2009 Superhero Resolutions

Dec-17-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wolverine, Part 2: Mutant Boogaloo

Nov-13-08

Okay, John and I have established what seems to be a rather easy and understandable way to reduce Wolverine’s ridiculously overblown powers. This reduction (and temporary loss) of powers will instill some emotion into Wolverine, and will allow him to show the slight weakness and trepidation necessary for a believable and long-lasting hero.

However, while we’ve managed to clear up the physical part of what has caused Wolverine to be a bit much, we still haven’t really rectified the historical parts of the character. His origin has been established, but all the other little bits thrown in make his entire backstory a royal mess. And it seems like every writer, who has worked on either his solo title or one of the team books he regularly appears in, wants to throw their own two cents into the pot. I’m not really sure if there’s anything we can do to sweep up the mess, but it’s worth talking about.

Then there’s the subject of rogues galleries and supporting casts. I think we should at least briefly discuss his tenure with the X-Men and how they’ve affected his life. Then we can discuss the implications for his solo title. This would also cover the fact that he’s extremely overused in the Marvel Universe (that’s the bad kind of extreme, not the cool XTREME!) and something needs to be done to fix that too.

So, let’s begin. Here’s my opening statement: Wolverine. What’s up with that?

I consider myself to be a pretty obsessive comics geek, and I have an amazing knowledge of the histories of the major characters from many comics universes….and I’m sure I couldn’t actually recite much of Wolverine’s origin without missing or confusing entire chunks of it. He was originally created as a man with a mysterious past, which worked perfectly for his personality as the tough, silent loner. Unfortunately, it seems subsequent writers have taken this nebulous past as a challenge to fill it with tales, some of which contradict each other. Matters are made worse by the fact that Wolverine’s healing factor is now said to slow his aging, giving him a much longer lifespan than normal; this gives writers even more undocumented time to fill with unimportant, trite stories.

Some writers, when confronted with this sea of mismatched facts for a character, will go out of their way to explain the discrepancies. Heck, that’s been happening since the 1970s, when Steve Englehart used his Celestial Madonna saga in The Avengers to explain some of the discrepancies in the Vision and the original Human Torch’s origins, as well as other bits of continuity. Kurt Busiek (with some help from Roger Stern) did the same thing in the Avengers Forever limited series; that was basically twelve issues of continuity explanations. John Byrne does this sort of thing all the time, perhaps most notable in his Wonder Woman run. Now, I have respect for all of the creators I just named, but I have to say, I don’t agree with that theory. Yes, we could come up with some sort of long, detailed explanation for how Wolverine’s origin actually fits together, and publish it as a special one-shot or a limited series (since, God knows, Wolverine doesn’t star in enough books). However, I think the better way to go is to just start ignoring it. Do a quick and pared down origin for Wolverine, run it as a quick flashback in the first issue of your run, and just move on. I find that stories that attempt to explain continuity fail in two ways: first, they tend to be very heavy on exposition, and consequently, they tend to be a little boring; and second, they are completely impenetrable to the casual reader. Cynics may say comics no longer have casual readers, and they’re probably right, but I see no reason to try and exclude any few that wander into the hobby.

I think the down and dirty origin just needs to hit a few highlights: Born James Howlett in the 1800s, he was the son of rich plantation owners. He left the plantation and took the name Logan. He eventually joins the Canadian military and then moves to Madripoor for a time. He then becomes a mercenary until he rejoins the Canadian military as a member of Team X. He’s kidnapped, has his bones laced with adamantium, and is rescued by the Hudsons, who convince him to join Alpha Flight. He skips out on them to join the X-Men. That’s a concise origin that hits all the high points, and it isn’t needlessly convoluted. It’s long, but he’s over a hundred years old (can I say how stupid I think that idea is? I think he works much better if he’s no older than 60) so he’s going to have a lot on his resume.

Does that work for you?

Your precision is commendable. I agree that the concept of Wolverine being centuries-old is not only laughable, but highly unrelatable. You make a lot of sense with the “ignore it” approach though. Most of the dumb stories related over the years about the character have no real bearing on who he is anyway. They were jsut a way for the writer to feel like he contributed something. But…

What if a lot of those stories were just flat-out untrue? What if Wolverine was just one of those guys, like a goofy uncle or an insecure schoolboy, who made up tall tales to both impress and confuse people? Granted, it’s pretty easy to confirm the points that you’ve made in your concise summary of his origin, but all the other little things could either be lies or just things that he thinks he’s remembering…either to repress the true memories that are too painful or maybe they were planted there by the Weapon X folks to block out his real past.

Probably a bit convoluted, but it would reveal a lot if we discovered that Wolverine was a big, fat liar.

Sure, he’s older than he looks. He has ties to Captain America and Nick Fury. And he married some chick in Japan. But some of his solo stories have been told with no supporting evidence…just Wolverine out on his own, doing what he does best, with no one to confirm or deny the exploits. What if he never actually fought Hulk in his first appearance? What if someone tracked down a few of these villains he says he’s faced and they don’t even know who he is? What if the whole Patch thing was just a fever dream?

That would be kind of funny.

And sad.

Anyway, I agree that most of that junk need never see the light of day again. Good comic readers should be able to block that garbage out (if they haven’t already). Funny aside: Earlier today I was reading a post over on Topless Robot about the awful stories in the Spider-Man Clone Saga. And I don’t remember any of them! I’m soooooo glad my brain was able to delete those from the IQ files.

So, with his history satisfyingly ignored, we should move on to Wolverine’s friends and enemies. You’ve already briefly mentioned the Alpha Flight and Department H folks who rescued Wolverine from obscurity. How did he happen upon the X-Men though? Aside from the movie version, I don’t remember that part of the story. Let’s talk a bit about the various members of the X-Men and how he interacts with them. We all know about the on-again off-again love triangle with Jean Grey and Cyclops. Then there’s the quasi-mentor relationship he had with Jubilee. What else though? How is he perceived overall by the X-Men family? Other mutants? Other heroes in the Marvel Universe?

One quick point to make on his origin. You mentioned the idea that some of those stories detailing his past were implanted memories, or tall tales that Logan has spun. I originally had considered trying to explain away some of his backstory, since I dislike so much of it, and return him to a simpler character. Unfortunately, much of what I came up with didn’t make him simpler, but just more convoluted. Still, I had one idea that I kind of liked….

What if the story of James Hewlett is all true….but he wasn’t Wolverine? The oldest stories in Wolverine’s origin are the hardest to confirm, and some of what happened to Hewlett may be true, but in actuality, Hewlett lived his own life for years, until meeting Wolverine in the 1930s, when Wolverine would have been very young (say late teens at the most) and Hewlett was old. Hewlett told Wolverine tales of his life, and Wolverine basically assumed his identity when Hewlett died. You could work this into your idea that Wolverine is a big fat liar, and I do think it makes the character more interesting. However, besides making that stupid Origin miniseries completely pointless, I can’t ever see it flying with Marvel brass. Too bad.

As for Wolverine and the X-Men, he joined them because Xavier recruited him to go rescue his original students from Krakoa. I don’t believe they had ever met before, but that’s where he enters the mythology. Originally, they said that he left Alpha Flight for the X-Men because he was bored, but later on it was revealed he was in love with Heather Hudson and didn’t want that to come between him and her husband (the first time he fell in love with the wife of the team leader; he really is rather a creepy old guy, isn’t he?).

As for how he fits into the X-Men family, I’m not sure at present. For years he was the rowdy, almost psychotic scrapper and he was close to all of the new X-Men who joined up to fight Krakoa. He had a bond with Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Banshee and the five of them were pretty tight. He was very much disliked by Iceman and Angel, and the enmity with Angel, at the very least, lasted for at least ten or fifteen years. By the time the new X-Men team began to split up and new members began to arrive, Wolverine had become such a popular character that everyone seemed to like him. New members rarely treated him like a crazy man who could fly into berserker rages, and indeed, that rarely happened anymore anyway. Even Kitty Pryde, when she first appeared, seemed more frightened of Nightcrawler than she was of Wolverine. I’ll admit that Nightcrawler looks odd, but he’s almost always drawn as blue, fuzzy and kind of cute. Wolverine is a short, hairy, cigar smoking, brusque terror, and I think he’d be a heck of a lot more scary to a young girl than someone who looks like an animated stuffed animal.

In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to stop and mention how the insistence at Marvel of pairing Wolverine up with young girls (first Shadowcat and then Jubilee) is the wrong move for the character. I understand that they’re trying to portray Wolverine as the gruff uncle with the heart of gold, but honestly, he should simply be the gruff uncle. When Wolverine first appeared, he was a scary, violent little man with razor sharp claws. He had enough trouble associating with the adults on the team, never mind the teenagers. However, as he became more popular, his persona softened. He rarely lost his temper (unless it was integral to the plot). He became more friendly and spent time with the rest of the team. And he became the mentor to every other young girl to be recruited. Personally, I think they should have kept him standoffish, particularly to the younger members. Sure, let him bond with some of the other adults, but don’t make him a den mother. First of all, I still find it hard to believe that young girls wouldn’t be scared half to death by him. Second, he’s the quintessential loner; it’s hard enough to sell that when he belongs to two of the largest teams in the Marvel Universe. It becomes an impossible concept to convey when he’s got sidekicks.

And along those lines, the enmity he had with Iceman and Angel has also disappeared over the years. To an extent, that’s fine; these guys have to work together, and more importantly, watch each other’s backs in life and death situations. It’s natural that they would bond over the years. Still, Wolverine has one of the most grating personalities in the Marvel Universe. Surely there are going to be some mutants who really aren’t fond of him. He should have personality conflicts with at least some of the members of the X-Men, and unless I’m wrong, he doesn’t. I’d like to see him very close to a few of his fellow mutants (perhaps Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and Banshee, since they all started together), be on speaking terms, but little else, with the majority of them, and have a few that he simply rubs the wrong way. Your take?

Oooh…what if James Howlett was the guy who originally started Weapon X (or whatever that program is called now)? In fact, what if it was something he did in response to the Nazi buildup…like the Canadian version of the Super Soldier formula, but much more clandestine. After all the torture and abuse, all Wolverine can remember are the tales that Howlett told him and he’s able to use those as a backstory when he eventually escapes from captivity. I don’t know if you follow Mad Men at all, but the main character in that show had a somewhat similar situation. He was stationed in a remote area of Korea when their encampment was struck by mortar fire. The blast killed his commanding officer, burning him so badly that he was unrecognizable. The main character had an awful childhood, so he saw this as his opportunity to change things. He switched dog tags with his commanding officer and started a new life when he got stateside.

Now that I’ve ruined a major plot point for one of TV’s greatest shows, let’s get back to Wolverine.

I think there’s reason to assume this could be possible. And it sets Wolverine up as more of a sympathetic character…he has that one dark secret that he’s trying desperately to hide from the rest of the world. He’s ashamed of the “easy path” he’s taken to try to get his life back. It’s a little convoluted, but what isn’t in the X-world?

Anyway, back to the friends thing. I never really thought about Wolverine’s relationships with all the young girls on the team. On paper, it sounds pretty creepy. And it does diminish the “bad boy” quality of the character. In the books though, it comes across like one of those cartoons where the little dog is trying to make friends with the big dog who barely acknowledges his existence. The girls see a father figure that may be able to protect them and teach them. Wolverine sees another person that he has to keep out of trouble for the sake of the team. It’s a weird parasitic relationship and comics seem to thrive on that kind of melodrama.

In reality, I agree with your bigger point. These girls would be reluctant to get close to the brute of the team. And he wouldn’t pay any attention to them at all, most likely sneering whenever they insist on tagging along on an adventure. Better yet, he’d probably roar that they didn’t belong in action at all. It’s like how the popular clique thinks that they’re the only people in the school. Just a natural pecking order.

However, we can’t dismiss the friendships that he has made. It would be odd to have him do a 180 now. So we have to deal with the Kitty Prydes and the Jubilees. Neither of them is particularly close to him right now, so it’s easy to just let those ties fade away. I do like your idea of having the mutants almost segregated by team…where Wolverine associates only with the “new” X-Men while the original team keeps him at arm’s length or just flat-out distrusts him. And the new recruits hold him in awe while he chooses to ignore them.

I’d like to see him fly off the handle a bit more too. The berserker rages have all but disappeared. The half-cocked, male pride angle has been abandoned. I’d like to see Wolverine acting a bit less rational and more spontaneous. And that whole “had a Japanese bride and a kid” thing has to just go away. Seriously.

That sort of brings us to the rogues gallery (because the only Wolverine enemy I can think of is Silver Samurai). Is there anything to go on here? Does The Hand count as an enemy? Can he claim any of the X-Men’s enemies as his own? I’m so tired of Sabretooth that I don’t even really want to talk about him. All I know is that Marvel’s editorial team thought that Wolverine was going to fade away quickly, but Chris Claremont liked the idea of a feral warrior so he created Sabretooth as an enemy of Iron Fist in that character’s solo title. Sabretooth is basically a blond, slightly taller Logan. Lame.

I like the idea of Hewlett being someone whose identity Wolverine took. I think it would add some mystery and danger back to the character, who’s a lot less impressive when you see him as the James Hewlett depicted in Origins. I also think it drops the character a little more back into the realm of the relatable, since he’s not been around for 150 years anymore.

As to your other point, I agree that Wolverine’s Rogues Gallery is laughable. Sabretooth is indeed his biggest foe, but considering that Sabretooth is almost as overused as Wolverine, he’s not a good foe. I had forgotten about the Silver Samurai, but isn’t he a good guy now? Even if he isn’t, I’m not thrilled with Wolverine’s staunchest foe being someone with an Asian background, as I’d like to move the character out of that region of the world and back to his homeland of Canada. I would count the Hand as an enemy, but not a particularly interesting one. They exist only so he can slice and dice any number of their operatives, and there will still be more waiting in the wings.

I believe that you could consider the Wendigo to be part of his Rogues Gallery, and that’s suitably Canadian, but the Wendigo is a dull foe, and not nearly smart enough to present an interesting threat for more than an issue or two. Wasn’t Cyber considered a Wolverine foe? He never seemed to have much going for him, except for the fact that he looked neat when Sam Keith drew him. Yeesh, that is one pathetic roster of baddies; it makes Superman’s Rogues Gallery of bald scientists and wacky inter-dimensional imps look pretty good.

I believe that Sabretooth was intended to be Wolverine’s opposite number (actually, rumor has it he was intended to be Wolverine’s father when first introduced, which could have been more interesting), but I’m not a big fan of opposite numbers as archenemies. I don’t find Venom vs Spider-Man to be an interesting match-up. I much prefer when opposites clash, and in this instance, I think that Wolverine needs to face off against a patient, calculating, schemer. He doesn’t need to be a Lex Luthor type, with no powers but great scientific know-how. He can be quite powerful in his own right, but he needs to be the type who doesn’t rattle or get upset. He needs to be able to make long range plans and he needs to be able to change them as circumstances warrant. This would put him at odds with Wolverine’s berserker rages and notorious temper.

I’d also like to add a villain from the general Marvel Rogues Gallery: Viper. She has worked with Silver Samurai, and the two of them clashed with Wolverine in the past. I think she’s perfect against Wolverine as she has some of the espionage background that mirrors Wolverine’s own background in that field, and she also is a fierce and savage opponent, just as Wolverine is. If the Samurai has not reformed and can fight with her against Wolverine, they’d be a perfect team.

Dragging X-Foes into Wolverine’s Rogues Gallery could be tricky. Sure, he has reason to hate Magneto and Apocalypse, who have both wronged him severely, but they’re not really the sort to fixate on one mutant. Perhaps it would be better to use one of the lesser known, and lesser used, X-Villains. Personally, I’d grab one or two of the Marauders and flesh them out in the pages of Wolverine. Most of them never really got personalities under Claremont’s pen when they were first created, and a lot of work could be done on them if they were given space to breathe in Wolverine’s solo title. Wolverine could probably lay claim to Donald Pierce, Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers as his own villains, but unfortunately, none of them are very interesting.

Ugh. His villains are a sad state of affairs. Any ideas on your end?

I was thinking along the same lines as you. Never been a fan of those “same but different” match-ups. I think that’s why I generally get bored with primary arch-enemies anyway. They start out as strong foils for the heroes, but over the course of time both the hero and the villain get tweaked until they’re basically mirror images of each other. I mean, Lex Luthor spent some time in that armor of his in an attempt to go toe-to-toe with Superman…Red Skull has been pumped up until he’s basically Cap without the shield…even Green Goblin’s powers were increased to better coincide with Spider-Man’s. I would much rather see a fight between folks who take different approaches, have different strengths and weaknesses and are able to employ tactics that may confuse or distract.

Unfortunately, Wolverine’s foes are a bunch of weak reflections of him. Like I said, Sabretooth is basically Logan with a mullet and some lifts. Lady Deathstrike is Logan with boobs. Cyber quickly became Wolverine’s indestructible brawling counterpart. Viper may not be a bad idea…she’s someone who has resources and can throw some bodies at Wolvie. And she plays in the same dark corners as Logan.

The perfect villain for Wolverine to face off against would be someone who is very intelligent, has a unique power set and doesn’t get rattled easily. We need a Zen counterpart to Wolverine’s berserker. This may sound like a crazy idea, but what about Vanisher? He’s constantly getting himself involved in some of the more back-alley crimes that land in Wolverine’s wheelhouse…associating with drug cartels, thieves and smugglers. Vanisher is a smart guy and his powers would confound Wolverine. Could be a fun way to bring one of the X-Men’s oldest foes up to a more worthy level.

Of course, we’ve talked about Grey Gargoyle too. He may not be a long term opponent, but he would definitely inflict some damage on Wolverine that would be felt for a long time. I could even see them facing off against each other after we’ve diminished Wolvie’s powers…right up until we kill off Gargoyle. And some interesting things could spring out of that as well. I’m not a huge fan of legacy villains, but maybe Gargoyle has a child or family member who would pick up the mantle? Are there any long-time associates of his that may seek revenge on Wolvie? We could push Wolverine off into his own mythos, his own corner of the Marvel Universe. Granted, some new villains will need to be created at some time, but if Wolverine is that old (even if our new origin is able to shave off a century or so) he should have some interaction with some of the older villains in the Marvel Universe.

Those are my first thoughts. Follow up?

Not much to follow up with, as I like your ideas. I agree that the Vanisher has a lot of potential, potential which Marvel is just now beginning to explore. He’s a smart guy, and he’s a planner, which makes him perfect against Wolverine. The Vanisher has to be a planner, as he’s basically useless in a fight, although his teleporting ability could be used to some effect in a brawl (I think the only time I’ve ever seen that happen is when he took on the original five X-Men way back in his first appearance in X-Men #2. Basically, it’s a question of getting your foes to use their powers against each other by teleporting in and out among them). I think he should definitely be added to the Rogues Gallery.

