Making Civil War more Civil

Dec-09-08

I believe that I’ve been somewhat harsh when I’ve discussed Civil War in the past. That may seem unfair. I actually think the general concept of Civil War was interesting, but I believe the execution was flawed. One of the early concepts of our blog was to take concepts that had been done already, but done in a way we felt didn’t live up to the potential these concepts held, and try to find ways to fulfill that potential. That is what we shall now attempt with Civil War. First, let’s start with the basics.

I think that the basics of Civil War are very sound. The government of the United States in the Marvel Universe decides to revive the Superhero Registration Act, a concept that Marvel had discussed during Acts of Vengeance over a decade ago. The general theory behind the Superhero Registration Act makes a lot of sense. After all, in a world where masked vigilantes are so common, there are bound to be a large number of normal people who feel overwhelmed by them. I think this concept does make sense.

Beyond that concept, the idea of heroes being of two minds on the issue, with some supporting registration and some opposing registration, also makes sense. Obviously the heroes of the Marvel Universe aren’t all going to agree on an issue that is this important. Where the actual Civil War comics went wrong was in forcing their heroes to take an all or nothing stance, and especially in roping Captain America and Iron Man into the roles of leaders for the two sides. Marvel wanted a very straight forward fight between heroes, with two sides squaring off in a battle royale. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple, and with an issue as complicated as the Registration Act, the only way to force your characters into the two neat sides that Marvel desired would be to force those characters to behave wildly different than their histories and established personalities would dictate. Marvel took that route, and while that route resulted in some Civil War comics that were decent, the series and tie-ins as a whole were rarely very good.

I think that one of the largest problems with the story of Civil War was the small role played by most of the villains in the Marvel Universe. Yes, they appeared here and there, but most of the story was focused on the heroes fighting each other, and the villains never really capitalized on the chaos to do some real damage. I suppose that, had the villains taken a more active role, it would have forced the heroes to stop beating on each other, which would have derailed the story that Marvel hoped to tell, but in the end, it made for an unsatisfying crossover.

I have some ideas on how I would have told the Civil War story, and I’ll get into specifics. However, before I do specifics, I thought I’d give a general outline, and we can see what Jason thinks.

During the Road to Civil War, we would have seen much of the same thing we saw in the Marvel Universe version, with Congress again discussing the Super Hero Registration Act. I believe that we would have had many of the Marvel Universe heroes testifying before Congress, as they did before. The Fantastic Four, already on record against it, would remain that way. Iron Man, I have always believed, would be against it, as he’s railed against the government many times in his title, and I find it hard to believe that he would suddenly decide that perhaps the government is a trustworthy entity that can be counted on to handle such sensitive data. Captain America, I think, might be for it. Cap is a trained soldier himself, and one who has always stressed the importance of training on his fellow Avengers. While I don’t think he would be rabidly in support of it, I think he might see the wisdom. Spider-Man would not unmask (which was always a stupid gimmick), although he might fall in line with Tony Stark. The lead-in issues are relatively low key, just setting the general mood of the nation.

When the miniseries begins, we start off much like the genuine version: with a giant catastrophe that could have been avoided, but was not. Whether or not we use the New Warriors is something we can discuss, although their role in the beginning of Civil War is something I can live with. But the catalyst that was provided in the first issue of Civil War is important. Now, we have the public point of view turning against superheroes. Considering that Marvel superheroes seem to barely avoid lynch mobs as it is, this is well within reason. We also see some of the attitudes of various superheroes changing with some heroes beginning to believe that perhaps training would be a good idea. Many of Marvel’s superheroes are confused and unsure of their next move.

The government makes things worse when, after the tragedy and under tremendous pressure from the public, they pass the Superhuman Registration Act. Now unregistered heroes are illegal. Those heroes with public identities, like the FF, register, whether they agree with the law or not. After all, it’s the law, and Reed Richards would argue that the only way to defeat it is to fight it from within. Other heroes also register, but for those like Spidey or Daredevil, who are trying to keep their identities secret, the decision is tougher. They could decide not to go into action in their costumed identities, but of course, it’s hard to ignore someone in danger, so they no doubt would suit up, where they would come under fire from policeman and federal agents. I’m sure SHIELD would also be ordered to stop any superhuman who wasn’t registered. The Civil War has begun, but right now, it’s more a tale of atmosphere and dread, without clearly drawn sides. Then, as the first issue ends, we see someone is getting organized; the villains.

We start the second issue with the villains beginning to understand that they are at a great advantage. Many of the heroes who keep the streets clean are in hiding, and while they may come out of hiding to stop the villains, doing so places the heroes at a great disadvantage, with law enforcement officials as interested in arresting them as they are in arresting the bad guys. Some of the top criminals like the Kingpin and the new Mandarin begin gathering allies and preparing massive crime waves. In the meantime, the few registered heroes are working around the clock trying to keep crime down, since they no longer have a lot of help and a few of the non registered heroes are caught and thrown in jail. Their identities are now publicly known, so they might as well register, but now their lives are thrown into turmoil, as those around them may be in danger.

We could add in various subplots (I have a few in mind), but this all leads to the last issue of Civil War, where the villains come out in force, attacking the registered heroes. The unregistered heroes see their friends fighting a losing battle, so they come to help. SHIELD and other law enforcement authorities see what is happening as well, so they intervene. This way, we can end the series with a battle royale, as the heroes fight the villains, with SHIELD and its allies taking down anyone who isn’t a registered hero (villains and unregistered heroes both).

Thoughts? It would be more difficult to write and wouldn’t contain quite as many “big moments”, but I do think it could be interesting and exciting and could still end with a big bang. However, I value your honest opinion and perhaps you have some ideas for the general direction which would work better. Once we have a general direction we agree on, we can go into the details.

I don’t think our version of Civil War would lack in “big moments,” I just think ours would make more sense…for example, NOT killing Black Goliath with a fake Thor that came out of nowhere and then had no purpose later in the miniseries either. I would like to think we might have a better grasp on who would fall on each side of the argument (y’know, actually backed up with some rationale instead of just which costumes looked cooler facing off against each other). We’d probably have a better explanation for the decision to use villains to hunt down heroes…that whole Prison 42 thing…Jack O’Lantern’s head exploding to reveal pumpkin inside…the semi-coherent reasoning behind the Atlantean sleeper cells…and dozens of other things.

I would also like to retcon that whole “Norman Osborn shoots an Atlantean ambassador” nonsense, considering this shadowy benefactor of his was never revealed (that I can remember). Plus, even in the face of what would probably amount to treason by trying to kill a foreign diplomat on US soil, Osborn is then handed the reins of the government’s defense system at the end of Secret Invasion. Say WHAT?!?

Oh, and there’s the small problem of Tony Stark hiring a dude to attack him disguised as Titanium Man in an effort to show the government why they should NOT pass the SHRA…and then suddenly changing his mind and becoming the staunchest supporter of the SHRA on the face of the planet.

I have to even disagree with John on the relevance of the Stamford incident. Is this supposed to carry more weight because it didn’t involve a skyscraper tumbling down in Manhattan? No one ever talks about all the people displaced, maimed or even killed by superhuman activity every day in New York City! I’d also like to know when it became customary to try to crucify the only survivor of a horrible nuclear blast as a child killer? When did Speedball ever do anything to anyone?

At the same time, I agree that there was a gigantic missed opportunity to show the villains’ upper hand in this debacle. There should have been ridiculous ramp-ups in crime levels, looting and general unease. I would’ve expected full-scale riots and hate crimes and all sorts of activities in the face of something this massive and controversial. Instead, we got some melodrama over a couple of spandex-clad grown men glaring at each other. And they couldn’t even kill a major character off during the whole thing. Civil War? Brother against brother? Hell, the only brother anyone was against was Bill Foster…and he got offed by perhaps the biggest Aryan power freak in the entire Marvel Universe (or at least a cybernetic clone of him). Symbolic much?

Iron Man would’ve been on the anti-government side, by all rational accounts. Sure, he has big defense contracts and his hands in pretty much every black ops program in existence, but that would just give him more clarity on how easily the government could screw something like this up. Plus, he’s all about himself. His entire career is built on doing things his way and being better than everyone else. He wouldn’t kowtow to this kind of authority. Cap, on the other hand, has a general goodwill towards the government, believing (naively at times) that they always have the people’s best interests in mind. He protects the flag and all that it stands for. Hell, he was created because of the Draft…I doubt he would see this as anything other than a newfangled version of that program. We’d have to examine the other major players to see who would fall on what side. Off the top of my head, I see the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and maybe Ms. Marvel as Pro-SHRA, mainly because of their public identities and/or ties to the military. Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher and pretty much every mutant would be Anti-SHRA for obvious reasons. The villains would, for the most part, go underground and all but the boldest would stay there. Why? Well, it’s not very easy to be a bad guy when the government has your entire life on file. They wouldn’t want to risk being captured at all.

I like the idea of having a prologue to the event. Was there such a thing? I don’t remember any official preamble…though I guess a lot of this was being set up in various titles before the miniseries hit the stands. If it could be properly disseminated throughout a breadth of titles, then we could start the first issue of the Civil War series off with a big event. I’m curious to see where you think this will head. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some details that stuck out for me the first time I read the series. Have at it and we’ll see where it goes!

Ok, so we start with a prologue. I think that we need to do a few things in this timeframe (I’d say 6-8 months before Civil War starts). First of all, I’d love to start this ball rolling with the campaign for Senator, and eventual win, of Henry Peter Gyrich. The man has been a part of the Washington power scene for decades, so he must have a lot of favors to call in, and he’d be a perfect conservative Republican candidate for Senator somewhere. I think watching his Senate campaign happening in the background of a few books (the Avengers would certainly have an interest in this, the X-Men would probably follow it, and it would show up in Spider-Man’s book since all the news of the Marvel Universe is reported by the Daily Bugle) would be a great way to kick things off. One of the main facters of his campaign would be the SHRA, a law which Gyrich has supported in the past. By making the passage of this law one of the major issues in his platform, we not only get to see the heroes following his campaign, but everytime there is massive property damage or questionable behavior on the part of any hero, Gyrich will be there to take advantage of it for his campaign. This happens for a few months, and then Gyrich is elected.

Gyrich is acting out of what he truly believes are in the best interests of the United States, and certainly you can make a strong argument for why the SHRA is a good idea. However, Gyrich needs allies. I propose introducing another Senator who will offer Gyrich his full support. We can name this senator later, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a male or female. What’s important about this second senator is that he’s really a Skrull. Yes, this was done during the original Kree/Skrull War, when a politician was revealed to be a Skrull in disguise, but let’s be honest; it works well, it’s a smart move for the Skrulls (hey, they have one gimmick, and they’re going to use it to their best advantage) and it gives us another face behind the SHRA (I think one of the weaknesses of Civil War is that we never really knew anyone in the government who helped to pass this legislation. It simply happened, and it left the reader feeling very unconnected to the event). Now, our Skrull politician will NOT be revealed as a Skrull during Civil War. He’s just going to be introduced in various titles, as Gyrich’s main partner is pushing the passage of the SHRA. We’ll focus more on the character in Secret Invasion.

So, these two spearhead the push of the SHRA, which takes another 2-4 months in our time. Again, this should play out in the background of more and more books, and again, anytime a hero (or even villain) does something reckless or which results in property damage or loss of life, Gyrich and his allies will be there to use it to justify their campaign. We also see this playing a larger role in the various titles of the MU, as we see heroes begin to take a stand on the issue. I agree that Cap would support it, as would Ms. Marvel. I agree that Iron Man would oppose it. Now, the Fantastic Four have opposed it in the past, but I could see an issue of their title where Iron Man comes to them to ask them to continue to oppose it, and Cap comes to them to ask for their support. Both characters can make strong, convincing arguments, and the FF feels a little awkward and uncomfortable being placed in the unique position of having to offend one of the most well known and respected characters in the MU, no matter which side they choose. In the end, they decide to remain silent, explaining to both Cap and Iron Man they they didn’t want to upset either of them. Unfortunately, staying silent is really a win for Cap and Gyrich and Stark is not happy with this decision. The FF will have to grapple with this later in the miniseries, as they’re confronted with the fact that, had they acted, they might have prevented the passage of the SHRA.

The problem that those opposing the SHRA have is that most of them can’t testify against it, since most of them have secret identities. This is what made the FF’s testimony against the SHRA so invaluable during Acts of Vengeance, and makes their silence in this case so damning. Stark can testify against the act, since his identity is known, and he may try to convince others (like Spider-Man) to announce their identities so they can testify, but I doubt that many heroes would be willing to go to that extent. That leaves Stark and perhaps Luke Cage as the only heroes who can really take a stand against the Act, and it doesn’t look good for those who oppose it.

Meanwhile, the villains are paying attention. All the villains would know what is happening, but it would be particularly apparent to those like the Kingpin, who’s been shown to have contacts throughout different levels of government in the past (and may even be throwing his influence behind Gyrich, albeit surreptitiously). The villains can see that it’s likely the SHRA will pass, and if it does, it’s going to hamstring some of their biggest foes, like Spider-Man and Daredevil. Yes, the villains may be concerned about being caught, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be any worse for them to be caught now than it was before the passage; after all, when they got caught before the SHRA passed, they still had their identities discovered by the government who could dig up anything on their pasts that they wanted. I think this is when the Kingpin begins to gather his forces, waiting for what he knows is inevitable. Again, we’d see this in various titles, usually just a page or so an issue, as the Kingpin recruits his forces.

Now, I’ve typed a lot, just for the prologue, but I want to stop and get your reaction. Are we on the same page? I think this sets things up logically. It introduces our main supporters of the SHRA, giving it the face it lacked before (and for a bill like this to pass, it’s going to have to have some strong supporters). It begins to build some tension in the MU between various heroes, and we begin to see how things could possibly go. And, it also shows us that the villains are paying attention and are prepared to capitalize on current events. It makes the MU feel like a real live place. Agreed?

The big question now is, do we have a large event that is the catalyst Gyrich needs to push for final passage?

Now wait just a second. If I understand you correctly, you want Civil War to actually have a plot, right? That just blows…my…mind. Maybe it’s because it has been drummed into my head repeatedly for the last two or three years by the powers-that-be, but I always just assumed that things spontaneously happened within the Marvel U. No rhyme or reason, just consequences and fight scenes. It’s like a revelation from on high to have a buildup with rational pacing, and sub-stories, and behind-the-scenes characters, and actual thought processes. I’m stunned.

As you can tell from my heavy sarcasm, I felt that the reasoning behind Civil War was, for lack of a better word, nonexistent. Even though they tried to shoehorn in some pathos with the blowing up of a school and the whole fake Thor shooting a fake thunderbolt through Giant-Man (or whatever name he was going by at the time…and what was with him not being shrunken back down to normal size before being buried?), the series still lacked any real emotion. The heroes were like empty shells going through the paces. There was very little overreaction to the events or the legislation or the hero hunting. At least by adding a political slant to the background, you’ve planted that seed of “something is bound to come of this.” I believe, the word is “foreshadowing.” Maybe someone at Marvel could send Mark Millar a dictionary for Christmas.

It makes a lot of sense to start having some public pushback on these destructive incidents involving superheroes. We’ve talked about it before and I still can’t believe that any civilians in the Marvel Universe would ever leave their homes for fear of having a giant robot/spaceship/sentient plant/skyscraper/dimension-altering weapon dropped on their heads. Honestly, I can’t believe that a teeny, tiny nuclear explosion outside an elementary school in Connecticut would be the singular event to cause such an uproar. Things don’t just go from calm to natural disaster at the drop of a hat…you can see these things building and rising and coming from miles away. It would be refreshing to have something proactive happen in superhero comics instead of always being so defensive and reactionary.

