’s a real cool cat.
To round out our group, let me throw out a couple of names, and you can tell me if any of them strike your fancy: Jester, Mr. Fear, the Owl, Stilt-Man and the Eel.
What do you think? Can we find six great bad guys here or what? With the Shocker leading them to glory, how can they be anything but the most dangerous group this side of the Frightful Four?
Shocker = brilliant…especially given the “lack of confidence” problem they’ve introduced for him. It would make perfect sense for him to want to scoot out of town as soon as the going gets rough(er). And if we have him, we have to bring his “partner in crime” (and one of your favorite baddies) Hydro-Man. But you can do better with the rest of your picks! Electro? He’s like Shocker’s bigger brother when it comes to powers (which would make Eel his little brother, I guess). Mr. Fear has already been revamped by Ed Brubaker in Daredevil and Bendis did the same with the Owl. Jester was shot in the head during Civil War. There was an actual funeral for Stilt-Man. And so on, and so on, and so on.
I love Hypno-Hustler though.
Kangaroo is classic and could always be paired up with Grizzly or Walrus (other memorable members of the League of Losers). How about White Rabbit? She’s a real doozy of a villain. Oh, and you forgot the wonderfully asinine Mr. Fish! So, hmm, what does that give us?
Shocker (with shocking powers), Hydro-Man (who’s all wet – HA), Kangaroo (he hops well), Hypno-Hustler (the Guitar Hero champion of the Marvel Universe), White Rabbit (complete with carrot-themed weapons) and Mr. Fish (as strong as a fish is, um, strong, or something). I don’t know how you could possibly come up with a more complete range of powers. This is one well-rounded gathering of failure.
I’m laughing already.
The funny thing is, at least half of the people on the team were considered criminal “masterminds” when they were introduced. I can already see them fighting with each other over “tactics” and “leadership” ability.
I like the idea of plopping these fools down in Kansas…it’s America’s navel! Coincidentally, there’s a city in Kansas named Manhattan too. I smell a convenient yet harmless misunderstanding!
So what’s the plan? How do they meet up? Who do they face off against?
I. Love. Your. Team. Why someone hasn’t already published a title teaming Shocker, Hydro-Man, Kangaroo, Hypno-Hustler, White Rabbit and Mr. Fish is beyond me. They’re the Legion of Doom for the 21st century! I truly am laughing already, although everytime I type “Hypno-Hustler” or “Mr. Fish” I start chuckling, so I’m amusing myself, without even typing anything coherent. Heck, I could fill row after row with “Mr. Fish”, “Mr. Fish”, “Mr. Fish” and consider this our best entry ever. However, I shall try to aim slightly higher.
How do they meet? Well, Shocker and Hydro-Man must hang out at the Spider-Man Rogues’ Gallery annual picnic. No? Too much farce you say? Ok. The Shocker is in jail, where he spends the majority of his time. However, this time he’s had it and he vows never to be sent back to jail again! Now, Shocker spends a large part of his life in jail, so he’s going to know the ins and outs of the New York penal system better than anyone, and I imagine when new prisoners are introduced, the Shocker may actually be one of the people that many of them go to in hopes of learning the ropes. At least, he’d be one of the people the losers go to.
The Shocker wants out of jail, and knows he can’t get out on his own. He also knows that real villains won’t talk to him, because they consider him a loser. Besides, Shocker doesn’t really like working with the big name villains. Usually when he tries that, they use him and discard him (as the Masters of Evil did back in the 80s when they set him up to be captured by the Avengers, and had programmed him with false information when he was questioned). So, since he knows many of the….well, we’ll call them less prominent villains that are jailed with him, he starts asking around to see who might be up for a jailbreak. He goes to Hydro-Man first, since he knows Morrie Bench has no aspirations to leading a group, and he also knows Hydro-Man may be the most powerful person who’ll actually give the Shocker the time of day. He picks the Kangaroo as the strong man of the team (I can not believe I just typed that sentence). He thinks the White Rabbit, as a lady, might be useful in distracting the guards. Mr. Fish is chosen because, as a criminal mastermind (Bwah-ha-ha!) he has contacts on the outside, who can get them some materials for their jailbreak. The Hypno-Hustler? He overhears their plans, and threatens to turn them into the guards if they don’t let him in on the thing. Agreed. And our powerful sextet is born!