With Vanisher, Grey Gargoyle (and making him a legacy would be fine; Marvel is able to do that with their villains, even if they can’t with their heroes), Viper, and possibly the Silver Samurai, we’re slowly building up a small group of foes for him. I’d still advocate taking a few of the Marauders and using them against him. I’d choose a duo, Scalphunter and Arclight. Arclight had a romantic interest in Scalphunter, so perhaps she’s working with him as a way to try and make something happen. They both have a history as members of the military and/or special forces teams, so perhaps they met Wolverine sometime in the past and have some sort of specific issue with him. They’re also both tough characters who can go toe to toe with Wolverine for a nice big slugfest, in ways that none of our other villains (except the Gargoyle) really can. That gives us seven new villains for him (even if some of them work in teams) and I like that.

Hmmm. That gives us history, allies and enemies. Have we finished dissecting and rebuilding Marvel’s most overused character?

Aside from shaving his back and putting him on a Nicorette regimen, we’ve done all we can.

I like it.

Now if only Marvel would take the hint…


Marvel and DC: The Horror, the Horror!

Oct-28-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comics Reviews: Who, What, Where, How and Why

Oct-22-08

Since Jason and I began talking about comics, lo those many months ago, we haven’t really done any comics reviews. There are a couple of reasons for it, and he and I have discussed the issue at length. One of the reasons we’ve been shying away from doing actual comics reviews is that they are difficult to do properly. It’s very easy to pick a comic and discuss it, but so often what happens is that someone says, “Yeah, man, that was awesome!” or “Yo, dude, that sucked!” and there’s not much more to the conversation. You’re getting people who are simply skimming the surface of the comic, and picking out the most obvious successes or flaws in the work, but they’re not giving a reader anything of substance. I’m not really sure how much substance we have around here, but if we’re going to take the time to examine a comic in detail, I’d like to think that we’ll be able to explore that work in depth, for good or ill.

Another reason we’ve been reluctant to dive into reviewing comics is that neither one of us considers ourselves experts. We’ve been reading comics for years, and we’re both bright fellows, but I do not, by any means, have formal training in criticism. I am also not much of an art critic. I can normally delve into the other aspects of a comic (plot, pacing, characterization and the like) with at least a modicum of intelligent discourse, but when it comes to art, I fall more into the “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. I certainly have artists whom I prefer and a few whom I avoid, and I can articulate a few reasons why that is, but I’m not an expert. I know a lot about the field of comics (and some other fields), but I’m never sure if I’m exactly qualified to comment on the work of others in a public forum.

Finally, Jason and I have been concerned about insulting creators. Whether or not I like the art of Ron Lim has nothing to do with whether or not I like the man himself; how could I say whether or not I like him, since I don’t know him. When commenting on a creative endeavor like a comic, sometimes the work and the creator behind the work both become subjects of derision during the discussion. Jason and I have both made some negative (some may say snarky) comments about the work of certain creators in passing on the blog, but we try to focus on the work and not the person. Hopefully our readers will keep us honest in the future, as we begin to start doing some actual comics reviews.

The reason that I’ve written this overly long introduction to the idea of bringing reviews to this site on occasion is because I was one of the many people watching the recent blogosphere discussion that resulted when Noah Berlatsky at “The Hooded Utilitarian” blog reviewed 100 Bullets. Berlatsky was not a fan of the issues of 100 Bullets that he read, which is, of course, his right. What started the brou-ha-ha is that, during the course of his review, he complained about the art of Eduardo Risso, using one particular cover as an example; a cover that Risso did not draw (Dave Johnson did).

Whoops! This mistake quickly attracted the attention of others. Heidi MacDonald of “The Beat” was probably the first to notice and comment on the error. She rightly points out that he used a different artist’s work to complain about one artist, but then she spends most of the post defending Eduardo Risso, which seems to detract from her main focus; Berlatsky made a mistake. From there, things snowballed, with others joining in to condemn Berlatsky, comics writer Mark Waid getting involved, and generally unpleasant comments being thrown back and forth.

Why do I find this interesting? Well, this hits on some of the concerns that Jason and I had about doing reviews in the first place. Berlatsky made an error that I hope we wouldn’t make, but it’s not something that can be ruled out (although certainly this has made me more determined to check my facts before I post something in the future). Second, Berlatsky got negative comments from the blogosphere (although he did have his defenders), and many of those comments seemed to stem from his dislike of 100 Bullets. His review of the series was snarky, and that seems to have been what ultimately ran him into trouble; by confusing the artwork, he left an opening where fans of the series could defend it. Could his review have been less snarky? Sure, but let’s be honest, snarky reviews are more fun to read and to write. Heck, our entire website is built on snark (ok, maybe not built on, but certainly snark is one of our basic four food groups).

The Berlatsky situation made me think it was important to preface any actual reviews with a few comments and answering the most crucial questions available to us: Who, What, When, Where, How and Why.

Who: Jason and I. We’ll be doing the reviews, and that’s important, because different people perceive things in different ways. Reviews are subjective; I can give you every reason why you should love a certain piece of work, and in the end, it may just not appeal to you. I loaned Jeff Smith’s wonderful series Bone to a friend of mine, thinking she would love it. She was completely underwhelmed by it, and couldn’t finish the series. It simply didn’t appeal to her. Sometimes, this sort of thing will happen, so it’s important to make it clear that, no matter how eloquently you praise or attack a series, some people will have the opposite view. Don’t let it shake you up too much. Let us know if you agree or disagree with what we’re saying.

What: Sometimes we’ll be choosing things that are associated with a current media adaptation, since people are more likely to be searching such works out. Sometimes it may be things we particularly like or dislike, in the hopes of drawing readers to them, or warning people away. In the end, we hope to be choosing works that will be of interest to our readers.

When: As with everything else here, there will be no set schedule. I can’t see us doing reviews more than once every few weeks however. In the end, we are not a review site. There are plenty of those, and I’m not sure the blogosphere really needs one more, although I’d like to think that our dual viewpoint allows us to bring something different to the table.

Where: We’ll be picking works from all over the comics universe. Yes, superheroes will have more than their fair share of space, but this will be a good place for us to draw focus to other works, some of them out of the mainstream and some of them dancing at the edges of mainstream.

How: Oh, with snark. I’m not sure we have another way we can write, and again, it’s more fun for both us and you. However, like I said earlier, we’ll try to comment on the work and not the creator.

Why: We’ll be reviewing things because we hope to provide readers with information on whether or not a comic is worth their time and money.

In the end, we rely on all of you to let us know what you think. More reviews? Less reviews? Specific things you’d like to see reviewed? Agree with our comments? Disagree? As always, let us know.

Let me chime in first by saying that I agree wholeheartedly with everything that John has put forward so far in this post. I would like to confess that one of the major reasons we don’t do more reviews, beyond the fact that there is already an overwhelming abundance of comic review sites (for both good and bad), is that neither John nor I read many monthly comics anymore. I know that probably instantly places us in some sort of lower tier in the eyes of many fans out there, but the simple truth is that…and I don’t want to get off on some sort of scolding of the industry here…most books that interest us, whether for plot or characters, seem to be written solely for the trade consumption.

The comics medium has changed drastically in the last 10 years or so (to a greater degree in the last 3 or 4 years actually) and the pacing, both in the exposition and the action, has brought everything to the point where I usually only buy things once a month now instead of every Wednesday. And the number of titles I’m interested in (at least on the superhero side of things, which seems to be our bread-and-butter here) has dwindled from a few dozen to…just a few. Amazon gets more of my business these days than any neighborhood store, because of increased availability, lack of urgency and simplicity of shopping.

And don’t even get me started on how much the online community has ruined, or nearly removed, the anticipation and suspense of the monthly comic cycle. But that is neither here nor there for this discussion, so let’s get back on topic, shall we?

The recent revelation by JG Jones concerning his output on the Final Crisis miniseries at DC is another example of how online criticism can really go beyond the pale. Brian Wood pointed me to a CBR thread that facilitated the figurative drawing-and-quartering of Mr. Jones in the eyes of the fanboys. There’s no need for that kind of vitriol in any realm. I’d be tempted to go off on a political rant here about how our country is increasingly divided and angry, but that would bore everyone. Suffice it to say that personally attacking someone for drawing (or, in this case, NOT drawing) pictures on paper is both uncalled for and downright idiotic. If you aren’t happy with the finished product, don’t buy it.

NOTE: Hell, if I were you I’d be more concerned with the confusing, meandering, languidly-developing, inside-speaking, continuity-muddled plot of the series more than how it’s graphically represented. No amount of Picasso or DaVinci can polish that mess.

It’s completely inappropriate to praise someone for their work as long as it arrives to your liking and then immediately lash out at them once that work stops arriving. JG’s style didn’t change. His dedication to his craft isn’t lacking. He merely doesn’t have the time…and has, at the least, realized that and confessed as such. I’ve met JG Jones. I’ve talked to him. He’s not some horrible creature hiding in the dark and plotting ways to screw up your Wednesday buying habits. He’s an amazing artist who deserves some appreciation for the work he has produced. Admire it or don’t, but never cast stones at him for admitting a weakness or a mistake.

Now John Byrne? That’s another story altogether. ZING!

Since Jason mentioned it, I’ll confess that I don’t read ANY monthly comics pamphlets at this time, and haven’t for about two or three years. I buy five to seven trade paperbacks a month, some of them current, and that more than keeps me spending enough money on comics (I still support my local comics shop when I buy them; yes, I could get them cheaper elsewhere, but I always prefer to support locally owned small businesses, and Ralph – my local comic store proprietor – is a heckuva guy!). I also spend a lot of time online, and thanks to the fact that no surprises are allowed in comics anymore and must instead be announced in various internet sites months before publication, I can follow the plots of any series I wish (and often large chunks of issues are posted to read; I do NOT pirate comics and don’t recommend pirating anything online. Yes, it may make me seem old and fuddly-duddly, but I can live with that). I’d like to think I’m quite caught up with the goings-on in the superhero universes, and then I read most of these comics a few months in the trades after the pamphlet reading public.

As for the JG Jones news, I can’t say I’m surprised. I absolutely love his artwork; I think he may be one of the best pencillers out there. However, he’s not someone who works quickly, so why oh why would DC have hired him to do this miniseries in the first place? I have something of a gripe against so many comics being released late; I think it hurts the industry when it happens, and it can certainly hurt a lot of comics. Often, it’s the pencillers who get the bad rap for working slowly, although that’s not always the case (Kevin Smith, my peepers are squarely trained at you!), but really, what is management thinking? I’m not saying not to hire JG Jones; that would be crazy! The guy is good! But don’t hire him to do the pivotal miniseries on which your entire superhero line rests. There are plenty of excellent pencillers to do that series. Let him do an ancillary miniseries, if he wants to be part of Final Crisis; a miniseries that isn’t central to the plot or can stand on its own.

What surprised me even more was who DC chose to replace him: Doug Mahnke. Doug Mahnke may have one of the strongest individual drawing styles I’ve ever seen but that style is very much removed from Jones’ more realistic style. I love Mahnke when he’s doing things a little off target from the mainstream: Major Bummer and the Frankenstein issues of Seven Soldiers are brilliant. However, I’ve never enjoyed the issues he did of JLA. I simply don’t think he works on the big team titles and I think his artwork on the last issue of Final Crisis will seem grossly out of place. However, to quote Peter David, “But I digress…”

So, yes, attacking someone like JG Jones is silly. The man’s doing his job to the best of his ability and he’s not trying to ruin anyone’s life. That’s the sort of thing we won’t be engaging in. But, how did I know you’d have a John Byrne comment before we finished? Of course, Byrne is an example of how some creators put themselves out there in a public forum, and at times almost beg people to dislike them. I still try to tread carefully in those cases, but I’m sure that we’ll run into those situations, particularly in the case of an outspoken creator like Byrne (although he seems to have been somewhat quiet lately).

Yes, I will never attack John Byrne unless he asks me to…or I feel that his online musings are just begging to be mocked. And even then, it’s more like this:

Granted, that image works just as well for nearly every naysaying fool posting on the web. That’s most likely the problem with the majority of poorly executed comic reviews: they’re set forth by nameless, faceless people who are only seeking the hive-minded approval of other nameless, faceless people. The anonymity and temporary status afforded by message boards and blogs allows people to say stupid things with nearly zero accountability or retribution. Spit out whatever mean-spirited thing you’d like and I guarantee someone will read it and laugh, or worse, try to one-up your horrendous attitude and insults.

We shall tread carefully. We are under no illusion that anyone out there should agree with us. Heck, we often don’t agree with each other. But at least we aim to provide lucid grounding for that disagreement, with examples that back up those opinions and a willingness to concede the smaller differences. There shall be no name-calling or references to each other’s mothers and farm animals. We will never threaten to hunt each other down or punch each other in our respective faces because of words exchanged on an imaginary playground in a digital land. Besides, we still meet for dinner at least once a month and that would just make things awkward.

That was digression #1…

I think it’s also important to point out that our focus is unabashedly on the superhero genre. Sure, we read other things and those things influence the way we view and read comics in general. But, and I’m not sure John illuminated this point enough, we will always write with an eye towards the whole hero/villain scene. If you don’t like that, or wish to bemoan the societal downfall of the genre, do it elsewhere. Sure, superhero comics can be immature and stunted and obtuse and mired in the various cliques and coteries of the industry (and I’m sure we’ll call for their heads once or twice), but they helped form our childhoods. I, for one, will never fully turn my back on the colorful exploits of these powerful characters.

And digression #2…

Of course, by the time this post is disseminated to the general public, I’m sure that someone else will say something stupidly critical that we can call out as the “wrong way” of doing things. If you think the plotlines in certain comics are predictable, take a look at some of the “fan” reactions when you have a spare week and some self-loathing to spare.

I shan’t continue to belabor these points, but instead I shall take this opportunity to disagree with Jason, at least a little.  I agree that, yes, superheroes are our main focus, and no, I don’t feel like I need to apologize for them.  There’s certainly a ton of absolute rubbish in the genre, but there’s some great stuff too, and it doesn’t take too much searching to find it.  That being said, I do plan on branching out a little, if in reviews only, to touch on some of the non-superpowered comics out there.  Now, Jason left the door open for that, at least somewhat, by saying we’d focus on the hero/villain thing, and if that’s our focus, it allows us to still do all sorts of non-superhero comics.  While I’ll always love superheroes, there’s some other amazing stuff out there that I’d like to discuss with our readers, from the almost mainstream Usagi Yojimbo or Queen and Country, to perhaps the slightly more obscure Action Philosophers, Scott Pilgrim or Barry Ween

But otherwise, I’m in total agreement with Jason.  I’m not sure when the first reviews will show up here (perhaps next week), but at least the groundwork is laid.


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

Oct-15-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


John’s 20 Things Every Super-Hero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

You’ll find that my list, as opposed to Jason’s, tends to hit more specific issues than Jason’s did. It’s also, of course, informed by my personal preferences. There are plenty of important comics that I simply didn’t include because I’m trying to find the comics that people will enjoy reading, and will still show the comics medium at its best and show everything of which the medium is capable. Before I get started, I want to mention that there are four things on my list (and one thing on my list of “Honorable Mentions”) that are also on Jason’s list. To avoid repetition, I’m going to mention them now, but instead of including them below, I’m going to bump some of my “Honorable Mentions” up to my main list. It may be cheating, but there are so many cool things out there that I want the opportunity to list them all (and I still won’t have room)!

So, Jason and I agree on Starman, James Robinson’s series, a true wonder of comics. The best superhero series of the modern age, this series may be unique in that it ran for 80 issues, and was only ever written by Robinson. The plotting is dense and well planned; things in the first issues pay off in the final issues. The characters sound like real people, and they grow and change as the series progresses. This is what superhero comics should be, and honestly, you could read these issues, never read another comic again, and be happy.

We also agree on Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League run, which showed that you could be funny and still make good comics. This was particularly groundbreaking, coming out in the late 80s, when Grim ‘N Gritty was the order of the day. We also both feel that Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is worth checking out, for it’s ability to show superheroes as they might act in the real world, and for it’s groundbreaking “widescreen” storytelling. We believe that one of the first series to do that was Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, which wasn’t as adult as Authority, but first threw out some of the ethical questions that superheroes must grapple with. Finally, we both direct your attention to Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, a fine example of the quality superheroes you can find if you wander outside of the Big Two.

What about my own picks? Read on….

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I’m sure a lot of people think us crazy for listing so few Alan Moore comics on our lists. I’m a big fan of his work, and much of it can be recommended, but it’s been recommended elsewhere, and if you’re a fan of comics, you’re going to have read Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Swamp Thing or any of his other titles. The ABC line is important because it gave Alan Moore the chance to do lighter, brighter (but no less interesting) fare. I would highly recommend Top 10, as it’s my favorite from this line, but Tomorrow Stories is also an excellent choice, as it highlights how differently Moore can write for different artists. Give one of comic’s greatest writers a chance to show you how well he can write any genre.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: Jason mentioned their comic Groo in his last pick, and it is a great one. However, it’s not superheroes. On the plus side, these two have done superheroes, in specials where they Destroyed DC and Massacred Marvel. They also did an interesting series for DC called Fanboy, where the titular character became intimately involved with the comics he loved so much. They’re work together is funny, and more importantly smart, and even better, it often has a great message, which they communicate without beating you over the head.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Being the huge Avengers (and Roger Stern) fan that he is, I was amazed that this didn’t make Jason’s list. These issues, which chronicle the Masters of Evil invading and occupying Avengers Mansion, are some great superhero comics. They may not be the modern inspiration that Starman is, but they clearly show that, in the world of superhero corporate comics, you can still do great stories. The follow up to these issues, in which the Avengers must go to fight the Gods of Olympus, are just as strong. I should mention that John Buscema’s art in all of these issues is superb and helps to make them the classics that they are.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Normally, I wouldn’t include two Avengers stories in a list like this. I also tried to find stories that showcased different aspects of the superhero genre. This story is, like “Under Siege”, just a really great superhero comic. However, it is so great, that I couldn’t choose between it and the one above. These issues pit an Avengers team consisting of the classics (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor) with Black Panther and the newcomer Firestar, as they battle an army of Ultrons to protect our world. The panel where the tired and battered heroes finally reach the main Ultron robot, hurt but not broken, is one of the most powerful superhero panels I’ve even seen.