Gyrich is a good figurehead…and someone who could play a large role in Marvel’s government for years to come. I know I mentioned him in passing during our Marvel Presidential Candidates post. The guy has both the experience and the inside knowledge of superhero activity. I could also see Valerie Cooper getting involved in some of the goings-on. The senior staff from Damage Control would probably be testifying before Congress too. And, of course, I think we’d hear from both Stark Industries (from the military-industrial corner) and Rand Corporation (from the infrastructure and charity angle). Foggy Nelson may even be asked to serve as counsel for someone, since he has a lot of experience defending superpowered individuals. I think that cast of political and legal characters would effectively cover the bases of Marvel’s titles from Avengers to X-Men to the rest of the Marvel U.

This sort of backstory may end up leading to less hero-versus-hero clashes and double-page spreads, but it could lead to a different set of conflicts altogether. Instead of just having Cap going toe-to-toe with Tony, we could inject the villains into the equation and make it a three-sided battle. Everyone wants their piece (or “peace” depending on which side you’re on). And it would make things that much more volatile with everyone having to not only watch their back, but their sides as well…who’s your friend, who’s your enemy?

I like your prologue. It has necessary meat. Where do you see it going from there?

Well, I never got your opinion as to whether or not an actual event was needed to kick things off in the first issue, and lead to the final passage of the SHRA, but I’m going to say that it’s necessary. So, as we enter the actual Civil War series, the first issue begins with a group of New Warriors trying to stop some bad guys. I’d prefer to ditch the reality TV concept. Certainly, no portrayal of Night Thrasher that I’ve ever read would have him agreeing to something like that (he’s in it for the justice, not the fame) and I think that made the Warriors seem too shallow, which is unfair to some of them who have a long history in the MU of being fine, upstanding heroes. Ok, that might be a little much, but honestly, these kids are doing their best and attempting to do the right thing. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if we get rid of the crass Reality Show spin, it actually makes this story all the more tragic. Instead of a bunch of shallow jerks blowing up themselves and some kids, we have good people who are trying to be heroes, and through a simple mistake, end up causing the death of so many.

Where are we? Ah yes, New Warriors fight bad guys, including Nitro, who blows up real good, killing a lot of kids, and some of the Warriors he was fighting. Nitro got some extra power from one of the Kingpin’s subordinates, since the Kingpin thought that juicing up someone who’s power is already very destructive could likely lead to the sort of situation that would provide a groundswell of support for the SHRA. The public hears about the disaster, and thanks to a handheld video which was filmed by a tourist (or heck, someone could have filmed it on their phone), the public sees the Warriors fighting these guys and can see the mistake the kids make.

Now, this might not have been a big deal otherwise. However, Gyrich descends on the scene of the tragedy with his allies and inflates the story into a tale of selfish superheroes and innocent children. He gets the public riled up about it, and a month later, the SHRA passes (I think an incident like this could incite public sentiment, if someone helped push that sentiment, and also if the public was leaning towards frustration with heroes before the incident even occurred). It is now illegal for non-registered superhumans to act. Some heroes register; basically, those heroes with public identities, or those that work for the government anyway. Captain America, of course, and the Fantastic Four are the first to register. However, Cap makes it clear to Gyrich and the government that the heroes will NOT hunt down and capture each other. Gyrich isn’t happy about this, but he does remind Cap that, while Cap may not wish to seek out heroes, if an unregistered superhuman is spotted by Cap, Cap is duty bound to bring that hero in. Cap reluctantly agrees to this, and the other registered heroes do as well.

We also check in with the villains, and see the Kingpin and Mandarin readying their forces to take advantage of the plight of the heroes. Is there much to take advantage of? Oh yes, you better believe it. Cap and the Fantastic Four are still around and fighting the good fight, but the Avengers disband, since the team is torn in two. Cap supports the act, but Wolverine, Spider-Man and Iron Man all oppose it, and they leave the team. Since Stark funds the team, he also tells Cap that they won’t be able to meet anymore in his Tower. Cap pleads with them to come around and support the SHRA, but they refuse, and they start to lay low. That leaves few of the heroes around to battle villains, and the villains take advantage of it by starting a crime wave that plagues New York City. The heroes are stretched thin, and the Human Torch finds himself fighting a powerful trio of villains on his own: the Sandman, Titania and Absorbing Man. The rest of his colleagues are fighting elsewhere on the island of Manhattan, and the Torch is having problems defeating this terrible trio. It doesn’t look good for the Human Matchstick.

Peter Parker, however, hears about the raging battle either on the news, or at the Daily Bugle, or perhaps he simply is passing by. He can’t let his friend by killed by these dastardly villains, so he changes to Spider-Man to help out. The fight is a difficult one, and the Human Torch is eventually knocked unconscious, badly wounded during the melee. Spider-Man eventually ekes out a win, but he’s tired and wounded himself. Just then, the police and SHIELD arrive. The Torch is rushed to the hospital, while the villains are all placed under arrest…as is Spider-Man. When he’s taken to the prison, he’s unmasked, and the news teams at the site are quick to make sure that the entire world knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man! End of issue one.

Now, why did I duplicate two of the big events from the early stages of Civil War? I basically did it to show that the big events Marvel had planned for this miniseries were fine and could be used, but they could be used in a way that fit the plot, rather than simply being thrown into the mix without thought as to whether or not they made sense for the character. By duplicating the events but not the circumstances surrounding the events, we could take the repercussions in many new directions. Over the next few issues of the limited series, we see Spider-Man faced with a dilemma; his secret identity is known, but he’s stuck in prison, so who’s protecting his wife and aunt? Spidey feels he has no real choice if he wants to protect those he loves the most, so he breaks out of jail to find the ladies in his life and get them to safety. His jailbreak in issue two would be the big event of that issue, made even more dramatic when he finds he can’t escape without the help of the Sandman, who’s also been sent to prison. The two reluctant allies escape, and once they’re free, Spidey lets Sandman go, vowing to find him and bring him down as soon as he’s made sure his wife and aunt are safe. (This is another layer of guilt for Peter, especially if the Sandman is part of any dastardly plots before Peter can get to him; Peter is always at his best when he’s swimming in guilt.)

Peter won’t find his aunt and wife in the second issue however. He makes his way back to the house where they’d been staying after leaving Avengers Tower, and he sees May and MJ in an upstairs window. As he rushes to the house, anxious to hold them (but not at the same time…ewwww!) the house explodes! Peter is distraught, and sure that his loved ones are dead, giving him a major mad on for anyone who supports the SHRA. Typically, Parker’s life is not going to be getting any easier, as Gyrich is using Spidey’s presence at the Torch debacle as the reason one of the FF is now in a coma at the hospital. The FF don’t quite believe that, but some of the public does, and these people really hate Spidey now. Peter doesn’t care though, and in issue three, he goes after one of the SHRA boosters (possibly Cap) blaming them for May’s and MJ’s death. Cap doesn’t want to fight Spidey and he tries to talk, but as anyone who’s read an angry Spidey comic knows, sometimes he doesn’t really listen. However, after a large public brawl (which Gyrich again spins to make Spidey look bad, contributing to the ugly public mood regarding him), Iron Man swoops in, and captures Spidey, taking him away from the battlefield.

Spider-Man still has his dander up, and is incredibly angry, but Stark calms him down by explaining that May and MJ are alive. After Stark saw Peter’s identity revealed on TV, he immediately went and got his aunt and wife, taking them back to his current hideout. He left holographic projections of them at their old house, so that anyone aiming to hurt the ladies might go through with their plans, and then assuming the ladies were dead, they would move on to other things. Spidey has a tearful reunion with two people he thought dead forever, but now he has to deal with his actions against Cap.

Meanwhile, just to pick up on the Torch thread, we see that the Torch’s injury is really causing the FF some grief. Reed is trying to argue that Spidey’s interference in the battle is what got the Torch wounded in the first place (since that’s the story Gyrich is spinning), but neither Sue or the Thing really believe it, and it’s obvious that Reed’s heart isn’t in it either. At the same token, Reed still believes the FF need to toe the line regarding this law, and that outright rebellion will only make things worse, inflaming public opinion and convincing Americans that superheroes are indeed out of control, proving Gyrich’s point. Thing and Sue aren’t as convinced, and the first cracks in the FF are planted here, as the team begins to splinter, each of them wrestling with the correct course of action.

Whew! This is just a taste of what we could do in the first few issues; we still haven’t discussed what the final plan is of the Kingpin and Mandarin (you know they have one; in fact, I’m sure they each have a different one that they aren’t sharing with their “ally”), nor have we touched on a lot of the other heroes in the MU. Any thoughts on your end on either what I’ve suggested, or some things you’d like to do in the series?

I wish I could remember all the details as well as you have. For some reason (probably “event fatigue”) I keep getting my Civil War plot points confused with the relatively sparse plot points of Secret Invasion…which I’m sure we’ll cover next, right?

I find it fascinating that you were able to keep many of the original scenes by retrofitting them to our new (logical) direction. Makes me wonder what the writers actually do at one of those Marvel retreats. I mean, you made it all sound so easy in two brief explanations, and it flows from one pragmatic conclusion to the next. Do they just play Twister all weekend and then pick names and storylines out of a hat to mix and match?

Since I can’t seem to pin down any details on my own to exploit, let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment instead. The whole fake Thor thing has been trashed now. Completely and utterly useless. Which is fine. However, the big fight scene where he made his debut has also been scraped since the heroes are not really fighting amongst themselves en masse. Will there be any sort of significant death that we can tally up? Is this a matter of some second-string villain getting the public dirt nap? Or a less important hero falling at the hands of the villains?

To the bigger point, with Cap and Tony on reversed sides in this thing, we’ve eliminated the relevance of Nick Fury helping out Cap. Where do Tony and his band of rebels hole up now? I think we also put the kibosh on the Thunderbolts involvement, which removes the tragically dumb move of putting Osborn in charge of anything. At the same time, with Tony on the anti-SHRA side, he would no longer be in line to take over SHIELD.

So, while I’m following the show on the ground, with the FF and Spidey and the press and the politics, I’m still left wondering what the big picture is for the heroes and villains and what the shake-up will be at the end. Is there a Negative Zone prison? Are the villains shipped off to concentration camps? Is the 50-state Initiative still valid? Have you thought that far ahead? Do my questions help at all? Hello? Hello?

I think your questions help quite a bit, and they also give me a chance to draw out a more general picture, so that I’m not just doing an issue by issue summary of how I see the series going. Let me try and take them one at a time.

Yes, no Thor clone, and certainly no pathetic death of Bill Foster. That was so lame. That being said, it wouldn’t be a summer crossover without at least one high profile death (if one can call Foster a high profile death; with all due respect to the late, lamented Giant-Man/Goliath, he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite). Now, we potentially killed some of the New Warriors in the beginning of the series, just as the official Civil War did. But I also believe we can have death during the miniseries as well. One of the things I haven’t mentioned detailed during these discussions is just what the villains are up to, and I’m not going to start now. However, I will say that the villains are very active. In fact, I’ve figured out a way to work the Thor clone into the storyline, so let’s continue using the events of the original mini-series, shall we?

By the middle of the mini-series, it’s becoming obvious that some of the citizens of the MU aren’t really very happy with the way things are going. The fights between the superheroes and the villains are causing a lot of property damage and most of the unregistered heroes are lying low, meaning that the superheroes that are registered are having a hard time keeping up with the constant villain attacks (we’re checking in with our rebels every issue; they’re being led by Stark and are mostly holed up in one of his safe houses). There are fights between heroes. Usually they occur when Stark’s forces learn of an impending villain attack, or when they learn of a villain-hero brawl that’s threatening to overwhelm the heroes. Then the rebels will go to assist the heroes or stop the villains. Unfortunately, being the MU, this doesn’t always work out so well. The registered heroes are under orders to arrest the unregistered ones, and by this time, they’re getting a little pissy with those who won’t register. After all, the sanctioned heroes are working their keisters off trying to keep order, they’ve seen one of the rebels batter Captain America (that would be Spider-Man, mentioned above) and some of the registered heroes can’t help but blame the rebels for the injuries and property damage the villains are causing. So, anytime the two sides get together, there will be a fight.

Into the midst of the registered heroes comes Bill Foster, whose career as a hero has always been somewhat rocky. He registers with the government hoping that perhaps, now that the hero playing field has been thinned, he can grab some attention. Don’t get me wrong; he’s not a total jerk just looking for headlines. Foster has always been a hero, and still is, but he’s also not above taking advantage of the situation while it’s front page news. Still, public sentiment seems to be moving away from registration, and this won’t do for the Kingpin or the Mandarin. They need more time for their endgame and that means they need to make sure that the Civil War continues. So, they decide to come up with a fiendish plan (as villains are wont to do). Knowing that Thor hasn’t been seen in awhile, but also knowing that he would surely object to mortals telling him what to do, they decide that perhaps he could be the perfect fall guy in their scheme.

Nightshade, working for the baddies, begins moving around the country, spending brief moments at some of the sites of Thor’s most recent battles before his death. At these sites, she searches for and collects any data on Thor, and with the help of someone like Sabretooth (someone with enhanced senses) collects any DNA samples that still exist, if any). She also, with help from some of the other operatives in the villain’s employ, breaks into Avengers Tower (and because the registered heroes are stretched so thin, this proves possible. They also catch a break when Jarvis, who should be able to activate the automatic defenses at the tower, but makes a few poor choices and is knocked unconscious instead. That’s a plot thread to follow up on in Secret Invasion.) and raids the computer files for information on Thor. With all of this information, she returns to her fully stocked lab and, with the help of other criminal scientists like Karl Malus, she creates a clone of Thor. Dr. Faustus helps to program the clone Thor’s mind, and makes sure to fill the Thor clone with a lot of anti-SHRA rhetoric. This clone isn’t perfect (or as powerful as Thor), but it doesn’t have to be. Now, the villains simply await their chance.

Within a few days, another villains attack draws out both registered heroes, with Bill Foster among them, and the rebels. Soon, the villains either are captured or escape, and it’s just the heroes fighting. The sanctioned heroes are tired, and this exacerbates the issues I mentioned above, and the two sides are soon fighting in earnest. The media, of course, records all of this, and Gyrich and his allies continue to use these fights as proof that the unregistered heroes are threats to the country. However, no one expects the scoop they are about to get. Suddenly the Thor clone flies into the fight, spouting the anti-SHRA rhetoric that Faustus programmed into him. Thor is violent and brutal, way over the top, but the cameras are picking all of this up, and he does look and sound like the public assumes Thor would, and he seems to have Thor’s powers. Before the Thor clone is there too long, he lashes out with his lightning, killing Bill Foster. Both the registered and unregistered heroes are stunned, and Stark quickly calls for a retreat (the clone Thor flees then as well, whipping up a storm to discourage pursuit, which helps to maintain the illusion of him being a rebel, but then goes another way once he’s out of view of the TV cameras). The rebels flee, but to the eyes of the world, and to the eyes of the registered heroes, the rebels have crossed the line. This inflames public opinion against them and also incites some of the registered heroes to be even more upset (while the Thor clone seemed off to them, and some may suspect the truth, again, these guys are tired and frustrated, so they’re not all thinking too deeply on the matter).

So, there’s that event covered. What else did you ask? No, Tony wouldn’t take over SHIELD, but Captain America now can. Of course, we want to assassinate him at the end of the crossover (because Brubaker is doing such neat things with that plot in Cap’s own book, and really, Bucky would look silly in the Iron Man armor), but for now, we could make him head of SHIELD throughout the crossover, and Fury could help Stark (it wouldn’t be the first time they were uneasy allies, and I think they make a much more interesting duo than Cap and Fury anyway).

