The Avenging Hour

Jun-08-15

John and I have decided to dedicate our comics discussion time solely to a podcast about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, The Avengers.

We’re starting at the beginning and documenting all of the creators, plots, members, villains, and behind the scenes information we can gather from 1963 to present.

Please join us at Avenging Hour to listen to our latest episode and join the conversation.


SCDPT Podcast!

Apr-27-15

The latest episode of the Super Comic Disco Party Time! podcast is now available here or on iTunes.

On this episode, John and I discuss Daredevil and his new Netflix series. SPOLIERS ABOUND!


Feb. Previews Part 2: Letting My Fingers Do the Walking

Feb-10-09

Continuing our tour through this month’s Previews. Let’s see what else I thought was interesting!

Fallen Angel Volume 6: Cities of Light and Dark: I just finished raving about this series a few posts ago, so we know I like it. It’s a great read. I’d recommend it.

Resurrection: I know nothing about this trade paperback, written by Marc Guggenheim. Well, I do know one thing, and that’s the price of this compilation: $6.00. That’s a great price, and it makes it awfully tempting to try this.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill return for this new series. Jason mentioned it below, and I’m quite excited. I was actually a little disappointed in The Black Dossier, but I love the first two series and I still enjoyed The Black Dossier; it just quite wasn’t quite what I was hoping (I’m not a huge fan of the text pieces. I normally don’t enjoy text pieces in my comics. I loved Starman, but the text pieces were always the weakest part of that story for me as well. It’s odd, since I read a ton of novels and non-fiction books (more non-fiction as I get older), but I think it’s just my mind-set. When I sit down to read a comic, I want comic, not text pieces. I’m a simple man). Anyway, my anticipation for this is still high.

The Batcave Companion: Twomorrows Publications has produced a lot of works that examine the history of various comics and their creators. I’ve read five or six of them, and some of them are really fascinating, and some of them are rather disappointing. For example, their second Teen Titans Companion was simply an entire book of interviews. While some of the interviews were very interesting, I was disappointed that there were no essays containing some critical thinking on the various incarnations of that group. The Blue Beetle companion, which did have some essays, was unfortunately not very well organized or written. Yet some of these are excellent; the All-Star Companion volumes are fascinating looks at these comics, and their descendants in the modern age. This is all a long way of my saying that, while this book looks really interesting, I can’t recommend it without perusing it first.

Books section: Previews isn’t just comics. They also sell books, and while I normally buy my prose reading material on Amazon (I support my local shop, but I will buy some things other places and Diamond really isn’t the best distributor for this sort of thing), I thought it might be interesting to note three titles in this section that seem worthy of consideration. One is Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, which looks at the X-Men in all their incarnations, from comics to cartoons to movies. My only concern is that the author has set himself a mighty challenge; that’s a heck of a lot of material to cover. I can’t imagine they can get it all into one book, and I fear it may not be very in-depth.

I also noticed Disney’s Neglected Prince, which focuses on the men in the Disney films. I’m a huge Disney fan, and the men in their movies are often ignored. I think this looks like it could be quite interesting. Sure, some of the Disney heroes are pretty dull (does Snow White’s Prince Charming even have a line in that film?), but some of them are much more active. Heck, Prince Philip, in Sleeping Beauty, even gets to fight a dragon!

Finally, I see they’re soliciting Star Trek: A Comic Book History. I’d be very interested in this book, assuming it delves into some of the decisions that was made with this franchise. For example, why did Paramount yank the license from Marvel in the 90s? Marvel was publishing a few good comics, including one focusing on a class at Starfleet Academy, and one focusing on the early adventures of Christopher Pike. I’d also like to hear from some of the creators, to find out what it was like trying to create these comics under the watchful eye of Paramount.

Finally, there are some interesting Marvel trades on the schedule. Incredible Hercules: Smash of the Titans gives those of us who haven’t read this series a chance to catch up on what’s been going on since Hercules took over the book. I keep saying that I’m going to give this series a try, and maybe this is the time to do it. She-Hulk Volume 8: Secret Invasion sees this series dealing with all the changes it’s main character went through during Civil War. I’ll admit to liking Dan Slott’s issues of the series better than these by Peter David, but I think that’s mostly because of the circumstances that David found himself in with the character, who got pretty smacked around during the crossovers. That’s got to be hard as a writer. It’s not that these issues are bad at all, but Slott’s were just so darn fun.

Finally, we have Deadpool Classics Volume 2. It amazed me at the time these were published how much I enjoyed them, and I do recommend this. Joe Kelly doesn’t always knock me out, but when he’s on fire, he is hotter than a five alarm blaze. His scripts on these stories were full of adventure and humor, and Ed McGuinness’ artwork just exploded with energy. Also, they’ve collected the first ten issues of Spider-Man 2099. You know, the whole concept of the 2099 Universe had some potential, and I enjoyed a few of the books, but unfortunately, it seemed like the universe got out of control early on and the editors were never really able to rein it back in. It’s a shame, since this Peter David-Rick Leonardi series was a great read, and David seemed to strike the perfect balance between bringing in concepts from the original series, and introducing new concepts all his own.

So that’s the Previews for this month. I’m not sure I’d do this every month, but hopefully I’ve spotlighted a few things to watch out for and order. Don’t forget to support your local comics shop!


Speaking of reviews….

Feb-04-09

So, the quiet time here at Meanwhile…Comics continues, certainly longer than either Jason or I intended.  Both of us have been a tad overwhelmed lately by work, and since work pays the bills, it always has to come first.  Jason is going to be offline for the rest of this week as well, but I couldn’t let the entire blog sit quiet for another seven days, hence this entry.  There may even be more rambling from me later in the week, and how exciting would that be? I know.  It is pretty exhilarating.

I have been communicating with Jason, very briefly, and he does have some exciting news for the blog, but I won’t talk about it too much.  It’s his news and he can share.  However, his news touches on the concept of reviewing items, a topic that Jason and I discussed quite some time ago.  We listed some of the reasons we don’t do a lot (ok, any) reviews, but at the time we said that we hoped to do more of them soon.  Since that entry, we have done exactly zero real reviews, which continues our perfect record!  Yay us!

One of the reasons that we don’t do reviews was brought home to me again this past weekend, when I was reading Peter David’s IDW series Fallen Angel.  Fallen Angel began life as a series set in the DC Universe, but just before two years had passed, DC cancelled the title.  Luckily, it was picked up by IDW (which is, seriously, one of the best of the non-big two publishers out there today.  They publish some great series, and have given homes to a lot of deserving works) and it continues to be published there to this day.  It chronicles the story of…well, a fallen angel, and the lives, loves and adventures of her and the other inhabitants of the very interesting city of Bete Noire.

It’s certainly not a secret to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis that I am a huge fan of Peter David.  He wrote one of my all time favorite series, Young Justice.  Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed almost everything else he’s written.  He made me care about the Hulk, who was a character I had zero interest in until David’s tenure on the title.  I never read any of the X-Books on a regular basis, until David took over X-Factor, where he managed to make a rather unusual and motley crew of misfits into a really fascinating group (well, except for Wolfsbane…sorry, but she’s a character that still leaves me cold).  He took Madrox, for years considered a ridiculously silly and underpowered character, and made him one of the most interesting characters out there.  David has written numerous novels as well.  I started by reading his Star Trek novels, and soon branched out into his original novels, such as the Sir Apropos series.  Heck, I’m even a big fan of his column, “But I Digress”, which appears each month in Comic Buyers Guide.

Based upon how much I enjoy his work, it should come as no surprise that I picked up Fallen Angel when it was originally released by DC.  I have to admit, I wasn’t horribly impressed.  Some might say that this is because Fallen Angel is written in such a different style than a normal Peter David work, and that it’s not as amusing, but I would dispute that statement.  I don’t see David as simply a comedy writer.  I’m not sure how anyone who’s read the Hulk issue where Jim Wilson dies of AIDS, or the Young Justice issue where the Red Tornado’s adopted daughter is the victim of a hate crime, could consider David simply a comedy writer.  While he certainly can do comedy, and he can do it well, I’ve never pigeonholed him in that manner.  So, I wasn’t expecting Fallen Angel to be a laugh a minute.  It certainly was more serious than many of his titles, but I have no problem with that.  In the end, it wasn’t keeping my interest, and I was having problems remembering what had happened in the previous issue when I’d pick up a new one.  However, I continued to buy the series, both from DC and IDW.  Some people may consider that silly or counterproductive (why support something you’re not fond of), but I wanted to support David, and I should reiterate that I didn’t hate the series; I just wasn’t being drawn into it.

Had we been doing reviews of comics at that time, and had we reviewed Fallen Angel, I would not have been able to recommend it.  However, this weekend I sat down and read the entire series, from one end to the other.  Wow.  What a difference.  Read in its entirety, the series came alive for me in ways that it never had before.  The characters seemed more interesting, and their personalities were consistently engaging.  Plots and sub-plots sprang from the page and I realized that everthing fit together beautifully.  There was an obvious plan here, and the city of Bete Noire became a character in a way that is so extremely exciting when it happens, yet happens all too seldom.  It’s a shame that DC didn’t give the series more time, as Bete Noire would fit in quite well with their other cities (although, it’s also kind of nice to have the series in its own little universe.  I think it’s stronger without the idea that Superman or Batman could stop by for a visit).  After reading all these comics (over the space of a few days), I couldn’t wait for new ones to come out (which is sad, since the next issue for the title won’t be available until they relaunch the series again in December).

So, in the end, what is my point, beyond realizing that I had never fully appreciated Fallen Angel in the past?  My point is that, one of my problems with reviews is that my viewpoint on material will sometimes change.  Either the distance of time, or the circumstances under which I first encountered something will often color my thoughts on a story, and I may change my opinion.  I’m not saying that this means reviews are useless or that they’re a waste of time for those who either read or write them.  Often, my opinion doesn’t change, and as you force yourself to critically approach something you’ve read or watched, you can also carve your opinion more solidly.  That being said, one of my review concerns is that I will either applaud or condemn someone’s work, only to realize after time has passed, that I was wrong.  This is something that I’ll be taking into consideration as Jason and I move into doing reviews on the site.

Pfft…I’m NEVER wrong.


Marvel Vs. DC: In Comics and in Movies

Jan-29-09

I know that things have been quiet around here. The beginning of this week was extremely busy for both Jason and I. Jason is still piled under work, while I have managed to clean my desk off, at least to some extent. Jason won’t be back until next week, and rather than allow the blog to continue to sit without any new content, I thought that I’d throw out something I’ve been thinking about lately. Sadly, you’ll just get an essay from me, rather than our usual back and forth, although perhaps, when Jason returns, he’ll want to throw some of his ideas on this topic onto my essay. In any case, I hope to post something tomorrow as well, and failing that, we should be back on track next week.

It’s Oscar time of year, and if you are someone who follows the Oscars at all, then you’ve no doubt been inundated with the talk about the possibilities of The Dark Knight being nominated for a best picture (which didn’t happen) and Heath Ledger being nominated for his performance as the Joker (which did happen). Many critics have posted The Dark Knight on their lists of the best movies of the year, and it was the top money-maker of the year in movies. Most comics fans have nothing but praise for the movie, and indeed, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and am thrilled that it seems to have given comic book movies the respect and mainstream recognition that they deserved.

The movie with the second largest box office take this year was Iron Man, which didn’t receive anything more than a smattering of technical Oscar nominations. While it did receive glowing reviews when it was released in May, it has not made many Best Of lists from the ranks of the critical elite. While it was undeniably popular, it wasn’t seen as a breakthrough movie, nor was it heralded by many as ushering in a new era of serious comic films. It invariably gets ranked behind The Dark Knight in most discussions of favorite movies of the year. Most discussions, except for mine, that is, as I will unequivocally say that I found Iron Man to be much more enjoyable than The Dark Knight. This actually makes perfect sense, since to me, 2008 became the year when DC and Marvel movies truly reflected the comics companies themselves.

Let’s start with the movies first. I saw both movies on opening weekend, although I was vacationing in Vermont when Iron Man opened, and didn’t get to see it with my normal, geek-culture savvy friends. Instead, I saw Iron Man with someone who doesn’t read comics, knows next to nothing about pop culture, and has no interest in superheroes. And he loved it. From beginning to end, he was absorbed, he was transported, and most of all, he was entertained. We both were, as was the entire theater, judging from the reactions of the crowd. As a movie, Iron Man is simply fun. The script is smart, the acting is engaging, and the pace is brisk. There are no egregious plot holes, and I don’t believe actions seemed forced. Characters behave logically, and the movie stays faithful to the spirit of the comic while making the necessary changes to appeal to a mass audience. Robert Downey Jr. gives a wonderful performance, one full of life and energy as the titular hero, and he’s quite ably supported by his fellow thespians (Jeff Bridges deserves special mention for simply disappearing into the role of Stane; I wouldn’t have realized it was him had I not recognized the voice after a short while).

I also enjoyed The Dark Knight when I saw it. It’s a great movie. I think the actors are all exceptional, although I am not sure that Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination. I believe his performance would have generated some heat in any circumstances, but his tragic death (and make no mistake; I do view his death as a tragedy. Ledger was phenomenally gifted, and while I may not be on the “Joker-Love Bus” that surrounds his performance in this movie, I’ve enjoyed him in every movie of his I’ve seen) has lifted a good performance far above its merits in the eyes of many people. To be honest, by the end of the movie, Ledger’s unique verbal style was beginning to seriously irritate me, and had he been without reach, I’d have been mightily tempted to smack him. Had I chosen the actor to be most rewarded for his work in the film, I may have singled out Gary Oldman, a supremely skilled actor who so often gets thrust into the role of villain (a role he performs remarkably well to be sure) that it becomes incredibly refreshing to see him here in the guise of a hero. If only we could see that more often.

I believe there are a few reasons that I didn’t enjoy The Dark Knight as much as many people. The first is its length; I’m a firm believer that most movies could stand editing, and The Dark Knight stretches out for 152 minutes, which I thought was a little long. Iron Man, for its part, is almost 30 minutes shorter, making for a more tightly paced experience. I also was very disappointed that Aaron Eckhart, who did a fantastic job as Harvey Dent, had his character’s entire arc told in this film. Harvey Dent is too interesting and complex to be completely explored in the space of one film, especially when he is not the main focus of the picture. They could have cut thirty minutes from the film, and had an excellent villain for the next picture, but not dealing with the Two-Face character in The Dark Knight. They could have allowed Eckhart to develop Dent fully in this film, turning him into a character that the audience truly cared for and was invested in, and then his fall in the next movie would have been that much more heartbreaking.

Again, I enjoyed The Dark Knight. But I realized that these movies reflected the way I read comics. I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan. There was a short time in my life when I read move DC than Marvel, but for almost my entire comics reading life, I’ve always enjoyed Marvel more. I believe that these movies are very reflective of the companies from which their characters sprang. Dark Knight is serious, dark and packed full of detail. It’s smart, and it knows it, and it prides itself on that. In the end, it takes itself a little too seriously. That is how I saw DC comics of the 60’s through the 80’s, and to an extent, I still think it’s true today. The comics, like the movie, are gorgeous, and they’re good, but there’s almost a clinical detachment to them.