5. Frank MIller’s Batman: Year One: I agree with Jason that Dark Knight Returns simply no longer holds up. However, I believe that Year One does, and it’s my pick for the best Frank Miller work ever. Somehow, in the space of four issues, Miller was able to distill Batman down into his very basics, giving us a fresh and believable tale of how one man could begin the campaign that would make him an icon. You could read this story and never read another Batman tale, and know everything important about the character.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Another Kurt Busiek story (this one pencilled by the always reliable Mark Bagley). If you read this comic in a vacuum, it’s inclusion on my list may make no sense. However, if you had read it when it was first published, the mystery may vanish. Today, it’s impossible, it seems, for comics to be published without fans knowing every detail of the issue; who will die, who will return from the dead, who will be unmasked. The Thunderbolts had been teased for a few months as a new team of heroes, and while some subtle hints had been dropped that there was more going on with them then was apparent, the reveal at the end of the first issue was amazing. It also led into an incredible run which took the superhero concept and turned it on its ear, examining villains trying to become heroes.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: There are a lot of great comics that John Byrne has created, but like Alan Moore, if you’re a fan than you’ve already heard of his incredible work on Alpha Flight or Next Men or Fantastic Four. I  recommend his work on She-Hulk because it again showcases a well known creator doing something different. Byrne’s She-Hulk was again, a very amusing book, although Byrne went much farther over the line than any of the other amusing books on my list. She-Hulk regularly broke the Fourth Wall, chatting with her readers; villains took breaks between their scenes. It was glorious fun, and it is a shame Byrne’s time on the book was so truncated, as no subsequent writer could pull it off as effortlessly.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: If you want a superhero comic collection, there has to be an X-Men comic in it, right? Jason recommended the Claremont/Byrne issues, and they’re wonderful. However, this graphic novel is my favorite. Written by Chris Claremont, and drawn by Brent Anderson, it details the crusade of a religious zealot to stamp out mutants. Claremont is someone who I often criticize for his stylistic writing style, but they’re not in evidence here. Like Year One, you can read this comic, and know everything important about the X-Men.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: Mark Waid wrote The Flash for years, sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with Brian Augustyn. Their issues introduced Impulse, explained the Speed Force, and pitted Wally West against innumerable villains. However, that’s not why I chose these issues. I chose these issues because they are the best example of a superhero story that is, in reality, a love story. Sure, there were fights and plots and worlds to save during these issues, but the heart of these stories was the love between Wally West and Linda Park. Everything else was just background noise, easily overwhelmed by the love these two shared. While most heroes have love interests, I’ve rarely seen a romance as real as this one.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Jason mentioned this when he mentioned comics from other companies, but I singled this out and included it because it is demonstrably a superhero comic. It just happens to contain a man-eating cow and ninjas. It may seem like I keep coming back to funnier examples of superheroes, but this one is the most amusing I’ve ever read. Unlike the others, which mostly tried to ground their adventures in the reality of their comic book universes, the Tick isn’t grounded at all (he lives in a world where villains have chairs for heads). I recommend the original issues that Edlund wrote and drew himself; I laugh until I cry even after multiple re-readings.

11. The Batman Adventures: Comics heroes have visited different media since the radio shows based on Superman. Some of those visits have been good, others have been bad. When the animated Batman show appeared, it was so good, that it gave something back to the medium that birthed it’s hero: this series of comics, presenting some of the best Batman stories ever published. These stories, beautifully illustrated by Mike Parobeck, show how you can tell an excellent story by stripping out the extraneous (and unnecessary) and focus on the important. Some people found the series too plain, but those people missed the boat. They were elegant in their simplicity, and the well written and drawn stories were anything but child-like.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: It’s hard, I believe, to do mythology in comics and keep it interesting. It’s difficult to write powerful characters and make them relatable. It’s sometimes career suicide to try and infuse mythology into superhero comics. Yet Walt Simonson made it look so easy. I am still in awe, and these are some of the only Thor comics I have ever enjoyed.

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: I suppose anyone who’s read our blog for any length of time figured I’d be including this. Comics about teen heroes have been around for years and there have been some good ones, but for my money, none have been better than this one. First of all, Peter David stayed for the entire run, and Nauck only missed a few issues (often because he was pencilling Young Justice specials or larger issues of the title), so the entire series has a coherence that so many series lack. Furthermore, Peter David was able to keep the cast relatable, keep relationships changing in believable ways, and he was able to do both amusing and deathly serious issues deftly. For a series to change tone as often as this did and not seem schizophrenic is a commendable feat, and David handled it with finesse. And may I say, while some may see Nauck’s art as cartoony, that like Mike Parobeck, Nauck was able to tell a damn good story, stripping away the unnecessary clutter that infects other artist’s work. Nauck handled the serious issues as well as he did the funny ones.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: This will be my last Kurt Busiek comic, but I had to include it. Astro City uses superheroes as a backdrop to tell stories about people; some issues the heroes have the stage, but often, they’re simply extras, as the stories talk about the regular people surrounded by these gods among men. It’s one of the most human series I have ever read, and well worth your time. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brent Anderson, who always does such a nice job making sure the stories look good.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Jason mentioned comics from the Golden Age, and I said only one spoke to me. That one is Jack Cole’s creation, which has never been used as well since his death. Yes, I enjoy Plastic Man in the modern DC Universe (and recommend Kyle Baker’s series), but Cole’s Plastic Man was so ahead of its time that it deserves special recognition. Even though Cole produced these stories in the 40s and 50s, they resonate with the themes of the modern age. Yes, they’re funny, but the characters have actual personalities (rare in the Golden Age) the humor feels fresh (which is odd, considering how old they are) and the drawings seem to burst off the page.

16. Damage Control: Marvel’s series of limited series about a company that cleans up after superhero fights is such a common sense idea that I can’t believe it wasn’t done sooner. Much like some issues of Astro City, the heroes are often just the backdrop, as we explore the lives of normal humans, inhabiting a world filled with those with power. Yes, it’s funny, but there’s real characters and plots here to balance that. It’s a wonderful look at the absurdities of the superhero genre, while managing to remain a part of it.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I think it’s important to mention this series, particularly the first time Peter David tackled these characters alongside artist Larry Stroman, because it made one thing very clear: there are no stupid characters, or if they are stupid, you can still make them work. David took a group consisting of Havok and Polaris and a bunch of (what were then considered) stupid or unworkable characters and made them work. Madrox is, without a doubt, his strongest achievement, and the self-titled limited series that David wrote for him is also worth recommending. If someone had told me in the mid-90s that I would now consider Madrox one of the most interesting characters in superherodom, I would have considered them crazy. David also made Quicksilver interesting, a character that had always been searching for a writer who could keep his obnoxious personality intact, while making him likable. Hey, he almost even made me like Wolfsbane, but I’m not sure anyone could do that.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Geoff Johns sometimes get knocked around by critics for his love of obscure DC characters and his tendency to cannibalize DC characters and continuity for his own use. However, his early JSA issues, beautifully illustrated by Steven Sadowski, achieve something that other books should try to emulate; he successfully sells the idea of superhero legacies (where names and/or powers are passed down through generations) and reimagines some Golden Age concepts (like Mr. Terrific) for the modern age. Most of the first series was great, and the current series would be better if it wasn’t stuck with some of the plotlines running through the DC Universe, but the earliest issues are certainly worth a look.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: It’s struck me that Jason and I have listed precious few comics of the big names in the industry, like Spider-Man or Superman. This comic is one that is often overlooked, as it came out during the Clone Saga, and it featured the death of a character that has since come back to life. However, if you read it as it was originally written, it’s an incredibly moving story of the death of Aunt May. You finally see the chemistry and bond between her and her nephew, and her death will make you cry. It’s a shame they brought her back, as she will never get as good a send-off as the one J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Bagley gave her here.

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: If I have to explain it to you, you’ll never understand.

Cheater. Next time I’m going first so that I can look more original with my picks. Jerk.

Yes, yes, we had a few similarities and, once you read my following comments, you’ll see we had even more in common before I pruned my list. I’m stunned that the Vision and Scarlet Witch maxiseries was not on your list. That being said, I find it interesting that you also excluded all of the so-called “must haves” from your list. I think it’s an example of the media bandwagoning on comics and not really knowing what’s of interest to the true fan.

And now, since you tore my list apart and then managed to somehow call out my fandom like a common street houligan, I’m going to return the favor…

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I have no opinion on these, because I’ve never read them. To be quite honest, aside from Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and an excellent Superman story), I just don’t get Alan Moore. His superhero writing doesn’t stand out to me. Sure, it may be more nuanced and intellectual, but there’s also less punching of faces which leads to a certain amount of boredom.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: I forgot all about Fanboy, not that I think it’s essential by any stretch of the imagination. If we did a list of the Top Humor Comics, I could see Aragones and Evanier taking a spot or two. This one seems out of place on an essential superhero list.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Yes, this one was obviously on my short list. I think that’s why I made the comment about needing to do a Top Storylines post. In retrospect, I probably should have added this. It’s my favorite Avengers arc and probably one of my favorite comic stories of all time. The Masters of Evil finally lived up to their dubious moniker.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Two Avengers stories? Hmm…you didn’t even mention that I didn’t have a single Hawkeye story on my list. Actually, I was going to include the first West Coast Avengers miniseries on my list.

5. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One: I don’t really have a good reason for not including this one, except for the fact that most of the story has been portrayed on film and portions of the origin have been revamped and redacted so many times as to make my head spin. Miller weaves a solid yarn, but I prefer the grittiness of his Daredevil work.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Yes. Almost made my list too. The utter jaw-droppingness of the ending make this one of the best single issues ever printed. And I agree that it may have been the last gasp of “wait for it” timing in modern comics. I often complain about how the internet has taken the fun out of comics.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: Never read it, as I can’t see myself spending money on a solo She-Hulk book. Although, i have heard great things about the humor and how Byrne broke the Fourth Wall (similar to Morrison’s Animal Man). I’m surprised Dan Slott’s She-Hulk didn’t make your list.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: Meh. This strikes me as another of those “classic” stories that just doesn’t hold up well with the passage of time.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: This is another one that I was seriously considering. Mark Waid made Wally West a person first and a superhero second…which is something DC has had trouble doing for most of its history.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Agreed on all counts. I’m also glad you singled out the fact that the issues NOT written by Edlund just don’t match up. Was that a double negative?

11. The Batman Adventures: I briefly thought about this title, but then I realized that I have the DVD box sets on my shelf and I’d much rather watch the cartoon.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: When I sold off the majority of my Thor collection, these are the only issues that I kept. However, I think that just may be the nostalgic side of me. I honestly haven’t retained any info from this run. Is this the one with the frog?

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: As little as I care for the majority of DC’s pantheon, I care even less about its junior members. Whatever.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Busiek is a great writer, I just prefer superhero books that are actually about superheroes, especially when the superheroes who do show up are just derivatives from the Big Two. I’d be more interested in throwing Marvels onto one of our lists. Even though I think it missed some marks, the fact that it tried to show the human side of an already highly established universe made more sense to me.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Plastic Man has always been a peripheral character to me. Right after I posted my list, I thought about going back and throwing in Beck’s Captain Marvel work, but I don’t know enough about that or Plastic Man to make a sensible argument.

16. Damage Control: Definitely a consideration for me. LOVED the first series. The subsequent ones didn’t have the same “Ooh” factor for me. Taking a peek behind the scenes in a superhero-filled world, and its repercussions, was definitely a unique vision at the time.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I wanted to include an X-Factor run, but I just didn’t think they were iconic enough for a “best of” superhero collection list. There are so many X-titles and offshoots out there that I just basically ignored the mutant sub-genre completely. However, these were good stuff. And that Madrox miniseries is one of the highlights of the last few years.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Again, not sure. I appreciate Johns’s enthusiasm for obscure characters and legacy heroes, but a lot of the stuff he worked with was still mired down with DC’s baffling continuity. You really had to know your stuff to follow along with some of it.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: Seriously? Hell, I’d rather reread the What If? issue with Aunt May as a herald of Galactus. If you wanted to pick a good Spider-Man story, why not the final Kraven one?

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: Really? You couldn’t find a 20th entry with more relevance than this? I think you can definitely see some of our personalities in these picks. You seem to have gone for the intentionally humorous while I’ve tended towards the accidentally funny books. I love irony.


Jason’s 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

We wanted to slap together some sort of mainstream answer to Tom Spurgeon’s “50 Things Every Great Comics Collection Needs to Have” post. Of course, considering we only really cover the superhero side of things, we’ll have to tweak our responses appropriately. I’m going to throw out 20 items and John is going to throw out 20 items. There will be similarities and, I’m sure, there will be big differences between our two lists.

I’ve been reading comics since around 1976. I’ve been seriously collecting them since 1984. And I have every major book and biography written about the superhero comics and their creators. I figure that gives me a fair understanding of the genre and its history. Granted, my particular likes and dislikes are going to color any list I could come up with, but I’ve tried to limit the fanboy in me to only a few of the choices.

What you’ll probably notice immediately is that I didn’t include Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns. If I were to put a list of 50 together, I’m sure those two would’ve squeaked onto the list. Honestly, I just don’t think they hold up as well these days. Both books are products of their time, wrapped in a certain political scene and tied to the emotions and ennui of the era. And I didn’t read either of them when they first came out. In fact, I just read them both in 2001…along with Crisis on Infinite Earths and Kingdom Come (which are also not on my list). I’ve never read Miracleman either, but I’ve heard good things. It might’ve made the list, if I had access to it. Perhaps we should do an entry on the “Top Storylines in Comics” too.

Anyway, with that pseudo-disclaimer out of the way, I now present my “20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs” in no particular order:

1. Something with art from Jack Kirby
I’ve never been a big fan of the Fantastic Four. I guess I always perceived them as being too mature for me and my teenage wanderlust showed no interest for the down-home feeling of Marvel’s first family. I also thought that the early FF looked weird…too boxey and too linear. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Kirby’s Black Panther, Eternals and Mister Miracle that I started to appreciate his utter craziness. Looking back now, it’s easy to see why he’s called the King.

2. Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange
His Spider-Man has gained praise for showing the true Peter Parker, the buttoned up nerd who happens upon a life-changing miracle/curse. His artwork is fluid and nimble, making Spider-Man appear much more…uh…spider-like. However, his magical adversaries, absurd backgrounds and the creepy way he draws the Sorcerer Supreme’s fingers like they have a life of their own, make Ditko’s Dr. Strange truly sublime.

3. Frank Miller’s Daredevil
Daredevil lives in Hell’s Kitchen and fights at street level. Until Frank Miller added his gritty touch to this hero, it was hard to remember those two simple facts. Add in the Bullseye/Elektra saga and you’ve got the makings of a classic.

4. Keith Giffen’s Justice League
The relaunched Justice League of America added a new facet to the storied history of the franchise: humor. By mixing the proper drama and pathos with a certain level of tomfoolery, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were able to craft a superior superhero adventure. The interplay between team members was elevated to an artform and showed dimensions previously lacking in most DC titles. Plus, Giffen’s Heckler miniseries was stupidly awesome.

5. James Robinson’s Golden Age and/or Starman
Golden Age is one of the stories that brought me back into comics. Robinson writes real people. And, even though they’re typically in extraordinary circumstances, they come off as having real lives. There’s something to be said for that in the superhero genre. I haven’t read all of his Starman work, but the first volume really drew me in too.

6. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier
If I were to, hypothetically, put these twenty items in a real order, it would be difficult not to put this in the first slot. Hands down, I think Cooke captured in this story not only the feeling of an entire era, but the hopes and fears that went along with it. Add in a facet of much needed heroism in this time of doubt, and the story just begs to be read.

7. Something written by Mark Gruenwald
This entry is closest to me because I once had a regular correspondence going on with Mr. Gruenwald and I was shocked when I learned of his passing. His Squadron Supreme is the ultimate “what if?” story, set in a world where superheroes are in charge. And his run on Captain America was both innovative and fun, encompassing the Scourge storyline and Cap’s cross-country road trip.

8. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow
Critics like to point to the Denny O’Neill/Neil Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow as the pinnacle for these characters. Issues delving into racism and drug use were poignant when they were released, but the language, at least, seems a bit dated today. I prefer the darker struggles faced by Ollie when he relocated to Seattle and endured some real life ups and downs while assuming a stronger vigilante bent.

9. Something by Grant Morrison
Take your pick: Doom Patrol, Animal Man, All-Star Superman or New X-Men. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. While his other work has been decadent and diverse, Morrison’s work with the superhero genre proves that these characters should be anything but one-dimensional.

10. A Chris Claremont/John Byrne collaboration
In their prime, Chris and John were two of the best storytellers in modern comics. Take a peek through their runs on Uncanny X-Men or Power Man and Iron Fist for some great reads. It doesn’t hurt that Claremont’s Marvel Team-Up stories and Byrne’s Alpha Flight were some of my favorites too.

11. Loeb/Sale Batman stories
If Claremont/Byrne set the bar for superhero collaborations, then Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale sailed high above it with their dissections of the Batman mythos in The Long Halloween, Haunted Knight and Dark Victory. Add in the superb Spider-Man: Blue and Daredevil: Yellow for Marvel and you’ve got enough reading to last for a long time. Their Wolverine/Gambit story was pretty good, as was the Challengers of the Unknown miniseries that launched their teamwork. Hulk: Gray? Not so memorable.

12. Some Golden Age DC stories…Starman, Spectre, Sandman, Doctor Fate
If not for the offbeat plotlines, at least read some of this stuff just to see how far the medium has come since those early days. I pick DC properties specifically, because they reach further back in time. What seemed like quick, throwaway books back then, can offer a telling window into thoughts and ideals of a former era.

13. Something written by Bill Mantlo
Wow. If you ever want to just sit back and say “what the f…” while reading a comic book, Mantlo can give you that reaction. Characters, conversations and plotlines seem like forgotten devices when the focus of the story is based on how weird he can make it. Check out the Jack of Hearts mini, his run on Rom or Champions or his various Defenders issues for some great stuff. But the key to any collection would be Bill’s magnum opus: Micronauts.

14. Something from Paul Pope
Here’s where my opinions entrench themselves. I don’t think there’s a better fine artist operating in the comics field today. And, while Paul’s meandering lines and loose forms have an electricity in his own work, I find them to be utterly irresistible when he works with Batman, Spider-Man or any other superhero icon. Paul Pope is part of a new breed of comic book artist, whose roots lie strongly in Kirby’s realm.

15. Something drawn by Seth Fisher
Another unique perspective on comic book art that adds elements of fun and wonder back into the funnybooks. Sadly, Mr. Fisher passed away in a freak accident a few years back. Pick up his Green Lantern: Willworld, Batman: Snow or Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan work to see some truly amazing visuals.

16. OHOTMU/Who’s Who
Seriously. You can’t enjoy the superhero books unless you understand the people and principles behind them. DC’s Who’s Who provided one universe’s worth of information, but for my money, Marvel blew them out of the water with the original runs of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. My copies have been read and referenced so often that they’re barely being held together.

17. A complete run of SOMETHING lasting more than 50 issues
Put some effort into it. You can’t be a true fan of the genre unless you’ve put up with some mediocre stories in an effort to grasp the big picture. Personally, I have complete runs of Marvel Team-Up, the original Punisher ongoing and the original X-Factor series. I used to own a full run of both Peter David’s Aquaman and the first Excalibur series. And I’m only two or three issues away from owning the entire first run of Firestorm too. That’s dedication.