Once the jailbreak concludes, the group plans their next move. Everyone expects that they’ll lay low in New York for a few weeks before taking on Spider-Man. “We’re kind of like the Sinister Six!”, exclaims the excited Kangaroo, before getting smacked in the back of the head by Shocker. The Shocker proclaims them idiots if they want to stay in the city, and lays out his plan to go to Kansas, where there are no heroes. Some grumbling is heard about tornadoes, but in the end, it’s hard to deny that Kansas seems a heck of a lot safer. Mr. Fish grumbles that you won’t be able to steal as much money at a Kansas bank as you could a Manhattan bank, but Shocker asks him how much money he’s ever gotten away with in New York. When Mr. Fish reluctantly admits that he’s never made any money in New York, since he’s always caught, Shocker smugly figures that even some money is more than the nothing they’re getting now, and they’ll be free to spend it. “Just think….enough money to buy anything; even a brand new Honda Accord!” Wowed by the Shocker’s pie in the sky dreams, the group heads to Kansas, and no doubt, hilarity ensues as they leave the city.
Upon arriving in Kansas we can follow some of their criminal activities, and it would be fun, I’m sure, to see how these people commit robberies when all they have fighting them is the Kansas police. It would also be amusing to see how the citizens of Kansas, who don’t normally have people in brightly colored spandex or people with the head of a fish in their midst, react to these odd crooks. However, after a few crimes, when our group is feeling on top of the heap, we see that another group of costumed individuals has become aware of their activities. Yes, after a few off panel speech balloons where this new group discusses that they’ll have to stop our villains, we pan out to reveal the Kansas squad of the Initiative!
Who might be involved in this group? Sadly, Frog-Man, my first choice, and Captain Ultra, my second, are already involved with the Initiative in other states. This gives us an idea of the scraping the Initiative is doing to field teams in all 50 states. I think it might be nice to create one or two of our Initative group, although I’d make them more “Legion of Substitute Hero” types. These heroes should have somewhat silly powers, perhaps relating to Kansas (although I have no idea what relates to Kansas besides “The Wizard of Oz” and tornadoes). As for existing heroes we might be able to use….if Frog-Man got a job, what about Spider-Kid, who teamed with the former during a fight with the White Rabbit? Man, I’m having trouble coming up with other characters. I wish I had a copy of my “Marvel Universe” books with me. There was a character in the early issues of Alpha Flight named Cascade, who was basically Hydro-Man. Would we want someone on both teams with the same power? Peter Milligan introduced some characters like Anti-Matter, when he was writing X-Force which could be interesting to play with. What about the White Tiger? Hopefully you have access to some research materials and can come up with some good ideas.
Your “origin” story is a good start, but it seems a little too convenient for me (not to mention it’s rather strange that White Rabbit would be in the same prison as all the guys). Here’s how I see it beginning:
A beat up 1983 Chevy Camaro is cruising down an empty desert highway. It takes a turn into an expansive parking lot and heads directly towards a looming prison building out in the middle of nowhere. After parking the car, a solitary man gets out and walks slowly up to the front gate, head down and hands jammed deeply into his jeans pockets. He buzzes the gate and announces his name, “Morrie Bench. I’m here to pick up Herman Schultz.” He steps back as the gate swings open and the dark hallway beyond is quickly filled with sunlight. Herman Schultz shuffles forward, a forearm covering his face to blunt the glare…
See, I kinda feel like it should be an Ocean’s 11-style romp. Sure these guys are losers and they know it, but once they get back together those old feelings of invincibility start flooding back. Shocker and Hydro-Man are the low-rent versions of Brad Pitt and George Clooney who think they can “get the band back together” for one last ditch effort at making a fortune and making a name for themselves. Of course, the smoothness and wit employed by the Pitt/Clooney team when gathering their troops doesn’t come as easily to Bench/Schultz. I see a bunch of crossed off names, a series of hang-ups on the phone and a lot of begging and pleading until they finally manage to put together a truly stellar (haha) group of supervillain VIPs.
The interesting thing about this rather nondescript group (except for the guy with the fish head) is that, away from their costumes, they look like everyday people (except for the dude sporting the gills and fins). There’s something to be said for being able to just walk around town without instantly causing shock or fear (Mr. Fish should probably stay in the car, huh?). For the most part (save one member), these bad folks can operate at will in a place like Kansas.