Marvel, and Iron Man, on the other hand, are bright, colorful feasts for the eyes and imagination. Things happen fast and furiously and there is a light touch to the material; the movie (and comics) know that the events they’re depicting are larger than life, and they play it as real as possible, but they wink at their audience to let the audience know that the creators are indeed, in on the joke. There’s a life and energy in Marvel’s comics, again particularly zeroing in on those from the 60s to the 80s, but still continuing to today, that DC simply can’t match. I believe that the Iron Man movie captures that energy perfectly.

In the end, it’s not about trashing one movie to elevate another. Dark Knight is a wonderful piece of cinema, and everyone attached to it should be proud of their achievement. My point is simply that, in 2008, Marvel and DC finally managed to shine their unique brand onto the silver screen, and in that instant, my old comics buying habits came roaring back to me. I’m glad to have both types of movies available, just as glad as I was to have both types of comics to buy. I just know, in the end, where my true fondness lies.


The Avengers: The Foes No Single Hero Can Withstand

Jan-20-09

So, to recap: Jason and I have been working on revamping the Avengers, and taking the book away from where Brian Michael Bendis has taken it, steering it more toward what we feel is an actual Avengers title. If you check out the previous two posts, you’ll see that we’ve assembled a She-Hulk led team, with Iron Man, Captain America, Stature, Ant-Man, Vision and Songbird. I’m not going to go into all the details from the previous two posts. They’re great reads, honest. Go and check them out.

I think we’ve really detailed a lot of interesting tidbits about our new Avengers. However, we hit a bit of a snag when we came to the discussion of villains. Jason laid down two types of villains that he thought should be highlighted: those villains who desired to bring down the US Government and those villains who had a personal gripe with the Avengers. My position is that this is too restricting; the Avengers should be protecting the world, and if that’s from threats in America, in Europe, in Asia, or in the Andromeda Galaxy, that’s where they’ll be. They are, after all, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, not America’s Sweethearts.

However, we both agree that Kang should be given a break. Jason doesn’t like him at all, and I find I like Kang, but think that Kurt Busiek used him so often (and so well) in his stories that I’m not sure what else I could add to the character at this point. At this point, I’m going to just share some of the conversation from the previous post, just so that no one has to keep scrolling around the blog.

Hmm…Hate Monger? Is he still around? Would some sort of Atlantis uprising be redundant at this point? How about fallout from Dark Reign that would pit the Avengers against Doom? Or better yet, let’s see The Hood and his syndicate become some sort of guerrilla army…domestic terrorists that do hit-and-run missions throughout the country.

Honestly, I’m at a loss here. Perhaps we need to invent some new threats in the Marvel Universe?

Perhaps we could use the Yellow Claw as a potential adversary to the group, and perhaps as the villain responsible for Gabe Jones’ retarded aging. First of all, perhaps we can simply call him The Claw, which is not a bad name and a tad less racist, and we can modify his design a touch so he doesn’t look quite so much like a refugee from a 1940’s Charlie Chan serial. With those touches in place, I think he’d be a great villain for the team; he’s fought them before, and he’s certainly worked to destroy the American government. He’s a tad megalomaniacal, but I find him interesting. He ties into Jones because, in one of the Nick Fury series, the Claw “killed” Dum Dum Dugan, and then returned him to life. There was no real explanation, but I’m wondering if the Claw might not have been playing with a lot of the Howlers. In any case, it’s one possibility.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that your conditions for Avengers villains make a lot of sense. Why would we confine them to just fighting those who hate the government and those who hate the Avengers? The Avengers have always been at their best when they’re fighting truly menacing threats, and they exist to protect the world, not just America. I’m not saying that the two categories of foe you mention don’t have a place in the team’s annals, but I don’t think they should be the only foes the team faces. In fact, I’d throw the Hood right out the window; the Avengers don’t fight organized crime bosses, and the Hood has not proven himself to be anything but a mafia boss with delusions of grandeur. Ugh. It would be like the Avengers going after the Kingpin. I don’t buy it. They need world class menaces to test their mettle. I do like the idea of them fighting Dr. Doom though, since he’s about as world class as you get, and let’s face it, it’s always fun when Doom shows up in any comic. That works for me.

Otherwise, I think creating some new villains might not be a bad way to go. Unfortunately, they’ve never had an extensive rogues’ gallery, usually using the villains of other heroes, and I think that needs to change.

And that catches us up! So, I’m going to turn this over to Jason and let him comment on my thoughts, and then we’ll go from there!

Meh. The Yellow Claw always seemed like a low-rent version of Mandarin to me. Besides, he’s a product of the Vietnam era when everyone seemed spooked by any sort of weird-looking, elderly Asian dude. I don’t buy it in today’s climate. I also fear that you’ve dismissed the Hood too quickly. First of all, you can’t really compare him to the Kingpin. Unlike Kingpin, the Hood has some superhuman abilities, ties to the demon underworld, and an organization completely made up of supervillains. They’re like the Masters of Evil with a dental plan!

The bigger conflict for me comes with the concept of the Avengers being “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” yet they’re controlled by the US government. That screams of a conflict of interest at best and flat-out imperialism at worst. Granted, some threats are bigger than others. However, in the atmosphere that this team is being recreated, with the task of rebuilding trust in the American system and its heroes, I think it would be best to have them focus primarily on any and all potential problems at home first. Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s discuss.

On the subject of creating new villains, I’m torn between dreaming up one of those scheming criminal masterminds like Count Nefaria or Egghead, or focusing on one highly-powered villain who can cause havoc on his own like an Ultron or a Graviton. Which is a bigger test to the team? Do better stories arise from the simple, up front smash and bash of a team versus bad guy scenario, or from the secretive plotting of a higher-up delegating his minions to mess with the team? Maybe it’s both. Maybe we should come up with two unique threats.

Let’s establish some parameters before we move forward on this one. And bring on Doctor Doom!

Well, I can see one of our problems right from the top. You mention that the team is controlled by the US Government, which wasn’t my thinking at all. Just because the team is officially sanctioned by the government doesn’t mean the government controls them. Yes, the government has some input into how the team operates, but I always saw that more as guidelines that the Avengers had to follow if they wanted to keep the government’s approval; much like the standards that the government has for any of their contractors. I suppose I see the team and the government more as partners, and so I shy away from the idea that the government has control over the Avengers. Besides, fighting villains from other countries or planets could be a nice source of conflict between the Avengers and the government, since the government would be sure to agree with your viewpoint, that those aren’t the sort of conflicts in which the Avengers should be involved. I’d still like to keep the villain field wide open. That being said, I do have some ideas for more domestic villains, and those with ties to the team.

Let’s start with the potential of using the Claw, someone who has tried to overthrow the US government on more than one occasion. I think what makes the Claw interesting to me is that he has a strong grasp of history. He is over one hundred years old, and likely quite a bit older than that. Marvel doesn’t have a Vandal Savage type of villain, one who has been around for centuries and can draw upon the vast pool of knowledge that longevity such as that can give a person. I see the Claw fulfilling that sort of role. Perhaps the problem is that, in my mind, I’m completely redefining him. When we return, we find that the Claw is actually hundreds of years old, kept alive by the secret potions and life sustaining herbs that he has mentioned in the past. His past appearance was calculated by him to allow him to blend in with the prevailing mood of the time. He continually has reinvented himself over the years to keep up with the times, and now he appears in more modern garb and with a more modern outlook.

We know that the Claw has kidnapped Dugan in the past, as I mentioned. We know that the Claw knows how to keep a man alive long past the time when death should have claimed him. What if Claw has kidnapped many of the old Howling Commandoes, and without their knowledge, he’s extended their lifespans? It explains why Gabe Jones is still running around. The question is….why would the Claw do that? The easy answer is that he has some means of remotely controlling these men, and will use them in his schemes. I think he could work along those lines.

As for whether the best villain is the solo powerhouse or the criminal mastermind (and sometimes one villain can be both), I think the book needs a mix of the two. I think that Ultron has to come back to bedevil the team. In my eyes, he is the premiere archenemy for the group, even more so than Kang, since one of the Avengers is responsible for creating him. Ultron is also fun because he’s so adaptable. As a robot, you can rebuild him, give him new abilities, and build multiple copies of him. The problem with Ultron would be trying to use him in a way that brings something new to the character, since again, Kurt Busiek really used him to amazing effect during his run on the title. I’d want to try something different with him, and I’m not sure what.

As for Graviton, he’s a character that I used to absolutely love, but I have to admit, he’s been built into a demigod, and he’s a little much for me now. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like having your heroes fight him is like having them fight Galactus. Now, you could make the point that this sort of fight is what proves the mettle and worth of your team of heroes, and that the Avengers are supposed to be about taking down someone on this power level, but honestly, Graviton fails for me because he doesn’t have a strong personality. He’s always been a rather boring guy who just happened to luck into this phenomenal power, and he hasn’t a clue what to do with it. The last few times I’ve seen him it appeared that the writers were using him as a device to explore the personalities of the heroes who were arrayed against him, rather than trying to do anything with Graviton as a character. I say we let him rot in limbo.

On the criminal mastermind front, I’d also prefer to allow Egghead to rot, this time in death. He was great fun the last time he popped up in the Avengers, but he is a little hard to take seriously, and besides, he died a good death, and why bring him back? He’s simply not unique enough to warrant a return to the world of the living. However, Count Nefaria….now he’s a great one! Plus, he’s both a criminal mastermind and something of a powerhouse, which is perfect! The last few times we saw Nefaria it seemed that he was somewhat intoxicated by his own power, and was using it as a bludgeon. I think that’s a shame, since when he first appeared, he was much more subtle and clever. I propose that we take him back to that point.

Let’s be honest, the whole “I’m more powerful than you and shall therefore beat you soundly” strategy that Nefaria has adopted has not turned out well for him. I’d like to return Nefaria to the position of a criminal mastermind, perhaps with the Maggia, or perhaps starting up his own organization from scratch (I’d prefer the latter, and I can’t see his ego allowing him to return to the Maggia). Since you like the Hood so much, perhaps we could set up a “gang war” between Nefaria’s organization and the Hood’s organization. I think that could have a lot of potential. I’d let that simmer as a subplot for awhile before focusing on it, but it could be a great action adventure. Heck, toss in the Masters of Evil towards the end of the plot for an extra ingredient and you could have a true epic on your hands. That story alone has to be worth a year of monthly issues!

So, I propose Nefaria, the Hood and the Masters of Evil as being our original villains. I’d like to do Ultron as well, if you have an idea for him. And I still think the Claw could work. I’ll let you respond to those, but afterward, I have at least one more villain idea to toss your way.

Yeah…I wasn’t actually suggesting that we bring back any of these villains (that’s why I said “like” before mentioning each of them), but rather trying to decide what TYPE of villain worked best. However, after reading your response, I like the idea of a Count Nefaria mob vs. mob showdown. Seriously, how cool would it be for the readers (and confusing for the heroes) to drop the Avengers into this gigantic mess of villains fighting villains and everyone out for their own gain? Where are the limits? Who can make any lasting decisions? And how can the heroes possibly achieve a lasting peace? It would also be interesting to show how these villains are recruited to one side or the other. Who do they have allegiance to? How do the sides balance against each other? The only problem, as far as I can tell, is that Count Nefaria has been killed a few times and is now in “ionic form” like Wonder Man and Atlas. I hate that crap. Kind of tough to retcon too.

I agree that Graviton is a huge bore. I remember his big storyline in West Coast Avengers. I couldn’t wait for that to end…just a horrible mess of over-the-top powers, stilted dialogue and frustrating coincidences. He really has no personality to speak of, which makes his near-omnipotence even more difficult to accept. Quite honestly, I get the same feeling from most of Marvel’s big name villains. Some of them, like Doctor Doom, Kingpin and Red Skull, can be made interesting as their goals change and their deviousness is exposed. However, Kang, Ultron, Magneto, Dormammu, Apocalypse, Galactus, and a bunch of others just seem to strike me as one-trick ponies. Oooh, they’re enraged by good guys! Or they only wish to see the end of civilization (which is taking “hey you kids, get off my lawn” to a ridiculous extreme)! Or they’re just tremendous dicks! Blah.

You may have brought me around to the idea of The Claw…as long as it isn’t actually The Claw. I know that complicates things greatly, but I just have an unexplainable grudge against the character. However, I guess the concept doesn’t make much sense without the established history behind it. His past interactions with Fury and his team are crucial to the story development. This may also be the catalyst to make both of our liaison selections possible. Gabe Jones could start out as liaison, only to be compromised by his past involvement (brainwashing?) with The Claw. A bit of public outcry would then elevate Miriam Sharpe to the liaison position. Interesting, yes? As far as The Claw thing goes though, could we at least, in his first modern appearance, give him a new name and have him explain why he changed it (“The world has known me by many names…”)? That may help alleviate a lot of my concern. Other than that, I’m on board with the idea of this.

I’m curious to hear your other idea for a villain. I’m in a “tweaking” rather than “creating” mood today, so show me what you’ve got and I’ll see what I can add to it.

I have no problem with changing Claw’s name to something else, and again, I think it makes sense from his point of view. When he began fighting the US government and SHIELD during the middle years of the 20th century, he called himself the Yellow Claw because he was of Asian descent, and that’s how he knew the world would perceive him. Now that there is a different perception of Asians in the American culture (at least, I hope to God there is), he would take another name that more closely defines our current times. So, we’re good there. Also, the idea of changing liaisons through this villain’s machinations, I think, is also a splendid idea.

For the record, yes Count Nefaria does have an ionic form, but like Wonder Man, he doesn’t have to be in it all the time. He can switch back to human. He’s also not quite as powerful as he was when he first gained superpowers and was throwing Thor around like a rag doll. I don’t see his superpowers being much of an issue, or necessary for a retcon. Again, he’s tried to use his superpowers as a bludgeon, and he’s been beaten every time. I think Nefaria has come to the conclusion that his powers are not his best asset; his best asset is his cunning and ability to plot. I don’t see him using his powers until he’s forced into a corner. What’s neat about him having the powers now is that, when he does get forced into that corner, he can kick some major butt! Besides, the best and most powerful villains don’t use their powers much; it builds their mystique, and the true mastermind shouldn’t have to fight very often.

Okay, so, I have one more idea for revamping an old Avengers villain, although it may get me some groans from the audience. This guy actually only fought the Avengers in one plotline, but said plot lasted about forty issues, so I consider him to be a major player in the annals of Avenger rogues. Not only did this guy pose a threat to the group, but he also had his own group of flunkies to help him carry out his dastardly deeds. Finally, he’s someone who has a real mad-on for the concept of the Avengers as a group, which is one of the types of villains that you were hoping to use. Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Proctor and his Gatherers.

Yes, Proctor is from the 90s, but I really liked the character and his Gatherers. Many people may dismiss him since he came from the Bob Harras issues, but I will defend those issues fervently, since I consider Bob Harras to be the man who saved the Avengers from cancellation (I’ll have to write an essay on this at some point in time). I thought Proctor and the Gatherers were easily the most fascinating creation of his and when he finally finished up their plotline in the book, I thought most of the energy he had generated left the book as well.

For those who need a quick history lesson, Proctor is in fact Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, from an alternate timeline, a timeline where he gained superhuman powers granted to him by Sersi. Proctor and Sersi were heroes on his world, but she left him, and this, combined with the curse of the Ebony Blade, drove him into madness. He began gathering Avengers from other alternate worlds (his Gatherers) and traveled the multiverse, killing Sersis (and any Avengers he could find) for revenge. He was finally defeated, but his death was very mysterious, and he could easily return.