18. Something from new Image…early Powers or Invincible
No superhero fan should live on Marvel and DC alone. Image was founded by creators whose reputations were built on superhero work. However, a lot of the first and second generations of Image work was derivative of the times. New Image has carved its own niche with rich titles such as Robert Kirkman’s Invincible (and Walking Dead…not superheroes, but worth a mention) and the early run of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers (which is a perfect vehicle for his stop and start dialogue style).

19. Authority
In order to make an omelette, you have to crack a few eggs…or, evidently, kick a few people in their wiggly bits. Authority is the next generation’s Watchmen or Squadron Supreme, a group of superpowered individuals who take it upon themselves to protect the human race whether they like it or not. It’s the perfect culmination of a post-heroic genre.

20. Something that is tangentially related to superhero comics
In order to truly appreciate the fights-n-tights genre, you need to look at some of the work that was at least partially inspired by it. Whether rooted in parody, sci-fi or politics, the following titles clearly owe their existence to superheroes in one form or another: Badger, Judge Dredd, Tick, Scud, Groo, Marshal Law, Preacher. In my book, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Take superhero books in moderation and break up the monotony with one of these great titles.

Very interesting list.  I’ll be posting mine soon, but here are my comments on yours:

1.  Jack Kirby art:  I know this is horrible, but I feel I need to come clean; I am not a huge fan of Kirby’s art.  This is going to sound like blasphemy to many, so let me say that I fully appreciate and acknowledge his place in the comics pantheon.  His layouts are amazing and I feel the energy pouring from the page, but the actual drawings do little for me.  Unfortunately, there’s so much energy that some of his panels almost read like parody; it’s the graphic equivalent of “chewin the scenery”.  There’s no doubt that he is one of the most important and influential comics creators ever, and so I know why he made your list, but he could never make mine.

2.  Ditko’s Dr. Strange:  While this wouldn’t make my list, I agree that Ditko’s Dr. Strange is my favorite work of his.  I’m not a fan of his more recent artwork, but his stuff for Marvel in the 60s is amazing, and his Dr. Strange work shows an ability to draw the undrawable that no one since has quite been able to match.

3.  Miller’s Daredevil:  This doesn’t show up on my list, although Miller does.  It’s odd that this is here, as I just read a bunch of Miller’s Daredevil over the weekend.  I’ve cooled on Miller’s work quite a bit in recent years, but I have to say, this stands up beautifully; the artwork is gorgeous, the story is great and you can feel the dirt and grime oozing off the pages and onto your fingers.  Great work. 

4.  Giffen’s Justice League:  This is on my list, and high on my list (although I consider it Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League).  I was never a real DC fan until these comics, which dragged me into the DC Universe, and convinced me to check out some other titles on that side of the aisle.  Brilliant stuff; the early issues with Kevin Maguire’s pencils are perhaps the best, and the later issues did slide into sitcom territory, but truly, there really isn’t a bad issue in their run.  I’d also like to point out that, especially in the beginning, there were real stories and plots here.  There are also serious issues in the run, including one where Despero returns to Earth, goes on a rampage, and even kills Gypsy’s family.  The ability of Giffen and DeMatteis to go from silly to serious so seamlessly has been almost unmatched in comics.

5.  James Robinson:  The #1 item on my list is Starman; the best superhero comic of the 90s, and perhaps the best superhero comic ever.  The Golden Age is also an incredibly good book.  I’m thrilled that Robinson is back writing comics after too long away, and hope that the Powers That Be give him his own series again, which is really where he shines; writing stints on books like Superman is a waste of his talents.

6.  New Frontier:  Not on my list.  I think it’s a great story, but I don’t accord it the status that so many people do.  It’s crisp and slick and very well done, but I’m not sure it’s so unique that it is an essential part of anyone’s collection.

7.  Mark Gruenwald:  His Squadron Supreme made my list, and I agree that most of his Captain America run was brilliant.  However, besides his work as a writer, I think he was one of the best editors that Marvel Comics ever had.  He clearly cared about the characters and loved the universe over which he presided.  He was a fan, but he didn’t approach the titles he edited from the viewpoint of “What do I want to see as a fan?” (as so many writers do today), but from the viewpoint of “What would make the best story?”  He influenced so much more than the books he wrote, and the Marvel Universe has been so much poorer since his death at much too young an age.

8.  Grell’s Green Arrow:  Meh.  Ok, if you enjoy that sort of thing.  While I enjoy some of Grell’s work, I feel he may be a tad overrated.  His Green Arrow seems to have been riding the coattails of the “Grim ‘N Gritty” era ushered in by Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and was notable more for that than for any truly original work from Grell.

9.  Morrison:  Not on my list, but certainly I see why he is on yours.  I run hot and cold on Grant Morrison, but that’s because he’s willing to take chances; it’s hard to hit the highs he’s hit (and there are plenty of them) without risking some of the lows (I find some of his books to be nigh incomprehensible).  As for me, I recommend his Animal Man, still one of my favorite titles he’s done in the superhero genre.

10.  Claremont/Byrne:  Agreed.  Not on my list, but good grief, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.  These two were an amazing team, each one (I believe) reigning in the stylistic excesses of the other, excesses which would sometimes overwhelm their later, solo, works.  I know it’s the most overexposed of their collaborations, but truly, if you read their Uncanny X-Men issues, you may finally understand why this group of mutant misfits became such a sensation.

11.  Loeb/Sale:  Again, not on my list, but their Batman work is amazing.  Besides the three miniseries you mentioned, they also did Catwoman: When in Rome which is just as much fun as the others.  Sometimes Loeb can strike out as a writer, but when he’s teamed with Sale, particularly on Batman, he seems to be able to write Batman and his cast with the best of them.  Sale’s unique visual interpretations of the Bat-Cast is just icing on the cake.

12.  Golden Age stories:  If you insist.  They are interesting for historical purposes, but for reading enjoyment?  I haven’t found one yet that really spoke to me.  No wait, I do have one, and it’s on my list.  I shall speak of it then

13:  Bill Mantlo:  I don’t even know what to say about him (except that your love for his work is stronger than mine).  Mantlo’s work was everywhere for Marvel in the 80s, until a tragic accident left him trapped in an unresponsive state.  I want to like his work more than I do.  None of it is bad, but so much of it speaks to potential ideas that he simply seemed unable to fully realize or express well on the page.  That being said, he made the Hulk a readable comic during his tenure, and was willing to change the Hulk’s status quo (which had remained relatively unchanged for almost 20 years) and I give him a lot of credit for that.

14.  Paul Pope:  I don’t get it, and I don’t see it.  I’m chalking this up to a man crush and leaving it at that.

15.  Seth Fisher:  Nope, don’t get this one either.  Perhaps we’ll chalk it up to you being cooler than I?

16:  Handbooks:  Not on my list, but I certainly loved both DC’s and Marvel’s Handbooks for their universes (and yes, I also believe that Marvel did a better job with their Handbooks).  I read through these constantly.  They were also a great way to keep current on any characters you didn’t read, and to find out about characters like Woodgod, who made precious few appearances and could be easy to miss (not that you miss anything if you miss Woodgod, but you get my point).

17.  Complete runs:  I couldn’t agree less.  I used to have complete runs of many titles, but got rid of the fill-in issues and bad runs when I realized I was wasting my time.  Why am I going to read the Chuck Austen written issues of The Avengers, just to have a complete run?  I can waste my time and money on them, or I can instead choose to spend those resources on something that actually warrants them.  I choose the latter option, and I encourage others to do the same. 

18.  Image:  Agreed.  Invincible isn’t on my list, but it’s one of my alternates.  I also agree that early Powers tend to be very strong issues.  I’d encourage people to always look outside Marvel and DC for good, strong super-hero stories (and other stories).  There is some great work being done outside of the Big Two, and you’re missing out if you don’t look for it.

19.  Authority:  Agreed, to a point.  I listed the first twelve issues, by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, as they really show what you can do if you take the brakes off and allow your comic to barrel ahead, with nothing holding it back.  These issues are also the first true “Widescreen” comics I ever read, and they draw you into them almost as if you’re watching a movie.  However, I can’t recommend any Authority comics after these two creators left; subsequent teams seemed to feel that the secret to the Authority was simply to try and raise the bar on violence, sex and witty banter, and the heart left the series.  It became simply a very empty, very cynical attempt to outdo anything else on the stands, and it’s not worth your time.

20.  Potpourri:  I agree with you on this, and always encourage people, again, to look outside of the Marvel and DC Universes for some great comics.  Although we mostly talk superheroes here, I find that some of my favorite comics are either barely superhero or aren’t superhero at all.  One of the series Jason mentioned is on my list, and I agree that the others are great.  There’s good stuff out there, stuff that appeals to a wide variety of tastes.  Go out, find it, and enjoy it.


Alpha Flight: They Come from the Land Up Above

Jun-11-08

Alpha Flight is one of the many Marvel properties that has had many different series, some of which were quite popular for awhile, but which have never been able to maintain that popularity for the long term. Personally, I’m a huge fan of many of the iterations of Alpha Flight, and I’ve been disappointed time and again when the series was cancelled. Why is it so difficult for this series to maintain a long shelf life? Perhaps a better question would be, why does this series exist in the first place?

It’s always a good idea, when creating a series, to have a reason why that series exists. What’s the central point of the series, and what makes it different than the gazillion other comic book super-hero series on the market today? The simple answer for Alpha Flight is that they’re Canadian. Well, this is all well and good, but it may not be enough. The Canadian culture, while certainly somewhat different than American culture, may not be different enough to merit interest, or at least, it may not have been portrayed as different enough. Most writers of Alpha Flight seem to feel that using Indian culture, Sasquatch legends and a hint of mysticism is enough to signify Canadian culture and to capture the interest of the reader, but obviously, that’s not worked out so well in the long run.

In the beginning, Alpha Flight was written and drawn by John Byrne. Byrne had originally introduced the characters in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, where Alpha Flight had seized the identity of “Those Canadian guys who let Wolverine get away.” For their first few appearances, this identity was sufficient. However, over time, the individual members of Alpha Flight began to develop strong personalities and Byrne had a strong base to work with when he began writing them in their own series. Still, Byrne wasn’t satisfied to simply write and draw a book containing a team full of strong characters. Byrne decided to break the traditional mold of the super-hero team series, and for the first year, we rarely saw the team as a team; most stories focused on individual adventures of the various team members, since Byrne broke the team up in the first issue. He finally reunited them in the twelfth issue, only to kill off the group leader (and remember, this was before deaths and resurrections of comic characters had become so common place). In other words, Byrne gave the book a very different feel and tone from any other super-hero team book on the stands at the time. His next year on the book continued to be bold and new, as he continued to break with established team book parameters and chart new waters.

Sadly, Byrne’s tenure came to an end, and after him, no other writer seems to have been able to capture a feel that made Alpha Flight stand out in the crowd. There have been decent stories told since then, but they are simply typical super-hero team stories told well, with nothing to differentiate them from other stories told about other super-teams. Indeed, in many of those stories, you could have dropped the Avengers, the X-Men or any other super-team into the roles of Alpha Flight and there would have been little appreciable difference. So, the question remains: is telling good super-hero stories sufficient in this day and age to sell a book? How does one make Alpha Flight stand out from the hordes of other super-teams on the stands? What makes Alpha Flight unique?

Didn’t give me much to work with there, eh? Hoser!

Ah…Canadians…my favorite group of nondescript white folks, from the land better known as “America’s Hat.” Here’s what I remember about Alpha Flight: they appeared in an X-Men comic (which I thought was pretty cool like “Hey, a bunch of new characters I’ve never seen before!” or “Wow, Canadians!”), they got their own series, and then they faded into obscurity. All of this would be the typical reaction from someone who wasn’t really a fan of the group, except for the fact that I have a HUGE run of their original title! Why can’t I remember any of the storylines from Alpha Flight? And why did I even bother to buy the first issue of the awful 2004 “revamp” that was more parody than power-packed?

Let me give a rundown of the team members as I remember them: Sasquatch (legendary wilderness creature later replaced by a guy in a robot suit named Box), Shaman (stereotypical Native American healer later replaced by his daughter Talisman), Vindicator (tough guy in a Canadian flag suit later replaced by his wife and the less confrontational name Guardian), Puck (a midget named after sporting goods), Snowbird (another stereotypical mystical type who could shapeshift), Northstar and Aurora (Quebecois twins with super-speed and light powers who originally had to hold hands to use their abilities) and Marrina (an alien fish chick). That’s quite the lineup, eh? Where’s the lumberjack who can shoot magical maple syrup out his nose? Or a Mountie with a flying horse? Or a goalie with a mystical hockey stick? Or Wolverine?

Even though my writing hero Bill Mantlo had an odd run on the book, I seriously can’t remember anything that happened. I recall some other “Flights” including Beta, Gamma and an Omega…a fight with Marrina’s people…and something to do with Canada’s version of Weapon X (Department H?). I refuse to rely on Wikipedia to cheat on this one, obviously!

I recently read an interview with one of the highers-up at Marvel and they said they were waiting for a good Alpha Flight pitch that was about more than just the fact that they’re Canadian. But the more I think about it, and with the current goings-on in the Marvel Universe with the Superhero Registration Act and all that, it would make sense for Canada to have its own equivalent superhero team for protection as much as standing in the world. I have no idea what the current status is on any of the original characters, though I assume many of them are dead. And I have no epiphanies on how or why Alpha Flight would be brought back, but for some reason I would like to try. Where do we start?

I agree that it only makes sense for Canada to have their own super-team. Let’s be honest; what country in the Marvel Universe wouldn’t want a super-team to try and offset the super-hero monopoly that America seems to enjoy? Considering how Canada has been shown in the past to get America’s super-hero castoffs whenever something big is going down in America (they got the villains during “Acts of Vengeance” and the heroes during “Civil War”). Surely they would want a team to help defend their interests, and there are actually a good amount of powerful superhumans from Canada to fill such a team. There was a limited series called Omega Flight that spun out of Civil War, but that didn’t really work for me. It had a Canadian super-team (and why would they use the name of a team of villains?) but it wasn’t all Canadians, and poor Omega Flight had to have US Agent foisted on them, which no one should have to endure.

While there is potential for a team that has some Americans on it, and the frustration and tension that could exist between the Canadians and the Americans on the team, I think that a good Alpha Flight book needs to feature a team of Canadians. I think that Canadian super-heroes are important, not because every super-hero needs to have their powers be connected to Canada in some way, but because the reader needs to get the Canadian viewpoint from these characters. The characters can’t feel Canadian because they can shapeshift into bigfoot, or because they speak French and English, or even because they’re from an Indian tribe native to Canada; they have to feel Canadian because of their actions, their choices and their backgrounds.

So, who do we include in this team? Unfortunately, many of Alpha Flight’s main characters have been scattered to the four winds, and during the Civil War mess, all of the big names in Alpha Flight were killed in a throw away scene during a storyline in New Avengers. This is always frustrating, as characters that are killed quickly and without drama, simply to make a new villain look powerful, are wasted characters. Of course, thanks to Marvel’s policy of killing and resurrecting characters like crazy, I believe almost all of Alpha Flight’s main cast have already died and come back, so I’m not going to worry too much about who’s dead and who’s not. With that being said, who can we use?

Before we delve too much into the cast of characters, let’s take a moment to consider the purpose of this book. We’ve already said that we’d like something a little more than “They’re all Canadians” as a hook upon which to hang this series. I think the series needs a Canadian outlook and viewpoint, but I do believe we need a little more. In 1999 (I think that’s the year), when Steven Seagle took a crack at the title as a writer, he used the hook that the Canadian government was manipulating the team. Blah, blah, blah. I think we’ve all seen enough government conspiracy stories (and I actually enjoyed much of his short-lived take on the series), but at least he had a hook. What are some possible hooks we could give a new Alpha Flight series? Why don’t we brainstorm this and kick it around a little?

I’ll start with a few ideas and see what you have. We could do the idea that they’re simply trying to stop what they see as American problems causing ripples of problems in Canada. I’m not sure that’s enough though, and do Americans want to read a title about people that are upset about America? I’m guessing no. We could do something mystical, since they’ve always had members that run towards mysticism, like Shaman, Talisman and even Snowbird (and even Puck, since his powers came from housing a demon inside him). We could focus on a possible rivalry with the X-Men. Yes, the two teams are friendly now, but they haven’t always been, and now the X-Men stole both Wolverine and Northstar. Hmm. Other ideas? Don’t feel you have to throw out a lot. Throw out a couple and then I’ll do the same.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is a coalition effort. I’m thinking of current events in our real world and how Canada and the United Kingdom are always the first to offer assistance to us. What if we have some sort of grave super-powered scenario (possibly post-Secret Invasion) that requires the help of friendly nations? Much like our conflict in Iraq drew the help of Canadian troops, this set-up would bring in a Canadian team of superheroes to assist in clean-up or protection or investigation or what have you. This is a quick way to introduce the team without having to give them an immediate origin. It sets up the fact that the group is, indeed, Canadian and is associated with their government. That’s idea number one.

Idea number two is my standard environmental disaster remedy. I don’t know how to organically bring together an eskimo, a hockey player, a giant beaver and a flannel-wearing pothead, but threatening their collective way of life seems like a good start. There’s a lot of open wilderness in upper Canada. That means a lot of nefarious things could be going on up there…illegal government experiments, tampering with genetics, covert militias bent on world domination, an enclave of rabies-infected zombie badgers. Perhaps one of our American heroes stumbles upon some sort of curious activity and is sent up there to investigate. The Canadian government provides Alpha Flight as an escort.

Or, thought number three, perhaps Alpha Flight IS the nefarious goings-on in the wilderness. Touching upon a bit of the Weapon X program, maybe the members of Alpha Flight are being held against their will in some sort of super-powered genetic experiment. I initially really enjoyed Wildstorm’s relaunch of Gen13 and this idea follows along that same path. Alpha Flight could have been developed as villains, but turned the tide on their captors and are now on the lam in the Great North hiding from the authorities while trying to escape their pursuers at the same time. Some way to tie it into US activities and other Marvel heroes would be helpful in making more sense of this approach (and appealing to your typical Marvel reader).

There are some good ideas here and there’s also some basis for them. In Steven Seagle’s Alpha Flight storyline, as I mentioned, the Canadian government was manipulating the team to their own ends, while still allowing the team the illusion of free will. Unfortunately, allowing them the illusion of free will became a problem, as the team members were eventually able to make use of the small amount of slack that illusion caused on the ropes of their captivity and escaped their control. So, the Canadian government may have learned from this (or, at the very least, a small portion of the government may have learned from this) and so they have decided to relaunch Alpha Flight and this time to maintain total control. In fact, I think making this a splinter group of the Canadian government (or perhaps, a splinter group of their military) may be the best way to go. We can then use this concept to create two Alpha Flight teams, one on the inside and one on the outside, and we can make them original and recurring characters.