At first glance, I’m saying no on the Negative Zone prison, which I always hated. Of course, with villains and heroes being captured by the government, they’re going to need a place to hold them, and if I’m not mistaken, all of the current government prisons for superpowered captives use Stark tech. So, the government turns to Reed Richards to create a place to put these superpowered people, where the superpowered people can’t escape and Stark can’t use his inside knowledge of security systems to cause a breakout. Now, Reed may be brilliant, but he’s already stretched thin, and he doesn’t have much time. He needs a place that’s impregnable, and he knows of somewhere like that: the Negative Zone. He’s not thrilled with that solution, but really, the captives are going to be stuck in the prison, and will never see the outside. What does it matter where the prison sits, either the Negative Zone or Butte Montana, to the prisoner sitting inside it. So, the Negative Zone prison is still around.

As for the 50 State Initiative, that ties in with the question of how we end our Civil War miniseries. Goodness knows, I thought the end to the original MU miniseries was one of the most stupid anticlimaxes I had ever remembered for a big event. I would like to think that we could wrap things up a little more tightly. The last issue would have the Kingpin and Mandarin’s plots coming to fruition, and a huge villain attack (with the Thor clone participating), which both registered and unregistered heroes involved. Once the villains are defeated, the heroes on both sides would go at it, with Cap and Iron Man fighting each other above it all. Cap would be talking to Iron Man, trying to convince him that he needs to surrender. After all, Cap could reason, the SHRA IS law, and if that is going to change, it’s going to need to change by fighting within the system. Stark’s way is only making things worse, and while he doesn’t blame Stark for Foster’s death, surely this rebellion made that death possible. Stark realizes that what Cap is saying makes sense, and he surrenders (I think it makes more sense that Cap could sway Stark with words, rather than Cap looking around a battlefield and going, “My bad.”).

That wraps up the series. Captain America is the one who suggests the 50 State Initiative, as a way of trying to convince the heroes who haven’t registered to do so. He holds a press conference to discuss this, and during the conference, he’s assassinated by someone yelling “Fascist!” That puts it just about where the MU was after Civil War, with the exception of Stark as head of SHIELD. You’d need someone else to fill that slot, and I think a lot of people could take his place and some great stories could come out of that. I’d think Ms. Marvel might make sense, or if you really want to tie this story into Secret Invasion, how about making Dr. Pym the head of SHIELD. That could be very interesting….

Thoughts?

First of all, “Reed may be brilliant, but he’s already stretched thin” is probably the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Secondly, and this one is not as funny, I’m disappointed in this turn of events. The reason I continue to point out the fake Thor in every reply is because I find the whole concept to be sooooo out of left field as to be nonsensical. And then killing off Goliath (just who is White Goliath, by the way?) just adds to the nonsense. Look, here’s a character that no one has seen (aside form a few appearances) for roughly two decades or more and then he shows up only to be killed off? Ignoring the fact that he had given up the heroing bit to become a serious scientist, it still smacks of over-convenience which itself is a sign of bad writing. I was sure you were going to just let these bits of the story fade away. Who would really come up with the ludicrous idea of cloning a God in the midst of a Civil War? Wow…now that I said it out loud, it is kind of a brilliant idea…but that’s part of the problem too! If you could’ve seen this coming and sat around and daydreamed about the far-reaching possibilities for months on end, then sure, you may have come up with this ludicrous plan. But to just pull it out of your back pocket and casually throw it on the table? Your allies would either laugh at you or have you committed. And don’t drag poor ol’ Bill Foster into your scheme! What did he ever do to anyone? And where’s the significance? He’s not the “go for the glory” type. He has never craved the spotlight or sought unnecessary recognition. That said, your explanation of the cloning quest was pretty spot-on. Kudos for that.

Honestly? I would much rather see a member of the Young Avengers sacrificed for the cause…the new female Hawkeye never did anything for me. She’s disposable. And just the simple fact that she’s so young and new would allow the loss to resonate even more and reinforce the pro-SHRA’s drive for training and discipline. Granted, you don’t have the literal deus ex machina of Thor appearing from out of nowhere (after months of absence), killing a hero, and then disappearing in a puff of smoke, but it could still be managed. You have an unnamed assailant assassinate Cap as he’s ascending to the helm of SHIELD. Why couldn’t this same villain pull the trigger on Hawkeye in the midst of all the hero versus hero chaos? There must be a shape-shifter or marksman somewhere amongst the villainous ranks that we could appropriate for the dastardly deed. If the villains have all been captured or chased away, and the method of attack was parallel to that of a well-known hero, then the media would have a field day with placing the blame on the rebel faction. And the rest of the story could play itself out as you’ve described.

Or, conversely, here’s our opportunity to make Punisher relevant again (since he’s spent the last decade or so becoming a horrible caricature of himself…a soulless, cliched leftover from the “grim-n-gritty” vigilante era of comics). Good ol’ Frank is such a devotee to Captain America and the quasi-military feel of the superhero crowd, that he maniacally follows the SHRA to the letter. He takes it upon himself to stomp out the menace of the rebel heroes and he doesn’t care who gets in his way. Since Spidey actually had the audacity to lay his hands upon Cap, Frank decides he needs to take him out. Only problem is, Spidey senses the danger and dodges the shot…as a result, Hawkeye takes one for the team. This could be the turning point in the media coverage. The so-called heroes have now killed one of their own (in theory) and both sides have growing doubts about the SHRA. Not sure what the fallout would be there, but it puts the onus on the other side to prove this can work. Gyrich, being a politician, can play both sides against each other. He’d claim that the SHRA would be good for everyone, sanctioned heroes included. And Punisher would be made the scapegoat (he could benefit from the depth).

I’m not sold on the Negative Zone prison either. It didn’t really seem to serve a purpose considering how easily folks broke out of it anyway. It may as well just be a part of the Fifty State Initiative…not just training, but rehabilitation. Perhaps the jail could be an extension of Camp Hammond (which would make Taskmaster’s involvement more reasonable…he could be training villains to be heroes as part of a community service sentence).

As for the SHIELD thing, Cap would be the obvious selection. His assassination is the true icing on the cake for the event (and I think it should take place during Civil War and not in his own title). The American people would finally feel at ease with a government official and begin to believe in better days ahead. And then POW! Looking ahead to upcoming events, we know that the Skrulls gain control of SHIELD during Secret Invasion. Since you’ve already brought up the issue in Gyrich’s run for political prominence, why not have the other senator who’s posing as a Skrull become the new head of SHIELD? The government seeks more oversight of the organization and more control, so they name one of their own to run it. Makes sense on paper.

And finally, does Tony Stark have safe houses? I know he has vacation homes and scads of real estate investments, but does he have “drop off the grid” accommodations? I just ask because it seems funny to imagine this billionaire playboy skulking about in abandoned sewer tunnels. There would be a much more interesting dynamic between Stark and Fury, making for an uneasy alliance in the face of so much upheaval. On the plus side, since most of Marvel’s America operates on Stark technology, it’s easy to imagine how the rebels could set up quick response teams to deal with the villains and such. They would have eyes and ears everywhere and access to almost every computer in the country.

So, to recap, I was completely on board with the beginnings of your revamp, but there are a few things here in the middle that I disagree with. Maybe I’m just being picky, but I think there’s a lot of potential to turn this mediocre miniseries into something more long-lasting and meaningful. Do you agree with any of the points I’ve made? Any ideas how we can implement the suggestions I offered?

I agree with ALL of the points you offer (and I’m even ok with the killing of the new Hawkeye, despite being a fan of her character and of the Young Avengers in general).  The ONLY reason I used the clone Thor, killed Goliath and brought in the Negative Zone prison was to point out that all of the big ideas from the published version of Civil War could still be used, and they could be worked into a plot more seamlessly than they were by Mark Millar.  However, with that point made (probably in much more detail than was required) we can go back to putting together a Civil War story that makes more sense and flows even better, and I think your suggestions do that.

Your comments about Tony Stark and safehouses makes sense; he probably wouldn’t necessarily have them, and certainly his partnership with Fury is a lot more interesting if the safehouses are something Fury brings to the table.  It sets up a much better dynamic between them, and puts the two of them on more equal footing, making for more interesting chemistry between them.

We could go on and on about our Civil War, but I think that we’ve detailed it pretty well, with my beginning and your middle and end.  In the long run, we end up almost where the Marvel Universe was at the end of their Civil War, with only Stark being in a drastically different place (but, I think in the end, a much more interesting one for that character.  It’s also a place that keep him a hero, rather than turning him into the fascist ass he became in the MU).  I suppose that Bill Foster’s in a different place as well, being alive rather than dead, but considering he was languishing in Limbo before he was brought back simply to die, there’s not a lot of difference.  We’ll just continue to allow him to languish in limbo.

So, considering the length of the post, I think our work here is done.  Perhaps we can go through this same process again in the future with Secret Invasion, another mini-series with a great premise that was never fulfilled.

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Top 5 Marvel Presidential Candidates

Nov-03-08

We did this with DC last week, so let’s check out who I would vote for in the Marvel Universe.

Before I begin, let me start out by saying that my number one choice would, of course, be Captain America, Steve Rogers. C’mon, he’s a no-brainer! He’s smart, he’s fair, he loves the country and doesn’t crave power…who in the world wouldn’t vote for this man? However, as he’s currently dead in the Marvel Universe, I’m not going to put him on my list. Rest assured, however, that he would be at the top if not for his inconvenient state of non-life.

1. Sam Wilson: Yes, the Falcon would probably be my number one choice for president, with poor old Steve Rogers pushing daises. The Falcon actually ran for office once, but sadly lost. Still, he holds many of the same views as his close friend Steve does, and Sam is actually much more in touch with the day to day realities of living in America than Steve is, seeing as how Sam actually lives among the people (Steve could be a little removed from the problems facing the typical American). I think Sam would do an incredible job as President.

2. Anne Marie Hoag: This name probably isn’t familiar to most casual comics readers, but Ms. Hoag was the owner of Damage Control. She’s slightly older, but she’s still younger than one of the current Presidential contenders. She’s actually got the money to make a run for the White House, she has connections in Washington DC, and she has the experience of running a huge company. She’s smart, she’s tough and I think she could get things done.

3. Hank McCoy: I picked a woman and an African-American for the top office, so why not a blue skinned mutant? I imagine it would be almost impossible for a mutant to win election to the top office of the Marvel Universe America, especially when he’s blue-furred and feral looking, but the Beast does have his time as an Avenger, which should give him credibility in the press. Again, he’s brilliant, yet he’s always had a very charismatic way of interacting with others, and I think he’s quite the diplomat.

4. Foggy Nelson: Daredevil’s alter ego of Matt Murdock has long been in business with his best friend Foggy Nelson, and I think Foggy would be an excellent president. He has some political experience, having been a District Attorney, and he’s come a long way from the early days, where he was often portrayed as somewhat bumbling. It’s been said many times that he’s an excellent attorney, that he’s very smart, and he’s proven to have a strong will. I think he would do quite well, and perhaps he could put his old friend on the ballot as his VP?

5. James Rhodes: I had some problems filling out the final slot in my list. In olden days, I would have chosen Reed Richards, Charles Xavier or Tony Stark, but they’ve all proven to be such asses over the past few years of Marvel time that I couldn’t possibly vote for them. I also think Jean Grey could have done a credible job as president, but she’s currently dead (although I’m sure she’ll be alive in time for the 2012 presidential race). Thinking through all the people I could choose, however, I thought Rhodes seemed to be a strong choice. He’s had some experience running a huge company, and more importantly, he’s tough, he’s smart, and he’s connected to what’s going on in the world. He’s always wanted to make a difference, and this would be a great way for him to make one.

Hmm…a small-time crook, a guy that looks like a blue cat, a bumbling lawyer who has been kidnapped/abused more often than he’s tried cases, a woman who has run a company based on cover-ups and a dude who also goes by the name “War Machine.” Nice picks!

I kid because I love.

There are some interesting picks in there, but of course I have to disagree with most of them and throw my five names into the ring! I like the fact that you avoided the obvious (though I’m not sure how you restrained yourself from putting your hero, Hank Pym, on the list). I was looking for someone with a legal background too…not sure about Foggy, but it’s a better thought than She-Hulk, which was the only other lawyer I could think of. And I love the idea of Anne Marie Hoag. However, I’m not sure Damage Control is prominent enough for her experience with them to be relevant to the general public. Beast is just a weird pick.

Anyhoo, here are my candidates:

5. James Rhodes: Look, I think James Rhodes would be an excellent choice for President. Oddly enough, I’ve always seen Marvel as the Democrats as opposed to DC’s more right-wing lean. Yet Rhodes is clearly in the GOP mold. He has a distinguished military background with a spattering of executive experience thrown in for good measure. Rhodey is like a younger Colin Powell. And, since I think Steve Rogers would be a bit of overkill (even if he were still alive) as President, Rhodes might not be a bad compromise.

4. Valerie Cooper: Hard-nosed and determined, Cooper has been on the forefront of government and mutant relations. She was originally introduced as a National Security Advisor, serving as director of Freedom Force, X-Factor and O*N*E as well as a supporter of the original Thunderbolts, and has been involved with various projects that seek to control the superhuman influence in America. She has a history of making tough decisions and would look good in $150,000 worth of Neiman Marcus clothing.

3. Tony Stark: While Reed Richards is a bit of an egghead and not the right fit, I have a hard time keeping Stark off this list, even if I don’t agree with the direction his character has taken in the last few years. He’s an extremely intelligent businessman who knows the government side of things inside and out. He was Secretary of Defense and is currently the head of SHIELD. Granted, he had a bit of a drinking problem, but I’m not sure how well-known that is to the general public. Aside from that, there’s really no way to keep him off the ballot. He’s one of the most prominent public figures in the Marvel Universe!

2. Nick Fury: Holy crap! A tough-talking veteran and master spy who chomps a cigar and sports an eyepatch? Who wouldn’t vote for him?!? Nick Fury knows as many ways to avoid a bad situation as he does ways to kill you with his earlobes. He can puff his chest and slam his fists with the best of them, but he still understands the delicate balance between involvement and observation. Plus, he’d easily garner the endorsement of Captain America. A no-nonsense choice.

1. Danny Rand: My number one choice is more in the mold of Barack Obama. Rand is someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he is seen as a good decision maker. And the experience that he does have is all in the realm of helping others. His corporation has recently been turned into a non-profit charity. He has the calm demeanor and philosophical bent to be able to mitigate any volatile situation, with the strength and power to quickly end any dispute before it gets out of hand. Plus, he has excellent counsel in Jeryn Hogarth, a very mild-mannered yet intelligent attorney and businessman. I think folks would flock to Rand’s message of peace and harmony. And, he’s a young, rich, good-looking guy. That never hurts.

James Rhodes as Colin Powell? Interesting analogy, and not an entirely inaccurate one. I hadn’t considered it, but it does work.

However, I do disagree with your characterization of Foggy Nelson. Yes, he was played for laughs and depicted in less than stellar terms in the past, but I think he’s been shown to have grown quite a bit since the 70s and 80s. I’d give him another look.

I like Valerie Cooper, but she’s often been portrayed as a hard nosed, cynical, uncaring woman who will do whatever it takes to advance her own career. If that’s the sort of politician you want to vote for, why not vote for Hillary Clinton? (Zing! And a cheap shot, since I think Clinton takes way too much abuse and I actually voted for her in the primary.) Seriously, Cooper could be a neat character, but too many writers have begun to use her for the “jerky government stereotype” for me to be able to support her.