Proctor hated all of the Avengers, who he considered idiots and incompetents for allowing Sersi in their group when she was so clearly a selfish hedonist, who had no right being a hero. His largest grudges were against his own counterpart, the Black Knight, as well as his former lover Sersi. Neither of these characters are on our team of heroes (I have to agree with Proctor and say that I never thought it made sense for Sersi to be an Avenger either), so we need to change his motivation a tad, and really, it would make sense to change it anyway, since we don’t want to do the same plot with this guy again and again.

Proctor survived his battle with Sersi, but was thrown into an alternate dimension. This was not a huge problem for him, as he travels the dimensions anyway. After he had cleared his head from the fight, he saw that Sersi and the Black Knight were both gone from the Marvel Universe (they were, for a time, stuck in the Malibu Universe) and without them squarely in his sights, Proctor began to rethink his priorities. He realized that he shouldn’t be so angry with Sersi; after all, she was simply fulfilling her basic nature. She is a frivolous creature with the responsibility of a child, and that’s how she acted when she left him. No, the real problem here is the Avengers themselves. These people are charged with protecting a world, and what do they do? They allow silly tramps like Sersi in their midst, who simply doesn’t understand the sacrifices that true heroes have to make.

As Proctor watches the Avengers, he continues to see evidence that leads him to the conclusion that the Avengers simply aren’t serious enough about this world saving business. They allow people like Thunderstrike on the team, who was woefully inexperienced when he first took over from Thor. They allow situations like the Crystal-Black Knight-Sersi love triangle to flourish, even though it hampers group effectiveness. They allowed Hercules to stay as a member, even when he was stripped of his godlike powers. They kept Captain America as a member during the time the super-soldier serum was breaking down and he was greatly weakened. They allowed the mentally incompetent, such as the Sentry, in their midst. They allowed obvious traitors like Spider-Woman to join. They ignored the problems of the Scarlet Witch, who was right in their midst, and those problems engulfed the team in death and destruction.

Proctor becomes convinced that the problems he has suffered in his life are directly the result of the Avengers not being up to the task of safeguarding the world. He decides it’s time to show the Avengers just what sort of measures are necessary to keep people safe. Proctor begins traveling the multiverse, collecting alternate universe Avengers who have been somehow wronged by their world’s Avengers. Some of these wrongs will be legitimate, and some of them won’t, but by the time he’s done, Proctor has his own team of Avengers. He then comes to the prime Marvel Universe (which he always insisted was the most important one, and the one from which all other worlds sprang) and begins to do some heroing with his Gatherers. At first, his group might be considered heroes by the media, but it soon becomes clear that Proctor has no problems with shooting first and asking questions never. He kills those he deems dangerous to the world, and his group is not gentle. That’s when he and the Avengers begin to tangle.

One of the things I like about this is that we get the opportunity to see the inner workings of two teams of Avengers. One of the teams is more of your “dark and gritty, 90’s style” team, and then we have the Avengers team that we’re building. It’s a nice opportunity to show how the respect and friendships within the current Avengers team contrast with the more brutal and cold atmosphere amongst the Gatherers.

So, what do you think?

Man…I don’t know. Proctor? Really??? Look, I have no problem with a character being used as the catalyst to assemble a group of mirror-heroes…like an evil Avengers version of the Exiles…to wreak havoc on the Marvel Universe and all that. I just have a huge problem with that character being an alternate-dimension version of Dane Whitman. It makes me laugh out loud. I feel that Proctor has already played out his one-trick plotline and I don’t see any difference between that story arc and the slightly nuanced one you’re proposing here. Our Avengers team has absolutely no relation to Black Knight (or Sersi for that matter). Seems like a stretch to me. I would hope that you’re actually more enamored with the concept than the actual puzzle pieces involved.

And, if that’s the case, I can definitely get behind this concept as well. However, the main foe obviously needs to change. Proctor was a product of the 90’s that I’d rather not revive. His costume was dumb. His haircut was embarrassing. And his power set was so amorphous as to be completely unbelievable. Did you know he had the ability to chemically alter human brains?!? Really. No…that ship has sailed, my friend. The good thing is that I have a few solutions. While reading up on Mr. Proctor, I stumbled across two characters that could serve in his place. The first is Hate-Monger, in one form or another. Granted, the first Hate-Monger was a clone of Hitler and that’s just a silly idea today. But, he was also recreated by the Cosmic Cube at one point, and that’s a feasible thought. His essence could be fairly malleable because of his origins, allowing him to traverse dimensions and gather his team of…let’s call them “Revengers” (and yes, that is a deliberate reference to the MC2 team of the same name). The way I see it, this is a new way to incorporate both the themes of Kang and the themes of Proctor into one new storyline. This travelling Hate-Monger could spend decades in each new dimension, building himself up as some sort of dictator, being involved in military coups and government uprisings. He could be overseeing various Super Soldier programs and mutant experimentations. The short story is this: Hate-Monger culls the best of the worst from each successive dimension until he has a team populated with characters hellbent on destroying the Avengers. It’s got time travel. It’s got evil motivation. It’s got alternate versions of our favorite heroes, twisted by family trees, differing realities and unseen circumstances. However, they don’t just pop in and attack the Avengers. No, we see Hate-Monger slowly leaking his team into the current timestream. They pose as their Marvel U counterparts and start committing foul acts, publicly framing this team that is trying so desperately to regain the world’s trust. When everything is whipped into a frenzy, hero and civilian, the team strikes in full force.

We could also use this Hate-Monger as the seed for the villain vs. villain uprising. Or, as my second villain option, we could use a different Hate-Monger to cause trouble. See, there was another Hate-Monger (who later changed his name to Animus) that ran around right before the Proctor saga. His origins were a little vague, but we can use that. Considering he once financed the Sons of the Serpent, I’m thinking he could be used as the person who sets the massive underworld attack into motion…motivating the Sons, Secret Empire, HYDRA, AIM and all those other splinter groups to attack the US during its time of rebuilding. Just a way to rectify our other plot ideas. Might be funny to have the two Hate-Mongers run afoul of each other too.

I’m not sure if my writings were coherent enough just now, but I think you can get the gist of what I was saying. The IDEA of Proctor is a good one, but the REALITY of Proctor just makes me laugh. What say you, kind sir?

I’m sorry. Did I understand that you dismissed Proctor as too much a product of his time, and then suggested (with a straight face), the original Hate-Monger as a replacement? The Adolf Hitler clone was as much a product of his time as Proctor was of the 90s, and there’s absolutely no way that we’re going to write a story with the main villain being a reconstituted Hitler. No. Well, if he teams up with Elvis and JFK, maybe. But otherwise, no. Absolutely not.

Now, your idea of using the other Hate-Monger has a little more promise. Personally, I’m not a fan of the very concept of the Hate-Monger, and the name is ludicrously bad, but at least the version you mentioned at the end of your e-mail had some style to him, and a vague enough backstory that we could do whatever we wanted with him. I’ll go with that.

I’m a little disappointed that you dismissed Proctor so quickly and decisively. Yes, he appeared during the 90s, but Proctor injected a sense of continuity and danger into the Avengers that it sorely needed at that time. I think that a lot of people, tend to brush off most comics from that time period with a dismissive wave of their hand, and I’m not sure that’s always entirely fair. I would contend that Proctor still works as a villain; his powers can be narrowed down (perhaps slightly altered and locked into place during his near death experience after his last fight with the team), and he can visit a stylist for better wardrobe and hair. Plus, he didn’t just hate Sersi or the Black Knight; he hated the entire team, since he felt that they all had let him down by not seeing Sersi for what she was. It would be like limiting Ultron to fighting Pym, and assuming that he wouldn’t attack unless Pym was on the team.

Still, I’ll let Proctor go and we can run with the new Hate-Monger. As long as it’s not a clone of Adolf Hitler, we should be fine. You’re going to have to talk a lot more to convince me that using that version is a good idea.

Well, I’ve talked at length about villains. Any other ideas for some, or should we wrap this up?

I’m spent.


The Avengers: All Dressed Up and Where Do They Go?

Jan-15-09

So, Jason and I have assembled a group of new Avengers. We have She-Hulk leading the team, which consists of the new Captain America, the new Ant-Man, Stature, Vision, Iron Man, Wonder Man and Songbird. Falcon helps to organize and recruit the team, and stops by the mansion regularly to provide guidance and help on the occasional mission. We’ve detailed how the team comes to be in the wake of Dark Reign, as the SHRA is dissolved, and the heroes of the Marvel Universe must work to ingratiate themselves with the populace once again. This team is going to be on the frontlines, fighting those threats that no single hero can stand against, but doing so in a way that shows Joe Plumber that heroes aren’t all evil, selfish or destructive.

What we’d like to do now though, is to get into the nitties and the gritties of this team. From where do they operate (I believe both Jason and I would vote for Avengers Mansion, but it’s currently destroyed)? Is Jarvis a part of the support crew and how is he holding up after being a prisoner of the Skrulls? Are there other support crew members? Who is the government liaison and how does that relationship work?

Beyond those questions, we also need to ask how this group is viewed by the public, and also by other superheroes. How does Hank Pym feel about his identity being used by the current Ant-Man, not exactly the most upstanding hero in the line-up? Are there previous Avengers who are upset that they weren’t asked to join? How do the Thunderbolts feel about Songbird leaving them to join this team?

Moreover, does this team of Avengers have an overall strategy? The fact that they are trying to rebuild the public’s trust in heroes in general already makes them more proactive than many previous incarnations of the team, and the fact that Wonder Man has been chosen as their public face also suggests that they will be more proactive than reactive, at least in certain areas.

So, I’ve asked the hard questions, and now we can let Jason do the actual work by answering them….

I’m just going to take the questions in the order presented and see what develops from there. First off: Location. I would LOVE to see the team return to Avengers Mansion. It’s an unobtrusive way to demonstrate that these heroes see themselves on the relatively same level as the common citizen. The group lives together in a house, not lording over the population in an ivory tower. Of course, I’d also expect that any new version of Avengers Mansion would be completely updated on the interior…top-notch security measures, sub-basements for equipment and transportation, completely wired with tech and accessories. In fact, if Stark is involved, I’d imagine some sort of re-purposing of the Negative Zone prison idea…perhaps a holding cell area for dangerous foes that can’t be managed in conventional prisons. I’m not advocating a permanent location to keep criminals, like the Marvel version of Gitmo or anything, but why not use the space and the technology behind the scenes? Originally I thought they could steal a cue from Doctor Who and make Avengers Mansion be some sort of trans-dimensional location where the interior is far bigger than the exterior, but that could get too complicated far too quickly. Rebuilding Avengers Mansion would also serve as a huge PR win for the team. let’s show the populace that everything is returning to normal and they can begin to feel safe again.

About Jarvis: I’d actually like to see him NOT return. It would be in character for him to politely excuse himself, feeling that he had let the team down and that their trust had been ultimately lost. Honestly, I’d rather see him working for Tony Stark exclusively. Stark is currently going through a revamp of his own in relation to his supporting cast and Jarvis would fit in well there. So where does that leave the Avengers in terms of support? I would like to propose the inclusion of Machine Man as the Operations Manager for Avengers Mansion. With his revamp in Nextwave and his subsequent appearances with the Initiative, he’s the perfect candidate for a position as both integral assistant and comic relief. Considering he was married to the boss, it would make sense to bring John Jameson along too. He could be the Transportation Director or something. And exploring his current non-relationship with She-Hulk would be intriguing. Aside from that, I’d probably look for a Communications Director too…someone who can collect info and relay it to the team ala Oracle (and please not Pepper Potts).

To answer the government liaison question, it’d be easy to appoint Falcon as their mediator. However, I don’t think it would be helpful to have a costumed hero as the government representative (that leaves out Stingray too…damn). However, I do think it would be appropriate to grab one of the long-serving former members of SHIELD to take up that post…someone like Gabe Jones. He has the experience, the respect and the wisdom. Plus, he’s an older gentleman who is probably looking to take it a little easier (not so much a field agent anymore). He’s the perfect candidate in an Obama-led Marvel U.

I’m not going to answer the questions about how the team is viewed, because I think that would need to develop organically. Would Pym really care at this point? Would any former members feel shunned, knowing that no Avengers lineup has ever been written in stone? The only thing I CAN answer is the thought about Songbird. A faction of the Thunderbolts was actually trying to KILL HER, so I could imagine she’d be glad to get out of that situation and they’d be irritated that she got away. Sub-plot alert!

I see this relaunch as a way for Marvel to connect its heroes to the normal folk. I imagine the team would be doing a lot of appearances, making themselves much more public. With Simon in charge of PR, I could even see some sort of reality TV show popping up to follow the lives and adventures of the team. The focus would be to set America’s mind at ease. Maybe the Avengers team up with Damage Control to perform some good works. Basically, they’d be putting out little fires around the states. I’d even go so far as to have them breaking up simple crimes by completely surprising and overpowering some common criminals. Total overkill.

At the same time, I think the team should be challenged quickly and effectively by an outside force. The easiest solution, if Jones is the government contact, is to launch a huge offensive by SHIELD’s nemesis HYDRA…unexpected, with no warning or chatter…perhaps even in conjunction with AIM, the Secret Empire and Sons of the Serpent. Just a ridiculously large, coordinated attack that truly tests the new team’s abilities without resorting to a superpowered menace. This could also be a product of the negative fallout of the SHRA and Osborn and all of that. I don’t want to dictate who would be behind the whole thing, but there’s a curious list to choose from.

Care to expand on any of those answers with some of your own?

I’m in agreement that they should be based in Avengers Mansion. For the moment, I’d say they’re working out of the old sub-basements of the mansion, while the rebuild the structure above them. Then, once that’s done and they can move in upstairs, they can work on renovating the sub-basements as well. This could be a long running subplot, but there’s a lot that can be done with construction and with a crew of people constantly in and out of the mansion. It also forces the heroes to cope with less than ideal conditions for awhile, which can always be interesting. Failing and missing technology can make for some interesting hurdles for our heroes to leap.

Man, I would miss Jarvis. A lot. While I can certainly understand your logic, and that he would excuse himself from duty, I’m not sure the Avengers would allow it. I think that the Avengers need him, and he certainly needs them. The Avengers have always been a chaotic group, with larger than life personalities and frequent roster changes. Jarvis is the glue that holds the team together, and I think dropping him from the title is a mistake. That being said, there’s nothing that says he needs to be their butler and in the title from the get-go. Having him focus on working for Stark makes sense, and since Stark is a member, it also means that Jarvis is still tied peripherally to the team. Have him show up in some issues, acting in his capacity as Stark’s butler, and give him a chance to interact with the cast; both in talking with the members he knows well (like She-Hulk) and in getting to know those members who are new to him (like the new Ant-Man). I definitely would want to see him have a few moments with the new Captain America, since he was so important to the original, when the original joined the team. Let’s keep Jarvis a presence in the book, and if it works organically for him to return to the team in an official capacity, that’s fine. If it doesn’t work and he never rejoins the team, that’s okay too, but at least we’ve got him guest starring occasionally.