On the inside, we’d have a team of mostly unknowns, with one established character. Let’s say the inside team consists of four characters. We wouldn’t want it to be many more than that and I don’t think this splinter group would want more than that either, since they want to make sure they have the power to control the superhumans they have. Basically, this group is experimenting on these four, trying to determine how best to duplicate their powers to create a superpowered army. I’d say our established character is Sasquatch. Originally, Langowski got his powers by basically recreating the experiment that turned Banner into the Hulk. It was later explained that in actuality, the experiment ripped a hole between dimensions, and a Great Beast came and took over his body, but even if that origin is widely known (which I doubt) is the average military general going to believe it? Doubtful. They’re going to believe that Langowski undertook a controlled experiment, was successful, and became one of the strongest superhumans in the world. They’re going to want a piece of that, so they swoop in, capture Sasquatch, and start the experiments.

Our other three characters in the inside group would be new ones I think. I don’t have specific ideas for them right now, and honestly, specifics aren’t important, especially since you could come up with another take or a better idea, but here is what I would NOT do; I would not make their powers Canadian. I would simply give them superpowers, without trying to tie those powers into their national identity. After all, most American superhumans don’t have powers based on life, liberty and apple pie; why should Canadian superhumans have powers based on moose, maple syrup and hockey? What I would do is make their backgrounds Canadian, and create personalities that are influenced by having grown up in that country, rather than America. Anyway, we would have some time to devote to these characters, as we’d do at least the first arc dealing with them being stuck in this facility.

However, that wouldn’t be all of the first arc. We’d also be dealing with the outside group. This group would be established heroes, with perhaps one new one stuck on the team, if we really wanted it. I’d say we start with Shaman. His mystical senses have picked up a great “disturbance in the Force.” The military has been testing the powers of their captured Alphans in the wilderness somewhere in Canada, and Shaman has been picking up on that. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows it’s bad. He summons a few members of the old team; let’s say Heather Hudson in her Vindicator armor and Puck. They decide to go searching, and they’re joined by Aurora, who’s upset that her on-again-off-again man Sasquatch seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. They make their way towards the site of the secret prison, which they find, and then they have to figure out how to get in the prison.

That’s the first arc, as I see it. Each issue is telling two stories; one of the group on the inside and one of the group on the outside. You could tell them completely separately (almost like a flip book), you could tell them as mirrors (with one story being on each side of the page, or one running on the top and the other on the bottom), you could simply intercut them; it doesn’t matter. You’re telling two stories. Finally, at the end of the first arc, you have the escape. Either the inside team makes a move, and the outside team picks up on it and supports them or vice versa. As the inside team escapes, they run into the outside team and with Sasquatch to act as an intermediary, the two teams become one.

You could then begin to move forward with other plots. This team is on the run from the people who had captured Sasquatch and his new allies, so some of the plots will be trying to determine who that is, gain information on them that could expose their nefarious activities, and shut them down once and for all. That could certainly be an overriding scenario for a number of issues, although it wouldn’t always have to be your A plot. So, are you with me so far? Or are we back to the drawing board?

Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment here, just for kicks. I agree with your assessment that we should steer clear of giving the heroes Canadian-based powers (though something to do with irradiated maple syrup could be a funny in-joke). The reality of that pigeonholing becomes apparent pretty quickly and severely cripples any sort of character building in the long run. However, I’m kind of stumped by your assertion that we should “create personalities that are influenced by having grown up in that country.” What does that mean exactly? Is there something inherently Canadian that would influence a hero’s outlook? Would they be making constant references to universal health care and limited cable channels?

I can sort of follow your premise of the inside team and the outside team, with neither of them being an official “team” until the one group is rescued by the other and they decide to combine their forces to thwart a common enemy. That’s fine. And I agree that Sasquatch is a good catalyst for the captive group, with the rest of the group consisting of new characters. I was doing some research into members of the former Beta, Gamma and Omega Flights to see if we could possibly use any of them, but most of them have turned out to be either completely useless or mutants who are now depowered (which is mostly the same thing). My biggest problems come from your idea to use the well-known former members of Alpha Flight as the outside group. Here’s the thing: most of them are dead. And I know that doesn’t mean much in the comic book world, but coupled with the fact that a lot of them were rather stereotypical, it seems like a great reason not to use them. Just a quick internet search turns up the corpses of: Vindicator (Heather Hudson), Box, Shaman, Marrina (at least in a weird coma), Northstar (under odd circumstances…or not?), Puck (both of them) and the original Guardian (of course). From what I can tell, the only members still alive are Snowbird (brought back from the dead at least once), Aurora (and possibly Northstar) and Talisman. Snowbird is part of something called the “God Squad” with Hercules and a bunch of other folks I’ve never heard of. Aurora and Northstar are hanging out with the X-Men post-Messiah Complex. Talisman was last seen in the latest Omega Flight series and, as far as I know, is still in Canada.

With all of that established, I think your idea could still work with Talisman in place of Shaman. It’s been said that, when properly trained, Talisman’s power would eventually rival Dr. Strange, so I could see her being in tune with her environment and sensing these “disturbances.” Plus, she was brought into the latest incarnation of Omega Flight due to the capture of Sasquatch, so we’ve got that common thread to work with too. As for the rest of the team, we have a few options. We can use current related characters such as Earthmover (Shaman’s former protege, trained in combat and hunting by Wolverine, should have some tie to Talisman because of her father), Cascade, Feedback, Purple Girl, Yukon Jack, Ghost Girl or Diamond Lil. We can bring in outside characters who have connections to Canada or Alpha Flight, such as Le Peregrine, Woodgod, Forge or maybe even some of the members of the Russian team Winter Guard. Or we can just make up our own…though the sense of urgency might be harder to build with brand new folks. The final thought on teammates is maybe bringing in an American that Talisman would turn to for help, someone she would have worked with in the past that could be used as the reader’s eyes in the team and establish the necessary “big picture” for the rest of the Marvel Universe.

I also like the idea of having the Canadian military involved…maybe an offshoot of Department H, perhaps the special ops soldiers, Epsilon Black, have set up the experiment? I like the thought of these imposing figures having complete control over the facility. I don’t think these need to be two separate stories being told at the same time. I see it as more of a gradual coming together. We could start off by showing the captive team in some sort of training exercise (a la the Danger Room) and something that happens during that exercise lets off a lot of energy which is felt by Talisman. The story builds from there, with a few cuts back to the captive group to fill in the blanks but most of the action coming from Talisman gathering her team and they can discover the complete plot along with the reader.

I still feel like we need to flesh this out more though. How about you?

Sorry that I’ve been MIA for a few days. I spent the weekend and change up on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. I know Nick Fury is one bad mofo and everything but he’s also kind of a drama queen. I mean, here’s a helpful hint the next time you talk to him. Do NOT mention that you didn’t wait through the credits of the Iron Man movie to see his deleted scene. Yeesh. Dude, chill out. I’ll catch it on the DVD.

Do we need to work on the Alpha Flight idea more? Yes, indeedy we do. I realized that most of the original team was dead, and even mentioned said deaths in my previous posting, as I said that the manner of their deaths was unacceptable (I shan’t repeat it….anyone can scroll up and find it). However, if you’d prefer to keep the dead in the ground, that’s fine, although you’ll never be a true Marvel Zombie unless you get used to killing off and bringing characters back to life pretty darn quick. Still, your suggested characters work fine.

However, your idea of keeping most of the attention on Talisman and her team, while interesting, I think could be self-defeating. By looking in at the captured heroes once, and then not really spending anytime with them again, we not only miss the opportunity to get to know our newer characters, we also lose the possibility of really empathizing with their situation. I contend that we could see enough of the characters on the inside, but not show all of their plight, and still allow Talisman to uncover much of the mystery on the outside that the reader is not aware of yet. Then, as Talisman uncovers pieces of the mystery, we could show even more of the inside.

Perhaps, like Iron Man, this is one where we’re just not quite going to be in sync. No?

No, no, no…I don’t think we’re that far off. It’s just that, from a storytelling standpoint, I think it’s kind of disjointed to try to tell two stories at the same time or to try to keep cutting back and forth between the two. I think we should probably start with the inside group and tell a bit (maybe an entire issue or two) about what is going on there, introduce the characters and flesh them out some, then find a catalyst to swing the narrative to Talisman and her group and advance that part of the storyline for another issue or two until the plots can converge. That way, the readers think we’re headed one way with the group only to have everything turn around with the introduction of the second group. Deception!

That being said, we still need to determine who these groups are. The reason I don’t really want to mess with the dead characters is that explaining how they’ve returned takes too much attention away from the story you’re trying to tell. Once the team is established and the first arc is finished, then we can go back and examine the dead characters and determine how or if they should return. You said that my suggested characters work fine, but you never state which ones you think should be in the group(s)! If we threw in everyone I mentioned, we’d have half of Canada in costumes. So, who do you think would make the strongest team out of the suggested characters? Or who would you like to create from scratch? Let’s brainstorm those a bit. I like the Earthmover character and think he’d be fun to write. Purple Girl, Ghost Girl, Cascade and Woodgod are pretty interesting (though one of the “Girls” would need a name change). The inside group would most likely be new faces, but what powers would their captors be interested in recreating? What’s the intended combination of the inside group’s make-up?

And then we need to determine just what is going on with the captive group. Who is holding them? Why? What are the objectives? And how does Talisman find out about everything? Lots to do here still…

Damn! Operation: Cut and Run has been derailed. Ok then, let’s do this thing!

I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to dilute the story by telling two stories at once. I’m not sure that following one group for a couple of issues and then switching to a completely different group for a few more is the way to go, as it could make the series feel somewhat schizophrenic. At the same time, it rather fits in with the tradition of Alpha Flight as a comic, since Byrne basically did the same thing in the series first run. So, ok. Good storytelling, works for Alpha Flight. Let’s roll with that.

As for characters, I have no idea how some of these characters are connected to Canada. Woodgod? Really? I thought he hung out in the American Southwest (isn’t there where he encountered the Hulk?). He’s got an interesting look, I suppose, but I’ve never read anything with him in it that inspired me to use the character (although, to be fair, I’ve only read maybe two issues that he even appeared in). I do like the Purple Girl, who had changed her name to Persuasion the last time I saw her. So, Talisman is a definite, and I like the Purple Girl. Who else? I think that Diamond Lil can be very interesting. She’s been a villain, and has been portrayed more than once as being a little more selfish and ruthless than your average hero. I think that could bring a very interesting dynamic to the group. I’ve also long been a fan of Manikin, and he’s worked with all of these characters, so they have a bit of history together. That’s four, and I’m not sure if I’d add anymore characters at this time. If we have four on the inside as well, that will give us a total of eight characters when the two teams merge, and that should be more than enough for us to focus on.

One of the other interesting things about this team also is that we aren’t talking about a lot of raw power here. Talisman has the potential for a lot of raw power, but she hasn’t learned how to use it yet. Diamond Lil is almost impossible to hurt, but offensively, she doesn’t have much going on. Persuasion can control someone, which is nice, but not overpowering, and Manikin can unleash three other beings from inside himself, but none of them are overwhelmingly powerful. Put it all together, and it’s a group that’s actually going to have to think their way through situations, and won’t be able to simply barrel through things. More importantly, if we tip the newbies in the inside group toward the higher level of the power scale, we have a nice situation of pitting power versus experience. It could make for an interesting team dynamic, especially if some of the older Alpha Flight members begin to feel threatened by the power level of the newer members.

Now, what about the inside group? What sort of powers are we looking at? Well, Sasquatch’s powers would be the most obvious, but they already have him. While it might make sense that they’re simply trying to recreate his powers, it wouldn’t be that interesting in the long run to have four Sasquatches. So, we have to figure that they’re trying to figure out powers that would work well with his. They could just be trying to duplicate the powers of some of the original members of Alpha Flight, since their powers worked well together. Certainly, it would make sense to create a version of the Guardian suit and have someone wear it. It’s a powerful combat unit, with some really nice powers that complement Sasquatch. I’d go with that, perhaps getting a member of the Canadian military in the suit, assuming that an offshoot of that same military is behind the whole thing. The captors might also want a shapeshifter, as a way to duplicate the powers of Snowbird. Or, instead of a shapeshifter, perhaps they can get the powers of the Canadian wildlife without shifting shape (since Snowbird always tended to get a little wacky as the animals took over her mind). That being said, perhaps someone with power more like Animal Man, someone who could tap into the strength of nearby creatures and use them as his own. That’s always been a neat power. Finally, there’s the only other logical power to duplicate (if we’re using the original Alpha Flight as our base) and that’s the super-speed of Northstar and Aurora. Perhaps our nascent hero has the same speed, and they’ve also given him more advanced light manipulating abilities, creating something like a cross between Northstar and Dazzler?

Ok, let’s take a moment to absorb the teams before we go on. I just know you’re going to have comments…

HA! You know me all too well! Yes, I have comments about the team roster, so let’s start there.

First of all, the last thing I can find about Woodgod says that he has been imprisoned by Department H for DNA experimentation…that definitely lends itself to what we’ve come up with. He’s ridiculously strong, has enhanced reflexes and stamina, and a strong resistance to toxins. And really, he’s a blank slate when it comes to characterization. He’s genetically engineered and prematurely aged, leaving him with the mind of a child and no real life experience to rely upon. I think he could be a fun character in the vein of Machine Man in the Nextwave series. I’m not permanently attached to him (even though he was created by my favorite writer EVER: Bill Mantlo). If you don’t like him, that’s fine. FINE, I say!

Earthmover was my attempt to inject a bit of the past Alpha Flight into the mix, with his heavy Shaman influence (and butting heads with Shaman’s daughter). Plus, he has the whole “hunter” vibe learned from Wolverine. And a cool mohawk. That withstanding, his powers run fairly parallel to Talisman’s. Coupled with the potential tension (which could be a good thing or not), it may not make sense to put him on a team with her.

Next up, I proposed Ghost Girl because she has a unique power that I think would be fun to write, a combination of Kitty Pryde and Doorman (from the Great Lakes Avengers). She and Persuasion are friends already, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for Talisman to contact one or the other and have both of them show up. In fact, Talisman contacted Persuasion previously during a story arc to help rescue Northstar from Asgard. And, as an aside, Persuasion was also created by Bill Mantlo!

I absolutely HATE Manikin. The idea of a character that can morph himself into other incarnations of himself is pretty ridiculous, especially considering that those other manifestations consist of an extra-strong caveman, an acidic blob and a nerdy punk who can see really well. Can you say outdated? I knew you could. Besides, the one interesting aspect of his power, the fact that he could manifest all three of these personas at the same time, has been stripped away. He can now only turn into one of them at a time. Boring.

Although, there is a connection between Persuasion and Manikin. I guess they dated briefly. But I don’t care. As far as I know, they broke up on bad terms and now hate each other. That works for me.

Diamond Lil is interesting for the reasons that you stated…previously a villain, kind of a jerk. Plus, there’s a bit of a mystery between Diamond Lil and Ghost Girl (whose first name is Lilli). Ghost Girl came from the Hull House orphanage, but I think they may have been building to the fact that Ghost Girl is Diamond Lil’s daughter (with Madison Jeffries). That could be interesting.

If we punt Manikin and insert Ghost Girl, we have an interesting dynamic…an all-female team investigating the disappearance of Sasquatch. Could be a storytelling niche for us to explore.

On to the inside team. Trying to replicate old Alpha Flight powers? That seems kind of pointless. I mean, I can almost understand the government wanting to recreate these abilities for their own version of a Super Soldier formula, but from a writing standpoint does it really make sense to create new characters who are essentially just the old ones in new bodies? I’d rather try to come up with some unique abilities that may have been gleaned from the DNA of various captives over the years. I would assume the Department H scientists (or whoever we have that split off from them) would be more creative in their research. That whole “Level 13” thing from the second Alpha Flight run is pretty ominous…Epsilon Flight, Epsilon Black and Kenyon, the Silencer armor (derived from the Guardian suit), Dr. Huxley…and seems to be on the cutting edge of espionage and possibly even revolution.

Sasquatch is a definite. If we go with the entirely estrogen-based outside team, then we have magic powers, mind control, phasing and invulnerability. To round things out, I think we need someone who can fly and someone who can manipulate a form of energy. The animal idea is cool and plays well with some sort of Canadian folklore aspect…taking the proportional abilities and senses of a beaver, polar bear, coyote, snowshoe rabbit, porcupine, et cetera.

Here’s the thing though. I think 8 team members is too many. I don’t know why, I just do. Seven seems like a stronger number to me. I think it would be interesting if the inside team was all-male, for obvious reasons. Also, I do more or less agree with your idea that we need someone with military training in a super suit. There’s already a new Guardian out there, so that would be rather redundant. However, what do you think about this idea: we make one of their captors into a sympathetic character who actually ends up aiding in their escape? We could take one of these unique Epsilon Black Silencer suits and use it for the good guys! Also, I think it would be rather poignant if, during the escape, we kill off two of our characters. Following the math, that would mean that the four women rescue the four men, they’re then joined by the suit dude and then two characters are wiped out…for a grand total of seven new Alpha Flight members! Hooray! And, considering that the power suit could give the ability to fly and project energy, I think I know which two characters are going to take a dirt nap. Hehe.

What do you think about that team creation scenario?

You know, I have always liked Manikin. Besides the romance he had with Persuasion, I also liked his powers, which I thought were different. However, he can be problematic, and he’s been handled oddly in the past. For example, when he was first introduced into the title (and was dating Persuasion) he was a cute, happy, inexperienced kid who seemed to be about 18. I stopped reading the book for awhile, and when next I saw him, about 50 issues later, he was a humorless, angry, by-the-books ass, who seemed to be about 35. Considering that Franklin Richards has been in kindergarden since we first landed on the moon, this change in Manikin’s age confused me. Anyway, you make a convincing case for his removal, and since Jim Lee probably won’t be drawing him this time, I’ll sacrifice him. Besides, an all female team is too interesting to give up.

So, we have our outside team. As for the inside team, I understand what you’re saying about duplicating the powers of the original team, but the reason I went that route is because those were proven powers that Sasquatch was used to dealing with. I think that, were a military mind in charge of this project, the logic behind that statement would be too compelling for them to ignore. However, again, I understand why this wouldn’t work from a writing standpoint so we’ll go your way. That means we have Sasquatch, a military guy who comes to their aid, a guy who can replicate the powers of animals, and a speedster. I’m counting four and four, which means eight. During the escape then, the speedster can be killed (either heroically or not), hopefully with at least one of the characters feeling that the death was their fault, or the fault of someone else on the team, so we can have some guilt and some anger over this death right off the bat.

So, we now have our team of seven (it has to be seven? Henry Peter Gyrich would have loved you). Seven actually is a good number for a team, so I’m ok with that. So, we now have our seven. What do we do with them?