Tony freakin’ Stark? You have got to be kidding me!? He’s the John McCain of the Marvel Universe, which is to say that I could have supported him in 2000, but since then the man has shown that he has no honor and will do whatever advances his own career (man, I’m probably bringing real world politics into this too much. Hopefully our few readers won’t care. Sorry Mom!). There is no way that Stark should be considered for President; his behavior in Civil War was reprehensible, and that’s way too recent to forget.

Nick Fury? I don’t want to spend too much time picking apart your choices, but my mind is officially boggled. First of all, there’d be no Cap endorsement, since Cap is dead. Second, the idea of Fury as President seems to make as much sense as Wolverine as President; they’re not the sort of men who could ever do that job, as they’d want to be out in the field, getting their hands dirty. While I enjoy the idea of the President flying the Helicarrier over to the Middle East and personally leading a strike team into Afghanistan (and would pay money to see him call a visiting dignitary a “Yahoo” on national television), I just don’t see it.

But Rand? Good choice. Can we please have Luke Cage placed in the Cabinet? I would also pay money to see him shout “Sweet Christmas” during a press conference.

Yeah, yeah…I figured you’d be up in arms over Stark and Fury. I won’t try to defend them. Let’s just say this was more difficult than the DC post. It’s surprising to me how few government types there really are in the Marvel Universe. And it’s also interesting that most of the prominent government folks have been corrupt at one point or another. That really shows Marvel’s liberal views.

I like Val Cooper. I agree with your assessment of her and I almost see her as a version of Condi Rice, but in a good way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to advance your career as long as it isn’t at the expense of others. And she always at least tries to do right by everyone she deals with. I figured it was either her or Henry Gyrich! Hell, he’s been involved in so many scandals it’s a wonder he still has any job.

Foggy Nelson still strikes me as an also-ran. He consistently plays second fiddle to Murdock. Maybe if he were a balding cross-dresser, we could portray him as the Giuliani candidate!

No, I think you and I come down to a Rhodes-Rand face-off. That would be a very intriguing development for Marvel. If they could actually stick with showing the government in a good light, either of these picks would make for a very cool storyline.

We should make campaign posters…



Superhorrors: When Capes and Killings Clash

Oct-29-08

So, Jason and I have been discussing bringing horror into your superhero comics, and how it can be done successfully. We thought we’d take some time to examine some heroes and teams in the multiverse of comics that we think lend themselves particularly well to the horror genre. I’m going to just mention five that I think would work well, although to be honest, I think just about any character that is not simply used for comedic effect can work in a horror comic. I’m not sure I’d write the Ambush Bug Halloween Special, although that could be very amusing. Still, it’s not hitting quite the effect that we were hoping for.

I’m not going to be focusing on characters like Ghost Rider and Deadman since it’s pretty obvious that they work well in horror comics. I’m also not going to be suggesting an entire series based around horror for these characters: I’m not suggesting a new Spider-Man book called Spidey Horror Stories or anything. I’m just going to spotlight some characters who could have a really good one or two issue story in their titles that is more in the horror genre and less in the superhero genre. Here we go!

Fantastic Four: At first it might not seem that this group, the brightly colored leaders of Marvel’s superhero universe, could work well in horror. Johnny and Ben are too goofy, and they’re a more happy-go-lucky team, you might believe. However, I think they’d be perfect. Right off the bat is the fact that they’re explorers, which means they find themselves in situations where horror could be found. In fact, I have a scenario already in mind.

Our Fantastic Foursome are flying through the Negative Zone, moving a small group of refugees whose homeworld was destroyed by Annihilus, when they encounter a derelict spaceship. Reed wants to investigate, and so they dock with the ship, and they begin to explore. As Reed tries to determine what happened on the ship and where the crew went, the team splits up to search for clues. Along the way they begin to discover that whatever happened was mighty unpleasant, and that the cause of the crew’s disappearance may still be lurking aboard!

The Fantastic Four have those dark blue/black uniforms, so they can be drawn in a darker art style and still look faithful to original design. The Thing, of course, works perfectly in a horror setting, since he’s a monster. The Thing and the Torch might be lighthearted at first, but they would get serious when the danger became apparent, and that helps sell the horror; if something can scare or at least unnerve these two, then it shows the audience that it must be pretty bad. If you make the threat something supernatural that helps too, since the FF tend to deal in hard science, and the supernatural will immediately throw them out of their element. The refugees give us characters who can be killed or disappear, since we obviously won’t kill the FF. The trick is not to make the danger about whether the FF will be killed, since everyone knows that won’t happen, but whether or not they can protect this group of refugees. Keep the refugees in danger and have the danger stalking them, and you’ve got actual tension. After all, the FF are the ones who decided to stop at this ship; they are truly responsible for these civilians, and are going to do whatever they can to protect them.

I think there are a lot of creative teams that could do something like this justice, but I would choose Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. They worked together on a Superman/Aliens story that had the sort of atmosphere I’m envisioning.

Martian Manhunter: He’s dead, which makes him perfect for a horror comic! I kid. Assuming he wasn’t dead, I think J’onn J’onzz would do well in a horror story. Honestly, were I to use him in a comic, I’d use him more like the Phantom Stranger. Because of Jonn’s shapeshifting powers, he can be anyone and anything. He used to want to explore the world around him and learn more about humanity. I can envision an actual series with him traveling the world, taking on different identities and spending time with people. In many cases, he’d be more of a guest star in his own series, as we’d truly be reading the stories of other people, with J’onn more on the periphery. Not all of these stories would have to have a horror bent, but some certainly could.

For example, perhaps J’onn meets a group of people in an inn, where he stops to wait out some bad weather on his travels right around Halloween. He spends some time in the common areas meeting the guests and giving the reader a chance to learn about the other characters. Everyone retires to their rooms, but strange things are happening. J’onn assumes the suspicious activities are part of some Halloween prank, but then people start turning up missing or dead. What’s happening to them? J’onn’s a powerful hero, but his power does him no good when he doesn’t know who the bad guy is or from where the threat originates. I think JM DeMatteis would write something like this quite well, and Tom Ostrander has the sort of moody art which would be perfect!

There’s two, and I went longer than I thought. Do you think they have potential, and do you have any of your own to add?

That’s so weird. I was making a mental list in my head and the Fantastic Four was one group that I had definitely decided could never be made into a horror book. And yet, your idea is strangely compelling. Although, to be honest, it reminds me more of a Challengers of the Unknown plot with some convenient superpowers thrown in for good measure.

For me, the obvious titles/teams/characters that could be turned in a horror direction are some of the ones we’ve already mentioned and revamped: The Defenders fighting off the supernatural in a largely covert manner, a la X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Doctor Strange in pretty much any situation; and, of course, Batman when he’s fighting one of his more psychological (or just plain psycho) foes like Scarecrow or Mad Hatter. I enjoy the twisted paths those stories could go down.

However, if I wanted to pitch a completely new direction for an established character, I would pick:

Vision and Scarlet Witch: I know, it’s kind of a cop-out choosing a character with the word “witch” in her name, but bear with me. I see this as more of an urban horror story. Vision plays the role of the vengeful ghost and Wanda is the troubled street urchin trying to convert the masses to her way of thinking. She has that Old World bent to her, but the metropolitan citizens ignore her and look down upon her. Vision visits the successful city businessmen who have shunned their morals in favor of greed and expansion. He’s a creepy robot, the perfect representation of technology run amok, and he can float through their freakin’ walls! The Vision has gone rogue and is taking out his vengeance on the leaders of this new economy. It’s up to Scarlet Witch to find a way to soothe the savage beast, as it were. I’d like to see this written by Warren Ellis, someone who knows a thing or two about current tech but also has a foothold in the paganistic side of things too. And the artwork needs to be done by someone who has a realistic and detailed style…maybe John Cassaday? Or Tim Sale?

Hulk: Given the Jekyll and Hyde background of the character, this is probably a bit of a cheat. At the same time, the Hulk has always been more about the anger and rage of being a monster than of the dark guilt and isolation of being a man with a troubling, uncontrollable secret. Bruce Banner has removed himself to a secluded village somewhere in South America, in the windy valleys of the Andes. He’s set himself up as the town doctor, attending to the elderly residents and the children of the village. But not is all as it seems. In fact, he learns that a lot of the injuries he’s trying to heal have been caused by some mysterious beast that haunts the fields at night. A strong-willed policewoman from the neighboring city has been tasked to track this villain down. Unfortunately for them both, she and Bruce fall in love and he joins the cause to help her hunt…him. This book would have to be written from a first person point of view, like some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest works, but with a modern nuance and awareness. I’d put Brian K. Vaughan up to the task. And the art style would need to be dark and muted, with the monster emerging from the shadows to claim its victims. I think Ryan Sook could pull this off well.

I think any of these stories, mine or John’s, would work well in an anthology book, similar to the recent X-Men and Avengers Fairy Tales series. Thoughts?

I really like your idea of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in horror stories, and your creative team is fine.  However, if I may suggest an alternate penciller, I’d like to throw out the name of Michael Bair.  He’s primarily known as an inker, and does a tremendous job in that capacity.  However, he has done some pencilling, and he did a short Vision story for an anthology (probably an Avengers Annual) where the Vision goes into a burning building to rescue a child.  His artwork was extremely moody and creepy (the child is afraid to go with the Vision because the Vision scares him, and a reader could certainly understand why!) and I think he might be an interesting choice.

Fantastic Four vs the Challengers of the Unknown:  honestly, aren’t they the same thing, except with superpowers and a family situation?  They’re both explorers, and you’re right, you could do the story with the Challengers, and it would be excellent.  In fact, perhaps that could be a good pitch for the next Challengers revival; something more horror related.

I do agree that any of these ideas could work if they were fleshed out.  You mention the Fairy Tales series Marvel published; why not a horror series?  Start producing it in the beginning of the year, and then release it weekly in October.  You could do two or three a year, four issues each, and if they come out once a week it could really draw in an audience, particularly at the spookiest time of the year.  You could release collected editions of them the following year 2-3 weeks before Halloween, while also releasing a new batch of weekly horror for that year.  It could be a nice marketing plan, and by the second year, you’d have single issues of horror for the comics shop crowd, and collected horror trades for the bookstore market! 


The other FF: The Frightful Four

Aug-12-08

Every superhero or superhero team has it’s archenemy, the one villain or group of villains which act as their opposite number, the foes who return to bedevil them on a constant basis. In the case of some superheroes, there may even be multiple villains vying for that honor. Who’s Spider-Man’s archenemy? Dr. Octopus? The Green Goblin? Venom? That can be a hard question to answer for some heroes, but there’s no doubt that all of the options presented for Spider-Man are well known archvillains. Other heroes also have archenemies who are very well known and respected. In the case of the Fantastic Four, their archenemies are….The Frightful Four!

Right? What, you expected me to say Dr. Doom? Well, I guess you’d be correct, but how could a villain group that patterns itself after the heroes they wish to destroy come in second on the archvillain countdown? In fact, many people would say that the Frightful Four come in a lot worse than second, contending that there are plenty of other Fantastic Four villains who are more dangerous and respected than the Frightful Four. Those people would be correct. So why does the Frightful Four suck so much? How can they be better? Let’s take a look.

The Frightful Four have been trying to destroy the Fantastic Four since 1966, so they’ve quite a bit of history behind them. The group was originally created by the Wizard, a mousy little genius who used to entertain people with his scientific tricks. Then Reed Richards popped up, and the Wizard suddenly didn’t look so cool. He vowed to destroy Richards to prove that himself smarter, and formed the Frightful Four for that purpose. He recruited his closest partner, Paste-Pot Pete, who renamed himself the Trapster. Perhaps recruiting someone named Paste-Pot Pete, who’s power was the ability to use a glue gun, was the first step on the road of suckiness for these guys, but if so, the Wizard was blissfully unaware. He next snagged the Sandman, Spider-Man’s villain. These three characters, for years, would form the nucleus of the Frightful Four. The last recruit was Medusa, the queen of the Inhumans, although she was suffering from amnesia at the time and didn’t realize she wasn’t a villain.

So, the original Frightful Four contained a 90 pound weakling who could fly, a nut with a glue gun, someone Spider-Man beat once by sucking him into a vacuum cleaner, and a woman with the power of super-hair. I have no idea why this group wasn’t taken more seriously.

After a few failed runs at the Fantastic Four, Medusa remembered she wasn’t a villainess, and left the group. She was replaced by Thundra, a super-strong woman from an alternate dimension….who soon decided that she wasn’t a villain either. Hey, at least she had a real power and didn’t try to beat people up with her hair.

The Frightful Four tried quite a few people to fill that last slot in their roster, but no one seemed to stick. They even had tryouts, where they had various supervillains audition for a role in their little criminal group. Yeah, that didn’t end well either. Finally, the Sandman reformed, and perhaps realizing that the Trapster was a total loser, the Wizard decided to rebuild his group from the ground up. He actually went out and recruited some people with power, including Hydro-Man (another Spider-Man villain), Klaw and Titania. He then went one step further, and recruited a rogue Watcher, making them then Frightful Five, but sadly, this proved to be a mistake, as the Watcher betrayed the Wizard’s team.

The latest iteration was originally a team of five again, but the Trapster was soon removed from play by the Wizard. This left the Wizard himself, his ex-wife Salamandra (a half-dragon), Cole (their daughter, who can change her mass) and Hydro-Man. This quartet was beaten because Cole betrayed the team, but the team escaped and is considered viable by those folks at Marvel. But what’s next for them? Is there any room for them in the Marvel Universe? They’ve never been particularly respected or feared; can they make a name for themselves as a super-villain team to beat?

How dare you demean Paste-Pot Pete like that! That man is a legend. Of course, considering the fact that the Wizard recently threw him under the bus, I guess I can’t blame you either. Hell, the guy saves Wizard from floating off into space on his faulty gravity disks and he repays him by throwing him into some weird time suck years later. That’s true friendship for you.

I find it kind of humorous that the Frightful Four is always brought down from the inside out. First Medusa pops out of her amnesia funk and turns on the group. Then, in their next go-round, Sandman decides he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. They make the fatal flaw of dragging a hypnotized hero, in this case Spider-Man, into battle alongside them only to have him turn on them. Wizard goes on to recruit an outright ridiculous lineup…Trapster, Man-Bull and Dreadknight…which gets its butt handed to it by some dude named Turbine and the Rangers (who???). Oh, and then there’s the incarnation featuring Constrictor, Taskmaster and Deadpool which is defeated by Ben Grimm and Franklin Richards. FRANKLIN f’in RICHARDS. The Frightful Four was bested by a child! Man, the only thing “frightful” about that group was Taskmaster’s mask.

I think the strength of the Frightful Four (or Five) is the fact that it attempts to set itself up as an opposite version of the Fantastic Four. That’s probably the reason why a lot of these lineups didn’t work. Wizard is always supposed to be the anti-Reed (it’s that whole smart guy ego thing) and I assume Trapster is supposed to match up with Human Torch. Right? Beyond that though, where do they go? Blastaar, Thundra and Titania all have a similarity to Thing, I guess. Not sure about the Invisible Woman doppelganger…was that supposed to be Klaw? Do sound waves counteract invisibility…uh…waves?

That’s where the whole premise unravels for me. If you’re not modeling yourself as direct opponents to your enemies, then you’re just a bunch of lame bad guys trying to make a name for yourselves and you’re going to get beat. Why do you think Spider-Man was always fighting groups of villains calling themselves the “Sinister Six” or the “Eerie Eight” or even the “Dubious Dozen?” They knew they couldn’t handle him alone because none of them matched up well with his powers. And numbers usually win. Except in comics.