As for your other choices, the Machine Man and John Jameson are excellent choices. A Communications Officer would make sense; how about Louise Mason, the Blonde Phantom? For those who don’t know her, she was a supporting character in one of She-Hulk’s previous series. She was a super-hero called the Blonde Phantom back in the Golden Age (no powers), and was pretty old, but she had some of her youth restored to her. I wouldn’t actually want her too young, but we can show her as middle aged. She’d be perfect; it makes sense that She-Hulk would recruit her, since they’ve worked together in the past, and Mason is quite familiar with the life of a hero. She saw a lot when she was the Blonde Phantom, and even more when she worked with She-Hulk, so she is going to be able to keep her cool even when things are going poorly. I have some other ideas if you don’t like that one, but if you like that one, I say we go with it.

Man, I’m a fan of Gabe Jones, but I try to ignore the Howling Commandoes since their histories place them all in WWII, and except for Fury, they should all be incredibly old by now. Using him in the book on a regular basis is just going to be a constant reminder that he’s a walking continuity issue, and yes, it would bother me. Other than that, Jones is perfect, but that’s a pretty big problem for me, and because of it, I’d love to find an alternate. What about Miriam Sharpe? Sharpe, as some may recall, was the primary mover and shaker who organized the demonstrations that helped the SHRA to pass in the first place (her son was among the casualties in Stamford that kicked off the entire Civil War plotline). She’s been described as a brilliant political operator, and indeed, she’s done amazing things for someone who has never been involved in this sort of activity before. She doesn’t work for the government, but that could change, and wouldn’t she be the perfect liaison if the government and the people really want the Avengers to be accountable for their actions? She’s a concerned mother who has become the voice of a nation; I think she’d be a good choice.

As for your other comments, I really like your idea of the Avengers working closely with Damage Control in an effort to boost their public approval. I also think the idea of cameras coming along on some missions in the manner of a reality show has potential. I don’t think that the Avengers will be sitting in cubicles explaining why they’re frustrated because She-Hulk left a green ring around the bathtub again, but I can see them having cameras that record some of their activities.

As for villains, HYRDA is ok, and would probably work well for a beginning arc. My problem with the giant organizations like HYDRA is that they’re not very interesting as villains; they’re mostly faceless flunkies with perhaps one or two recognizable personalities at the very top. However, in a first arc that works well, since you can focus more on your heroes; on their personalities and how they interact with each other, and that’s perfect for when you want to establish some core concepts at the start of the series.

Beyond them, who can the Avengers fight. I like Kang, but Jason doesn’t, and to be fair, I think that Kurt Busiek used Kang quite a bit and quite well, and I’m not sure where you take him from here. I mean, he did conquer the world; it seems most plots would be a step down. I’d not want to do much with him. Ultron always has potential (not that Kurt Busiek didn’t kick major butt with him too when he used him) and is worth bringing back. Otherwise, one of the concepts I’d really like to see brought back is the Masters of Evil.

The Masters have always been a huge part of the Avengers Rogues Gallery, but ever since Roger Stern’s amazing use of them, when they besieged and captured the mansion, they haven’t seen much use, at least in the Avengers title. I think a new Masters is needed, and I think the Mandarin would be the perfect villain to lead it. The Masters almost always have had someone leading them who has a problem with one of the Avengers, and with Stark on the team, the Mandarin is a natural fit. I’ve raved about the new Mandarin before; I never much liked the original, who just never seemed scary. While I loved the gimmicks of his ring, he always seemed somewhat silly to me and I never got the impression he was much of a threat. The new Mandarin definitely exudes an air of menace, and he would be a perfect villain to recruit and lead a new Masters of Evil. Plus, it would be fun to see Songbird’s reaction to fighting the new Masters, and if any other members of the team had doubts about her membership, they would be cleaned up then.

Comments, and other villains you’d like to see?

We seem to be in general agreement about a lot of things. I have no problem with Louise Mason acting as a communications director/general secretary for the group. It would make a lot of sense for She-Hulk, as a new leader, to bring in her own people to flesh out the team. Honestly, I’m just excited by the idea of Machine Man popping up in the title! I agree with letting the Jarvis situation kind of play itself out and see what happens. My main point was that we shouldn’t force him back into his previous position, and this solution offers a solid alternative to that while still keeping him relative to the team. I guess our biggest argument is over the government liaison. I concur that the true age of Gabe Jones is a mystery which needs explaining (and could be another interesting subplot). However, I also feel that he has decades of relative experience working in a government agency and dealing with superheroes. These types of positions need to be filled with logical choices, not just who might seem “cool” at the moment. Unfortunately, I see Miriam Sharpe as a trendy nominee. She was terribly confrontational with the superhero community, spearheading the SHRA which, we’ve already admitted, has to be abolished. We know absolutely nothing about her past, her career or her education. Naming her as government liaison to the Avengers would be akin to making Cindy Sheehan Secretary of Defense! Bonkers!

Ahem. That was quite political of me, huh? Back to the discussion…

We’re agreed on the limits of both the “reality TV” idea and the “massive attack” scenario. I offered neither of these as an ultimate solution that should be taken to its limits, but merely as interesting sideshows, if you will. Anything we can inject into the title that will offer smaller plotlines and show a range of emotions in the team is a necessary exercise. You’re right that HYDRA is kind of boring and faceless (since the Struckers disappeared) and I suggested them only as so much cannon fodder to test the new group’s teamwork and communication abilities. I want to ratchet up the pressure and try to keep the Avengers as busy, as distracted and as overwhelmed as possible. Stress builds character!

As for other villains, I completely forgot that we previously offered up our version of the Masters of Evil! Awesome! Now that I think about it, the whole HYDRA/AIM/Secret Empire plot could end up being set off by Mandarin as his way of softening up the team before the Masters of Evil launch a finely coordinated attack. It would be rather poignant to have the Masters attack as the Avengers are regrouping at a mansion that is being rebuilt, and neither Jarvis nor the original Captain America are on the premises. Kind of a chilling thought, actually.

I believe that any subsequent threats should be positioned in one of two ways: 1. They have something against the US government or 2. They have a beef against the Avengers team concept itself. Any other foes would seem kind of silly at this point. I don’t want to see the new team getting caught up in some interstellar battle or trying to take down any kind of worldwide threat. At the same time, I don’t see them facing off with any singular villain that may have a problem with one member or the other. It has to be a team thing, otherwise it’s just another intricate subplot (which isn’t a bad thing either, as I explained above).

So who do I think fits either of those criteria? Hmm…Hate Monger? Is he still around? Would some sort of Atlantis uprising be redundant at this point? How about fallout from Dark Reign that would pit the Avengers against Doom? Or better yet, let’s see The Hood and his syndicate become some sort of guerrilla army…domestic terrorists that do hit-and-run missions throughout the country.

Honestly, I’m at a loss here. Perhaps we need to invent some new threats in the Marvel Universe?

Let’s start with Gabe Jones.  I certainly understand your point about Sharpe, but understand that she’s appointed by the government, and right now, she’s a news darling.  The government would love her, and to be fair, if the team is trying to project a positive image and win back the trust of the world, having her liaison with them is going to go further in the public eye than some unknown spook who’s buddy-buddy with the superhero elite.  With that being said, I will agree to Gabe Jones (who is a character I like quite a bit) as long as we agree to tackle the problem of why he’s not 80 years old at some point in time. 

That ties us into villains, as perhaps we could use the Yellow Claw as a potential adversary to the group, and perhaps as the villain responsible for Jones’ retarded aging.  First of all, perhaps we can simply call him The Claw, which is not a bad name and a tad less racist, and we can modify his design a touch so he doesn’t look quite so much like a refugee from a 1940’s Charlie Chan serial.  With those touches in place, I think he’d be a great villain for the team; he’s fought them before, and he’s certainly worked to destroy the American government.  He’s a tad megalomaniacal, but I find him interesting.  He ties into Jones’ because, in one of the Nick Fury series, the Claw “killed” Dum Dum Dugan, and then returned him to life.  There was no real explanation, but I’m wondering if the Claw might not have been playing with a lot of the Howlers.  In any case, it’s one possibility.

Now, having said that, I think that your conditions for Avengers villains don’t make a lot of sense.  Why would we confine them to just fighting those who hate the government and those who hate the Avengers?  The Avengers have always been at their best when they’re fighting truly menacing threats, and they exist to protect the world, not just America.  I’m not saying that the two categories of foe you mention don’t have a place in the team’s annals, but I don’t think they should be the only foes the team faces.  In fact, I’d throw the Hood right out the window; the Avengers don’t fight organized crime bosses, and the Hood has not proven himself to be anything but a mafia boss with delusions of grandeur.  Ugh.  It would be like the Avengers going after the Kingpin.  I don’t buy it.  They need world class menaces to test their mettle.  I do like the idea of them fighting Dr. Doom though, since he’s about as world class as you get, and let’s face it, it’s always fun when Doom shows up in any comic.  That works for me.

Otherwise, I think creating some new villains might not be a bad way to go.  Unfortunately, they’ve never had an extensive rogues’ gallery, usually using the villains of other heroes, and I think that needs to change.  In fact, this is so important that we’re going to continue it in a separate post!


The Avengers: Reassembling Greatness.

Jan-12-09

If you’ve ever read even one post from this blog, you know that John and I are both GIGANTIC fans of The Avengers in pretty much any shape or form. Oddly enough, in all of our weeks and months pondering over how to revamp this person and how to better position that team, aside from a hypothetical “Dream Team” lineup we’ve never delved into the thick and twisted history of our favorite superhero team.

Until now!

With one week left before the debut of Dark Avengers, we thought this would be the ideal time to spend an entire week thinking, planning and pontificating on Marvel’s premiere superhero squad. No matter what shape they take…be it “New”…”Mighty”…”Ultimate”…”Secret”…”Initiative”…or now “Dark” (which is really just a rehashed Thunderbolts lineup in sheep’s clothing), The Avengers still stand for one thing: teamwork. Of course, we plan to strip away what we perceive as silliness and superfluity. I’m sure, somewhere along the way, there will be some pooh-poohing of Bendis and his mangling of the Avengers legacy. John will say nice things about Kurt Busiek. And we will both sing the praises of Roger Stern.

However, first thing’s first: The lineup (or lineups, as it were). I’ve always been a fan of the continental part of the Avengers lineage. That is to say, I would prefer to see the teams focused on both the East and West coasts. I’m not quite sure where John and I stand on the enforcement of the Superhero Registration Act. Have we sort of let it fall to the wayside in our interpretation of the Marvel U? Or do these Avengers teams we concoct have to abide by stricter guidelines since they fall under government auspices? Or do we jettison the “sanctioned” concept altogether?

We also need to be cognizant of the storylines we’ve already enacted throughout our version of Marvel’s playground. Are Ant-Man and Stature out of contention for membership since we sent them off to Kansas? Is Iron Man off the grid? Do we keep Scarlet Witch under the tutelage of Doctor Strange? We haven’t really fooled around with many of the current core Avengers members in our work…Captain America, Wasp (is she still dead in our world?), Thor, Wonder Man, Ms. Marvel, Ares, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are all available. We sent Hawkeye to California with Hank Pym and Black Widow, but that could be the nucleus of a western outpost. Should Daredevil, Echo, Spider-Man or Wolverine be considered at all? Are there characters we need to bring back from the dead (or from the ranks of the missing/replaced/incarcerated)?

Where do we start with the Meanwhile…Avengers?

So many questions. Let me start by saying that the Avengers is my favorite super-hero comic ever. I have read every issue from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s number one through the issues that took place during Civil War. Sadly, I simply can not enjoy Bendis’ run on the series, and before anyone flames me for that, let me say that I never liked his work on the series, and I still stuck with it for a few years, so I think I gave him a fair shake. My point behind all of this is that I think I have a very firm grounding on what makes the team work and what’s happening on the team when they’re at their best, at least from my point of view.

As far as what is and what isn’t game in our discussion, I am of the opinion that we shouldn’t be beholden to the continuity that we have created in past entries. While it’s interesting to play with the idea that we’re creating our own Marvel Universe I think that forcing ourselves into following previous entries is a negative in two ways: it becomes a barrier to those who haven’t read the blog before (“Wait, they can’t use Stature for what reason?”) and it may cause us to use (or not use) characters which are ideal, simply because they’re somewhere else. Besides, we’ve already violated our own continuity, as we declared Brother Voodoo a supporting character in our Dr. Strange book, and then used him as a member of the Nightstalkers. So, I don’t think our past posts should be used to hinder what we do in the current post.

However, to this point, we have continued using the current Marvel continuity as a guide. That means that the Wasp is indeed dead. Can we use her? Sure, if we want to; we just need to resurrect her, which everyone knows will happen eventually, especially since her death was so incredibly lame. Heck, all of the important characters that Bendis killed in Avengers: Disassembled have returned by now in some form or another, and while we could spend an entire post debating whether the revolving door of death has been a boon or a bane to comics, the fact is that it exists, and we should feel free to use it in this post.

Should the Avengers be sanctioned? Yes, I believe they should. I think the Avengers work best as the “Official” superheroes of the Marvel Universe. Whether working for the United States Government or the United Nations, they are those heroes who the governments of the world seek out when they need help. Being sanctioned has always been good for some great plots as well, as the Avengers are forced to comply with government regulation and policy. Plus, some of the most interesting supporting characters have been the federal liaisons with the Avengers: Henry Peter Gyrich, Raymond Sikorski and Duane Freeman (well, maybe not Sikorski, as he never did too much, but the others were valuable members of the supporting cast).

So, in summary: yes, they should be sanctioned; no, I don’t care about what was written before (you may use it as a guide if you like, but expect that I may ignore it if I feel it’s getting in the way of a good idea); and yes, we should try and follow current Marvel continuity. However, after all my long-windedness, it turns out that current Marvel continuity doesn’t work too well for us right now. As long as Norman Osborn is in charge of things, we’re not going to be able to do what we want with the Avengers, and they sure as heck can’t be sanctioned. So, perhaps it would be okay to look at the end of the Dark Reign storyline, and set our Avengers teams in the aftermath of this particular plot. I don’t think anyone assumes that Dark Reign won’t end with the heroes back in charge and the villains back to operating out of the shadows, so let’s just move there now, as we discuss the Avengers.

Those are the ground rules for this in my mind. Let me know if you disagree, and then, let’s discuss what we want to do. I see Dark Reign as just ending, and the federal government realizes that they made a huge mistake in giving Osborn as much power as they did. They recognize the need for a real team of heroes to restore the public’s trust, so they want to rebuild the Avengers. How do they do that and who would they choose? I think one of the most interesting things about any new Avengers is the absence of Steve Rogers, always a cornerstone of the team. How does a new team form without his involvement? What do you think of this as a starting point?

I can fall in line on most of these points. Current Marvel continuity is our guide. The process we go through to revamp things just makes us use our brains a bit more to resolve continuity conflicts (something I wish more writers and editors would think through). I also agree that the Avengers have worked best as a government controlled team. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of my Avengers reading has taken place while they’ve enjoyed that status. I can’t really recall the non-government team very well. I also agree that we need to work around the “Big Event” scenarios and just present what we think should happen after all the hoopla dies down. Aside from the whole “bad guys in charge” thing, I’m assuming that the SHRA will eventually be revoked as well, but we can work with it for now.

