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.

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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.


1986: It Was A Very Good Year.

Apr-18-08

While doing research for our Defenders post, I began to realize that a lot of great (and a few not so great) things were going on at Marvel Comics back in 1986. So here, in a brief and highly disorganized ramble, is a recap of the year that Marvel Comics hit its stride (I think).

In 1986, I was making the transition from middle school to high school. It was a tumultuous year. I was saying goodbye to friends that would be attending a different high school and I was filled with anxiety over meeting new people at my new school (our school district is kind of twisted, don’t ask). This was the year that I embraced comics completely and let my paper friends comfort me in the transition. Granted, I had been reading comics since around 1978 and collecting them seriously since 1984, but this one year had it all for me.

I wasn’t the only one in transition though. Jim Shooter was running a tight ship at Marvel and the publisher was celebrating its 25th anniversary. However, not everything was puppies and rainbows. Marvel was about to be purchased by New World Entertainment, which looked great on paper and added both an animation studio and a feature film outlet for their characters. Unfortunately, New World didn’t know how to handle the business and soon sold it off to Ron Perelman. The rest of the debacle you can read in Dan Raviv’s excellent book, Comic Wars.

So what was the big deal with ‘86? I’m glad you asked. First of all, a couple miniseries hit the shelves that changed the way I looked at the Marvel Universe. Firestar was a character I knew from the Spider-Man cartoons and I was curious as to how they would work her into real continuity. Balder the Brave was an unknown Asgardian to me and I was eager to learn about more than Thor and Loki. And finally: The Punisher. The team of Baron, Zeck and Janson just blew my mind. At the time, all were minor characters and I don’t think anyone could have predicted what would become of Frank Castle’s story.

Punisher #1

Aside from the focus on new characters, Marvel was pulling off some of its best ongoing work as well. We had Bill Mantlo writing Alpha Flight AND Cloak & Dagger. Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run was in full force (as was his Squadron Supreme maxiseries). Walt Simonson was working on what would become an iconic run on Thor. The West Coast Avengers, a pivotal book in my comic obsession, had recently begun their ongoing title. John Byrne was writing AND drawing not only the Fantastic Four but ALSO the Incredible Hulk!?! Oh, and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham was still going strong too. Sue me, I like the funny.

Spider-Ham #12

It wasn’t all joy and excitement for me though. Two of my favorite books disappeared from the shelves forever: The Defenders and Power Man and Iron Fist. Also falling casualty to slowing sales were three licensed books: ROM, Star Wars and the Further Adventures of Indiana Jones (which was actually a great read).

Indiana Jones #34

Unfortunately, not only was the dreadful Secret Wars II going on in 1986, but the New Universe launched as well. But those travesties were offset by the launch of the new X-Factor series. And the end of 1986 marked the beginning of what I believe to be one of the best written storylines in all of comics history: Roger Stern’s great “Under Siege” run in Avengers.

But the biggest event of 1986 for me had to be the introduction of the new Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I easily lost myself in the pages of each issue of that title…memorizing every detail, every event and every secret identity in Marvel’s intriguing world. To this day, I still test the true faith of supposed fans by asking them “Which villain’s real name was Bruno Horgan?”

Marvel Handbook #8

Yeah…look it up, posers! (CLUE: He’s in the issue shown above.)

1986. I can’t think of a better time to be a Marvel Zombie.

Interesting that you would pick 1986, and yet, as a Marvel Zombie, you don’t mention The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, two seminal mini-series from that time as well. They show up on most people’s lists, but not on yours, since you’re focusing exclusively on Marvel.

I know that Maggie Thompson from Comics Buyers Guide has said (and she may not be the only or even the first person to say this) that everyone has their own Golden Age of Comics, and that their personal Golden Age is when they were twelve. I’m not sure that the exact age is always correct, but I agree that the comics of our childhood will always be our favorites, or at least hold a special place in our hearts. It’s obvious that this describes 1986 for you. I also have a special place in my heart for many of these comics, but being a cold, unfeeling android, I can often separate what is good due to nostalgia from what is good due to quality.

I wouldn’t dream of arguing the memories of your childhood, so instead of mentioning a few of these series where I disagree with your opinion of them, let me focus on the ones where I agree wholeheartedly.