The latest grouping, as odd as it was, actually made some sense as a parallel to the Fantastic Four. However, they seem to have taken it too far with the whole family aspect mirroring that of the Richards/Storm clan. Who knew Wizard had time (or the necessary skills) to land a half-dragon ex-wife, let alone create a child? And just how old is his daughter Cole? When did all of that happen? And, living up to the Frightful Four curse, Cole ends up turning on her daddy and causing the group’s defeat.

So how would I tweak things to make them more useful in the Marvel Universe? Well, the first thing would be to force Wizard into retirement. Seriously. He just can’t seem to grasp the notion that he’s not quite on the same level as Reed Richards. Granted, he will never step aside or turn over the name to another villain…so let’s just work with what we have.

Wizard lines up with Reed (at least in the implied intelligence realm…not at all on the powers side of things). I think there was a bit of ingenious casting with Hydro-Man in the most recent group to cancel out Human Torch’s abilities. I’d recommend including Hydro-Man’s buddy Shocker into the group just for the witty banter, but I know that would just lead to some sort of convenient in-fighting sure to doom the group’s success. A female wouldn’t be a bad addition and would play well against Sue…but who would that character be? It shouldn’t just be a female, it should be someone whose power is an opposite force. What’s the opposite of invisible? Not really a power, huh? And then, certainly, you need some sort of strong type to battle Thing. Rhino? Armadillo? Absorbing Man?

Hmm…I’ve always liked Absorbing Man. And he has an interesting skill set. Plus, he’s battled both Hulk and Thor to near standstills. Should effectively go toe-to-toe with Thing. The only problem is that puts two dudes on the team with the word “Man” in their names. Blah.

The female could be…uh…um…I dunno. Can you think of a female supervillain with the relative power of manipulating solid matter? Someone like Terra in the DC Universe maybe? Or someone who can control the air around her? Wind powers? Flight? I’m at a loss. I’m sure there’s someone obvious that I’m forgetting.

That’s a start though. Let’s build a team we think lines up nicely against the FF. Then we’ll try to figure out a motive (besides the obvious “Wizard is pissed that he keeps getting his ass handed to him” angle). Cool?

Lines up nicely against the FF how? It seems you’re leaning towards matching powers, and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go. I mean, does super-strength match up with super-strength, which seems to be where you were going in the above entry? If the answer is yes, then shouldn’t we match a villain with fire powers against the Torch rather than Hydro-Man?

I had always assumed that the Wizard, in wanting to beat Richards at his own game, kept his membership steady at 4 people, since if he beat the Fantastic Four with the Frightful Forty, he’d be in for some valid criticism that you don’t need to be a genius to win with those kinds of odds. However, if the Wizard is trying to beat Richards at his own game, what are the criteria he would use to choose the members of his foursome? All of the Fantastic Four are pretty competent, which should suggest that the Trapster should have been ditched a long time ago; is it possible that the Wizard believes that, if he beats the Fantastic Four using real loser supervillains, he’ll seem even smarter? Are we looking at a new team composed of Wizard, Trapster, Shocker and the Kangaroo? Then, when he stands over the defeated Richards he can scream, “And I did it with these pathetic rejects!”, thereby ensuring an even sweeter triumph?

I find the Wizard a fascinating character. He has such a high opinion of himself, and occassionally he is displayed as having a modicum of style and competence, but he’s never been someone I could consider an A List villain. Back in the 1990’s, Marvel had a crossover called Acts of Vengeance, where the most powerful and important Marvel villains teamed up. Wizard was one of those villains, but it was obvious that he barely qualified, and even the other members of this core group of archvillains considered him a loser. He was like the little kid brother who wanted to go play with his older brother and the gang. In fact, I think he was the only one of that group of master villains who was captured at the end of the crossover; I believe everyone else made a clean getaway. It’s like he has one foot in the big leagues, but he can’t quite crawl up there and take a seat at the adult table.

I think this is where the Wizard’s motivation comes from. He wants to prove he’s smarter than Richards, but more importantly, he wants to prove that he’s got it. The Wizard isn’t respected by anyone in the Marvel Universe; he gets no respect from the heroes, from the other villains, and probably from the general populace. The Wizard started out as a villain because he desperately craved the respect he felt Richards had stolen from him. I don’t think he’s still fixated on Richards (although I’ve no doubt that he’d love to make the stretchy hero pay for past indignities), but he sees beating the Fantastic Four as the first step on the road to the power and respect that he feels he’s due. I think that’s what the Wizard is doing; he’s creating a team that he can use to beat the Fantastic Four once and for all and show everyone that he’s the master villain he believes himself to be. He can’t win by brute force; he has to win in a way that shows off his cleverness and planning abilities, and if he can also prominently feature a few inventions of his, well, that would be icing on his cake.

Does that work as motivation to you? It’s kind of the old motivation, but expanded on and focused. Once we know the motivation he has, then we can figure out what sort of group he’d be likely to assemble.

There is something to be said about assembling a near-mentally-challenged group of baddies to take down one of the most respected clans in the Marvel Universe. Maybe Wizard is just so obsessed with proving himself that he feels he needs to surround himself with co-conspirators who are beneath him so that he can attempt to “shine.” Ridiculous thought, but conceivable nonetheless.

My attempt to line the two groups up hero-to-villain makes tactical sense…counteract their strengths or exploit their weaknesses. There’s not much you can do to fight a big, strong guy other than throw another big, strong person at them. However, you can effectively fight fire with water (or sand or…uh…glue?). That’s where I was looking when I was matching them up. The powers you can’t tangibly cancel out, like super strength or super smarts, you just have to try to line up toe-to-toe with. Which makes me think that you may be able to go a step further to battle back against the Invisible Woman…pit her against a person who can manipulate darkforce (like Shroud or Darkstar or Blackout or maybe even Spot).

Anyway.

Yeah, Wizard is widely disrespected. Maybe that’s why Trapster sticks around? I dunno. Although it makes me think of loser characters that writers have turned around in the comics and made interesting again. The first one that comes to mind is Vanisher, the old X-Men foe. He was completely useless with the most ridiculous costume. Then, decades later, he shows up in a slick business suit and becomes a sort of Fagin to the young mutant thieves known as Fallen Angels. It was a nice turnaround from obscurity to relevance. Maybe we need to do that with Wizard before he’s taken seriously again? Have him actually pull something off that he can brag about or just have him reinvent himself in a new image that makes people stop and think.

That’s two directions right there. Either surround him with complete tools and try to pull off the nigh-impossible…or rejigger his entire persona and make him viable as a leader again. What would you like to do?

You know, we also might consider the fact that he often staffs his team with losers like Trapster because that’s all he can get to work with him. As we continually state, he’s not got a lot of respect in the supervillain community. I would imagine he finds it difficult to get more powerful and competent villains to join his team, since they may be thinking that there’s no reason for them to hitch their wagons to this loser.

For that matter, a lot of villains may be unsure why they’d want to work with the Frightful Four anyway. I mean, what do they get out of it?

Wizard: “Come, join the Frightful Four! It will be glorious!”

Green Goblin: “Great! So, what’s the plan?”

Wizard: “We shall use my brilliant plan to destroy the Fantastic Four!”

Green Goblin (clearly excited): “That’s great! And then…”

Wizard: “And then we shall tell people that we used my brilliant plan to destroy the Fantastic Four!”

Green Goblin (perplexed): “Um, yeah, that’s great Wiz, but I mean, beyond that, what will…”

Wizard: “And then I shall have respect and people will fear me, and I’ll be invited to Doom’s barbecue’s and will finally be able to taste Kingpin’s award winning baked beans and…”

Green Goblin (rolling his eyes): “I’m outta here.”

I’m actually amazed he can even get the Trapster to join his team; what exactly is he offering these people that entices them to join his gang? In any case, all of the problems with the Frightful Four have to be traced back to the Wizard. He’s assembled the group, he’s created the plans, and I believe it’s his loser stench that permeates the group. You asked whether to surround him with losers and try and make him a legitimate villain. I’m not sure that the two are mutually exclusive. I am in love with the idea of the Wizard saying to himself that his victory over Richards will mean so much more if he’s using Mr. Fish from the old Power Man comic as a member of his team. However, even if we go the route of him using losers (and I’m not sure we should), the Wizard has to first be repositioned as a force to be reckoned with. As long as he’s seen as the loser of the Marvel Universe, his Frightful Four, no matter the membership, is going to be a joke.

So, our first mission has to be to make the Wizard dangerous. On the surface, that shouldn’t be too horribly difficult. First, the Wizard actually is very intelligent. That’s been shown again and again. Second, he’s ruthless. In some ways, he may even be more ruthless than your typical villain. This is someone who had no problems kidnapping a four year old Franklin Richards and torturing him for a plot. He made a deal with the Plantman to help him escape from prison, and when Plantman became a liability, he shot the poor sod into space, leaving him to asphyxiate. He is not a nice man and he has no real pretensions of being one.

I think the Wizard has one huge strike against him; he’s a tiny little guy who looks incredibly non-threatening. I think a new outfit is called for, one that makes him seem bulkier and more menacing. Right now I’m pretty sure I could punch this doofus out. While he doesn’t need to look like he can take the Thing in a fist fight, he should look a little more solid. Plus, I’d change his colors; right now his outfit has too many pale reds and light colors. I’d go with more blood reds and blacks. It’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s essential that we try and make the little twerp look more threatening.

Other ideas?

You make much sense, Kemo Sabe. The Wizard is a fool. Surrounding himself with other fools (whether greater or lesser than himself) is a fruitless effort that will continue to lead to defeat. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t really have anyone beating down his door to join up. Slim pickings lead to slim chances, right?

I like the idea of updating his look, however I think it will take far more than superficial tweaks to make him a worthy opponent for anyone shy of the Power Pack. There’s a tried and true cliché of villains pretending to go straight in an effort to lure their enemies into a trap. In the Wizard’s case, I think it holds a little more relevance than, say, Green Goblin attempting to do it for the billionth time. We can make it a really twisted game on his part too.

Take him out of his costume for a while. Let’s have him make a name for himself outside of being a dick. Perhaps he invents something infinitely useful in the Marvel Universe. He gains a level of acclaim, starts going on talk shows and headlining symposiums. We can really let his intellect shine. And then we can have him setting up a charitable organization and showing up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. All of this publicity would eventually get under Reed Richards’ skin…imagine the ridiculous twerp that your family beat up time after time going on to become someone famous. Your name is bound to be mentioned in every speech and interview he gives, yet he will increasingly be shown in a positive light.

The funny thing is, Wizard wouldn’t be doing any of this for any reason other than growing his prestige so he can recruit a better class of villain to assist him in taking Reed down a notch or two. It’s a creepy idea that is also pretty sad when you think about it. However, it would be impressive if he actually pulled it off and it would put him into a new level of evilness. You don’t see too many storylines where the villain wins. I’m not suggesting Wizard destroys the FF, but it would be interesting to actually have him beat them at some level and then escape to fight another day…kind of an “immoral” victory.

Of course, then it would be funny to have him do something stupid and get caught right after his glowing success…just to remind everyone that he’s still the Wizard. Is it wrong that even when I want him to succeed as a plausible villain, I still want him to revert back to his old ways? Is that just Marvel messing with my head for the past 30 years?

The Wizard is sitting in a dark, empty bar on a Tuesday afternoon telling some hack reporter about the one time he was really cool. And then he has to call Walrus to come drive him home, because he’s too drunk to operate his gravity disks…

Poor Wizard. Man, he just can’t catch a break! Even when he’s on top, you want to pull him back down!

Actually, your idea (as far as him becoming a celebrity again) is a superb one. It’s how he started out, and he does have a skill set which should allow him to amaze the masses. I very much like that idea, and I think it could work.

My first thought is not to have him go back to being a complete screw-up though. Of course, it could be argued that there’s no need to give the Fantastic Four a super competent villain in the Wizard; don’t these people already have a rogues’ gallery headlined by Dr. Doom? Do they really need anyone else on their case? I’d argue that yes, you can never have enough cool and competent villains, and when your rogues’ gallery also includes the Impossible Man, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the Puppet Master and the Mole Man, yeah, I think making the Wizard more villainous and keeping him that way could be a good thing. Let’s face it, the Fantastic Four may have the best villain in comics as their archenemy, but you can’t fight Doom every issue. Many of their “villains” have turned out to be misunderstood heroes (like Namor, the Inhumans and the Black Panther), and the rest of their villains tend to be pretty lame. And before someone suggests it, no, Galactus is not one of their villains, and isn’t even really a villain at all. Besides, if you can’t fight Doom every issue, you sure as hell can’t fight Galactus every issue.

I think that a more media savvy Wizard would be hesitant to get his hands dirty. Once he had the love of the masses, he’s not going to want to lose it by getting caught knocking around a four year old kid, or smacking a blind woman who got in his way. I think he’d step back to do more planning, and probably only actually go into action when his new Frightful Four actually took on the Fantastic Four in a fight. I also think, because of that, the Wizard would want a more competent group of allies, so no Trapster in this version of the Frightful Four. So, who would he recruit?

You make an important point about Wizard not wanting to get his hands dirty after achieving some sort of positive notoriety. I was thinking that myself and came to the conclusion that he would probably seek to recruit an entire Frightful Four sans himself. Four people who are wired in to his communication feed would allow him to be the leader without risking his reputation by being unmasked in the field. Plus, as you pointed out previously, it’s not like he’s some sort of combat expert or anything. Hell, they’d probably have a better chance of succeeding without him to slow them down in battle. And it would be rather sneaky of him if he used his intellect to devise some sort of remote-controlled Bluetooth devices that he could literally fry from a distance in case they get captured…like a secret agent placing a cyanide pill under his tongue…eliminating any evidence that could be linked back to him. Of course, he wouldn’t tell his recruits about this failsafe.

So, the question becomes who would he trust or think he could control, that would also be effective in the field. It’s hard to think of any successful villains in the Marvel Universe who don’t already work for themselves. Being a huge fan of the character, the first person that comes to mind for me is Taskmaster, the quintessential mercenary. However, he’s currently working for the good guys as a trainer with The Initiative (although rumor has it that The Initiative will be ending soon). I’ve already mentioned that I think Absorbing Man would be an adequate foe…he’s got a power that is nearly limitless and has gone toe-to-toe with Thor and Hulk repeatedly.

If you want to think about who could best neutralize the Fantastic Four, you have to consider what those four members are good at and what they sort of fall short in. Reed is the thinker, Ben is the brute, Johnny is the hotshot and Sue is the consummate defender. In that group, there really isn’t anyone who counters psionic abilities like telepathy, telekinesis or the like. And there’s no one in that group who has anything to do with magic. Those are two areas we could explore for additional villains.

And, to tell the truth, I don’t really mind Hydro-Man as a member. He makes a certain amount of sense, although he really isn’t the brightest bulb in Marvel’s villain ranks. I think we need a group of four who will not only work well together, but will also understand what they’re supposed to be doing. Don’t be too quick to throw out Trapster! I have a feeling he could hold a grudge and end up throwing a wrench into the group’s plans somehow…or not. He’d probably just end up gluing his hands together or something.

My internet access is a little wonky right now, so you’ll have to do a little more research on the villain side of things for me. Anyone stand out to you as a potential recruit for the Frightful Four?

The more I’ve thought of it, the more I love the idea of the Wizard achieving some mainstream fame, and being loathe to lose it. One of the things that makes the Wizard so boring at the moment is that he has nothing to lose. You know that, when he goes up against the Fantastic Four, he’s not going to win, and what happens when he loses? He goes back to jail….again. Oh, the humanity (read that in your best possible monotone for the full effect). By giving the Wizard something that can be taken away, we give him something to lose, making him a much more interesting character and a deeper villain (will his plans be better now, as he fears being caught? Will he do even more desperate things to avoid being captured?).