However, I’m hesitant to ignore the pseudo-continuity that we’ve created in our own Meanwhile Universe. You mentioned our double-dealing of Brother Voodoo, but I really see no conflict there. We made him a member of a team of supernatural investigators. That doesn’t mean he can’t also guest star in the occasional Dr. Strange book. It really just means that he’s precluded from taking off on any extensive adventures with anyone else (without explanation) or joining any other teams. I had assumed that everything we were doing here was linked somehow. Otherwise, every revamp we offer could ultimately be the same…and that would get rather boring and redundant. “I know how we can fix Captain America! Make Spider-Man his partner!” quickly becomes “I know how we can make the X-Men better! Make Spider-Man their leader!” and then we have another annoying Wolverine situation where he’s everything and everywhere. Too easy to just cop-out and offer the safe answer.

No, I would prefer to use the tools we’ve made available to ourselves. If we need to change or explain away some of our own created continuity, that’s fine. And, I believe, it’s an important thing to do. We made a choice to send Stature and Ant-Man to Kansas…now, if we want them back, we need solid reasoning to make it happen. Like I said earlier, most of the major players in team history have been left untouched by us. I think we can assemble something valid and interesting from those characters and a few unique twists.

Is that cool?

I like the point of view on how to start the team. The question is, who’s the one to make the first step? Let’s assume that the teams have been disbanded or have fractured under their own weighty morals and duties. The Osborn-built teams have been sent packing and the ones he merely oversaw are having serious doubts about their mission and their purpose. So, we have a relatively clean slate to work from. Relationships, with each other, with the government and with the people, need to be rebuilt and reestablished. Who raises their hand first?

You and I are going to have to write a post where we can argue about continuity one of these days. Still, I’m willing to table that argument for now and acquiesce to your concerns.

The first step you mention raises an interesting question: would the genesis of the new Avengers come from the government itself, anxious to reestablish a superhero team that can engender the public trust again, or would it come from a hero who felt that the Avengers were a necessary team and needed to be recreated? I believe there would be parties on both sides who recognized the need for the Avengers, but whomever steps up first is going to be the heart of the story, at least in the beginning, and therefore assumes more importance.

While I like the Avengers as being sanctioned by the government, I don’t think the impetus for the team’s formation should ever lie within those official channels. The Avengers should always be brought together because the spark within them, as heroes, cries out that this assemblage is necessary. If the government goes around and recruits the team, then you have Freedom Force or various incarnations of X-Factor, or some other, equally mercenary, group. That’s not the Avengers.

If the genesis of the new team’s formation comes from within the ranks of the heroes, though, who would raise the call to assemble? Captain America would have been the obvious choice, but as we’ve noted, he’s a little dead right now. The Wasp is also dead, which takes two heroes out of the running. Pym has just returned from years as a hostage to the Skrulls, so he may not want to restart the team; or, he may feel like the Avengers are what he knows best, and he may seek them out as a way to reconnect to the past he remembers. Iron Man is in disgrace right now, but he could see the team as a way to return some measure of trust in him to the world; conversely, he could see himself as a liability to the team, with his name and presence bringing instant distrust in the eyes of the public. Thor is something of a wild card, and I admit to not reading his current series, which I’ve heard is excellent. Would he want to be involved in mortal affairs as he tries to rebuild Asgard, or would he prefer to focus on the world of gods before returning full time to the world of men?

You know, with the founding members all in varying states of disorganization and shock, I think perhaps that our team should be suggested by someone outside of this august circle. A former Avenger, to be sure, but one that wasn’t there at the beginning. One who feels that the Avengers are important and believes in the team with all of their being. Any suggestions on who that might be?

Depending on how things fall out of Dark Reign and the SHRA, there will be some hesitancy on the part of the government and the heroes themselves to continue along any given path. Both will be trying to regain credibility in the face of the general public. And I think both will lean on the other to ensure any move forward is done correctly and cautiously. The government would offer to let the Avengers function as their own autonomous team, not bridled under the control of any given agency or overseer. This would take them back to the days of having a liaison…someone who ensures that they do things by the book but isn’t there to dictate missions and decisions to them.

I can only assume that Iron Man’s position of influence will be restored in the wake of everything Norman Osborn is attempting to do to him now. His reputation will be tarnished, but the people are fairly forgiving under the right evidence and circumstances. However, I don’t see him as the catalyst for getting the team back together. He would be very reluctant and would need someone else to set things in motion.

For that position, two names come to mind, both of whom served on the team at one point or another and have always been seen as go-to folks when the Avengers needed a little extra assistance: She-Hulk or Falcon. She-Hulk’s relationship with Tony Stark became more and more strained as events played out in the Marvel Universe, but she’s also a strong personality who is universally trusted by her peers. Falcon was Cap’s right-hand man for a long time. He’s seen as a steadfast supporter of all the ideals the Avengers stood for. Plus, he has the government contacts through his dealings with both Gyrich and SHIELD. I think either, or both, of these heroes would be able to bring the government and Tony Stark to the table to at least craft the beginnings of a relaunched Avengers team.

With his resources, experience and history, Iron Man is clearly the one hero who could stand as a figurehead for the group. I’m not saying he’s a slam dunk for membership, but he would at least play a very significant role in bringing the Avengers back.

Interesting choice for your two heroes who might be the impetus for the start of the new team of Avengers. Of the two, I would choose the Falcon. Here’s how I see it going down.

Dark Reign is over, as you mentioned, and everyone is picking up the pieces. The Falcon recognizes the need for a group of Avengers, a group that can be in the forefront of restoring the public’s confidence in their heroes (since heroes got a bad rap during Civil War, when they fought each other, and then in Secret Invasion, when some of them turned out to be alien invaders) as well as a group that can work with the government, since the government has also had a rocky road with heroes lately. The Falcon would also see the return of the Avengers to be important as a way of remembering the legacy of his friend Steve Rogers. Rogers, as Captain America, was a long time leader and public face of the Avengers, and the Falcon knows how upset Steve would be if he knew that there was no Avengers team out in the world.

However, the Falcon is realistic. He’s a member of the Avengers, but he’s never served with them for any length of time, and he’s not considered one of their premiere members. When someone thinks of the Avengers, the Falcon is one of the last heroes they consider, and when they think of the Falcon, most people don’t even think of his time with the team. No, if the Falcon is going to sell the idea of a new Avengers team, both to the government and to potential members, there’s going to have to be a bigger name than him. That name is Tony Stark.

After all, the Falcon had been working with Stark quite a bit when Stark was the head of SHIELD, and the two had bonded after the loss of their friend, Steve Rogers. Sam approaches Stark, and he explains why he thinks the Avengers need to exist and why he thinks Stark needs to be a part of it. Stark agrees, and the two of them go visit their government contacts, who direct them to the office of Valerie Cooper, the Deputy Director of ONE, which is charged with the preparation and defense of America from superhuman threats. She listens to their proposal, and agrees that perhaps authorizing the Avengers to act for the government, as has been done in the past, is a good idea. However, she’d want to see a team roster.

So, who would be on said roster?

Right. Good setup. Pretty much what I was thinking too. Here comes the tricky part…

Are Iron Man and Falcon automatically charged with being de facto members of the group? Is Falcon registered? Would all of the members need to be officially registered or would clemency be offered? And what about characters that the US government clearly has no jurisdiction over…like Thor or Ares? There’s a whole slew of decisions that need to be made before we can really start to form any sort of cohesive team. Although, I will admit that the task of tracking down characters and inviting them to a “whole new Avengers” would be a fun thing to show in the comics.

I would assume, at least until the whole SHRA thing is nailed down and revoked or whatever they do to it, that we will only be dealing with registered heroes. That gives us a more limited list than I would like, but I think it’s still workable. My first choices would be the three people I’ve already mentioned: Iron Man, Falcon and She-Hulk. I think Tony would need the other two around to act as his conscience and his support. Not a bad nucleus to build a team around either!

I would like to bring Ant-Man and Stature into the fold. Both are currently registered and working through the Initiative. The new Ant-Man has one heck of a personality, but has a certain legacy to uphold. Cassie, of course, has her own unique legacy and I think she would work well under She-Hulk’s tutelage. It would also be interesting (and Dan Slott is doing it too) to add Vision to the team, considering he recently professed his love for Cassie.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. Wonder Man and Black Widow both quit the team after Secret Invasion (plus we have Black Widow off with Hawkeye…of course, that was before Mockingbird came back into the picture). Sentry never did anything for me. Spider-Woman is pretty useless and, regardless of who she really is, will serve as a reminder to the population of the whole “invaded by aliens” thing for a long time to come. Ms. Marvel has jumped over to the unregistered team, though that could be rectified too.

That leaves us with folks like Stingray, Starfox, Hellcat, Nighthawk, Gargoyle, Flaming Skull, members of the Great Lakes team, and any number of Initiative trainees.

So, to recap, I’m proposing an initial lineup of: Iron Man, Falcon, She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Stature and Vision. Feel free to add one or two of your own…or, of course, offer up a completely different list that we can fight over. Fisticuffs!

Let me start by saying that I don’t think that we need to stick only with the registered heroes, and I don’t think you should limit your choices as such. I would be willing to bet your paycheck that the Registration Act will be undone at the end of Dark Reign. When you consider that the ranks of the registered heroes have dwindled as more and more of them go over to the unregistered side, I think the writing is clearly on the wall. Besides, if the Registration Act still existed, our entire premise for the book would be shot. After all, if the government, under the SHRA, wanted to have a new team of Avengers, they’d simply draft whomever they wanted from the ranks of registered heroes. Plus, if we’re dealing with the aftermath of the SHRA, it sets up the idea that the people need heroes to believe in again and the heroes are slightly damaged after all of the pain that the SHRA caused. So, I think the SHRA should not be a consideration when we’re setting up the team.

Moving on to members of the team: Personally, I wouldn’t add Falcon to the team. I love Sam Wilson, but he’s never really been a member of the regular team for long, and I honestly think that he works best when he just comes in and pinch hits for specific missions. Besides that, I don’t think that Falcon would want to be a regular member. For someone who doesn’t have his own book, Falcon is a very busy hero, and Ed Brubaker has been using him to great effect in the Captain America book. I think that Sam would be available to help if needed, and would show up in the book to, indeed, act as part of the conscience for the team, but he wouldn’t be on the roster.

If Sam and Stark (yes, I know, I should be going with all first names or all last names, but calling the Falcon ‘Wilson’ sounds wrong, and Stark sounds better than ‘Tony’ for Iron Man) are looking to build a team that will engender the trust of both the government and the citizenry, I think they’re going to look at those people whom the public identifies as Avengers. So, I can certainly see them choosing Vision and She-Hulk. I believe that they would approach She-Hulk first, with Stark asking her to be on the team to serve as his conscience, since the two of them had such a public falling out after Civil War. I also think that bringing in Stature and Ant-Man is a good idea, as they’re brilliant characters, and they also callback to two of the founding members, Ant-Man and the Wasp.

In fact, if you look at the line-up of Iron Man, She-Hulk, Stature, Ant-Man and the Vision, you begin to see that these may be the Avengers of the new century. Yes, Iron Man and She-Hulk are the same as they have always been, but Vision has been rebuilt, and again, Stature and Ant-Man are the 21st century analogues to two of the founders of the team. With those in place, and with Falcon acting as an advisor, I think that he and Stark would also approach another new legacy hero of the 21st century: the new Captain America.

I think the new Captain America is a very interesting character, and I believe putting him on this team, a team that meant so much to his mentor, is going to be very interesting ground to explore. How does he deal with these people, some of whom were very close to his predecessor? How do they deal with him, since his methods are very different from the Captain America that they adventured with for all of those years? Plus, this gives us an Avengers team with all of the icons on it, or at least modern day counterparts to those icons, with the exception of Thor, who I’m willing to lose.

That would give us a team of Captain America, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Vision, Stature and Ant-Man. Six heroes, and we could add one or two more. One of the questions we haven’t answered is who would lead this team. I don’t think it would be the new Captain America, and even if it were offered to him, I don’t think he’d take it. He’s well aware of how inexperienced he is at being a hero, and he has almost no current knowledge of working within a team. I also don’t think Stark would want it. He’s been beaten around in the press quite a bit lately, and I think he would see himself as a liability in the top spot. Actually, I see him offering the job to She-Hulk when he asks her to join the team; it would be a way that he would show her that he’s not the manipulative taskmaster he was portrayed as during Civil War and its aftermath. She-Hulk has always been a smart woman, and in her solo series, she was shown to be a little more serious and competent. I think she’d do well in the job; it would be another good opportunity to explore parts of a character that haven’t been explored before.

Are you ok with that line-up? Shall we add a seventh hero?

I was going to suggest She-Hulk be the leader as well. Not only is she more than competent and experienced (both as a hero and a lawyer), but it would be a positive gesture on Tony’s part…acknowledging that She-Hulk was right and deserves credit for that.

Looking at the lineup as it is, we have an experienced yet still fresh character (She-Hulk) assuming a new role and we have the most experienced, most historic member (Iron Man) sort of taking a back seat to the decision-making process. On top of that, we have four members who are, more or less, new to the whole hero-ing scene. For that reason alone, I think we need to throw another old schooler onto the squad to offer support and guidance in the field and off. I was thinking of someone like Wonder Man. I know John isn’t a fan of the character, what with all the ridiculous plotlines and rebirths and baggage he’s carried for decades now, but he has proven to be a valuable asset and a dedicated team member in the past.

I also think readers expect a wild card with every new Avengers lineup and I hate to cause disappointment. I remember when certain characters had been brought in before, they were used as the eyes of the common person peering inside this life of a mega-superhero team. We already have those wide-eyed types in the younger, less experienced members. However, as a nod to the recently expired SHRA and the notion of rehabilitating villains into helpful citizens, I thought it may be an interesting gesture to offer a position on the Avengers to a former villain gone good. Not only would it show integration with previous storylines, but it would also add a new dynamic to the team atmosphere…can they trust this person? For that role, I would turn to a well-established character such as Boomerang (who was a member of the Masters of Evil, but also helped Iron Man on at least one occasion), Blizzard (who has also helped Iron Man and has a love-hate relationship with She-Hulk), or more interestingly Songbird (the former Screaming Mimi and former leader of the Thunderbolts).

I think any of the above would be good additions to the team, but I await John’s input before we firm up the lineup. Then we can move on to Part Two and decide how this whole thing happens and what comes next.

Await no longer! I shall input and firm up lines!

You’re correct that a more seasoned hero might be a good idea. You’re also correct in that I find Wonder Man about as interesting as a “Full House” rerun. Ugh. I’ve even read the Peter David penned mini-series featuring him, and it also left me cold. Heck, Peter David convinced me that Madrox was one of the neatest characters at Marvel, and he couldn’t get me to like Wonder Man. What does that say about this character?

It’s interesting, because if you look at Wonder Man from a distance, he has a lot of attributes that should make him interesting. He’s been dead and alive quite a few times, but unlike all the other characters at Marvel who can make that claim, he’s also been in-between those states a few times; once as a zombie, and once as an energy being tied to the Scarlet Witch. The love of his life married his “brother”, the Vision, then dated him, and then went insane. His twin nephews were revealed to be figments of someone’s imagination. His “brother” Vision was dismantled and returned to life without his mental patterns. His real brother has tried to kill him on many occasions. He’s an actor and is conversant in the ways of Hollywood. He’s made of energy. And, he generally has horrible fashion sense. There should be an interesting character here, but if so, I’ve never seen it. He continues to disappoint, and I have zero interest in him.