Did you just spend three paragraphs agreeing with me and then throw it back on me like a game of Hot Potato? What is this, comic book Mad Libs?

Let me back up a second and ask you a question. Were you intending for Sasquatch to be experimented on with his cooperation or against his will? The reason I ask is because you seem to imply in your last response that his captors would be trying to replicate the former Alpha Flight members’ powers so that Sasquatch could fight alongside these new creations. Is that what you were going for? That would be an entirely different dynamic, one that would imply that Sasquatch wanted to be in Alpha Flight regardless of the consequences…like he had some ulterior motives. That would paint a different picture for me where Sasquatch would view his “rescue” as a setback to his ultimate goal and perhaps this inside group would only be pretending to go along with Talisman’s group until they could find the opportunity to take over the team.

Of course, if that wasn’t what you were implying, then please completely ignore the previous paragraph.

So…what now? Well, that’s a good question. What would be the goal of a new Alpha Flight team? They don’t work for the government (yet). They’re on the run from a quasi-military faction that was seeking to exploit them for their DNA or use them to create a super paramilitary group in order to take over Canada. I mean, let’s face it, the last time I checked, Canada’s military was comprised of six reindeer, a dude wearing long underwear, and an empty keg of Labatt’s. It wouldn’t be too difficult to dominate that impressive brigade.

Would Alpha Flight set themselves up as a secret sort of Justice League, stationed in a high-tech cabin on a remote island in the Hudson Bay, who swoops in to the rescue of their homeland in times of crisis? I can’t imagine these seven characters helping to stop bank robbers or foiling the plans of terrorists trying to hold the crowd hostage at the Calgary Stampede. They must have some higher purpose, without veering off into the bizarre “Great Beasts” stuff again.

I’d like to see them standing side-by-side with the Avengers and MI:13 and Winter Guard and Big Hero 6 and whatever the state-sponsored heroes are in other countries. In fact, by sanctioning this new Alpha Flight and having them show up in an official capacity at various hotspots around the world, we’d have a simple way to focus on some of Marvel Earth’s other national teams and get Alpha Flight involved in some international (or even intergalactic) projects. The catalyst for this governmental backing could come from the simple act of taking down the group that was holding them and exposing their plans to the Canadian citizenry. Once they became heroes to the people, the government would almost be forced to accept them (which could lead to a subplot involving the reluctance of the government to get into the superhero business again).

So, you caught onto the shenanigans with the earlier post? Well, the truth can now be told; that Johnathan was actually being controlled by Kang and Mantis. Luckily, a group of my friends were able to go into the past and pluck a younger me out of the timestream, and the older, Kang-controlled me has now been defeated. I am also about ten years younger, and this is a good thing. I’ve been trying to reverse the aging dilemma, and it was this or have my head stuck in a jar of fluids so I could live to the 24th century. This way will do just fine.

Let me see what you and the Kang-Controlled John were doing. Hmmm. Good stuff. You know, I’m not sure if Kang-Controlled John (who we can refer to as KCJ from now on; us youngsters from ten years ago love us some abbreviations) intended for Sasquatch to be working with the new Alpha Flight for his own agenda, but that does create some really great possibilities, doesn’t it? I’d hate to see Sasquatch turned into a bad guy (especially as there’s nothing in his past or his personality that suggests he would do that), but it would make for an interesting angle in the series. The easier route would be to say that Sasquatch was captured by this offshoot of the government and decided to cooperate simply because he was “playing along”; trying to determine what was happening and staying close to the situation in case it got out of hand. That’s a perfectly good explanation. But what if there were some other forces in motion here? The easiest way to give Sasquatch an ulterior motive would be to resurrect the whole Great Beasts thing and say they were (are) controlling him. However, it’s been done before, and like you, I think keeping the Great Beasts out of this series is a good idea. So, why else could Sasquatch have been working with this offshoot of the government? Maybe he’s a Skrull? Nah, nobody would believe that.

There’s always the tried and true method of having Sasquatch be insane, probably due to watching his oldest friends and allies die at the hands of a pathetic new villain. However, that’s also been done to death, and again, Sasquatch has been through hell, literally. I don’t think there’s much that’s going to push him over the edge. Perhaps Sasquatch has been convinced that there is some sort of threat coming that Canada needs to defend against? Perhaps Sasquatch just feels that Canada needs an Alpha Flight? Possible, but then he’d be fine with the new one once he’s rescued, and that eliminates the possibility of him working against the team later on. We could go with the following story: Sasquatch watches his friends die horribly, without even putting up much of a fight, and then sees an unknown superhuman lay waste to part of Canada and walk away as if nothing happened. Sasquatch realizes, at that time, that Canada has been lucky in the past; they’ve rarely had an official Alpha Flight team, since the team has been on and off since the early 80’s, and the country needs a team to protect it. However, the original Alpha Flight team weren’t able to stop this guy, and Sasquatch believes its because none of them were really ever trained for this kind of thing. Guardian and Vindicator were office workers, Shaman was a medical doctor, Northstar was a skier, and Aurora was a teacher….heck, it’s amazing that they didn’t get wiped out three times a week. Sasquatch, seeing what America just went through with Civil War, begins to think that perhaps those crazy Americans got it right, and super-heroes undergoing official government training is the best way to create a strong team to protect his country.

So, Sasquatch talks to some friends in the Canadian military, and together they come up with the idea of a new Alpha Flight. Why start with a new one and try to recreate some powers, instead of using existing heroes like Talisman? Well, Sasquatch feels that most of the heroes like Talisman and Persuasion suffer from the same problem as Guardian and Vindicator….they were never trained, and moreover, because they have a little experience as heroes, they’re going to hesitate to be trained. They think they’re already good enough to be heroes, but that’s the same thing Shaman got, and now he’s ash. Sasquatch feels that they wouldn’t fit in with the new, military type team he envisions, so he goes with new people (perhaps they’re all military, not just the one in the suit. Or perhaps not. This does also explain why they’re trying to duplicate the powers of the original team; Sasquatch feels comfortable with those powers, and he helped set the agenda. Perhaps he’s also hoping that the new heroes will provide something of a legacy for his fallen friends.). What Sasquatch doesn’t know is that his main partner in this endeavor (we can use General Clarke from the second series, as a placeholder) wants to go farther than Sasquatch, and create superbeings he can use to dominate the nation. Now, once the program is up and running, Sasquatch is down in the trenches with the new heroes, because he knows he needs the same military training that they’re getting, if they’re going to become an effective fighting team. That enables Clarke to start doing some illegal and dangerous things which will eventually draw Talisman’s attention, and explains why Sasquatch may not know about them. He’s either in the dark, because he’s having his big furry butt trained off, or he sees some of the lesser abuses, and he brushes them off. Yes, what Clarke is doing may be a little much for Sasquatch, but then he sees the burning, broken body of his friend Mac, and he shakes away his doubts.

Talisman and her team come busting in to rescue this team, and shut down the operation. Now, no one (including the reader) knows that this was something Sasquatch helped to create. He had given instructions with General Clarke that he wanted to be treated just like everyone else, so that he could meld with the new heroes, and they wouldn’t look at him differently. Clarke escapes, and Sasquatch is knocked unconscious early in the battle. When he wakes up, he’s miles from the compound, with a bunch of people who have declared themselves the new Alpha Flight. The new heroes are happy, because life was no fun in the compound during training, and they don’t see it as being for the greater good, as Sasquatch did. So what does Sasquatch do now? He’s not a stupid man. He sits and listens, and realizes that Talisman and her team of heroes destroyed the complex, so he can’t take his new recruits and go back to training. He also knows they might not agree with or accept his theories on the nature of the superteam for the 21st century. But he doesn’t want to allow them to continue without some guidance, and he thinks his new heroes have a lot of potential, so he decides to stay with the team and not tell them what really happened.

Clarke, meanwhile, will probably think that Sasquatch has betrayed him. For a while, he’ll dog the team, trying to bring Sasquatch down. During this time, the team sets up a secret headquarters. You’re correct that I don’t see them taking down bank robbers, but I do believe Sasquatch would want them out there as much as possible, certainly fighting anything that menaced the country. He’d also be trying to train the team, and how would that go over, especially with those who have separate jobs and lives and don’t want to take the time to run combat scenarios three times a day? Eventually (unknown to the reader), Sasquatch would find Clarke and meet with him face to face and explain what happened. What do the two of them decide to do? Perhaps Sasquatch would convince Clarke to keep hounding the team, and to keep attacking, seeing this as an ongoing training exercise that would keep the team on their toes. “What if someone gets hurt?”, Clarke asks. Sasquatch decides that’s an acceptable risk. “Better a broken leg than a broken body,” he replied. “Perhaps, when they realize how dangerous this business can be, they’ll get out before they get seriously injured or killed.”

So, what do you think of that direction? It doesn’t make Sasquatch a villain, which is too trite, but simply someone with a different viewpoint on how heroics should be. He might work against the team somewhat, but mostly he’d just be trying to mold it into what he feels it needs to be to survive. This entire plot would play out as a subplot for the first few years of the title, while we deal with other things in the foreground. Then it could all come to a head in the third year, and we could use it as a way to completely reinvent the group if we wanted to, and head off in other directions.

Me confused. Me not understand “10 Years Younger John” and his weird Sasquatch talk. JASON SMASH!

No, really, I think there are a few good things in there, but it does throw off a bit of what we had planned out earlier. I’m not sure I understand what the impetus would be for Talisman and her friends to get involved. And, even though you mention it briefly, we seem to have given up completely on a nefarious reason for Sasquatch to be captured…which also makes it more difficult to get Talisman involved. You also kind of lost me with Sasquatch waking up miles away from the compound and not really knowing what happened during the battle. That eliminates any sort of “new hero gets killed and others feel bad” aspect of the fight.

That said, I think there’s a way to blur some of those discrepancies a bit. Let’s just call it one big misunderstanding. Sasquatch is approached by…well, since General Clarke is presumed dead in a nuclear reactor incineration mishap…someone and asked to take part in rebuilding the Alpha Flight program. This makes sense to him since he’s been involved in every incarnation of the Flight and has served as the leader and recruiter for the group on more than one occasion. He doesn’t read anything into the request because he’s thinking along the lines of proper training and true government backing (like you’ve mentioned).

The way I see it, his contact could be either Dr. Horatio Huxley (who is clearly a bad person and had been involved in the Weapon X program and a bunch of nasty stuff with Diamond Lil, though he was last seen trying to get hired by SHIELD) or it could be Holland Gentry (the guy who succeeded Clarke in Department H and seems to have regained some trust, but that could just be a facade).

Either way, the contact obviously has bigger ideas for Sasquatch’s team. They want to take over the government because of the past troubles with Department H or because they think they know better than the people running things now or they’re just stupid and insane. Regardless, something bad is going on behind the scenes that Sasquatch is completely unaware of. He goes along with what seems to be a great plan to him. He’s introduced to some genetically enhanced teammates and is encouraged to help train them. Hell, maybe he’s even involved in choosing who gets what powers. Maybe he’s brought in on the ground floor of things just to gain his trust even further.

However, the program starts escalating quicker than Sasquatch is comfortable with. Things start to happen…the group is sent on questionable missions…lines seem to have been crossed. Sasquatch is too proud or too blind by his values to realize that what he wanted and what is actually going on are two different things. His team is sent to “rescue” some sort of weapon from the military. During the conflict, Talisman and her team show up to protect this weapon. Sasquatch learns that he’s been led astray and his team is actually there to steal the item. In the heat of the battle, one of Sasquatch’s teammates is killed and Sasquatch blames himself. Does Sasquatch go along with things or try to steer his team in the right direction and assist Talisman’s group?

I don’t know where we go from there. I’m sort of stuck with your idea that Sasquatch would be trying to play both sides against the middle here. Maybe I’ve gone too far in my idea. It just doesn’t make sense to me that Talisman would show up for no reason to take down Sasquatch’s “partner.” Or that his partner would be willing to let him go after the work they put in. Or that Sasquatch would meet with him later and strike some sort of deal to have him continue chasing the team…especially because I can’t imagine the new Alpha Flight working out in the open to protect Canada while also trying to hide from these anonymous pursuers. Too many coincidences and stretches of logic.

I do like the internal struggle of Sasquatch trying to put together a well-trained team while also trying to balance the needs of Talisman’s group. He sees more than one way to get to the same conclusion, but feels guilty for misleading the others. There are some great beats that we’re missing in here though…how do Sasquatch’s teammates feel about being part of this new team versus what they were planning on doing originally, the interesting drama brought forth by the all-female team rescuing them, and the feelings of guilt and fear associated with a teammate being killed right out the gate. I’m not really sure if we’re over-complicating things or over-simplifying them. Can you sift through any of these concerns?

All right, we seem to be on the same page (or at least the same chapter) with Sasquatch and his involvement with the government sanctioned team. Let’s say he’s working with Dr. Huxley….perhaps SHIELD turned Huxley down for a job, and this is his back-up plan. If he’s going to be stuck working for the Canadian military, he’s going to turn that military into one that fits his views of the world!. My idea had been that Talisman gets involved, not because of Sasquatch at all, but because she gets wind that the government is involved in creating superhumans, perhaps because Huxley had kidnapped some people to use as test subjects when he was first trying to give people super-powers. Sadly, those people died horrible deaths that Sasquatch doesn’t know anything about (Huxley knows that Sasquatch is too moral to have a lot of details on the program). So, Talisman finds out about one of the kidnappings (perhaps it’s someone in her circle of influence…a friend, a former classmate, a co-worker or whatever) and starts to look into that. She finds out about this government conspiracy, sees Huxley’s name connected to it, and immediately assumes that evil is afoot, since Huxley has a history (a bad one) with Alpha Flight. She starts gathering her team to stop this one.

From there we can move to the scene you describe where both teams end up dueling over a weapon. Talisman’s team is all gung ho to protect it, Sasquatch’s team is all gung ho to take it, and Sasquatch can’t quite pick a side. Because of his hesitation, someone is killed. Alternatively, he does pick a side and someone is killed, and he feels that, had he picked the other side, the death would not have occurred. Alternatively, he picks a side, and feels that the death was caused by someone on the other side (I like the idea that he stays with his group, and then one of his people dies, by an accident on the side of Talisman’s group). I’m going with the last choice, as we now have someone on Talisman’s side feeling guilty that she caused the death of someone, plus we have Sasquatch, now convinced that his feelings about a team of non-military trained superheroes was right all along; they get people killed.

Of course, what I’ve just done is completely changed the entire premise of the series again, because at this point, why would Sasquatch and his team of allies start working with Talisman. My suggestion at this time is that they DON’T start working with Talisman. Sasquatch is understandably upset that one of his people died, and he holds Talisman responsible. She’s here, where she shouldn’t be, meddling in affairs that don’t concern her. She can try to tell Sasquatch what she knows of Huxley’s nefarious dealings, but is Sasquatch really going to listen to her now? Talisman decides she needs to leave, and she teleports her team away, while Sasquatch and his group head back to their base with their fallen comrade.

I’m sure you’re ready to shoot me now, since I’m continuing the thread, and I’ve changed our original idea again, but hey, what can I say? This is brainstorming. I think this premise is more interesting than what we had before, and I also think that it gives us a lot of room to work. We’ve basically got two Alpha Flight teams. Talisman has her small group, and she’s unsure of what to do. Is Sasquatch right, and she shouldn’t be involved? One of her group did cause someone’s death. However, she knows Huxley is up to no good, and she knows he needs to be brought down. She also has a teammate who is dealing with causing someone’s death, and that has to create a tension within the team. There’s a lot to work with here, and I see Talisman’s group as basically being devoted to stopping Huxley and closing down Sasquatch’s group. Another interesting idea would be if it’s actually one of the women on Talisman’s team who has the friend/lover/relative who was captured by Huxley originally, and this woman came to Talisman (as one of the few experienced Alpha Flight members not dead and available) and asked her to help her stop Huxley. That means that Talisman can be even more conflicted in her role as leader of this group, while one of the women is very gung ho in taking down Sasquatch and his allies; perhaps the other ladies in the group fall somewhere between these two in their feelings, and that has to create some great group dynamics. So, this group is focused on stopping Huxley, but they may have some side adventures, if something gets in their way.

Meanwhile, we have Sasquatch. He’s angry and more convinced that he’s right than ever before. However, he’s also not stupid. When he gets back to base, he’d undoubtedly start investigating Huxley himself, and we could do plotlines along those lines. However, Talisman’s group would now include someone wanted for murder, so Sasquatch’s group would be tasked with taking them down. The other members of Sasquatch’s group don’t have the history with Talisman’s crew, and they’re likely to be quite angry over the death of their comrade at the hands of what they would consider an unauthorized and completely bogus Alpha Flight. So, you have Sasquatch trying to stop Talisman because he believes she’s wrong, but also trying to do it civilly because she’s an old friend, and having to keep his soldiers in line because they’re angry and out for blood. Add to that the fact that Sasquatch doesn’t trust Huxley, and is trying to find out what’s going on within his own program, and you have, again, a team with the potential for a lot of interesting character interactions.

This is a comic that deals in shades of grey. Talisman is right; Huxley is going outside the law, and he should be brought down. Sasquatch is right; Talisman’s group is barely trained, and their inexperience killed someone. I’d almost like to say that it could be Civil War done right; here we have two people, neither one evil, neither one completely on the right side, who are making choices that seem correct to them at the time, but seem to keep moving them further away from any common ground with an old friend. It’s almost a tragedy, and as we discussed with my last proposal, we can eventually bring this to a head, and at that time, completely change the paradigm of the series. Perhaps Sasquatch and his team finally capture Talisman and her friends. Do they then stand trial? Will that mean that Huxley’s nefarious deeds would be exposed? What would Huxley do to keep his secrets hidden? Does Talisman and her team finally take down Sasquatch and his? If so, what then? Can they convince Sasquatch that Talisman was right about Huxley? Will he join her and become an outlaw too?

I think there is a lot of potential here for storylines and there are so many things I haven’t mentioned yet. Sasquatch’s team would have to go out on official missions; what happens if they end up at an encounter that also includes Talisman’s team (for example, if the safety of the country is at stake and both teams feel duty bound to try and stop the threat)? How do the citizens of the country feel about having two Alpha Flight teams who apparently don’t get along? Would one team be hailed as heroes, and the other as villains? Would one team try and win the hearts and minds of the citizens, or would they consider public opinion unimportant? I just think we’ve left ourselves with a lot of good stories here.

What a great idea! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I quit this dumb blog! Worthless! Pointless! No, wait, I actually like this direction a lot. Awesome! Insightful! I love it! This is the best blog ever! We should win an award or something! How pathetic. Or perfect. I’m not sure anymore.

That last paragraph was my sarcastic summation of where this post has taken us. The longest discussion we’ve had so far has looped back on itself at least twice now. On the one hand, I find this process fascinating from a creator standpoint as I imagine that this is how the professionals hammer things out with each other, like our own private summit meeting. On the other hand, wow, I’d really like to start talking about something else now. No wonder the folks at Marvel can never seem to get a worthwhile pitch on this project.