The first time he organizes a Frightful Four and doesn’t take a role in the battle, he can allow the group to know his identity, as he could take steps to make sure that, even if the villains are captured and rat him out, there would be no evidence to link them to him. After that first time, it might become more difficult for him to entice people to work for him, if they see him as throwing them under the bus when the going gets rough. That being said, he might be able to help his allies if they are captured without implicating himself, and I like the idea of him rarely taking direct action, but instead setting himself up as a controller and manipulator.

As for members….while we all tend to dismiss the Trapster as a useless stumblebum, he has on occasion been competent, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. Not only does he have an unbreakable adhesive that has managed to root Thor in place (and to the best of my knowledge, there is only one solvent that affects it), he also is a master of many sorts of traps and gadgets. Effectively directed, Trapster is the perfect member of a team such as the Frightful Four, and could honestly be useful in keeping any of the Fantastic Four out of a fight. Moreover, he’s someone the Wizard can trust, even though the Wizard has betrayed him in the past. I mean, Trapster either has a huge crush on the Wizard, or he’s the dopiest guy in the Marvel Universe, considering what he’s put up with dealing with the Wizard, and he keeps coming back for more!

The Absorbing Man certainly has the power to fight the Fantastic Four, that’s for sure. He’s also not someone that usually works on his own, and would probably be amenable to being a part of the group. Again, while he’s something of a super-strong guy, his powers are more versatile than they first appear, and he can really take on any member of the team. If he touches the Human Torch, he could easily duplicate his powers. He could take the Thing on, brick for brick. He could be rubbery like Mr. Fantastic; and wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when he touches one of the Invisible Woman’s force fields? Yeah, the Absorbing Man could be incredibly dangerous, bouncing around the battlefield, absorbing different powers as he needs them. He’d also be great against a lot of Reed’s inventions, since he could also absorb a lot of their properties.

I’d be tempted to add his wife Titania to the team. She’s been a team member in the past, and like her husband, she’s not someone who works well on her own. She’d cover the super-strength angle, giving the Absorbing Man more of a chance to absorb other sorts of abilities. This also gives the team a husband/wife coupling. I know we’re not trying to match the family feel of the Fantastic Four anymore, but I think it’s always interesting to have that sort of relationship between some members of your team. There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with a married couple, particularly when they’re the villains of the piece.

For the final member, I’m going to toss out Hydro-Man for someone who also does his best work when partnered with others, and someone who has also been portrayed as a loser. That would be Mentallo. This gives us someone with telepathic powers, which, as you pointed out, is something that the Fantastic Four have no real defense against (and precious little experience with). Moreover, if Mr. Fantastic’s brain is one of the Fantastic Four’s best weapons, what’s the most expedient way to neutralize that weapon? Find someone who can read his mind (telling you what that new invention is going to do before you get blasted by it, or knowing his plan before he even has time to tell his teammates), and potentially shut down his mind.

There’s my Frightful Foursome, who could combat the Fantastic Four under the direction and planning of the Wizard. All four of them can be effective, none of them are the leader type or likely to try and wrest control of the group from the Wizard. I think they could give a very good showing of themselves, and with the right plan, I think they could win.

I have a few thoughts on your selections, some positive and some questioning. First, the good stuff: Titania is an inspired selection. I knew she had a past with Absorbing Man, but I didn’t realize the depth of it. Not only has she previously been a member of the Four, she would also be the catalyst to bring Absorbing Man into the group…something I had been trying to figure out how to do. Also, the WIzard had attempted to use his family in the last incarnation as a sort of mirror of the Fantastic Four’s family dynamic. That didn’t seem to go so well. However, using Titania and Absorbing Man as the “family” is a way to inject that part of the team aspect without involving the Wizard and having him order his own peeps around.

I’m not as sold on your other half of the group though.

You spent the first half of this post dogging Trapster for being a loser and then you want him on the team after all? I have two thoughts on why he shouldn’t be involved. First of all, he and Wizard don’t seem to be getting along so well lately. I’m not even sure why Trapster continues to come back for more punishment, especially after Wizard maliciously put him in that time-loop thingy. Secondly, I don’t think Trapster has it in him. His abilities seem to work best in one-on-one fights against street-level heroes. He has beaten Daredevil and Spider-Man on separate occasions, but he always falls short in team situations. I still think Hydro-Man makes more sense and matches up well against Human Torch.

And Mentallo came to mind for me as well. He has a past in team-up situations and he has fought against Thing and the Fantastic Four. However, upon further research, his powers have some severe limitations. He can’t really use his talents against moving targets (???) and he’s susceptible to psionic feedback. I’d just be concerned that he’d be the weak link in the group (if Trapster is already taken out of the picture). So I’m on the fence about him right now. If you can make a credible argument for him, that’s fine. Perhaps it’s as simple as retooling him a bit…like we’ve talked about doing with Wizard. I mean, Mentallo is one of Marvel’s oldest villains (as is Trapster for that matter) and it would be cool to give him some new life as a character. It worked for his old partner The Fixer, who is now a long-term member of the Thunderbolts.

I don’t know if you read the recent Modok’s 11 miniseries, but Mentallo showed up in that (as did The Spot, a former member of the Legion of Losers, that I had talked about earlier on) and they added a few interesting personality bits to him and the others. Not a great story, but it had some cool character moments in it…and showed how treacherous it is to work in a group of back-stabbing, self-serving villains.

Like I stated in my previous response, I think it would be an intriguing side story to show Trapster irritated at being left out of the group. Maybe he tries to start up his own answer to the Frightful Four at some point and makes a complete fool out of himself. I dunno. There’s got to be some way to stick to the traditional view that the Frightful Four can’t cut it and yet have them win at the same time. It’s like I’m only half-serious about making this a successful revamp, huh?

I certainly understand why my feelings about Trapster seem a little schizophrenic. The reason I think he could work is because he actually is a talented maker of traps and glues, and used intelligently, he could be very effective in a team situation. In some instances, he has been effective within the Frightful Four, although that was mostly back in the 1960s when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first introduced this villainous quartet. So, yes, he has been portrayed as a total loser for years, but it seems that somewhere in there we have a character with potential, and one that really needs to be in a group. After all, the Trapster doesn’t really hurt people with his abilities, but instead he sets them up for other people to hurt. He needs those other three people.

The reason I keep trying to remove Hydro-Man from the team (he is so going to be your next one-shot, since you obviously have some sort of special place for him in your heart) is because he has NO personality. He is a walking gimmick, a set of powers to be used, but there’s no character behind them. He reminds me of the old Silver Age DC villains, where all you had was a neat costume and a specialty, so you got to be a villain, personality be damned. Trapster, on the other hand, has a personality, and if he’s trying to prove himself in this group, it makes him even more interesting. Why would the Trapster return to the group, and why does he keep submitting himself to the Wizard’s bullying? I think it’s obvious that the Trapster has a crush on the Wizard, and the Wizard knows it, and so he knows he can treat the Trapster any way he wants, and the Trapster will keep coming back for more.

Don’t like that? I’m okay with your not liking it, but if you really don’t want the Trapster (and I do like the idea of the Trapster creating his own team; he’d have to staff it with total losers. That could be a great story, and I could go that route.) could you possibly supply the team with someone besides Hydro-Man, someone who has a personality? Or at least come up with a personality for him?

As for Mentallo, I’ve never seen enough with him in it to say how well his powers work in a fight. If you think he’s underpowered, it would be simplicity itself to have the Wizard devise a helmet that could boost his powers. Or, perhaps Mentallo is more powerful than we’ve realized. I did read Modok’s 11 and Mentallo was killed in that series, only to reappear alive and well a few months later. Maybe he’s always downplayed his power so that people would underestimate him. If we don’t want Mentallo on the team, who else could we use?

I had more written, but the blog ate my post (which is “the dog ate my homework” for the new century). I wanted to suggest past members like Sandman or Klaw, but honestly, they aren’t really doing it for me. I also considered Volcana, since she has cool powers, and a history with Titania, so we could try and draw a Reed/Ben comparison with these two, but Volcana is a goodie goodie, and would never join the team. The Wizard could also do the mind thing with her that he did when the Sandman reformed, making her evil, but then would she have a personality?

We have half the team agreed on (Absorbing Man and Titania) and I think they’re excellent choices. Who rounds out this team?

After doing a bit more research on Wizard, Absorbing Man and their various connections, I’ve come to a few conclusions. First of all, there are a lot of useless villains in the Marvel Universe. And most of them appeared at one point or another in the Masters of Evil. Folks like Eel, Whirlwind, Tiger Shark, Gypsy Moth and Melter should probably never have been created in the first place. I do have a soft spot for Grey Gargoyle though.

My research also led me to accept Trapster as a necessary member of the Frightful Four. I mean, he is one of the founders of the group and has appeared in nearly every single incarnation. Also, if we’re going to remove Wizard from active battle, we should probably have someone out in the field who will easily represent the group. Trapster’s skills are a plus in team combat…did you know he has a powder that can render Mr. Fantastic’s “unstable molecules” inert? I’m not sure how turning the Fantastic Four’s uniforms into normal cloth will help in combat, but the visuals would be amusing. Add to that the bizarre love-hate history between Trapster and Wizard and I think you have the makings of some good comic books.

And I also discovered a one-off connection that could prove useful to the team. Wizard and the original Mysterio teamed up to battle Spider-Man once. That probably doesn’t mean much on the surface, considering Mysterio’s powers basically revolve around stage magic and a fishbowl helmet, but the newest Mysterio has much to offer the Frightful Four.

See, Kevin Smith introduced Francis Klum in his long-delayed Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries. Francis is a mutant with teleportation and telepathic powers. After being forced to kill his brother and then being attacked by Spider-Man, Francis vowed revenge. He contacted Kingpin and purchased Quentin Beck’s original Mysterio costume (along with a warehouse full of weapons and devices). Here’s where I think things could get interesting. Klum’s mutant abilities allow him to control people’s bodies without actually controlling their minds. He can also teleport himself (or just parts of his body) and has the full range of Mysterio’s costume tricks at hand…from smoke machines and leaping boots to electric-blasting gloves, dissolving acid fingertips, holographic projectors, hallucinogenic gases and built-in sonar. Lots of stuff to confuse and incapacitate.

Wizard, with his tech prowess, could most likely contact this new Mysterio through his suit somehow. He’d have no way of really knowing that this wasn’t the original Mysterio that he had teamed up with in the past. Could build an interesting dynamic. And, as a side note, could expose the fact that Wizard has been surreptitiously keeping tabs on all of his former associates.

Mysterio adds the mental power angle we were looking for, without tossing a perennial loser like Mentallo into the mix (though I could see Mentallo in an advisory role at Wizard’s side). And, with the addition of Trapster, gives us two characters who can run the whole “confuse and capture” angle of any successful superhero conflict. They provide the set-up while Absorbing Man and Titania execute the takedown. Mysterio and Trapster also give us some weapons that don’t involve hand-to-hand combat…distance and range can be effective tactics on their own, especially if they allow the rest of the team to get closer without as much danger to them.

So what do you think of that lineup? And how do you see the whole thing scenario playing out…from gathering the team, to laying down the plans, to following through?

I love that team! I’m a huge Mysterio fan from way back, and he’s always been my favorite of Spidey’s villains. I was quite perturbed when Kevin Smith killed him, but it looks like the new one has even more potential than poor old Quentin Beck ever did. Honestly, Absorbing Man and Titania have so much raw power between the two of them that the new group doesn’t need more power; having people with more subtle powers and powers that allow them to set up the bad guys is much more useful to the team (and can I say how much I love the idea of neutralizing the Fantastic Four’s unstable molecule clothing? Sue would have to expend extra power to make her clothes invisible, Johnny would be naked, and Reed would be stretching out of his clothes all over. I’m not sure if there’s combat potential here, but it would be amusing).

How does this play out? Okay, the Wizard gets out of jail and starts his plan to become the darling of the media, and gain popularity and the cover spot on People. He’s successful, but realizes that he still needs to show up (or destroy) Reed and his team. However, Wizard is loathe to lose his newfound acceptance, and also realizes that it can be helpful to his plans in the future. So, he needs to put together a new Frightful Four, one he can control (so no heavy thinkers) and one that has a chance at destroying the heroic FF. However, he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s behind this. What can he do?

He needs someone that he trusts, and the only person he knows who won’t betray him is the Trapster. Wizard had hoped to put this group together without including this guy, but he knows that the Trapster is loyal to the Wizard no matter what happens, so he approaches him. He explains to the Trapster that he wants to reform the villainous FF, and that he wants Trapster to lead the team in the field. Good old Pete is beside himself with glee, as it means that the Wizard is finally being nice to him and finally recognizing that he has some potential. Of course, that’s not really what this means, it just means the Trapster is the perfect fall guy, but hey, Pete can think whatever he wants to, and the Wizard sure as heck isn’t going to correct these misconceptions. The Trapster is in; he knows to never mention the Wizard and not to let anyone know the Wizard is involved. The Wizard also gives Trapster a new earpiece, with which the two of them can communicate.

Wizard knows the new team needs raw power, and Titania, a former member, has raw power in spades. He sends Trapster to recruit her. At first Titania is unimpressed with the idea of joining a group led by Trapster, but the Trapster (at the Wizard’s prodding, through the earpiece) offers her much money and the chance to take on Spider-Man (as a revenge fight) after the group is done with the Fantastic Four. He also outlines a little of the plan against the Fantastic Four; enough that Titania feels he knows what he’s doing. She agrees to join, with one condition; her husband, the Absorbing Man, joins as well. The Wizard is thrilled, as he wanted the Absorbing Man anyway, and the deal is sealed.

That’s three of the four. Wizard then sends Trapster to find Mysterio, and the scene before more or less repeats, using a form of persuasion more likely to entice the new Mysterio, although that might not be difficult, since Mysterio could see this as a chance to establish a new rep. There’s your foursome. Now they fight the Fantastic Four.

I think the fight would be a victory for the Frightful Four, and a victory in a public place. The victory would come from the plan; the Frightful Four would fight with the Trapster leading them, while he is receiving instructions from the Wizard (who can be a better leader now that he’s out of the battle and can sit back and observe). Once they beat the heroic FF, they keep them captive, and that’s when things go bad. The heroes get free, and without the pre-planning, the new FF lose; however, this isn’t a total rout, and they manage to escape, keeping them free and allowing us to do more with them in the future.

Also, while you could go through the entire story of the Wizard talking to the Trapster, and the recruitment of the team, which could be interesting, you could also do it a different way. Perhaps the first time we see the glimmerings of the new team is when the Trapster goes to recruit Titania. When he informs her that he’s restarting the Frightful Four, she asks about the Wizard. Trapster scoffs, saying that his former partner has gone legit, but just because the Wizard has left the field, it doesn’t mean that the Trapster has. This continues for the next few issues, and we move forward to where the Frightfuls beat the Fantastics. “But, how could you beat us?”, a broken Sue asks right before she slips into unconsciousness. “How indeed?”, replies the Trapster, as the camera zooms to his earpiece, and we then see the Wizard sitting at his control board, watching the scene and laughing to himself. “Yes, how indeed?”, he reiterates. Then we keep the Wizard’s involvement secret until late in the plot.

I think there’s a lot we could do with this villain group, and I’d want to keep these five together for quite a awhile, exploring the relationships between them. You?