I think Mark Gruenwald’s writing was always underappreciated, especially when one considers that he was doing it while holding down a job as one of Marvel’s best Group Editors. I think that almost all of his long run on Captain America is worthy of reading, but I also agree that he was strongest right out of the gate. His stories involving the Serpent Society and Scourge were excellent. Captain America is, I think, a difficult character to write well, but Gruenwald seemed to understand how to make him inspiring and heroic, without being boring. As Jason says, Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme was another excellent read, and about fifteen years ahead of its time, looking at a superteam in a more realistic way. Finally, while it came out after 1986, I need to take a moment to plug the first few dozen issues of his Quasar comic. The later issues devolved into overly complicated messes that tied into some truly horrible miniseries, but the early issues were an excellent examination of a super-hero just starting out in his career.

I could comment on a few other series, but instead let me take a few moments to mention Roger Stern. You bring up his “Under Siege” storyline in the Avengers, and rightly so, as it remains one of the best multi-issue storylines in Avengers history, and truly in the history of about any comic I’ve read. Why Roger Stern isn’t currently writing four books a month will remain a mystery to me. I consider him one of the best writers I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in comics and I have been continually amazed by what he has been able to do with what have been some truly horrible comics.

Two series illustrate this point very well. The first is The Incredible Hulk which he started writing at a time when the book, to my eyes, sorely needed help. The Hulk had been a mindless dolt, running around the countryside having random adventures for what seemed like years. His comic was pointless and dull. Stern came on board, set up a new staus quo, introduced some supporting characters, and give the comic a purpose. He was the first writer in the series history to make the Hulk interesting for me. Sadly, his run on the title was very short.

He performed the same amazing feat on the original Ghost Rider series. Ghost Rider’s series had been boring me to tears since Tony Isabella left the title back in the 70s. The stories since then weren’t necessarily bad as much as they were unconnected stories which seemed to blend into each other. Again, the series lacked direction. Stern came onboard, and again, he gave this title direction. He brought in a supporting cast and gave us plots that made us care about these new people in Blaze’s life (and, to be honest, to care about Blaze’s life, which I had stopped caring about some time before). Unfortunately, he again left the title in a short time.

I could go on and on, talking about his work on Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, and a slew of other comics, but instead, let me just come back to the Avengers. If I had to pick my favorite comic series of all time, it would probably be the Avengers. There are many reasons for this, but part of it has to be because I was lucky enough to begin reading it during Roger Stern’s run as writer, which thankfully, lasted quite a few years. All of his stories are good, but his run really began to take off when he was paired with John Buscema and Tom Palmer on art. This art team gave his stories a weight and grandeur that made them more than comic stories; they became epics. The “Under Siege” story was certainly the highpoint, but it was quickly followed by a multi-part epic where the team when to Olympus to fight the Greek Gods, which is almost as incredible. Never before or since have the Avengers so embodied their title of “The Earth;s Mightiest Heroes.”

Yeah, DC was pretty active in 1986 too. You mention Dark Knight Returns and the beginning issues of Watchmen…there was also the start of solo series for both Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Crisis on Infinite Earths wrapped up in ’86 and the important Legends series began. And don’t get me started on indie comics…Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Ralph Snart Adventures and the relaunched Grendel all saw print then. It was a pretty busy year for all comics!

I’m not saying 1986 was the pinnacle of comics as we know them (although, not being alive during either the traditional Golden or Silver Ages, I think it was pretty close). Oddly enough, I was 14 going on 15 that year…so not too far off from Maggie Thompson’s ideal. I actually started collecting heavily when I was 12 though.

Anyway, yeah I know which of my spotlights — *cough*Firestar*cough* — you’re referencing when you talk about separating nostalgia from quality. But I think I pointed out the reasons WHY I thought they were important and, frankly, it had nothing to do with quality but more to do with coming from a different place and showcasing something new.

It’s funny that you touch on Mark Gruenwald. Not too many people know this, but I actually had a letter-exchanging friendship with Mr. Gruenwald around the time of his Cap run. We talked about the changing times in comics and he advised me to read what I liked. I was actually quite upset when I read that he had passed away.

And Roger Stern was perhaps my favorite writer of the time as well. Like you, I would call The Avengers my favorite book of all time (I have quite the extensive collection). While I came of age reading his run on the book, I was also active in collecting the back issues featuring runs by Englehart, Conway, Thomas and Shooter. In fact, right now I’m reading Assembled! by the folks at AvengersAssemble.net. It’s a fun read about Avengers history. DK Publishing also put out a pretty book called Avengers: The Ultimate Guide written by Tom DeFalco…beautiful art and brief write-ups of all the prominent members of the team, their villains and the important storylines.