Honestly, I think this is a great direction. It has a lot of tension built in, perfect dramatic pieces, and a quasi-political angle that takes a serious look at superheroics and their consequences. You’re right in the sideways comparison to Civil War, but with even more twists and turns. We have two teams that, at times, have the same goals and yet are going about reaching them in dramatically different ways. One team is backed by the government but is corrupt at its core, even though the members on the frontline feel that they are acting in good faith. The other team is semi-passive in its process, but resolute in its ultimate ambition. And the leaders of each group have their own inner dichotomy to deal with. Sasquatch wants to have a strong team but doesn’t want to hurt his friends. Talisman wants to do what’s right but doesn’t want to discourage her former teammate. Each, in their own way, is a reluctant leader because of the layers of emotion and history wrapped around them.

And there is the additional strata of perspective. You’ve mentioned the public versus government angle. My feeling is that the public would back Talisman’s group because they know her face and they know her to have been on the good guys’ team in the past. There’s a certain built-in cache they’d have by being an all-female group too. Plus, if they’re in the public eye doing good deeds, they garner that extra goodwill that comes with it. The government team, on the other hand, has to battle the past transgressions of the Department H program coupled with the fact that most citizens are initially wary of anything the government tries to proclaim as “in their best interest.” In a way, Sasquatch’s group could be hamstrung by popular sentiment…the media ganging up on them and always taking the female group’s side, plus the added smack in the face of naming them “Alpha Flight” and giving Sasquatch’s team some sort of demeaning moniker. I like it. Layers are good. Intrigue! Depth! Emotion!

Now let’s move on to something less…uh…Canadian. I feel dirty.


Sub-Mariner: Playing the Prince or Acting the Fool?

May-09-08

Prince Namor, ruler of the fabled Atlantis, is really just a half-naked dude with wings on his feet…a half-breed in a Speedo…a pointy-eared ne’er-do-well who plays the heavy as often as he plays the hero. Namor’s early exploits painted him as comicdom’s first true anti-hero. He had a fierce loyalty backed by a short temper. Of course, these are the same early days that portrayed both Batman and Captain America toting guns and flaunting some rather graphic violence.

It’s hard to believe that one of Marvel’s top three original characters (alongside Cap and Human Torch) has fallen so far from favor in today’s comics. Who would’ve thought that a fish-man in a swimsuit could drum up such high sales numbers in his early career? But somewhere along the way, he lost the audience. And, much like the early success and subsequent disinterest of both Ant-Man and The Wasp, Sub-Mariner has faded into semi-obscurity.

The history of the character is a bit twisted and contradictory (not much of a surprise for early comic book creations). His career began with a fight against the original Human Torch. Then, he joined forces with the Torch against Hitler as part of the All-Winners Squad. Later, Marvel history would be retconned to create a group called The Invaders that he also adventured with (not sure what they were invading or what The Avengers were avenging for that matter). A few brief revivals kept the character in comics, but as superheroes faded in popularity, so did Namor’s appearances.

When the Fantastic Four made Marvel a household name again, Namor wasn’t far behind. He has been tied to the team for decades, based on his unrequited obsession with Sue Storm. The character has been both a member of the Defenders and the Avengers, as well as a repeated ally of Doctor Doom. He has waged war against the surface dwellers and repelled attacks by Atlantean insurgents. He even once married his cousin. But he has never really found his niche.

Part of the problem is that no one has ever definitively explained who he is and what he’s capable of. He once exhibited the powers of various undersea lifeforms, channeling electricity like an eel and expanding in size like a puffer fish. At times, his creation was based upon the kidnapping and rape of his mother while in another instance he fought valiantly alongside his father. He’s been given wings on his feet and gills in his neck (and subsequently had both taken away and restored at various intervals). One interesting run had him heading his own business and fighting pollution. He even recently murdered his newly discovered son. Basically, Namor has been all over the place.

But look, this is the Marvel Universe. Anything can happen. With that being said, where does Namor fit? What are his strengths? Who does he surround himself with? How can Marvel somehow make him a relevant, interesting and involved character again?

Ah Namor. You know, I never really enjoyed this character much until John Byrne’s series from the early 1990’s, which I thought was the first time I had really seen the character start to move toward fulfilling his potential. Now, going back and reading a lot of Namor comics from the past decades, I can state that I rarely find him particularly interesting. That’s not to say that I don’t feel the character has potential, because I do. I just don’t think very many creators have used him as well as he could be used. Besides Byrne, I also enjoyed the (very short) time Roger Stern used him in the Avengers (yes, I’m going to praise the Stern run on the Avengers again. Look, it was a creative high point for that title….deal with it unbelievers!). I thought that Namor worked well in that setting. He’s a powerful monarch and head of state, and he’s being ordered around by a woman who’s power is to grow small, sprout wings, and design costumes. There’s obviously going to be friction! Plus, I thought playing Namor against Hercules was a very inspired move, as it brought out the best in both of them. So he worked in a team, but on his own?

I think one of the things that really defines Namor (and its why, although I like him in team settings, he rarely stays in them for long) is that he is a loner. He has no real long term relationships amongst the superhuman set, with a few notable exceptions (I would say Captain America and the Invisible Woman being those exceptions, with perhaps the original Defenders being included as well. I would argue that you can’t really include any of the Fantastic Four except for Sue, since the men really have never seemed to like him much at all.). Most other heroes either don’t like him, don’t understand him, or don’t know him. Even if some of the older Namor comics from the 1960s and 1970s, when he ruled Atlantis, seemed to rarely show him with much of a connection to even other Atlanteans! You can’t even really count his love interests, since both of his wives (Dorma and Marrina) died very shortly after he married them. He has had passing dalliances with others and short lived alliances, but really, there is always a sense of cold distance between Namor and his allies. I think that makes him somewhat unique and I think it’s something on which to focus.

I don’t necessarily believe that Namor acts like this because he wants to be alone. He’s someone who has never really known his family and who has been thrust into the role of ruler, and usually protector, of an entire nation. A nation which, powerful though it may be, is often on the brink of war with the rest of the world. I think that the recent storyline where Namor killed his newly discovered son is a perfect example of what makes him such a fascinating character in the right hands; he’s truly willing to do anything. I remember reading that series, wondering what Namor would do, and continually saying to myself, “No way will they have him kill his son.” Yet that’s exactly what they did, and it made perfect sense from the aspect of the story. Namor did what he felt he had to to protect his people and it’s his willingness to make those kinds of sacrifices, his ability to be the anti-hero when need be, that I really like about him. I don’t get the impression that Namor particularly enjoys the things he must often do (as when he killed his son). Instead, he has an air of gravity about him, as he realizes that he simply must do these things.

How to make him relevant? I would argue that he’s already relevant; he’s the leader of a foreign power, a power that is strong, that is independent, and whose goals are not entirely known to us. If that doesn’t make him a perfect fit for much of the world today, I’m not sure what would. Some people in the Marvel Universe consider Namor and the Atlanteans to be terrorists and violent warmongers, and they certainly have good reason, considering the amount of times Atlantis has attacked the surface world. I think those smoldering political tensions could make for an interesting backdrop to tell stories featuring Namor.

I must admit that I already had a path in mind for my Namor revamp when I originated this post and I was hoping you would validate some of that with your response (which you did). He is, ultimately, a loner. Plus, he’s the boss. He runs an entire kingdom…even though it’s only ever shown as one big underwater city. The only major complaint I have about him is that he comes across a bit like Tony Stark. And by that, I mean that his supporting cast is virtually nonexistent. He makes all the decisions himself and has no outside judgment to help guide him. To tell the truth, I think he’s better “friends” with Doctor Doom than with any other surface dweller.

So, let’s push him to that extreme. Why shouldn’t the Sub-Mariner focus all of his energy on politics and intrigue? Let’s give him his own title or miniseries that is less about punching other heroes in the neck and more about the drama involved in potential war. And wouldn’t it be entertaining if that war was with Latveria and the one monarch he probably respects more than anyone? I like tension.

There are a few things we need to understand first, the most important of which is scope. Atlantis is supposed to be a kingdom…an empire, if you will. Well, that would most likely mean that it encompasses more than one gigantic city, right? Every other country on the planet is a collection of lands and metroplexes. Why shouldn’t Atlantis be the same? And, since water takes up more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, ruling over the mega-country of Atlantis would be one huge ball of nigh-overwhelming stress every day of the year. What’s the economy of Atlantis? Where do they get their technology (and how does it work underwater)? How do they communicate with each other over such massive amounts of space? Hell, I want to know why things are always so bright in Atlantis when it’s hundreds of feet under the ocean!

I have my own answers to those questions, but I want to know what you think first.

It’s so interesting that you would mention that Namor seems closer to Doom than most superheroes, since I was thinking the exact same thing when I wrote my original response. I think focusing on the ruling of Atlantis is a great idea, and Marvel’s in a position to do this. Besides Doom and Namor, we also have T’Challa, the Black Panther, who rules the country of Wakanda….that’s three monarchs who hold places of importance in the Marvel Universe. Add in Black Bolt and Attilan, and we could do some fascinating political stories that center on the superhuman side of the equation….there are also numerous stories that could be done with countries not ruled by superhumans as well.

I think that trying to capture the essence of an underwater city is difficult, and while I’m not an expert on any of the undersea characters that have appeared in comics over the years, I’d say that no one has successfully managed it yet. I believe it can be done, but many of the questions you ask need to be answered. I certainly agree that it has never made sense that Atlantis is simply one big city. There should be multiple settlements scattered through the oceans, with Namor as the ruler of them all. However, each city would have to have it’s own, regional, leader. Whether they be mayors, governors, or a more feudal title like lord, regent, duke or baron (or, perhaps even more likely, a title unique to Atlantis), I believe introducing these characters into Namor’s story could only be beneficial. They may not be supporting cast in the traditional sense of the word, since I don’t know that they could be considered friends, but they’d be political allies and rivals, and could help to give Namor’s title additional characters. Having multiple cities in the kingdom of Atlantis also gives Namor a chance to be out and about and away from the capitol, which is important, I believe, for the action.

As for creating the details of their society, you ask some fundamental, and vitally important, questions. How the heck does their technology work underwater (and not just any water, but salt water, which would corrode and short circuit almost any technology that we have created). Just how much technology do they have? We often don’t see a lot of technology in their day to day lives (I don’t recall seeing anything like a radio or TV, and when you see people in the city, they don’t seem to be using much technology), but when they go to war, watch out! Suddenly they have massively sophisticated battle cruisers and weapons, dwarfing much of what the surface world can produce. I believe that somewhere along the line they may have suggested that they found a cache of Deviant technology or the like, but why would another race create technological devices that could be used so well underwater? Still, it seems that most of their technology is geared toward making war, and that’s something I think I would want to follow up on. Whether through choice or design, it seems significant.

You make good points. Even though the Marvel Universe is mostly based in our universe, it does have its own differences. Marvel claims that its strength lies in its reality, but we never really see that reality come into play unless it’s to the extreme. We’ve seen one or two references to President Bush and, of course, there was a strong reaction to 9/11, but there isn’t a constant underlying theme of our Earth’s political structure.

Here’s a great opportunity to bring in some intrigue and tension without it revolving around someone getting hit or zapped. Wakanda and Latveria are both run by powered beings (I’m not even sure where Attilan is anymore…the Moon? Himalayas?). And let’s not forget other established Marvel countries like Silver Sable’s homeland of Symkaria, the High Evolutionary’s Transia, the Ancient One’s Kamar-Taj and the island nation of Madripoor. Any combination of these countries’ interests, resources and reasons to rumble would make for some good stories and long-lasting consequences. There’s a chance in here to shape the Marvel Universe for the better by adding much-needed depth and dynamics.

Let me start with my thoughts on Atlantis. In current Marvel continuity, the city-state of Atlantis is no more, with Namor allowing it to be blown to bits in an effort to destroy Nitro. The Atlanteans have been scattered. And, to tell the truth, this is the perfect set-up for my ideas. Look, Atlantis made no sense. I understand that it was a thriving continent thousands of years ago, rivaling even the ingenuity of Greece and the power of the Roman Empire. However, once it sank beneath the ocean, that effectively brought an end to its relevance for the surface world. The people all became a subspecies called Homo Mermanus…Mermen (and mermaids). There’s no reasonable explanation for the fact that they continue to wear robes and fancy jewelry like the court of Camelot, yet their city looks like something out of The Jetsons with its futuristic shapes and advanced technology. The entire scene is anachronistic.

So the whole place goes BOOM. Excellent. Let’s start over from scratch. What is the Atlantean economy based on? Who do they trade with and what are their products? If there’s a trade agreement with some nations of the surface world, I would guess that it’s based on fishing and mining. And, if it’s not, it should be. The Atlanteans are much better equipped for procuring those resources than anyone in the surface world. Plus, if you look at Atlantis like any other country, wouldn’t it have drilling rights on its own land? And, extrapolating that idea a step further, if a surface nation owns the airspace over its land, wouldn’t Atlantis actually own the shipping routes that run above its land as well? Those are some interesting facts to base political maneuvering upon.

The other economy that makes perfect sense, based on the location and circumstances of Atlantis, is piracy. If we establish that the nation of Atlantis is actually many smaller cities and outposts spread out across all the planet’s oceans, then it would be plausible that some of these smaller locations would supplement their survival by robbing passing cruise ships, helping themselves to the various goods found on merchant vessels, and even capturing some armaments from smugglers and submarines. This could lead to a lot of conflicts and potential showdowns.

Further exploring the New Atlantis, I would guess that it would be a massive undertaking to rebuild their capital city. Perhaps they don’t do it right away. What if they take to whatever natural shelters they can find? Let’s say that their cities are now based around shipwrecks, caverns and underwater ruins…a loose collection of villages connected by the currents. Each one of these “states’ would be run by a governor (a Mer-Duke or Mer-Chief…or, taking Greek/Roman reference, Argos or Archos for “leader”) and these leaders would make great friends and foils for Prince Namor’s rule. Depending on which direction we take Atlantis in, they could even build a “mafia”-like relationship among the leaders where each state is run by a boss who reports to Namor and Namor in turn has his consigliere for direction.

I’m not an actual scientist, but I’d throw it out there that sound travels further underwater. Perhaps they can set up some sort of rudimentary communications system based on that premise (like whales speaking to each other). And, while the previous Atlantis was bathed in glorious sunlight, it would make sense if New Atlantis was mostly shrouded in darkness. Their main light sources would come from phosphorescent algae, plants and fish. Maybe there’s a specific species of coral that can be treated to glow. It’s already been established that the Atlanteans controlled the planet’s “magma vents” to keep their cities warm, so I would suppose that their nation’s scientists would be focused on other needs…like lighting and communication technology.

Speaking of technology, let’s put it out there now that any sort of Deviant cache has been completely obliterated in the old city’s destruction. If there is to be new bleeding edge tech, it will come solely through pacts with surface allies. No more ominous battle fleets, laser weapons and similar doohickeys. The typical citizen of Atlantis will gather their “technology” from whatever they can salvage (and salvaging itself would be another form of economy)…spearguns, shields and armor made from pieces of ships’ hulls and giant seashells. I picture Namor’s throne room looking like the captain’s quarters from the Titanic, all decked out in fine linens, dark-stained wainscoting and gold-rimmed teacups. Hell, I could even see his court advisers wearing naval-style uniforms with gold epaulets and buttons. What their military may now lack in resources, it will more than make up for in sheer numbers and viable locations to attack from.

How do you like the set-up so far? I could go on and on (and I’m sure my next response will be just as long), but I want to give you a chance to react before I pitch my “big idea” to the world.

You have obviously thought more about Namor than I ever have. I’m awfully tempted to simply stand out of your way and let you go crazy, but I have to make a couple of comments.

In many ways we’re on the same page, but I have one nit-picky problem. Atlantis will, unless I’m mistaken, always be located in an ocean. An ocean means salt water. I mentioned this in my last post, but is there anything that is likely to corrode materials of any kind as quickly as salt water. I’m not talking about just technological items, but doesn’t salt water corrode most everything in it? Wouldn’t the Atlanteans have been forced to come up with some process of treating materials to protect them from the harmful effects of salt water? Or am I incorrect in my assumption on the dangers of salt water. I’ve been searching online for answers, and am having trouble finding anything helpful.

Beyond that, however, I do believe we’re in total agreement here. I had forgotten places like Symkaria, but countries like that are wonderful ways to draw in even more superhumans for the stories, yet, as you say, still tell stories with a little more meat on them. I really like this direction you have going and I think I will step out of the way and let you continue. I find it fascinating.

Again, I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure metals react differently in salt water. Gold, platinum, titanium, aluminum and stainless steel can all stand up pretty well to the ravages of the sea…although no metal should be placed up against another metal or galvanic corrosion could occur. A coating of protective paint, a wax finish or self-vulcanizing tape can help prevent potential damage. Oh, and ceramics are pretty much immune to corrosion. LESSON OVER. (But wouldn’t it be cool to see the Atlantean army all decked out in gold armor with big nautilus shells as helmets?)

Anyway, there are a few directions I’ve been thinking about for Sub-Mariner and Atlantis. The first theme would be something the Atlanteans could do on their own. Like I mentioned before, Atlantis should own its “airspace.” That means they control the shipping routes and they have say over who goes where and when. If someone breaks those agreements, the Atlanteans are free to take control of the situation. This could easily lead to the capture of nuclear submarines, the repossession of oil supplies and the taking of any number of import/export materials. Hell, they could seize control of the entire world’s economy if they saw fit. Might be a bit of a HUGE step for Namor’s goals, but it’s playable.

There’s also the piracy angle. Small bands of Atlanteans taking what they need from passers-by. Controlling, to a degree, the world’s tourism industry…or, conversely, working as the world police by cutting off illegal shipments of drugs and weapons. This storyline could start out with a few renegade governors allowing their city-states to proceed with piracy. The surface world could bring this to Namor’s attention and a civil war could break out within Atlantis. I’d also love to see the Atlantean Ambassador to the United Nations (has that been done before?).

I think the most complicated angle I’ve come up with involves Doom and Latveria. From the Marvel maps I’ve seen, Latveria is completely land-locked (with Transia and Symkaria in the region). But what if Doom decides that he needs a naval fleet to compete with other countries, or if he merely wants to set up his own shipping ports without having to rely on other countries to make deals with him? I say he strikes a deal with Namor to provide the locations. The Atlanteans may even take possession of a few small islands in the oceans and hand them over to Doom to strengthen his position in the world. The problem arises when Doom strikes alliances with other hostile countries and is soon mobilizing for war using the resources Namor has provided. Atlantis has been struggling to be more like Switzerland, but they end up working both sides of the equation in their efforts to remain neutral. Could call for some spiffy diplomatic showdowns.