The setup makes sense, but the way it is carried out has to be clear. If we’re going to spend time setting up the Wizard as a “winner” again, then it would be pretty silly to try to hide from the readers the fact that he’s behind this new Frightful Four. I mean, the Wizard’s comeback would be the backup story in the Fantastic Four title for a few months and then, just as he achieves something, we suddenly forget him and focus on this scene of Trapster recruiting members? Overall, I like the idea of holding back some info, but this way just seems rather jumpy to me.

In my college writing classes, I was always taught to start the action as late into the scene as possible. Perhaps we take some of that advice and tell the story in a disassembled outline…similar to Tarantino’s vision of Pulp Fiction…or we start at the end sort of like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Also, I think some of the problem is that we’re trying to tell two different stories here at the same time. Wizard’s rise to fame needs to happen almost on its own, with a few issues’ worth of pause in between before the new Frightful Four recruitment drive begins, just so readers can let it all settle in first. Or, even after Wizard reaches the top, we can continue to show backup stories where his new public persona really starts to get under Reed’s skin. There are definitely a few ways to handle it.

I’m also not sold on the idea of the Frightfuls holding the Fantastics captive. I’d much rather see some sort of hit-and-run attack where they survive to cause havoc another day. Better yet, I’d like to see a series of victories that really force the Fantastics to reevaluate the way they do things. Could start out with small wins like disabling Johnny for a while, then stealing some gadget of Reed’s, then popping Ben into another dimension, and so on until the big faceoff. Let’s give the heroes a real threat that keeps coming back to hit them in the jaw…divide and conquer, rattle their beliefs, instill some doubts and fears. You’re right that there’s some real power in this foursome and there’s also some really conniving individuals who have been beaten down repeatedly and are looking for some payback in any form possible.

And you’re right, there are a lot of internal relationships we could explore in the group…from Crusher and Titania’s marriage to the volatility between Wizard and Trapster to the unknown identity issues of Mysterio. There’s also the new dynamic of Trapster being some sort of a “leader” in the group versus what is really going on behind the scenes. Lots of layers there. Layers are good.

So I’ve reached a resolution within myself not to push so hard to make these guys a failure again. I’m behind the revamp 100% and I think our reasoning is pretty sound. And I think we can deliver a shocking arc that really gives some strength and emotion to the sometimes namby-pamby feel of the Fantastic Four book.

Y’know, then we can get some Doom in there!

I like it! Your points are well taken, and I think this can work. I also like the suggestion of some hit and run attacks on the Fantastic Four, and while we’ve been focusing on the villains, this team has the real potential to affect the heroes as well. I love the idea of Reed becoming annoyed at the Wizard’s success. He’s often shown as being above all human emotion, but of course he isn’t. It’s not so much that he is jealous of people, but the Wizard has tried to kill Reed and his family many times in the past; of course Reed would be frustrated when this guy starts becoming popular!

I also see Johnny and Ben being annoyed that this team of lame losers, who the Fantastic Four have defeated handidly in the past, now is beating them, even if it’s just small victories in the hit and run style. Those small victories might not normally be enough to really annoy anyone, but because they’re being won by a team that the Fantastic Four had written off as useless makes them that much more meaningful (I can hear Johnny worrying about what Spider-Man will say when he finds out that the Trapster somehow got one over on the Torch).

You ended this so well, but I had to make a few comments, because this me more excited than any revival of the Frightful Four rightfully should. But here, since your ending was good, we’ll just use it again.

So I’ve reached a resolution within myself not to push so hard to make these guys a failure again. I’m behind the revamp 100% and I think our reasoning is pretty sound. And I think we can deliver a shocking arc that really gives some strength and emotion to the sometimes namby-pamby feel of the Fantastic Four book.

Y’know, then we can get some Doom in there!


It starts here! Marvel’s Secret Wars!

Jul-29-08

Ah, summer. For comics fans, summer is often known as the season of the big event. Just as the movie studios release most of their large blockbusters during the summer months, the big comics publishers also tend to pack the summer months with huge mini-series which promise to fundamentally alter their universes and after which “…nothing will ever be the same”! It’s an exciting time for some fans, and a frustrating time for others, but this has been the status quo at Marvel and DC since the mid-1980s. It was in 1984 that Marvel began releasing what many people consider to be the first of the huge mega-events, Secret Wars, or more accurately, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.

By today’s standards, Secret Wars bears little resemblance to most mega-events. First of all, it was twelve issues long, which is much longer than any event has been since (with the exception of Crisis on Infinite Earthsat DC, which would be another post). Today, these events tend to somewhat derail the storylines of most titles, and the companies don’t want that going on for an entire year (well, except for DC the last few years, which mega-events haven’t really ended since Identity Crisis, but that’s unusual). The other difference is that Secret Wars didn’t really crossover into any other comics. While there were issues of various books which showed heroes reacting to a strange structure that suddenly appeared in Central Park, which whisked the heroes away after they entered it, these scenes were very short and not very important. Otherwise, books didn’t crossover with Secret Wars. Again, today, when a mega-event is happening there are bound to be many regular series which break into their ongoing storylines to feature tales that relate to the crossover, and there are usually special mini-series that also relate directly to the main story. Of course, when Marvel decided to do a sequel called Secret Wars 2 the following year, they addressed both of these problems; the sequel ran only nine issues (which is still somewhat long by the standards of today) and there were crossovers galore.

Secret Wars was written by Jim Shooter, who was then also Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, and it was pencilled by Mike Zeck. The plot couldn’t have been simpler: a powerful extradimensional entity called the Beyonder teleports Marvel’s most famous heroes and villains across the universe to a planet that he created just for them. He then tells them that they must fight, and whichever group wins will be granted anything they desire. There’s your premise. It’s basically every comic reading child’s fantasy, forcing team-ups (both heroic and villainous) and fights galore.

Secret Wars did well, sales-wise. Very well. It also spawned a line of action figures. After Marvel saw how profitable it was, they decided to do the follow-up series, Secret Wars 2. Jim Shooter again wrote the main series, this time aided by Al Milgrom on pencils. The plot this time was that the Beyonder had come to Earth and wanted to understand….well, everything. He wanted to understand humanity, his place in the universe, good versus evil…he was insatiably curious.

There is so much to discuss here, and I’m not sure where to start. These two series couldn’t be further apart in tone, style or appeal. They also bring to mind discussions on how they relate to the event series of today, what could have (and perhaps should have) been done differently in them, and what the heck was up with the Beyonder in the first place. Where should we start?

Let’s start with a list of all the great things that came out of Secret Wars:

  1. Spider-Man’s black costume
  2. Denver’s comeuppance
  3. White guys dressing like Michael Jackson
  4. Action figures (all with the same body) packaged with lenticular shields.

That’s about it. And, really, #4 is a stretch. How many times have you seen Wolverine going into battle carrying a bulky shield with his face on it? But, dammit, Denver deserved what it got!

I think there’s a lot we could say about both of these series. The completely divergent storylines are the first headache that come to mind for me…especially the unnecessary ridiculousness of the sequel. After that’s covered, I think we should explore how the Secret Wars phenomenon translated into a mess of big company crossover event books (like all the ones Marvel pumped out during Annual Season every year).

You make a good point with DC’s continuing crisis. I can’t recall a time when so much effort was invested into condensing a comic universe into a singular (in)coherent event. It screams of insincerity to me. Obviously, there are other things going on in the lives of these heroes and villains that would garner their attention. For that matter, there are other heroes in other countries who could care less about how Batman is handling the arrival of Darkseid. Honestly, forcing the issue into some sort of line-wide gospel is extremely short-sighted and only works towards hurting readership on those titles whose readers don’t want to get involved.

You can point to dozens of instances where a certain family of books is drawn into a crossover event, and that makes infinitely more sense to me. If Spider-Man is being bothered by the ghosts of his parents in Amazing Spider-Man, then it stands to reason that that annoyance would continue across Sensational Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Pretty Cool Spider-Man, Kinda Hungry Spider-Man, and all the other 73 Spider-Man titles that Marvel publishes. See also, the X books.

But first, Secret Wars: What’s up with that?

Well, I have to admit….I like Secret Wars. Is it high art? Um, not even close. Was it a cynical marketing ploy designed to sell toys. Well, yes. Was it good, straight-forward superheroey fun? I say yes. Now, the sequel? That was a train wreck from the word go. Let’s examine how these two series couldn’t be further apart in terms of quality and execution.

The original Secret Wars miniseries, as we mentioned above, had no real crossover issues to speak of. It was twelve issues, self-contained. This is a good thing, as it allowed the entire story to be told by one creative team, and it also kept the story focused. Secret Wars had a definite plot, and it moved along that plot without veering too far afield. Every reader knew what the final goal was, and yet there are still some twists and turns here. It would have been easy to simply have the heroes and the villains fight it out, but Shooter kept most of our cast in character, and so we saw the heroes splinter, when the X-Men left their group, and we saw problems with the villains, starting in the first issue when Kang tried to assassinate Dr. Doom. Yes, the last few issues bog down a little when Doom steals the Beyonder’s power, but mostly the series is good clean fun.

Moreover, Secret Wars did something that all of these event series promise, and precious few deliver; it made changes to the Marvel Universe. You laugh at the changes it wrought, but it actually did make some long lasting changes. Besides introducing Venom (or the costume which would become Venom) it also introduced Volcana, Titania and the new Spider-Woman (now known as Arachne). This series is where She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four (which caused huge changes in that title), and it’s where the Molecule Man went from being a villain to being…well, whatever he is now. It started Magneto on his way to being a hero (although he’s changed back to a villain now, so perhaps we shouldn’t count that). Some of these are important to the Marvel Universe even now, but at the time, the Marvel Universe really was different after Secret Wars.

Now look at the sequel. This sequel had tons of crossovers, with just about every title that Marvel published crossing over at some time. Interestingly, Marvel seemed proud of this, and they even boasted that this was crossing over with all of their titles. It was so crazy that Circuit Breaker, a character from their Transformers comic, which was a comic that didn’t even share a continuity with the Marvel Universe, appeared in an issue of the series. It’s tempting to say that it was the huge amount of crossovers with the main miniseries that caused the story for Secret Wars 2 to become diluted and hard to follow. In actuality, that’s probably because the storyline for this series was so nebulous and hard to define as it was. While the original miniseries had a straightforward premise, the one for this series was harder to pin down. The Beyonder wants to learn about….humanity? Himself? Life, the universe and everything? Why the hell was he here anyway? No one seemed to know, and since his personality went all over the place during the miniseries, I never knew either. Some issues he was curious, sometimes he was angry, sometimes he was helpful….it was like the writers had a personality dartboard, and that’s how they determined what was going on with him.

Meanwhile, everyone learned something that should have been obvious from the start, but apparently wasn’t: cosmic beings are dull and boring. Seriously, who wants to read about the omnipotent? If the heroes have no chance of beating your antagonist, the story has no drama. Slugfests against those who can shatter universes, especially when some of the people involved in the slugfest can’t even lift a Buick, makes for a dull slugfest. The Beyonder could do anything, so what was the point? Ugh. The entire affair was horrible, just horrible.

At least, that was my take. Yours?

Well, you know, I’m not a fan of the cosmic storylines or the omnipotent villain types (even if they’re just “misunderstood”). But one thing that the first Secret Wars had going for it was the fact that they created an entire world just for the storyline. You didn’t have to worry about forcing a character into a setting that it wouldn’t work in…you merely plucked them from their own existence and put them on a pseudo-Earth. That way, the story could take place in its own sort of continuity, free from outside interference.

I can’t recall off the top of my head…how was it explained that these particular heroes and villains were missing in action for a year? Weren’t they only missing from their own books for a single issue or so? I seem to remember Spider-Man disappearing and then coming back with the black costume (and wasn’t it a chicken-and-egg type situation where people were saying it appeared first in Secret Wars and others said it appeared first in Amazing Spider-Man?).

My memory is obviously hazy, having only read the series when it first came out waaaaaay back in 1984 when I was going on 13. However, I do recall being slightly annoyed by the Beyonder. It seemed like they were just making up powers for him as they went along…until I realized he was able to do pretty much anything. Then I really got annoyed. How are you supposed to have an intriguing storyline pitting the good guys against a common threat, when there’s absolutely no plausible way for the heroes to win? They had to make up an excuse for beating him, like one of them tapped him on the shoulder and, while he was distracted, they used a space vacuum to suck the lifeforce out of him…or something like that.

I will commend them for keeping the action contained in its own series. There’s definitely something to be said for that these days, especially looking at the latest Previews and the ridiculous amount of spin-off miniseries that DC’s Final Crisis has inspired. At the same time, you have to question the intelligence behind a 12-issue maxiseries. The storyline wasn’t that strong to begin with, and then they wanted to drag it out for an entire year? Wow. Like you mention, the only other 12-issue series I can remember are Crisis on Infinite Earths (which encompassed the entire DC Universe) and both Squadron Supreme and Watchmen (which were their own self-contained adventures). Attention spans just don’t seem to be what they were anymore, huh?

At the same time, Secret Wars II was a unique miniseries too. By putting the Beyonder on a sort of “quest” to find himself or the source of humanity, they gave the plot a flexibility that enabled it to crossover into such wildly divergent titles as Rom, Dazzler, Power Pack, Alpha Flight, Cloak & Dagger, Doctor Strange, Power Man & Iron Fist and New Mutants. Too bad the story itself sucked.

The Beyonder started dating Dazzler, became the head of a crime syndicate, killed Death, turned the Heroes for Hire building into gold, inspired a cult, killed the New Mutants, then changed his mind a undid everything before Molecule Man “killed” him and his energy returned to the pocket dimension it originated from. We learn later that Beyonder was just some sort of immature Cosmic Cube. And THEN, Bendis rewrites history during his Illuminati miniseries and says the Beyonder was just some sort of mutated Inhuman with delusions of grandeur. Ridiculous.

People lambast Secret Wars II for being such a load of crap, which it is, but as far as convoluted crossover miniseries go, I don’t find it to be that offensive. Since the story didn’t make much sense to begin with, you weren’t required to catch every single affected title to understand what was going on. Compare that to the headache-inducing Atlantis Attacks event that ran through all of Marvel’s titles’ annuals (and interludes in two regular issues as well) which assumed that every Marvel reader read every title and collected every annual. That story made no sense if you didn’t read every part…and Marvel was notorious for doing junk like that every year…Evolutionary War, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, Operation: Galactic Storm, Infinity War, Infinity Crusade, Maximum Carnage, Age of Apocalypse (which confused the hell out of me), Maximum Security, blah blah blah. Out of those, only The Evolutionary War took place solely in annuals, but you get the point anyway. Seems like Secret Wars broke open the floodgates.

So, here’s an idea. Since our blog is all about reimagining things to make them better, do you think we should talk about how we would’ve made Secret Wars better (*cough*DON’T PUBLISH IT*cough*) or do you think we should tackle how to make long-form comic book events better? Hmm?

First, let me correct a few points of confusion for you. Yes, the mini-series was 12 issues long and took a year from start to finish, but that didn’t mean the heroes were gone from the Marvel Universe for a year. Remember, this is Marvel time. The entire Secret War lasted about two weeks, if I recall, so the heroes weren’t gone long at all. Still, their absence was noticed in the Marvel Universe at large, and it was quite a big deal. As for how they dealt with the fact that heroes returned one month after they left (real world time), but we wouldn’t find out about their adventures for an entire year, well, all the heroes had agreed not to discuss the events of their little Secret War, on the advice of Reed Richards. Reed had decided that, if regular humanity had any idea of the cosmic events the heroes had witnessed, or knew of the existence of someone whose power was on the scale of the Beyonder’s….well, old Reed thought that normal people couldn’t handle that sort of knowledge. So, everyone agreed to keep the war a secret. In my opinion, what’s the difference to a normal guy between the power level of Galactus and the power level of the Beyonder? They’re still omnipotent to any one of us.