I also insist that we somehow work, into a conversation, the line: “We’re gonna take Manhattan…Kansas!”
On to the heroes they will face. In my book, it all begins and ends with Americop. Seriously. He’s from Texas which is vaguely near Kansas. He’s mainstream Marvel’s version of Marshal Law. And he was recently captured by the Thunderbolts under the pretense of the SHRA, which means he’s available for use in the Initiative. Plus, he’s a rather ridiculous caricature.
Free Spirit is an interesting recruit. She was originally subliminally programmed to hate all men (which I’m sure will play really nicely against Americop’s inflated machismo) and she has the same basic skills as a Captain America type. I know we need to include some “heroes’ with substantial powers, but it’s also rather funny to just have a team of really well-conditioned individuals taking on our evil supergroup. Let’s face it, aside from Hydro-Man, there’s not a LOT of power in our baddies. Shocker is pretty useless if you can either shake his confidence or take away his equipment. And the rest of the group are basically rejected audience members for a Let’s Make A Deal taping.
I hate to spring it on you, considering his power set is nearly identical to the previous two members, but Demolition Man (or D-Man) is actually from Kansas and is considered a “potential recruit” for the Initiative. Being a sort of hometown hero, I’m sure D-Man would have problems over leadership issues with Americop. Can you see that I’m trying to build up tension within this team before we’ve even assembled it?
Keeping with the overall theme of lame, what about including Human Fly, Marvel’s resident stuntman/daredevil/masked Evel Knievel clone? He’s sufficiently odd and useless.
I feel like we need to include some sort of actual heroes with actual powers, but I can’t think of anyone that isn’t either already working on their own or claimed by another Initiative team. We could always create a character or six, if we really have trouble finding suitable members. I feel like we should try to counter some of our villains’…uh…powers? We need someone who can fly (to offset Kangaroo — I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face), someone with energy projecting abilities (our anti-Shocker) and maybe an elemental type (to overcome Hydro-Man)?
How about Thin Man from the old Liberty Legion? It’s said that he doesn’t age and he has useful powers, plus his decades as a costumed hero could give him a mentor role to the group (or another source of aggravation to Americop who will see him as the “out of touch” old guy trying to relive his past).
For good measure, why not throw former Force Works member Cybermancer into the group? She’s got powered armor giving her blade missiles, a cloaking device and a stun ray, in addition to enhanced strength, speed and endurance. She has ties to Tony Stark. And she was recently apprehended by SHIELD (and supposedly deported to Hong Kong…but that’s easily changed).
That’s a mess of a group right there. Feel free to make changes as you see fit…or just start from scratch!
Wow. I like your idea of bringing the baddies together better than mine, so we’re good there.
As for your hero team, there are some I love and some I don’t. I love the idea of using the Thin Man. A little used character whose powers aren’t very strong, but who has a lot of experience. As you say, he’s the perfect mentor for the group, yet he won’t overshadow them. Nice choice.
As for the rest of the group….I know so little about Cybermancer, but from what I’ve read, I like what she would bring to the group. The Human Fly is also an interesting choice, and more importantly, he has some different powers. I think these two are great choices.
However, for the last three…..I actually like Free Spirit. She’s a neat character with an interesting personality. She does have the “women better than men” thing, but she’s also trying to live up to the ideals of Captain America. It makes her a deeper character than she may seem on the surface, even if her powers are dull and boring. I absolutely dislike Americop and his powers strongly mimic Free Spirit’s powers; however, his personality would make for a very interesting dynamic in the group. He’s sure to clash with both Thin Man and Free Spirit, and that promises to be very interesting. He’s in.
Sadly, there is a line though, that I must draw, and that line is drawn right through Demolition Man. I do not, and have never, liked this character, and I’ve read just about all of his appearances in Captain America. Power-wise, he’s much too similar to both Free Spirit and Americop, and personality-wise, he’s much too close to Free Spirit (without the woman-power angle), since he’s also trying to uphold the ideals of Captain America. In my opinion, he’s simply not interesting and unique enough to be a member of the team.