There are other choices out there besides him. Wolverine, for example, has a lot of experience as a hero, and this would be a great book to showcase him, since he isn’t seen much in the Marvel Universe….

I kid. But seriously folks, there are a ton of other heroes that we could use instead of Wonder Man. For example, there’s….well, actually that won’t work, since we want someone widely known as an Avenger and they aren’t. How about….well, actually, that doesn’t work either, since they’re more of a leader, and I don’t want them stepping on She-Hulk’s toes. Hmm. This is actually a bit of a problem. We want an established hero that is considered a quintessential Avenger, and someone who’s not a natural leader. There’s not a lot of heroes who fit that bill. Plus, Wonder Man would be a perfect public face for the team, and could do their PR, which is going to be important if they’re working to regain the public trust. Fine, he’s in, but you better be able to make him interesting.

As for our “reformed criminal”, I am so down with Songbird being made a member. For those who read “Avengers Forever”, it was stated in that book that she would eventually join their ranks, and there’s no time like the present. She’s proven herself time and again in the Thunderbolts title to be a true hero, yet she still struggles somewhat against her dark past. I think she’d be perfect.

So, She-Hulk leads Iron Man, Stature, Ant Man, the Vision, Songbird, Wonder Man and Captain America, with the Falcon stopping by to advise, hang out, and go on the occasional mission, when necessary. Now that we know who they are, we need to know what they’re doing. That will be another post.


Title Revamp: Nightstalkers

Jan-07-09

Jason and I have spent quite a bit of time over the last few months reimagining Marvel and DC characters, trying to reposition them for success in today’s marketplace. This is something that both companies do on a regular basis. However, alongside searching their vast catalog of characters for ideas, both companies also go back to failed series and try to revamp them. It can be quite a quandary, trying to determine what made a series successful enough to launch but not strong enough to survive long term. Intrigued by this challenge Jason and I also thought we’d take a look at some failed series and try to make them viable for 2009. For our inaugural expedition into the land of failed series, we’ve chosen one of the bright spots of the 1990’s: Marvel’s Nightstalkers.

No doubt all the comics fans out there are now thinking “Of course, the 1990’s. That’s where all the great ideas in comics originated!” <sigh> Oh, you cynical, cynical comics fans. Sure, the 1990’s were full of dark characters with mysterious pasts and no personalities; full of men with huge guns and biceps larger than their heads; full of characters with “Death”, “Dead” and “Blood” as part of their names; full of grim and gritty stories, full of characters choking on their own machismo and testosterone; and full of writers who misunderstood their craft, designing long run-on sentences, separated by semi-colons only, as if that made them grammatically correct. All of this is true. However, there may be some genuinely good ideas in that decade, and Jason and I hope we’ve found one in Nightstalkers.

First, some background. The year is 1992. Marvel has been finding great success with books that have a horror background. Characters such as Blade and Morbius the Living Vampire have joined Ghost Rider on the top of the sales chart; okay, okay, maybe the first two aren’t on top of the sales chart, but the fact that they’ve managed to land anywhere on the sales chart is a pretty miraculous feat. Marvel decides to capitalize on the success of these darker, more horror-oriented series by creating a line of comics under the banner of “Midnight Sons”. Marvel created a few new series for this line of comics and one of those series featured a group of vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers.

The three members of the Nightstalkers were all existing Marvel characters. The most popular one today would be Blade, the half-vampire vampire hunter that we all know thanks to three movies starring Wesley Snipes. However, the first of those three movies was still six years off, and Blade was not well known. He was joined by Hannibal King, a private detective who had been turned into a vampire while on a case, but who hated his condition and had never taken to drinking human blood. The final member of the group was Frank Drake, a normal human whose only claim to fame was that he was a direct descendant of Count Dracula himself. These three had worked together in the past, but had split up. Dr. Strange, who was being mysterious and self-serving, as 90’s comics heroes were wont to be, manipulated the three into re-teaming as the Nightstalkers, and history was made!

Sadly, the book only lasted 18 issues, but it drew on past Marvel continuity, referencing stories from the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the conclusion of the book, all three members of the team were believed dead, but in the intervening decade, they’ve all returned to life in the Marvel Universe.

Horror may not be the draw it was when these comics were introduced, but at the same time, I believe there is a market for it. This book has the potential to stand apart from most of the other series on the shelves today, and I think there may be a glimmer of potential here. Hey, if Buffy can go seven seasons, and enjoy a popular career in comics, with the riff of slaying vampires, surely this concept could work at Marvel as well.

What say you, Jason? Can we make this work?

Was there ever a character named Deathblood? That would’ve been totally awesome! If it doesn’t exist, we should will it into existence. I would read that book until my eyes gave out. Seriously. Imagine the possibilities! There would, of course, be some death…and probably a generous amount of blood. Maybe not necessarily in that order, mind you. I’m seeing a cross between Spawn and Punisher. Oh wait, didn’t Marvel try that with one of its Punisher relaunches? Never mind.

And I missed the part where you explained how Kolchak was involved in the whole team thing. What paragraph was that in?

*AHEM* Anyway…yes I think we could make this work. I’m not sure that the draw is all that strong for another teaming of Blade and a couple relative no-names. I’d rather see a new team put together that combines various expertises and makes sense. I’m not even sure I’d put Blade on the team. I think he’d play better as a form of competition for the group or someone who offers them advice, but can’t really be pulled from his own hectic schedule to assist. There should be a straightforward, non-powered human detective type, some sort of lower level magic wielder, and then someone more creature-based to assist in tracking and the brute strength category. Here’s what I’m thinking: Dominic Fortune, Brother Voodoo and Tigra.

No, seriously.

Stop laughing!

Look, I can explain it all. The title begins with a focus on Fortune. He’s an older man who has given up the pretense of playing the hero. His swashbuckling outfit has been replaced by a drab, ill-fitting gray business suit. Sure, he may have let himself go a bit, but he can still tussle with the best of them if need be. He’s seen his fair share (and then some) of the crap that goes on in a hero-driven society and black clouds continue to follow him. He battled Nazis and zombies (not at the same time). He rescued diplomats from terrorists. He fought alongside the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Silver Sable. Yet after all of these adventures, and even because of them, he still watched his son die in his arms. This singular event has led him down a tragic path of divorce, depression and digging for lost dreams at the bottom of a bottle. To say he’s seen it all would be an understatement. The only logical next step for Fortune, the only thing that will give the rest of his shattered life purpose and help distract him from his own problems, is to help solve the problems of other people. Detective work!

His contacts and experiences take him to all corners of the world, from the classic gothic scenery of Eastern Europe to the mystical realms of deep Asia to the haunted swamps of the American South. Every encounter uncovers another supernatural mystery until he eventually decides that it’s foolish to undertake these things on his own. He needs a team.

Enter Brother Voodoo. He has recently packed up his costumed identity and launched a speaking tour of the country’s institutions of higher learning. Voodoo’s presentations on turn of the century occult figures and their relation to ancient tribal rituals pack auditoriums from coast to coast. With a bit of government consultation on the side, he’s leading a fairly happy lifestyle. That is, until the vivid dreams start keeping him up at night. He sees glimpses of the future: key locations, specific artifacts and blurred figures. Is it coincidence or fate that he bumps into Dominic Fortune on the busy streets of San Francisco one blustery, winter afternoon?

Honestly, that’s all I’ve got.

I really want to shoehorn Tigra in there because she’s been dragged through the mud the last couple years at Marvel. And the team needs a female presence. And Tigra’s pretty cool visually.

Can you do anything with that beginning? Do we need some sort of serious, tangible enemy? I see the whole thing playing out with a hard-boiled noir vibe. The narrator of the series would be Fortune and his dialogue would be blunt and clipped like a Sam Spade voice. I’d really like to tap into a sort of rain-soaked tension where it always seems to be dusk and everything happens in the shadows. Costumes would need to be modified or eliminated outright. Some special technologies would need to be invented, but still remain practical.

Yes? No? Maybe?

Interesting. I’m with you part of the way on this one. I was also going to suggest that we not reteam the original three members on this one, as they don’t quite work for me and I think we could do something more interesting. Your suggestions begin the work of something more interesting, but I have a few ideas for some different paths.

First, Dominic Fortune is a great idea. Wonderful character and he’d fit perfectly into this group. I really like the idea of someone who has seen it all and who doesn’t have any powers, but has skills. He’s burnt out, he’s tired, but deep down, he still wants to do the right thing. I’m good there.

I’m good with Brother Voodoo. He concerns me a little, since his name and costume can seem so silly, but I have always thought that he was an untapped resource in Marvel’s litany of characters and I would appreciate the chance to explore his history, his powers, and who he is as a man. With a darker book, we could go places with voodoo that more mainstream books don’t, and perhaps his costume could be tweaked a little to look more menancing and less like he’s at Mardi Gras.

I’m going to ignore Tigra for now.

So, what I think this group needs is a tie to the past. Hey, call me crazy, but I’d like to see this group tied into those who’ve gone before. I also think that this book needs a main villain to call it’s own. I have a solution to the first problem already. At the end of the previous series, all three stars are presumed dead in an explosion. However, it’s later revealed that Frank Drake (the only completely human member of the group) survived, although the explosion left him scarred and crippled in both body and mind. I’d like Drake to be set up in New Orleans; he has bought an old mansion in the city, one that got badly damaged during Katrina, and he’s been living there. Drake hires Fortune for a case. We don’t know it’s Drake at first; Drake doesn’t want to be seen, as he’s hideously scarred, and he’s also not quite sane anymore. Drake uses intermediaries and rather bizarre and unnecessary procedures to stay hidden from Fortune, but Fortune takes the case, as he needs the money. The case is related to the big bad of the series, and that’s what draws in Fortune.

I’d like to have Fortune encounter Voodoo in New Orleans while on this case. Is it a cliche to have them meet in New Orleans and to have Drumm there in the first place? Possibly, but there’s no denying that Drumm has spent a lot of time in that city, and it is viewed as a place with deep ties to voodoo. Fortune and Drumm end up crossing paths and Fortune asks for Drumm’s help, since Drumm knows not only the city, but the supernatural side of things much better than Fortune does. Drumm has those visions and dreams featuring Fortune that you mentioned above, so he’s willing to comply. As they begin working together, they get drawn deeper and deeper into the unpleasantness of the supernatural badness Drake is involved with, and by the end of the first story arc, they’re committed to staying together and fighting this big bad to the end.

I see Drake remaining as a peripheral member of the cast. Drake is someone who is clearly not completely sane, but he also knows a lot about the supernatural, having fought it his entire life. Still, that explosion changed him, and I don’t think the readers are ever entirely clear who’s side Drake is on. Why keep him around then? Because I think Fortune sees some of himself in Drake. Drake was the only human member of the original Nightstalkers, and while Blade and Hannibal King walked away from the explosion without major repercussions, Drake was mangled beyond repair. Fortune can see how that could be his fate, as he works alongside his two super powered teammates (yes, I haven’t forgotten Tigra) and it terrifies him. At the same time, he also sees the evil and destruction that the supernatural baddies cause, and Fortune feels that they will do even worse to even more normal humans if he doesn’t stand against them.

Does that work for you? In many ways, it’s your original idea. I just added Drake and moved the location. There are two things that we need to solve. The first is who the big bad might be. I don’t know that he would have to be in every issue, but I always like the idea of a monumental evil hovering over our heroes. Drake has been present for the destruction of two different vampire lords: Dracula and Varnae. I’d be tempted to bring Dracula back, as he’s a big name and everyone knows him. However, that feels like it’s been done, back in Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula series. It sure is tempting though, as he’s a fascinating character. If we don’t use Dracula, we could go with the current vampire lord, as Drake might want to destroy the successor to the creatures that ruined his life. Or, it might work better to move into another area of the supernatural and leave the vampires alone for now. Thoughts?

And then there’s Tigra. I agree that she’s been handled poorly by Marvel (which she has been almost throughout her existence with that company) and I agree that the group needs a female. Plus, while superpowered, she’s not overpowered and fits with the group. Finally, her ability to sneak around, her senses, and her close-up fighting style would all fit the feel of the series. So, I like her. However, I’d like to find a hook to bring her in. Do you see one?

It’s tough. Marvel has really painted her into a corner in recent months. She’s been beaten by The Hood’s Syndicate, played as a double-agent during Civil War, and now gotten pregnant by a possibly Skrulled-out Hank Pym. However, if you dig into her past, you’ll find stints as a SHIELD agent, a police officer and a detective (alongside Jessica Drew). She got tangled up in a mystical plot involving Morgan Le Fay, lived in aboriginal lands, ventured around the galaxy with Starfox, was influenced by Agatha Harkness and spent a lot of time alongside Scarlet Witch. Not to mention the fact that her powers and form come from an ancient race of Cat People! Any one of those instances could’ve spawned a connection to associates of Fortune or Drumm. She’s supposedly a member of the Initiative’s Arkansas team now. If we’re fighting the White River Monster or the Bigfoot from The Legend of Boggy Creek, then we’re golden!

On your other embellishments: I don’t mind involving Drake at all and I dig the angle you’ve given him…almost sets him up as the unseen benefactor of the team, the Charlie to their Angels! However, I think it is horribly clichéd to have Fortune and Drumm (and Drake) set up stakes in New Orleans. Too obvious. That’s the reason I pulled Drumm out of the area to begin with. I like the idea of Fortune and Drumm both trying their hands at something other than “superheroing” and then being quasi-involved in it again anyway. Just when I thought I was out…

Back to Tigra…the only thing I can think of to really connect her to our team is to have her announce her pregnancy to a gathering of the rest of her female hero friends. Someone could suggest that she get away to clear her mind. She has already talked about terminating the pregnancy and that alone could lead to her deciding to remove herself from the scene and seek out a quieter existence somewhere else. I don’t want to force a coincidence into the structure (because I hate it when teams are brought together for no apparent reason), but we could create a plot point that has all threeof these characters in the same place at the same time for three completely different reasons. I mean, I had Fortune and Drumm literally bumping into each other. Granted, Drumm was having visions and has that mystical background so he knew how to deal with the encounter. I dunno. Heroes always seem to find fights wherever they go!

As for the villain, I’m very tired of vampires. And zombies. Werewolves aren’t completely played out yet…skeletons…mummies. Maybe the team is debunking monsters of urban legends? Maybe the main baddie is Morgan Le Fay battling Drake for his bloodline. Or Drake could’ve run afoul of the Cat People during his rehab period (hence Tigra’s involvement…fighting on the opposite side at first?). Perhaps we merge two of the Midnight Sons titles and incorporate the Darkhold into this one (I know we mentioned it in our Defenders revamp last year too)?

Let’s dwell on that for a moment…

I understand your hesitation in using New Orleans, and I suggested it for two main reasons. First, I think that there’s certainly a lot of atmosphere and mood that’s inherent in the setting, which would be great for a horror themed title such as this one. Second, I think that, after the devastation of Katrina, New Orleans has emerged as an interesting urban area with a lot of stories to tell, as people rebuild and the city continues to redefine itself for the 21st century. Still, I don’t have a problem relocating them elsewhere. San Francisco doesn’t thrill me simply because it’s where the X-Men currently are, and I’d hate for them to cross paths, although there are approximately 20 gazillion heroes in New York, and they rarely cross paths with each other. I’d like a city with more atmosphere and the potential for horror. Boston springs to mind, but we had suggested that for our Strange revamp, and Strange would run in the same circles as this group, so it makes it implausible that they would all be in the same city and not meet. I can’t think of another city off the top of my head that would have the necessary atmosphere, and San Francisco certainly does have atmosphere, with the winds and the fog and the older areas of the city, so that works for me.