The possibilities are endless, when you think about it. Atlantis is a country, but its boundaries are unlike any other in the world. And Atlantis itself has never really been examined as an entity…it’s always been about Namor getting overthrown or waging war with the surface world. We can put Sub-Mariner in a larger perspective while also adding to the depth of the Marvel Universe itself.

I think there’s also an avenue to explore some Lovecraftian villains in the title, something darker and deeper and more hideous than just a dude who dresses up like a shark. Another possible villain (or ally) comes out of left field…Diablo! Yes, the old Fantastic Four foe can alter the elemental make-up of matter. That’s something that could play huge in a civilization that depends on its water to breathe. His wizardry could aid the Atlanteans somehow too. Interesting, yes? Or maybe the Mole Man makes a play to have Subterranea recognized as a nation and Namor supports the effort…that’s one individual who threatens the existence of Atlantis because he controls the land underneath it. I’d love to see the UN meetings with all these various “nations” being discussed and represented.

Unfortunately, as much as the water environment adds interest to Namor’s world, it can also be a huge hindrance. His rogues gallery right now consists of mainly fish-based enemies. There are limitations to the back-and-forth allowed in any relationship he has because of the whole “most people can’t breathe underwater” thing. Makes sustained battles difficult, as well as romantic relationships with those who aren’t of his race. This is probably a big reason as to why Namor has never reached the same level of success as some of the other heroes.

By pursuing a chain of stories revolving around the politics and preservation of Atlantis itself, I think we can neutralize some of these limitations. It’s also a great opportunity to explore the politics of other Marvel nations and maybe even create some new countries. For instance, I’d love to see the Sub-Mariner dealing with the corrupt cartels in Madripoor. The place is an island and Atlantis could effectively put a stranglehold on it if they saw fit. Maybe that’s one reason why Namor and Doom get along so well…their countries have no direct contact with each other.

I dunno. I still see an image of Prince Namor sitting behind a huge desk in a room that looks like a turn-of-the-century ship captain’s office, all decked out in naval finery and plotting his attacks. Lots of ideas there. Pick your favorite or add to the list. This discussion must have brought up some concepts that you could expand on.

Lots of fun stuff in here. I certainly would love to see Doom as more or less a supporting character in the book. Doom is one of the most interesting characters in any universe, and he’s always going to make a book more complex. Political intrigue is something at which he should excel, and as we’ve seen in his most recent miniseries, Namor is no slouch in that area either. They both have enough experience with the other to know that they can’t trust each other and watching them trying to out-maneuver each other should be fascinating. Throwing in wild cards (like the Mole Man) is even better; but let’s try and take some of these concepts in baby steps.

Your concept of Atlantis owning all shipping lanes in it’s “airspace” is a fascinating one, although I’m not sure that I would use it as bluntly as you do. To me, this seems more like something that would make a good bargaining chip with the UN, something Namor could use to pressure them into working with his demands (“Well, if we wanted to, we could disrupt all of the shipping taking place above our territories”). Of course, the UN would need to know where that territory was, and more importantly, they’d want to verify it. It’s easy to know the airspace of France….France is right there on the map. We can see it. No one can see Atlantis, and if Namor says that his country sits under a certain shipping lane, the UN is going to want proof. By the same token, what if that area isn’t actually a good spot for Atlantis to be situated. Would Namor bluff his way along, claiming that Atlantis is wherever he currently needs it to be? If the UN came down to investigate, could Namor mock something up to protect his bluff (it’s not like the UN observers would be hanging out once they’d established that a city was where Namor said it was). Or perhaps they would stay; could they set up an underwater “embassy” from a UN country that would stay to monitor the Atlanteans. Then what does Namor do?

You mention Lovecraftian villains, and I think that’s an interesting idea. The Atlantean civilization is one of the oldest in the world. There should be myths and legends from it’s past that could be used as fodder for plotlines. Surely the Atlanteans possess secrets unknown to the rest of the world. When Namor first appeared he brought with him Monstro, a giant whale creature. Where did this creature come from, and does Namor have access to more like him? Perhaps this creature is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the Atlanteans are acting as jailors for others like him; creatures from the Earth’s dark and distant past that the Atlanteans keep trapped to protect the world. What if the surface world, when tensions are high because of some of the events we’ve outlined before, attacks Atlantis and accidentally succeeds in releasing one of these creatures? Would they appreciate the centuries that the Atlanteans kept the creature contained, or be upset that Namor never revealed its existence? As an aside, this would be a perfect crossover with our Defenders team, mentioned many posts ago.

You’ve certainly helped make him an interesting character and shown that he can be taken in exciting new directions. I like a lot of your ideas. Surely Marvel would like to see one of their original characters succeed.

Ooh…you’re right! That would be a good storyline for our Defenders (and a nice way to acknowledge the original team’s lineup). The UN angle is important and could be played out in a number of ways. Have they ever touched on the whole aspect of making Atlantis an officially recognized nation? And having Doom as a regularly recurring character is a nice touch, seeing as how he doesn’t show up as much in the Marvel world anymore. Hell, throw in a little Hate Monger and some Red Skull and we can do a Super-Villain Team-Up relaunch! Okay, maybe not.

With the way things have played out recently, I think Marvel has a superb opportunity to reimagine Atlantis and its role in the Marvel Universe. Namor is a character who deserves to be given some added facets. And, if Marvel wants their playground to stay relevant, politics should take a larger role in the goings-on of the superhero community.


Can’t See the Forest For the Continuity.

Apr-25-08

Science! While never one of my favorite subjects in school, I do remember a few precious scientific facts about our world and the things in it. Trees, for instance. I recall learning that there are basically two types of trees: those that seasonally lose their leaves and those that do not. The seasonal types are called deciduous. The others are called evergreen, because, well, they’re always green. Educational lesson aside, here is where I’m headed with this thing. Comics have more in common with tress than merely the paper they’re printed on. If you think about it, the continuity behind comics falls into the same two categories as the types of trees. And the same can be said about many other forms of mass entertainment. The pros and cons of both types are something I want to examine further.

Let’s start with the easier explanation. Evergreen continuity is the basic history of any superhero comic. Each plotline is held as canon for the next. Characters branch off and develop their own roots in the comic universe soil. In the long run, nothing ever changes. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the changes are ongoing. It’s just that they’re ultimately absorbed into the evergreen landscape. You could also refer to this type of continuity as the “Big Picture” view. Everything that has happened affects everything else that will happen. The past shapes the future. Even the event of someone dying is merely a catalyst for their ultimate rebirth.

Broadly speaking, this is an attempt to mirror real-life. For example, Spider-Man meets Dr. Octopus. Years later, Dr. Octopus crosses paths with Spidey again and both remind each other (and the audience) that they met previously. Each instance builds upon the last to give depth to the characters and their backstories. And all of this is fine until you get so weighed down with facts and recollections that the characters are more tied to history than they are to any single plot. Even worse is when a supporting character or particular villain appears in another title and gets strange twists added to their history. This affects not only the villain, but everyone else that they have dealt with in the past or will deal with in the future.

Evergreen continuity is very linear. Unfortunately, comic books don’t follow a linear path. While most companies establish an overarching universe for their characters, each title operates within its own structured sub-universe. Crossover is encouraged (and inevitable), which further muddles the timeline. The closest thing you could compare this phenomenon to is a soap opera where individual sets of characters have their own storylines. When those storylines reach their natural end, the characters are remixed with each other to provide new lines of interest. That’s how you end up with evil twins and convoluted situations where someone ends up being their own mother.

The flip side of this is deciduous continuity. For some reason, this type of history always shows up in humorous situations. I’m thinking of things like South Park, Family Guy and, to a lesser extent, The Simpsons. On these shows, we have a group of main characters that work their way through a half-hour story. Ultimately, the end of the episode has no ill effect on the next episode. Kenny is killed every show and yet somehow magically returns the next week. The supporting characters add color and nuance to the show, but their own backstories are relatively meaningless to the grand scheme of the show.

Deciduous continuity is mostly non-linear. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime. Nothing really sticks. The leaves grow, they’re shed and then new leaves grow in their place. Time moves forward, but the isolation of the main characters helps keep the history streamlined to a degree. This type of continuity is based on episodic stories rather than continuous arcs that lead into each other. Most television shows run on a form of deciduous continuity. Shows ranging from MASH to Law & Order to Friends all deal with this type of history. It’s a type of timeline that runs more on characterization than it does action.

For instance, think of Richie Rich comic books. Richie Rich is the nice guy. He’s loaded, he’s young and he has a funny dog and a helpful butler. Every issue of every title keeps these facts as a constant. The adventures that Richie Rich goes on add color to these facts, but none of them greatly change the main characters. Once you close the book, everything goes back to the way it was and you wait for the next adventure to be entertained again.

So which form of continuity is better? I guess it depends on the type of story you want to tell. But my ultimate argument is that while the name implies that deciduous continuity is always changing, it’s actually not. By shedding whatever history is acquired during a specific story, deciduous continuity brings an air of timelessness to its use. I think it would be more functional to the superhero genre to adopt some of these functions. Look at Iron Man. His origin deals with being a POW in Vietnam. What kind of resonance does that have with kids who were born fifteen years after that conflict? So many villains and heroes sprouted out of World War II or even the tensions of the Cold War. Using a realistic timeline, none of these characters would be functioning at the same level today as they did in their prime. By clinging to an evergreen continuity, superhero comics force themselves to grow up alongside their readers.

Marvel and DC both attempt to do this at a ridiculously slowed pace. And, while I’m a bigger fan of Marvel in the long run, I have to say that this type of history stunts the growth of their characters. The DC universe isn’t specific to any reality. It builds its own history and doesn’t recognize real world events. It can offer broad changes at any time, ebbs and flows. Marvel’s strength, in its heyday, was the emotional power it could imbue in its stories by placing its characters in the real world and having them deal with a form of current events. It was radical in its time, but seems rather dated nowadays. When you try to saddle your heroes to the real world, you’re forced to age them. And everyday occasions…weddings, careers, deaths…add further age to each and every character.

So is there a path to loosening this evergreen status? Is there a reason to do so? Does any of this make sense or am I just over-thinking the whole thing? What does everyone else think?

Whew. I suppose this is a subject we’d have to tackle sooner rather than later, but it’s a mighty complex one. I think that continuity is important, but like everything else in life, needs to be used in moderation. Allow me to clarify my position.

I think that deciduous continuity can rely on characterization, as you mention above, but it’s very static characterization. If the events of the past do not affect your character in the future, then your character’s personality doesn’t really ever change. This works well for children’s fare (check out any long running Saturday morning cartoon series, like Scooby-Doo or Bugs Bunny) and for some humor projects like South Park since you want the characters to be eminently recognizable to your viewers, or in the case of South Park you want to be able to do whatever you want to a character in one episode, and not have to worry about fixing it in subsequent episodes. There’s a lot to be said for that, and anything that makes it easy for a new viewer/reader/listener to pick up on the concept of the series on their first exposure to it can only be a good thing. That being said, there’s a limit to the amount that can be done with this sort of continuity and only so many stories that can be told (with the Simpsons trying to make that statement untrue by telling pretty good stories in this type of continuity for two decades now).

Evergreen continuity, on the other hand, gives you a lot more opportunity to actually allow your characters to grow as the stories continue. Almost every serialized fiction of any real length has used evergreen continuity to an extent. I think it would be next to impossible to find a pure example of deciduous continuity as even shows like The Simpsons will refer back to previous episodes on occasion. I think the difference between a show like Friends and a comic like Iron Man isn’t the type of continuity to which they adhere, but the degree to which they adhere. I believe you were going in this direction in your initial post, but I believe that, like everything else in life, continuity should be used in moderation.

I don’t believe that a writer should come in and ignore everything that has gone before on a title. Those stories happened, and a new writer needs to work with what they are given. Nothing frustrates me more than one a new writer jettisons a previous supporting cast with no explanation, inserts dear old friends that we’ve never seen before (but are now expected to care about) or ignores important events that happened mere weeks ago in the hero’s life. That being said, some stories are just plain bad and trying to explain them so that they fit into continuity is pointless. Let’s use an example…during the mid-90’s, Marvel Comics revealed that Tony Stark had been manipulated by Kang the Conquerer for the past several years. Kang forced Stark to murder people and to fight the Avengers. The Avengers decided that no one could beat Tony Stark except for Tony Stark, and the only possible way to defeat him would be to travel ten years into the past and grab Tony Stark as a teenager and bring the teenage Stark into the future. This they did, and during the battle, the older, Kang-controlled Stark was killed, and Teen Tony took his place as the Iron Man of the Marvel Universe. This met with widespread derision (as well it should) but was quickly undone when teen Tony sacrificed his life to stop Onslaught, was thrust into an alternate universe, and was aged to adulthood once again. When he returned to our universe, his time as teen Tony was not mentioned.

Some readers weren’t satisfied with this. “It makes no sense!”, cried they, eager for clarification. “If Teen Tony was aged to adulthood for the alternate universe, he still wouldn’t have the memories of the Tony Stark from the original continuity, so how does the current Stark possess those memories? Explain please!” Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, Iron Man writers ignored those pleas and never really delved into his past as Teen Tony. This is good. Trying to explain this continuity gaffe would have taken up time and space and would have been helpful only to a small portion of fandom. The series re-aged Teen Tony, which was sufficient. Let your readers come up with their own solutions as to why he has memories that he perhaps should not have.

Again, we want to make the stories fun and accessible to new readers. Delving into the deep dark recesses of continuity to explain away obscure plot points is not a good use of a character’s series. Some writers don’t understand that. John Byrne, when he wrote Wonder Woman, spent entirely too much time trying to explain why there was a Wonder Woman in the original Justice Society, when Diana hadn’t been introduced into Man’s World at that time. Way too many writers have spent way too many comics trying to untangle the tortured continuity of Donna Troy. Kurt Busiek, a writer I very much enjoy, used a good portion of Avengers Forever, otherwise an excellent miniseries, untangling plot points from the Avengers. And this is not a new phenomenon. Steve Englehart, during his Celestial Madonna saga in the Avengers, back in the 1970s, did the exact same thing, going on for issue after issue in an attempt to explain discrepancies in character’s histories. I like his run on the Avengers, but those issues still put me to sleep, and I would imagine they would leave new readers scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Continuity should be a tool to allow a writer to tell deeper stories and to allow characters to grow and develop. Unfortunately, too many of today’s comics professionals use continuity as a blunt object, and want to craft stories around it, around fixing it or altering it to better serve their visions of what a character’s history should be. Too many of today’s comics professionals are stuck in the past. We need to move into the future, telling new stories. It doesn’t mean you don’t refer to the past. In our Defenders discussion below, you’d refer often to the relationships the team’s roster shared with one another in previous appearances. That deepens their characterizations and makes them more interesting. What you don’t want to do is spend a four issue storyarc explaining how Patsy Walker could have appeared in Avengers #138 with her Hellcat costume, when The Cat #7 clearly states that it was put in storage in Detroit, and none of the members of the Avengers at that time had ever been in Detroit.

Continuity. Writers: Take in moderation.

What’s the downfall of today’s superhero? Retconning. In the Assembled book I’ve been reading, one of the contributors made a comment about Kurt Busiek’s run on the Avengers, saying that “while he was indeed revisiting old-school characters, relationships and situations, he was doing so in the context of the many new developments on those fronts since the olden days, taking assorted old-school concepts in new directions.” Or, to sum it up, he used bits from the past to frame the future.

This is the expected use of evergreen continuity. And perhaps I should have written two posts on the subject, because here’s the true crux of the argument. The “retconning” or deliberate changing of established facts is what ruins evergreen continuity. If all writers would simply work with what’s already been shown, then these superhero comics would be much less confusing and convoluted.

I’m reminded of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men and how the writers that followed him, whether through company mandate or their own failing to understand what to do next, systematically took apart everything that he had built up. Characters that already had bizarre, twisted histories were given another layer of muddle…even characters that Morrison himself had created from nothing.

I’m all for continuity. I love it. It gives me something to think about and study. And I wouldn’t mind if every writer used all of the continuity of any given character while they’re writing them. When you’re done with your run, the next guy should come in and just pick up from where you left off. The problem is when certain writers come in (yes, I’m looking at YOU John Byrne) with the belief that their talent supersedes the character itself. They feel that they can create their own version of the character’s history and pay absolutely no attention to what happened before. The creative team that follows them is then left scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to accommodate what just happened with what came before AND with what they want to accomplish themselves. This gives you things like Hawkman, Supergirl and Aquaman (is it just coincidence that this seems to happen more often with DC even though I just praised the company for their non-real world universe?).

Of course, then you also have cases where new characters are explained into past history. The first example that comes to mind is Marvel’s Sentry character. Beginning as a hoax on Marvel readers, the Sentry was then integrated into Marvel’s history rather well (though some would argue unnecessarily) by writer Paul Jenkins. Brian Bendis did the same thing with his Jessica Jones creation. This kind of retconning is interesting to me. Here’s a character that blatantly never existed before, yet creators are able to use bits of other characters’ pasts and small vagaries in overall continuity to place their new creation in the fabric of the established universe. It’s a neat kind of phenomenon that can work quite well in building a past for a new character. I think this is another beautiful use of evergreen continuity (and that’ll probably be the only praise you’ll ever hear me heap upon Bendis).

It’s of interest to me that deciduous continuity is used primarily in humorous situations. Not sure what’s behind that thinking except that the telling of jokes is more easily accommodated by simple set-ups. If you have too much history piled upon your characters, there are certain ways you expect them to perform and react to things. Plus, the superhero world already has a problem with bringing characters back from the dead…imagine how horrible it would be with South Park rules!

Wow. Well said. I think that sums things up nicely: deal with the continuity you have, and stop trying to make it the continuity you want. Perfect. You know, creatively, I’m surprised so many creators have problems with this concept. For example, I always loved the Vision and the Scarlet Witch as a married couple. But they’re not. Were I in a position to handle the characters, rather than trying to say that, I don’t know, the two characters had been replaced by Skrulls before their divorce, and then bringing the married couple back, I’d work with what is currently in continuity. It may not be what I consider ideal, but it’s a very good creative exercise to try and make what you have work in a way you find interesting.

Some creators, as you noted, are worse than others on this score. Some creators simply can’t let go of the way they want things to be, and to be fair, neither can some editors. Your example of the way the X-Books dismantled Morrison’s run as soon as he left the book is spot on; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company back pedal so quickly from a former writer’s work on a book, especially a run that had been so universally praised by critics and fans.

Of course, now we have entire event miniseries (like Final Crisis and Secret Invasion) which seem to exist solely to muck with current continuity. I hope that neither of these series make sweeping changes to try and reset the universes to previous settings. I have no problem with surprises and exciting changes, as long as we’re moving things forward and building on what has been done, not knocking down previous structures and invalidating things that are considered inconvenient for the current and future creators.