Who should replace him? Man, that’s a difficult question. I’m going to go back to someone I mentioned above, and that’s the previously named Spider-Kid, now known as the Steel Spider. He was fighting the Superhuman Registration Act, but during a battle with the Thunderbolts, got his arm eaten off by Venom. I think that having his arm eaten off would certainly be traumatic enough that he might reconsider his stance on the Registration Act, and I can see him deciding to join up, lest any other appendages be sacrificed to his former political position.
This gives us someone who has a passing familiarity with at least one of our villains (he helped stop the White Rabbit years ago), and it gives us someone with a more multi-faceted personality than D-Man’s “I love Captain America.” Yes, it gives us two “tech experts” in both him and Cybermancer, but I think their approaches are much different. Cybermancer is more of a “regimented, working in a lab” type of builder, while Steel Spider is more of a “making suits of armor in my garage” tinkerer, and their two different approaches should make for potential conflicts.
How does that change work for you?
Now how did I know you were going to have a problem with D-Man? I like the idea of replacing him with Steel Spider, and Steel Spider’s motivation is duly noted. I also like the fact that Steel Spider not only has a limited history with White Rabbit, but just his name and appearance will bring back bad memories for Shocker and Hydro-Man.
Free Spirit, Americop and Thin Man will build an effective tension in the team as they squabble over who’s right and who’s wrong. I definitely see Americop as the natural leader of the group just based on what he stands for. Of course, his past recklessness and over-the-top form of justice will have to be constantly monitored and tempered much like the Thunderbolts have to do with both Venom and Bullseye to ensure neither gets out of line.
The more I think about the actual potential of this group (though I’m still not sure how effective they actually have to be to defend Kansas…which could prove to be an important flaw in the Fifty State Initiative plan), the more I’m starting to doubt my own goofy suggestions. Sure, you’re bound to scrape the bottom of the hero barrel at some point, trying to stretch 50 multi-member teams out of a limited pool of attractive candidates, but did I really mean to include Cybermancer and Human Fly? Those are just horrible choices. What do either of them bring to the table that is in the least bit interesting? Granted, Human Fly may just want to prove his worth, but he has absolutely no useful powers or talents. Would he even make it past the Initiative’s screening process? And Cybermancer…do we really need to remind people of Force Works?
There are two solutions to this dilemma. First, we just give Kansas a four-person squad. No big deal, right? And there’s really no reason to force some awkward members onto the team in the first place. Hell, Alaska only has one person defending them and she barely has any powers at all. Another choice is to pad out the team with some recognizable candidates and hope for the best. After doing a bit of research, I may have the solution…
Ant-Man and Stature.
Think about it. Both of them are currently in training at Camp Hammond. Both of them are sort of “legacy” characters. And there’s some interesting stories that could be told concerning both of them (they’ve already had one big brawl after Eric made some rude comments). Stature is the daughter of the second Ant-Man and she has powers based off Hank Pym’s size-changing experiments. Eric O’Grady stole the new Ant-Man suit out from under Pym’s nose and is now trying to make the best of it under government supervision. O’Grady is also quite the womanizer and Stature is a…well, she’s a woman. She’s young and impressionable. The two of them together make no sense, and yet all the sense in the world. They could be Marvel’s new version of Ant-Man and Wasp. They both have ties to original Avengers. They both have size-based powers. It’s a natural fit.
I’m just not sure it’s a natural fit for a superhero team based in freakin’ Kansas!
What do you think? Can Stature make a name for herself away from the Young Avengers? Would putting her in this group give her an easy out should the YA reform at some point? Do you like her teamed up with the new Ant-Man? There’s bound to be some emotion involved there because of what happened to her father. I could go either way…it may work beautifully or it may fail miserably.
I actually very much like the idea of Ant-Man and Stature being assigned somewhere together. I imagine that Stature would have huge problems with the new Ant-Man, as she would want the legacy of her father to be filled by someone heroic and honorable, and the new Ant-Man is neither. Plus, she may be frustrated because she sees herself as carrying on the legacy of her father, but the world is likely to see only the new Ant-Man to be a reflection on the old Ant-Man.
That being said, I fear we may be the victims of our own good ideas. We have a villain team (who we’ve somewhat forgotten) that we really like and want to tell neat stories about. In most limited series of these types, you spend your time focusing on your villains; the heroes appear but aren’t really explored, because the story isn’t about them. However, we’ve now created what could be a fascinating group of heroes, ones that I would like to explore in more detail. How can we work all of this into one limited series? I’m glad I asked me that question, as I have a few solutions.