So, Fortune comes there at the behest of Drake, and he runs into Drumm, who has been having some odd visions and dreams that include Fortune anyway, so the two of them are now working together. Tigra, meanwhile, has taken a leave of absence from the Initiative to deal with her child. Honestly, I hate the idea of her being pregnant, and I don’t care whose kid she’s carrying. It just doesn’t fit Tigra, who seems, at her best, to be so strong and independent. One could make the argument that a child would mature the character and there could be a lot of plots spinning out of the child, but honestly, they’re not plots I’m either interested in telling or reading. Generally, I think introducing children hurts books. It works for a group like the Fantastic Four, because it reinforces the idea that they are a family, and all you’re doing is expanding that family, but for a loner like Tigra….no, it doesn’t work for me.

So, I believe that Tigra takes a leave from the Initiative and deals with the child. Does she have an abortion? We can leave that open to debate and never show it. I think she would, but if you don’t want to court controversy, she could have simply miscarried. I mean, she’s a member of the race of Cat People and the father was a Skrull. What are the chances that these two species would even be able to procreate? It seems that such a pregnancy would be difficult to carry to term, and a miscarriage is quite likely. So, the baby is gone, and she’s trying to find herself and center herself after the recent events in her life.

I’d like to integrate Tigra more seamlessly into the team, rather than just having her pass by the scene of a fight, have her join Fortune and Drumm, and then have her decide to join their group. Yes, such things happen, but I think that you give your group a certain cohesion if you can give everyone a reason to stay, and Tigra really wouldn’t have one. Tigra does have a few connections to the world of the supernatural, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to work a plot around the cat people. I think that such a plot is possible, but I also think that I have little interest in it. I’m not sure why, but the cat people have always struck me as being somewhat cheesy. Possibly this is because I’ve only ever seen them in the West Coast Avengers comic, drawn by Al Milgrom, and everyone looks cheesy when he draws them (that’s not as much of a slam as it sounds; Milgrom’s work is very clear and he can tell a story well, but his West Coast Avengers issues had a certain “old school” look to them that made the book seem like a slightly cheesy 70s title. This look worked perfectly with the stories Steve Englehart was telling, and their run on West Coast Avengers is without a doubt the high point of the entire series for me, but that being said, I still have problems reconciling the Cat People Milgrom drew with the ones that we would have in a horror title). More importantly, they’re not much of a draw for anyone, and I still think that this title needs more name recognition.

Tigra’s other supernatural contact, Morgan Le Fay, doesn’t have tons of name recognition, but she has more than the Cat People. Moreover, I think there’s a story here. Morgan Le Fay is a woman from the past, who was born and lives during the time of King Arthur. However, she seems to have a fascination with, and desire to move to, the present day. Many of her schemes have centered around the present day, and she even attempted to take control of the body of Jessica Drew in an attempt to live in the present day. Morgan Le Fay has crossed paths twice with Tigra, and has decided that Tigra will be the perfect conduit for her. The first time she met Tigra, they were battling to stop Le Fay from taking over the body of Jessica Drew. As defeat loomed for Le Fay, she mystically implanted a lifeline in Tigra. This lifeline provides Le Fay with a tether to the present day, one she can use to monitor our world, and for short periods, to manifest in our time. Why choose Tigra? Two reasons: Tigra’s association with the Cat People gives her a touch of the supernatural, making it easier for Le Fay’s lifeline to take hold. Plus, Tigra was peripheral. She didn’t seem that important, and so Le Fay hoped her lifeline would go undetected.

As an aside, it was this lifeline that caused Tigra to revert to her feral form during her time with the West Coast Avengers, during Byrne’s tenure on the title. The mystic energy of Le Fay threw her Cat People/Human balance out of whack, reverting her to a feline.

Le Fay has been busy with other plots in the past, but now she is going to use this lifeline. Le Fay wants to possess the Darkhold, something she has tried to obtain in the past. She’s been thwarted in her attempts to steal the Darkhold in her time, so she’s decided to steal it in the present. Le Fay then becomes the big bad of the series, trying to collect the various pages of the Darkhold while our group tries to stop her. Not every adventure would revolve around her or her quest, but she would always be there in the background, scheming and plotting.

In any case, Le Fay would be subconsciously directing Tigra to San Francisco, since that’s where one of the pages of the Darkhold is. Drake knows someone is after the page, so he sends Fortune after it, and Fortune runs into Drumm, and they all run into Tigra. At first, I would keep the lifeline a secret. We don’t know who is sending people after the Darkhold. We also don’t know that there’s anything wrong with Tigra, and when she joins the group, she does it for another reason; possibly just because she feels like this is a good place to be while she figures out her life. We can dole this information out in small doses, before doing a big reveal.

Whew. Thoughts?

Wow. Did you just make all that stuff up about Morgan Le Fay or was that actually already written into previous plots? If it’s all you, then that’s an impressive way to wrap up a bunch of divergent stories in a way that forms some sort of logic, albeit comic-based. That’s no small feat in itself! However, you took it all a step further and actually incorporated my bizarre, fractured thoughts on villains and subplots into the whole thing too. You’d make a damn good editor. I need to win Powerball so we can start our own comic publishing business!

Morgan Le Fay and her pursuit of the Darkhold are the perfect catalysts for this team to come together. Drake sends Fortune to retrieve pages. Le Fay subconsciously sends Tigra for the same thing. And Drumm shows up to find Fortune and help him explain the visions. Perhaps he senses a “disturbance in The Force,” so to speak. No one knows that Tigra is acting as a double agent of sorts, not even Tigra. And, to be honest, no one knows why Drake is trying to collect the Darkhold pages either. There could be a vicious twist hidden in this whole thing.

I would also see an instant connection between Fortune and Tigra, one where she sees him as a father figure. They’ve both been through a lot, culminating in the loss of a child for each. Tigra is a rather old character too, tracing roots back to a pre-feline run as The Cat…she’s more of a contemporary to Fortune than Brother Voodoo. Voodoo, however, has the strongest connection to the types of threats the group is facing and is able to function on a level closer to Drake himself. I like the potential interactions among the group. Good energy there.

As for location, I completely forgot that the X-Men were now in San Fran. We did put Strange up in Boston during our revamp. So, sticking within our own version of the Marvel Universe and our initiative to “spread the wealth” when it comes to hero concentrations, we should probably find another spot for this group to at least be based out of. I agree that we need a location that has the atmosphere necessary for a horror-esque title. Seattle has the weather, but not really the type of history we need. New Orleans is just overplayed for me and the recent Hellstorm miniseries took place there too. Aside from Boston, New England is fairly nondescript. The midwest is blah (and we placed Moon Knight in Chicago and another adventure in Kansas). What about somewhere in the Antebellum South that ISN’T New Orleans? I’m thinking specifically of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a very old city that has dealt with everything from pirates to slavery to multiple wars with multiple nations. There’s a cultural diversity there similar to New Orleans with many religions and ethnicities, even a unique African-American subset of the population with their own dialect and traditions (could be something that draws Brother Voodoo in). Charleston is also a place with both military and smuggling backgrounds which could play into a lot of secrecy and mystery. So that’s my solution to our location dilemma.

I like the sound of this new Nightstalkers book.

Yes, that was all me with Morgan Le Fay and it took more research than I’ve had to do on one of these in a while. Still, I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had resurrecting a stupid 90’s title like Nightstalkers! I had no idea where we were going to go with this when we started, except I knew that I didn’t want to reunite the original three members of the team. I think we’ve created a very strong book, with the potential for some great character interactions and some really surprising twists for the readers. I love the idea of Drake wanting the pages, and the readers not really being sure why. Is he trying to protect the world from the evil of the Darkhold, or does he have a more sinister agenda?

I also think that Charleston is an interesting choice for a setting. Once you said that, I was tempted to counter with a city that I had forgotten about until you mentioned Charleston: Savannah Georgia, which I think conjures up even more of an atmosphere. However, Charleston is much fresher and an area that hasn’t ever really been tapped, so I agree that we should go with that.

I think one of the things I like about this book is that it would really help two characters. Tigra is a character that has grown on me over the years. She is, in many ways, a very real person. She’s been sometimes written as a one-dimensional flirt, but when a writer really delves into who she is, we find that she’s someone trying to do their best, who doesn’t always find the life of a hero to be an easy one. When Jim Shooter had her join the Avengers decades ago, we saw her falter and run in the face of dangerous menaces. When Steve Englehart used her in the West Coast Avengers, we saw her fighting her cat side, and even contemplating murder to accomplish her goals. She’s not larger than life, and she’s not perfect, but she does try to do the right thing, and she needs a book where she’ll get time in the spotlight (as she tends to be ignored in team books) and get a chance to show what sort of hero she can be.

I also like giving Brother Voodoo a chance to be more than a supporting character. He’s been around the Marvel Universe for decades, either starring in obscure zuvembie stories in the 1970s, or playing sidekick to more powerful magic wielders in later years. I think Marvel has never been entirely comfortable portraying voodoo in their comics, and their discomfort surely hasn’t done Voodoo any favors as far as finding him a permanent home. Perhaps because of this, he’s never been truly explored, either in his abilities as a practitioner of Voodoo, or in his personality. I think this book would be the perfect home to do both those things.

I almost always come away from these revamps thinking that the one I’ve just done is my favorite, but I have to admit, I really like this one.



Character Revamp: Santa Claus

Dec-19-08

Marvel has long been known for taking characters from popular culture and making them stars of their very own comics. Marvel has published books focusing on Rom, GI Joe, the Transformers, Heathcliff, and if my memory serves, Barbie. They also had a hit with their long running series that starred Dracula. Well, Jason and I have heard rumors of their newest sensation, a popular character who is set to star in his very own mag: Santa Claus.

Some of you may have heard of Santa Claus, but for those who haven’t, he’s a powerful hero who maintains a base at the North Pole. From this base he monitors the world, seeking out the naughty and the nice, and distributing appropriate rewards or punishments, dependent on someone’s naughty level. He’s seen many evil beings rise up against him in the past, from everyday political adversaries, such as his original nemesis, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, to more powerful magical foes, such as the Winter Warlock, to even foes from other dimensions, such as the Boogie Man. Yet, still he soldiers on, doing his part for the people of Earth.

Now, we haven’t seen Marvel’s pitch for this series yet. I can’t say for sure how they’re going to play it. However, Jason and I….well, figuring out how to sell series like these and make them relevant to today’s audiences (or, at least, interesting to us) is what we do. So, we thought that we’d share our pitch for the new Santa Claus series, and then you can compare it with the eventual series that Marvel produces (the first issue of this series was supposed to ship this month, in time for the holidays, but it’s late, and will now ship in July).

So, we basically have to nail down three basic areas for our Santa proposal. First, we have to define Santa. Who is he? What powers does he have? Why is he doing what he does? Where does he live, and what sort of base does he have? Does he have a secret identity?

Second, we need to nail down his supporting cast. Who are his allies? Any family? Who helps him in his duties, and why?

Finally, we need to determine his villains. Who forms Santa’s Rogues’ Gallery?

Let’s start with Santa himself. The legends would have you believe that Santa is centuries old and has been waging his war on naughtiness for all that time. However, I posit that the man we know as Santa has actually been many men, who have passed the costume down over the years, somewhat like the Phantom. One of the main jobs of Santa is to locate a suitable replacement, bring that replacement into the fold, explain his secrets, and train the replacement. In this way, there is always a Santa, ready, willing and able to take over whenever he is needed.

Santa himself has no special powers, although all Santas are trained in various skills. Moreover, Santa carries certain technological and magical gadgets (provided by two of his allies; we’ll discuss those later) which aid him in his work. I believe we will keep his headquarters at the North Pole, but with the understanding that Santa can transport himself anywhere on Earth quite quickly, and would even be capable of covering the entire globe in the span of about four hours if necessary.

Before I get into detail, I’ll see if Jason has any concerns or wants to go in a different direction.

The biggest difficulty, and also the biggest resource, with this revamp are the various legends and attributes put upon “Santa Claus” by different countries and cultures. I would think, for the sake of appealing to the action/adventure aspect of the character, that we should eschew the whole “leaving candy for the kids” part of Santa’s lore. This action could show up as a final page wrap-up…almost like a calling card of sorts, but I wouldn’t want to base every storyarc around it. However, the reasoning for such behavior could play into his development. Santa Claus, in the comic book sense, stands for something more powerful and universal than seasonal gift satisfaction. He’s the ultimate protector of the innocent, the vanguard of an entire season, and the primary source of oversight for keeping everyone on the straight and narrow. Even when he isn’t in his prime period of activity, he still has to keep a vigilant watch over the easily swayed minds of the world’s wishful youth.

It’s a tough job and I like the concept of having a Santa succession schedule. I would guess that the average person behind the Santa costume would only last for a decade or so. The job is so draining, both physically and mentally, that an average person might go insane rather quickly. I would also like to put forward the notion that his support staff is made up of a line of legacy characters as well…almost like a solemn, dedicated branch of a religious group whose sole purpose is to aid this universal symbol. Their world is very insular and secretive, but abounds with joy, fulfillment and an inner peace brought on through their work.

Besides, a badass group of ninja monk elves would be awesome to witness in action.

I could also see Santa employing a multi-branched charity organization posing as a front for data collection. He needs to have an alter ego who can blend into normal day-to-day activities.

I do have an idea or two for villains and would like to offer at least one supporting cast member. However, it sounds like John already has some ideas brewing, so I’ll let him take the stage again…

I have a few ideas, and since there is interest in supporting cast and villains, let’s move that way first (we can always detail exactly what Santa can do later). Let’s start with supporting cast.

The original Santa’s origins are still somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend, which works well for all concerned. Honestly, no one in the know about who Santa really is wants the veil pulled away from Santa, since if someone knew much about the original Santa, they may start to realize that the current Santa isn’t that person. However, one thing we do know about the original Santa is that he met and fell in love with a remarkable woman, one who was the matriarch of an entire clan.

This clan was made of elves, elves who had been exiled/marooned/imprisoned on Earth centuries ago. These elves had tried to hide themselves from the outside world, but when their mistress met Santa, she broke their traditions and the two wed. When Santa began his calling of watching the world and doing good, his wife was in full agreement, and she brought her family inline with Santa’s goals, even convincing them to move to the North Pole, when Santa decided that they needed to be farther away from the people they watched over.

This clan of elves are not the long lived, virtually immortal elves that one reads about in The Lord of the Rings. Their lifespan is that of a mortal, and their numbers are not limitless. They obviously can’t continue to only mate among themselves without serious consequences, and Santa also realized that forcing them to spend their entire lives in the North Pole could be cruel. So, each elf is allowed a time in their life when they can go out into the world and seek a mate, living as normal humans do for a set period of time. The time period is indeed finite, and an elf (male or female) must find a mate within that window or they lose their chance. Complicating matters is the fact that the mate they find must be special, as the elf must tell their chosen one of their true nature before the time limit expires. If the mate agrees to return with the elf, they are made to appear to have suffered a fatal accident in their world, and can never return to it. If they do not agree to return with the elf, their minds are wiped of the information that was imparted to them, and the elf returns empty-handed.

Because of these strict restrictions, not every elf is able to find a mate, which is one of the reasons why their population does not expand beyond the capacity of their headquarters. Any children that a couple produces are raised by the entire elven clan, in a communal setting, which helps to placate those elves who never find a mate in the first place. Santa is not really the leader of these elves; instead the elves follow the descendent of that original matriarch, who may or may not be the current Santa’s mate.

These elves have a mastery of their own unique technology, which they use to help Santa in his mission. They perform the necessary maintanence around the headquarters, and provide Santa with numerous gadgets. They also count among their numbers experts at various fighting styles and they can train Santa in those arts as well.

Santa’s other ally is the Winter Warlock. Once a foe of the original Santa, he was eventually reformed, and became a steadfast ally of the man in red and white. As the Winter Warlock grew older, he began to investigate ways to prolong his life. He eventually realized that the cold of the North Pole seemed to have retarded his aging process, and he soon theorized that even deeper cold would stop his aging process completely. To that end, he used his magics to encase himself in a block of ice in the middle of the Claus compound. He is still conscious in that block, and can communicate with Santa, but he can never leave it. However, he still possesses power, and is quite helpful in providing magical aid to Santa in the form of information gathering and occasional magical trinkets for Santa to use. Most Santas would actually say that his most useful gift is his wisdom and willingness to listen. He now communicates telepathically, and is aware of what happens around him. He can see and hear in all areas of the compound, and were the compound to ever be attacked, he would be able to marshal his magic for a terrible defense.

That’s some of his supporting cast. Your thoughts Jason? Any you want to change or add?

Love it! I was trying to come up with a supporting character that could be a mentor of sorts to the incoming Santas, but I think you’ve handled it beautifully with the Winter Warlock idea. I see him as a version of DC’s Oracle character…someone who can offer advice and give direction to Santa during his adventures. There’s something interesting about having him be a former adversary too.

I think you nailed what I was going for with the elves. They’re old school. And their only purpose is to serve the mission of Santa Claus. However, they aren’t just cute little toy builders…these guys are a hardcore, focused “army” of assistants who have a multitude of skills. I can imagine elves with specialties…some are engineers, some are tech experts, some are trained in military operations (including intelligence and espionage). It’s the perfect scenario, almost like DC’s League of Assassins or a competent version of AIM from Marvel.

You’ve touched on the character of “Mrs. Claus” too. I like the notion that she may or may not actually be married to the current Santa. It could all just be a front to make them more acceptable in the public eye. That could offer a fun dynamic behind the scenes too. Maybe the two of them don’t get along at all!

The one thing that seems to be missing from the support side of things is an explanation of Santa’s abilities. How does he deliver goods to everyone on Earth all in one night? How can he be in so many places at once (I’m looking at you, mall Santas!)? How does he keep track of so much information? And how does he manifest the “holiday spirit” to affect emotions and generosity? I have a feeling you’re going to make a reference to the North Wind, and who knows what else, with that storyline.

As far as bad guys go, the first obvious choice would be Jack Frost (who may or may not be an elf himself). He’s the expected archenemy and I have no problem with that. However, I feel like he needs some sort of history and motivation. He could be the Lex Luthor to Santa’s Superman…a super smart foe who employs others to carry out his schemes. He uses fancy gadgets but doesn’t really have any powers of his own.

I’d also like to mention Black Pete. In Dutch and German folklore, Black Pete was Saint Nicholas’ assistant, but I think it would be cool to have him turn on Santa at some point…maybe he was persuaded away by something evil. This would make him similar to Marvel’s Winter Soldier or DC’s Tim Drake.

John and I spoke briefly about this topic before we posted and I told him about a vague idea I had for a villain that almost seemed to borrow themes from the supernatural (a la Swamp Thing or Sandman). I thought that Santa and his elves should be ever vigilant against a vast negative force called “The Never.” I see The Never as a network of evil, always evolving and adapting, a personification of children’s nightmares that draws its power from the darkness and the negativity of the general populace. This villain could look like anything really, but would most likely take forms similar to the Perchten of Germanic folklore…grotesque animal masks with horns and fangs, thick furs and pelts as a costume, almost like a version of a zombie viking. I could also see The Never as a group of shapechangers who taunt and harass Santa during his travels. They appear as a flock of ravens or a massive colony of rats. I could even see them spreading a sort of plague (of fear, of sickness, of darkness. etc.).

I dunno. Aside from the general nuisance villains who have their own schemes in mind to steal gifts or ruin the holidays, it seems like you’d need something that would pose a serious threat to the well-being of humankind without their knowledge. Santa is the secret defender. And The Never would be an excellent, yet nebulous, enemy for him to face off against.

Hopefully, John has some more follow-through for these ideas!

Okay, we seem to be on the same page as far as allies, and I think you’ve really nailed some neat villains. I couldn’t agree more with you that Santa needs a serious threat to combat, and I think The Never is a perfect one. The Never would be his Dr. Doom, his Dormammu, his Red Skull. I like that The Never isn’t defined and is somewhat nebulous, as it should be at this point. Perhaps, over the years of Santa’s run as a comics character, the Never may be fleshed out more and examined in detail, but that should be a slow process, taking many storylines. The Never wouldn’t appear in every plotline, but it would be a presence in the book almost constantly. Even when Santa is dealing with other villains, the Never would be a looming menace.

I like the idea of Jack Frost and I like that he doesn’t have any powers. If he doesn’t have powers, one must wonder why he took that name and what it is he does. One of the things that must be decided for every Santa villain is whether or not this threat has been a long term foe of Santa (and therefore has fought many different Santas over the years) or whether or not this is a more recent foe. It gives the villain a much different feel if he or she has been fighting the Santa organization, in some form, for centuries, or whether they just ran afoul of the current Santa much more recently. In this case, I’d like to cast Jack Frost as the former. In fact, I’d like to suggest that Frost did have powers at one point in time, and that he clashed with Santa in the early days, when the original Santa was fulfilling the role of protector. Here’s how I see it going down.

Frost was a rival of the Winter Warlock; they were both powerful supernatural beings, with Frost being an immortal of the same type that live in Asgard and Olympus, and the Warlock being a powerful mortal. When the Warlock fist clashed with Santa, and then began to reform, Frost saw his chance to eliminate his rival once and for all. Frost launched a devastating attack against the Warlock, wounding him deeply. Frost could probably have finished off his foe, when Santa intervened (perhaps it was this intervention that convinced the Warlock that Santa truly followed a path that appealed to the Warlock as well, leading to his final redemption and reformation). Thus did Santa earn Frost’s enmity. The two of them clashed repeatedly for the next few decades, with the Warlock joining the fray on a few occasions. Frost had nearly defeated Santa a few times, but the Warlock and Santa, working as a team, continually proved too much for him. Frost decided he needed to eliminate the Warlock as an ally of Santa, and conjured up a crystal which would drain the Warlock’s powers. He devised an elaborate plot to use the device (stories which will no doubt be told in the inevitable spin-off, Santa: Origins) but during the battle when the device was used, Santa inadvertently interfered with its operation, and Frost had his powers removed instead; everything except for his immortality.

That sets Frost up as more of a cross between DC’s Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage. Ever since that battle he’s been searching for ways to restore his lost power. To stay a credible threat, he’s also amassed as much power as he could in the physical world, studying science and the technology of the day, staying on the cutting edge of what is new and dangerous. This also gives him a motivation to continue to fight against Santa; he wants revenge for his powers being stripped from him and he wants to find a way to be powerful again.

That’s two great foes. Black Pete is a very interesting foe, who I think would also be aware of Santa’s true nature. And, obviously, Santa would fight much more conventional menaces too, as well as meeting some of the existing villains in the Marvel Universe (because, really, who wouldn’t pay good money to see Santa vs Dr. Doom? Or Santa vs the Kingpin: Battle of the Fat Men? I know I’d shell out $4 for some of that). Do we need to detail out any further villains? If not, then all we need to do is nail down his abilities. I’ll check in with you tomorrow to see what you think.

Again, kudos to you for all the inventive backstory stuff. I think we’ve detailed the essential supporting cast and supplied a solid inventory of villains. Of course, there will always be other characters (both good and bad) who pop up from time to time…but I think there’s a strong nucleus there to build a long-lasting title around.

Probably the best thing to do now is to delineate just what it is that Santa does and exactly how he does it. Applying basic comic book physics to what we know from the Santa-based legends, I’m assuming he has gadgets or magic items that help him teleport/move at lightspeed/displace time. His ability to squeeze up and down chimneys indicates a level of shapeshifting. He has certain resistances to the elements. His reindeer and sleigh can fly somehow. And Santa’s sack of presents probably has origins in a pocket universe where he’s able to store vast amounts of product…like a Bag of Holding from D&D. Can you explain all of that?

We seem to be rolling along well. Let’s get this thing wrapped up in time for Christmas!

Hmmm. Detailing exactly what Santa can do could prove slightly challenging, simply because there’s so much to choose from. Santa seems to be able to do so much. Let’s break it down.

I agree that transportation is our first priority. Let’s face it; the guy lives at the North Pole, which is probably not very villain infested. He could potentially fight that polar bear that shills for Coke, but otherwise, he’s going to have to travel to defend the Earth. Teleporting would certainly be the quickest way for him to get from place to place, but it doesn’t really fit into his mythology and it can also be used as something of a cheat by writers. I prefer something that’s more traditionally Santa, and something that doesn’t enable him to arrive at the scene instantaneously. I think keeping the sleigh is the way to go, although I’m not sure that it should be pulled by reindeer, or at least, not all the time. I imagine that Santa used to use the reindeer, which the Warlock had enchanted, to pull his sleigh when he wanted to travel. However, while he still keeps reindeer for emergency sleigh-pulling, the simple fact is that they were sometimes unreliable, and they needed to be fed and taken care of, and when Santa had to travel halfway around the world and didn’t come back the same night as he left, they were problematic. So, sometime in the past few decades, the elf clan constructed a technological sleigh for him. This new sleigh can move at fantastic speeds (several times the speed of sound) and comes with a retractable canopy so that Santa doesn’t have to worry about breathing when it’s moving that fast (and it can also be used in low altitude orbit or underwater, although it’s design isn’t very efficient in those environments). The elves have loaded the new sleigh with all kinds of gadgets, much in the manner of Blue Beetle’s bug, and are constantly experimenting with more, in the manner of James Bond and his Q.

I like the idea of shapeshifting as a way to move up and down chimneys, but I’m wary of making Santa too superhero, because if that’s the case, how are powers passed on from Santa to Santa? There certainly could be a way to do that, probably involving a ceremony between the outgoing and incoming Santas and the Warlock, but then there’s also the case of what happens when a Santa falls in battle (although his powers could then be transferred automatically, kind of like a Vampire Slayer’s powers are in the Buffy universe). Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like that last parenthetical aside. It could be interesting to see the powers transferred, either by ceremony or by automatic transference. What makes the latter such an interesting proposition is the idea that perhaps a Santa could die without locating a suitable successor. Normally, the successor is training at the North Pole, so if a Santa would fall, they would already be in a position to take over the role. But what happens if there is no one ready to take over? I could see a plot where the powers choose someone when the current Santa falls unexpectedly, and the Warlock and Mrs. Claus and the elves have to figure out where the powers went, have to try and determine why that person got the powers, and then have to locate them, bring them in and train them. That could be fun.

So, what are these powers? I agree that shapeshifting has to be one of them. After all, moving up and down chimneys is difficult without shapeshifting, and Santa is also someone who’s depicted at vastly different weights. It’s going to be difficult to fight the Never or Jack Frost’s goons when you’re morbidly obese, so he’s going to need to be able to go from overweight to fit and ready to fight. Shapeshifting also gives him a lot more options in combat, and that’s important. Shapeshifting can also be useful for entering those houses without chimneys, as he could make himself thin as paper, and slide under doors or around windows, or he could turn a finger into a key to open the door; there are lots of options with this power. In fact, I’m wondering if he really needs any others, or if that power is enough for Santa to have? I think it is.

Santa does have a sack with an immense storage capacity; another gift from the Warlock. Santa fills that sack with gadgets from the elves, gadgets which give him a wide range of options, which often change. As I mentioned earlier, the elves can be seen as a clan of Q’s from James Bond. These guys provide him with a huge selection of technological edges, and it might be fun if they’re all constructed to look like toys. That keeps a theme going with him, and still enables him to kick some butt.

What do you think of that power set?

I hate to say it, but the “gadgets disguised as toys” idea is hilarious. Not only could it be a running joke that the elves don’t know how to build something that isn’t toylike, but it also opens up a story or two about mistakenly leaving the wrong item under a child’s tree. Oops! Santa accidentally gave Timmy a freeze ray instead of the BB gun he asked for!

Your sleigh idea could be taken a step further. Since you brought up Blue Beetle’s bug, why not have Santa’s “sleigh” actually be a ship of sorts? Perhaps he has an image inducer attached to it to make it look like a sleigh being pulled by reindeer to the average passer-by. The truth is, however, that Santa’s ship is the same thing people have been reporting seeing in the sky all across the Midwest and Southwest. All those assorted UFO sightings and things that look like tin pie pans floating in the sky with flashing lights are really Santa going about his evil-fighting business. I like how that ties the Santa legend into everyday pop culture. It would also be fun to have his sleigh resemble Doctor Who’s tardis…where the outside is a defined size, but the inside is disturbingly larger, with numerous cabins and compartments, massive storage areas and sleeping quarters for dozens of helpers. The power of magic!

I also agree that Santa should have some sort of super-ability. I’d hate for everything to rely on tricky gadgets and amorphous wizardry. I don’t want to lean to heavily on Winter Warlock though. The process of finding, training and passing on the Santa powers should be a function of the elven lore. Perhaps they’re actually aliens and have highly advanced technology to imbue these powers upon their selected target. Maybe it’s something they really have no control over, but are just there to monitor. Or, and this is kind of a twisted spin, maybe the machine/gizmo/process they use is extremely dangerous and some of the Santa recruits haven’t survived the transfer of power…or, in a way of explaining Black Pete’s origin, maybe one of the subjects was affected differently by the transfer. Maybe Black Pete had been selected as a Santa apprentice (like Robin to Batman), gone through the training and all that, and then the power transfer didn’t work or screwed him up somehow and he vowed revenge for eternity!

Too dramatic?

Shape-shifting as Santa’s sole power covers a lot of bases. It could also explain how he blends into the crowd so easily and how no one sees him throughout the rest of the year. This could also play into the earlier idea I had about having his alter ego be the head of some large charitable organization. He keeps tabs on the world in plain sight of the everyday populace!

Wow…I think we came up with some valid ways to make The Scintillating Santa Claus! an enjoyable comic book. Final thoughts?

Just that I agree with you on everything you mentioned.  I had originally thought of suggesting that the sleigh be an actual ship that shared some of the properties of the Tardis, so that’s amusing.  I also agree that having Santa’s power transfer be a function of the elves rather than the Warlock is a good idea, and does help to maintain a balance between the Warlock and the elves, so one side isn’t obviously more important than the other.

I think this works!  This could actually make a comic; it would be a huge hit!  After all, if kids don’t buy it, they’re going to find themselves on the naughty list!