First, we could go back to the idea of focusing on the villains, and not delving into the heroes. However, the heroes will be seen in the book, and perhaps, if people like the villain story, we can then sell a story about these heroes after the villain story is finished. Drumming up interest in the heroes may be a longshot, but I would suggest we do the villain story first, since that’s even more of a longshot.
Second, we split our six issue limited series. We alternate issues, telling the same story from different points of view. The first issue is the villains, and covers a day or two. The next issue is the heroes, and it covers the exact same span of time (we’d have a clock in the corner every once in awhile so the detailed fans could check the times and see what each team was doing at a particular time), but from their point of view. Back and forth, each team getting three issues. I’d recommend different artists for each team, so that the heroes and villains would have distinctly different looks depending on whose point of view we’re reading.
Option three is somewhat like option 2, but we don’t alternate issues. Instead, we tell both stories within the same book. This has been done many times and many different ways. We could do a flipbook, in which case I’d recommend doing it as I suggested in option 2. Or, we could do alternating pages, or one story along the top and one story along the bottom; there are lots of different choices but we’d want to make it clear that we’re doing two different stories.
In the end, I think we have two great ideas, and while they could survive independently of each other, I think they’re stronger together.
I tend to agree with your general feeling. We always try to come up with the best for everything and I think, in this situation, we may have gone a bit overboard. The original idea was to showcase a group of desperate villains in a new setting, maybe throwing them up against a ramshackle state defense squad. Instead, we now beefed up the heroes to the point where they can actually go toe-to-toe with the bad guys and then the status quo isn’t shaken at all.
If we were to do any of the solutions you suggested, I definitely like the idea of alternating issues between the heroes and the villains. However, I think we should backtrack a bit.
Let’s save the Ant-Man/Stature drama for something else that I have in mind (next post, perhaps?). We’ll keep the Kansas Initiative team as: Americop, Free Spirit, Thin Man and Steel Spider. That’s plenty of folks for Kansas…and it offers the interesting team dynamic and conflict we talked about above. Plus, it puts the onus for success back onto the lame villains and builds up a “root for the underdog” scenario.
The focus of this miniseries should be bad guys trying to find some success. If they do succeed, then it opens a bunch of doors for other good vs. evil conflicts across the country. If they ultimately fail, then it proves the true need for the Fifty State Initiative. Either way, Marvel wins a bit. I’m still undecided on how I want the whole thing to play out.
Cool. We yank Ant-Man and Stature, and we don’t focus on the heroes, but instead focus on the villains. The heroes may get a few scenes here and there, mostly likely as either preludes or post-scripts to a fight with the villains. We hint at their personality conflicts and the tension in their team, and especially how said conflict will effect them during a fight, but we don’t explore it. They aren’t our focus. Our villains are.
I think that, at the end of the series, I’d like to see the villains (or at least some of them) achieve some sort of victory. They don’t have to get away free and clear and perhaps some of them fail miserably and don’t get away at all. It might be interesting to run Mr. Fish or the Hypno-Hustler as a joke throughout the entire series, making them seem incompetent and having the others consider them worthless, and then have that character walk out of the mini-series as the only one still free. Perhaps that character has even been planning the fall of the rest of the team throughout the entire series, or perhaps that character hasn’t, but is just savvy enough to escape the fate that befalls the rest of the group.
Or, perhaps these six villains actually do win when all is said and done. Perhaps they actually gel into a team and become effective, or perhaps they don’t gel and aren’t too effective, but they manage to win anyway (kind of like how Major Disaster and his Injustice League were ocassionally effective in the old Justice League comic). We could also go with the old tried and true staple of having a more powerful villain behind the scenes, one that has been pulling the strings all along (but I admit, that would be my least favorite option).
If I were to choose one option, it would be the team actually winning. I would shy away from making them too effective; they’re not total morons, but they really aren’t too good at this. Still, through a modicum of skill and some blind luck, they manage to pull off a victory. They don’t leave the heroes dead or bad wounded, but they get away, and for these villains, that’s a victory on par with Berlin falling in World War II.