Also, while the Beyonder was somewhat annoying in the original miniseries, he wasn’t important. He shouldn’t have annoyed you, because he served simply as a plot device. He needed to exist to bring the heroes and villains together and to create the patchwork planet on which they would fight. He’s in the first issue, and then isn’t seen again until #10, and then he returns for the finale in issue #12. All told, he probably has about 20 lines of dialogue in the entire series. I’m not sure why Little Jason would have been bothered by the Beyonder when he read the original series, because the heroes weren’t supposed to fight him. Nobody was supposed to, and the only one who did was Doom. The Beyonder was like the Grandmaster, but even more of a Maltese Falcon; he existed solely to set up the plot and move it forward. Yes, he was contrived and he was a blank slate, but he was a simple way to get things moving, and he served his purpose well. The mistake was to bring him back for the sequel and try and craft a story around someone of his power level.

In response to your question, I’d rather tackle the problem with these two series alone, and we can hit other events if we feel like it. I’m sure we’ll discuss how to do events better as we go along, but for now, I’ll just focus on these two series.

First of all, let me say that, on the surface, I have no problem with these huge crossovers. I think that most superhero fans enjoy this sort of thing, where heroes and villains team-up, and these crossovers help remind readers that these events all occur in the same universe. The largest problem with crossovers (in my eyes) is when they derail a lot of strong titles in a comic universe with crossovers, and when they meander along with no real plot. The first Secret Wars didn’t commit either of these crimes, and the sequel was guilty of only the latter (most of the crossovers for this miniseries that I read seemed to fit into the ongoing storylines pretty well). I certainly would have published the first Secret Wars. I think it’s fun. It’s not Watchmen, Maus or Fun Home, but it’s a good summer blockbuster. You buy your popcorn, you sit down, and for twelve issues you watch colorfully clad characters cavort. I think the miniseries stalled and almost dies in the last three issues (when Doom challenges the Beyonder for his power and the aftermath of that; certainly that was in character for Doom, but the story stops dead at that point and never really picks up again. It’s easy to see why, since I’ve been praising the book for keeping the omnipotent Beyonder off the stage and once Doom becomes omnipotent, we’re stuck with him as a main character for the last three issues. Yawn). I think it was a huge mistake to have Doom actually steal the power of the Beyonder, and were I writing it, I would not have gone that route.

If it had been my series, I would have had the heroes realize what Doom was planning (and really, would that have been so difficult? It’s classic Doom behavior….of course he’s going to try and steal omnipotence!). The last few issues would have dealt with the heroes attempting to halt Doom, and they would have succeeded. In the long run, that’s a heck of a lot more heroic than watching your deadliest enemy succeed at his plans, which is what happens in the story. Once the heroes had won, the Beyonder could have made his second (and last) appearance in the series (after introducing the plot in issue 1) and sent everyone home. Anticlimactic? I think not, since basically the series did end with the heroes just sending themselves home. Perhaps they could have made it more interesting by having the heroes actually capture Doom and plan to put him on trial when they returned to Earth. Doom has never been tried for his crimes, and if his usual defense is diplomatic immunity, well, this time he was caught in an area where he has no diplomatic immunity. Now he’s been apprehended, and he is going to be tried before a World Court for crimes against humanity (like Magneto was).

As for a sequel…..I’m not sure if a sequel would have been necessary. If there was one, I would have never shown the Beyonder, or allowed him much time in the spotlight. The Beyonder could have actually had a long life in the Marvel Universe, showing up as a cosmic deus ex machina or as a plot device when needed. Would people have wanted to know more about him? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean you give them more. The Beyonder should never be explained. He should be a voice and nothing more, except perhaps for a light from the sky or something equally mysterious. I understand why they didn’t want to have him grab more heroes and villains for another Secret War (that would have been redundant), but there has to be a better way to go than trying to define the undefinable. I think I would have left the series after the original and not done a sequel.

You’re right. Little Jason was recalling an amalgamation of both Secret Wars series. However, that does not mean that the Beyonder shouldn’t annoy me. Just look at the guy. You know I have an inherent aversion to all things cosmic and the Beyonder manifests all of the phenomenon’s worst attributes in one jheri-curled mess. I refuse to believe that the Beyonder should have ever been created…and his was a ridiculous origin (and an even more bizarre series of retcons) from the beginning. And, even though you seem to be advocating his return on some level, I can’t even fathom his existence as a “spirit voice” or plot device in the least. What’s the point? I mean, he’s already dated Dazzler…the Paris Hilton of the mutant world.

Taking it one step further, what was the point of the first Secret Wars itself? To pit heroes against villains? Doesn’t that happen organically anyway? Marvel seemed to be instituting just another version of their Contest of Champions from a year or two prior.

Y’know, now that I have a chance to reconsider my opinion, I may not be so enamored with the idea of a 12-issue maxiseries in this format. If you look at the entire product, Watchmen and Squadron Supreme are much stronger stories than Secret Wars. The standalone aspect of these books lends itself better to an extended storytelling format where characters can develop without having to worry about affecting overall continuity. Secret Wars was kind of awkward.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with anything you’re saying, except that I think you’re taking Secret Wars too seriously. Do I think the Beyonder should come back? Good grief no. I don’t at all mean to advocate his return. What I was saying was, if Marvel felt they had to use him again after the first series, they never should have tried to make him a character. The Beyonder is not a character; he’s a plot device. He’s a clunky, awkward plot device. He existed to make Secret Wars work. Was he needed? I’d say probably not, since the Grandmaster could have basically done the exact same thing, and he was already established. Still, the Beyonder was created to fulfill a role, not to establish a character. It was when Marvel brought him back for the sequel that they tried to make him a character, and that was there mistake. What I was saying was that, if the Beyonder had to be brought back, he should have been brought back as an enigmatic cipher, as he was in the first Secret Wars, and he should never have been developed. No physical form, no attempt at a personality….nothing. That was a bad idea.

In the end, we seem to agree on one thing: cosmic characters ruin storylines, particularly when they’re placed in the center. We also seem to agree that crossovers started as an excuse to sell toys and comics, and not as a story that really needed to be told. I think that, once you get past the contrivances, the first ten issues of the original Secret Wars was good solid fun, like a good summer popcorn movie. You seem to disagree. And we both agree that the second series had no redeemable qualities whatsoever. These were not exactly the perfect models from which to build future crossovers. Unfortunately, many of the negatives we’ve mentioned would continue in the future.


Iron Man: Is he in need of an overhaul?

Apr-29-08

Iron Man. Tony Stark. The Armored Avenger. ShellHead. Call him what you will, he’s been one of the mainstays of the Marvel Universe since the early 60s. As a founding Avenger and the star of his own series, he’s been involved in almost every major event that has plagued the denizens of the Marvel Universe for decades. However, he really took center stage during the recent Civil War that rocked the Marvel Universe, becoming the spokesperson and main proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act, leading the forces who supported that Act, becoming director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and revealed as a mover and shaker for years behind the scenes as the creator of The Illuminati. Many people who read Civil War and it’s various crossovers came to regard Iron Man as a villain, and he has been often portrayed as a fascist over the past few years. When we take a closer look at his recent actions, we can begin to answer the question: does Tony Stark need to be revamped, and his continuity cleaned, in the current Marvel Universe? My answer…not so much.

Civil War was really a question of vigilantes over official law enforcers. We accept vigilantes in our super-heroic fiction, as they are a staple of the genre. However, when considered, do you really want someone with the power to blow up a city block to be running around without supervision? It makes tremendous logical sense to try and identify and train super-humans, rather than allowing them to act with impunity. It would also make sense that, if such a law were passed, even if someone with superpowers did not agree with it, they should register. If they register, they are in compliance with the law, and can attempt to make changes to it from within the system, which is really the only way legislation can be changed. if they don’t register, then they are criminals, further enforcing the stereotype that super-powered vigilantes can’t be trusted, and these superheroes are now unable to change the legislation, since they are now operating outside the law.

Honestly, the entire attitude of Captain America and his anti-registration forces made no sense. What, exactly, were they trying to achieve? They spent most of their time trying to figure out how to beat up Iron Man. Had they won their war against Iron Man, then what? Iron Man neither created nor passed the Registration Act, and his defeat would not have repealed it. Defeating Iron Man would have simply made Cap and his followers appear more dangerous and unstable, which again would have strengthened support for the Act. In many ways, I felt Captain America’s reputation was more damaged than Stark’s during Civil War, as I’ve never seen Cap so unwilling to try and talk through a problem, and I’ve never seen him fight for so long without some sort of plan for victory. However, talking about Captain America and his continuity after Civil War is another post, and besides, Cap managed to avoid dealing with his actions during the War thanks to his assassination.

So, with all that being said, why would anyone call Stark a fascist? Well, unfortunately, there were certain issues during Civil War, both of the main series and of some crossover issues, where he came off looking really bad. Now, anytime you have a character starring in multiple books written by multiple writers like this, you’re going to get slightly different variations on a main character. Some writers simply don’t understand the character, and some writers will force the character to fit the role they require the character to fit for their particular issue, effects on that character’s continuity be damned. There’s also the problem that the writer and guiding force behind the main Civil War series, Mark Millar, is about as subtle as a freight train carrying cinder-blocks down a steep hill. If he wanted to make the argument more even handed, and favor Captain America and his allies, Millar simply had to make Stark act like a fascist prick.

Some of the problems with Stark may have arisen out of problems with the Registration Act itself. For example, the Act proclaimed that anyone with superpowers had to register, whether they intended to use their powers or not. I loudly disagree with this; registration makes sense if you plan on donning tights and punching Dr. Doom on his schnoz the next time he attacks the city, but if you are going to live quietly in the suburbs, raising petunias, then I see no need for you to register. For all we know, Stark may have disagreed with this provision as well (I don’t recall him defending it) and he may have felt that it was unimportant and could be dealt with later, after the rebellion had been put down (and really, how many super-powered people in the Marvel Universe decide not to use their powers?). Either way, it’s not really a reflection on Stark. Sadly, it’s also not why most people call him a fascist.

Stark was culpable in two major incidents that led to the fascist label, and sadly, I can’t argue as convincingly in his defense on these points. The first was the creation of a clone of Thor, a clone that would eventually go wild and kill Bill Foster. The second was the creation of a prison in the Negative Zone for use in incarcerating the heroes who refused to agree to register. Both of these events are mind-bogglingly stupid, and I can only believe they were used (particularly the clone) because they wanted a moment of shock and awe in the books. I don’t believe for a second that Stark would attempt to clone Thor. I know that Stark is a fan of science, but the simple fact remains that he and his forces did not need the extra power to defeat Cap’s Resistance Movement, and even if they did, he would be much more likely to create different suits of armor and use those against the Resistance than he would be to participate in the cloning of someone he had considered a friend. As for the Negative Zone Prison, there is a certain logic in noting that the public might be safer with the offenders locked away somewhere away from innocent bystanders, but I do not believe he would condone locking people up without allowing them access to due process and their civil rights. It went against everything that he stood for by supporting the law of the land, and I simply have no words to defend it.

There is one other point that many dislike, and that is the use of super-villains in helping to track down and capture the heroes, particularly the Thunderbolts. I honestly don’t have a problem with the idea of using some super-villains for this purpose. However, I will be the first to admit that the choices that were made in the villains they were using, again, made no sense. No one in their right mind would use extremely unstable individuals, with no record of being controllable or penitent, like Bullseye and Venom. They are both extremely psychotic and strong willed, and using them seemed to be a large risk for little payoff (especially Bullseye; he’s your high-powered help?). The only excuse I can make is that these are all villains with which Stark was not familiar; he was not a regular opponent of either of them (did he fight either of them, ever?) and I can see him dismissing Bullseye as a threat, since Bullseye has no powers. Perhaps Stark simply didn’t feel that either of these people could really give him any trouble, and if they got out of control, he’d simply take them down. Still, it’s a very weak moment.

So, there are definite instances of Stark acting badly out of character during Civil War. Yet, I’m still saying we shouldn’t try to fix his continuity. Why? Well, everyone involved in Civil War(or almost everyone) acts out of character. I’ve already said that I found Captain America to be extremely poorly handled. Mr. Fantastic also comes off extremely poorly throughout these issues, also appearing fascist. I believe the Thing acts out of character, by refusing to choose a side during most of the conflict. Dr. Pym seems out of character; he may be mentally unbalanced at times, but again, here he comes off as a demented mad scientist. The Wasp appears to have had her personality removed for the entire series. I’m not sure that I buy Dr. Strange’s actions, ignoring the whole thing, until the last minute when he finally feels he needs to get involved. There are many other instances, and I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained by running around trying to explain why everyone was acting out of sorts for that period of time. Let’s just say that some people got a little carried away and leave it at that.

Secondly, Tony Stark left Civil War in a very interesting position. First of all, he’s the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a great move. If any hero could hold that position, I believe it’s Stark. He understands S.H.I.E.L.D., as he helped to create it and has worked with it for years, and he also understands running large organizations with levels of bureaucracy. He is a good man, which is needed to lead the biggest intelligence organization in the world, yet he also understands that occasionally rules must be bent, a necessity for the spy trade. Plus, Stark is interesting when he’s out of his armor as well as being resourceful, and I like the idea of him leading missions out of the armor when such actions would be appropriate. Moreover, Stark now has a leadership position in the super-hero community and his relationships with the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe have either been strengthened to a great degree (as with Henry Pym and Ms. Marvel) or have been damaged to a great degree (as with Spider-Man and the New Avengers). These updated relationships have helped to make a character fresh, and for a character that’s been in the Marvel Universe for 45 years, that’s no small feat.

So, my suggestion is to ignore the mistakes of Civil War and don’t spend time trying to explain why he made some bad decisions. Use those bad decisions as part of his character and use it to explore who he really is. When he runs into someone from that time period (like Ben Grimm, for example) let Grimm bring up the death of Bill Foster, and let Stark try to defend it. It could be quite an interesting scene. Trying to undo that time would mean undoing all of the interesting things that have happened to Stark since then, and to return him to the status of mere super-hero and a more mediocre existence. Let him shine as a star for awhile.

Ooh…this one’s gonna get juicy, because I disagree with nearly everything you said!

First off, I don’t want to base any sense of “fixing” any Marvel characters off the anachronistic and convoluted events in Civil War. Tony Stark is a character out of time. By basing his origin directly in the time of the Vietnam conflict, Marvel has dated him irreparably. Which is fine. Let’s work with that then. He’s getting older, weaker, more reliant on his technology to survive. Perhaps Iron man is the perfect hero for Marvel to use as a dynasty…pass the armor on to someone else. Let’s put Tony in an elder mentor position like Bruce Wayne takes in the Batman Beyond cartoon.

But that’s just one idea I have. Let’s go back to Civil War and point out a few major discrepancies in character development. Granted, this could turn into one big diatribe about Civil War itself, so I’ll try to keep it focused. First of all, what are Tony Stark’s superpowers? Why would he even have to register as a superpowered human? Secondly, If you look at the “big picture” of the event, wouldn’t it have made more sense if Iron Man and Captain America had switched their allegiances? Cap isn’t always a blind follower of the government, but he would seem more likely to take the law’s side on this point. And Stark has always been portrayed as being wary of the government and holding back his best technology from them. Stark could have easily created some sort of stealth tech that could have kept the renegade heroes hidden from the Registration forces. And, finally, don’t even get me started on the whole SHIELD thing. How can Tony Stark take the place of Nick Fury? When was Stark ever in the military? Where did he learn wartime strategy and tactics? When did he become a master of espionage? Hell, his heart isn’t even strong enough to put him out in the field (outside of his armor). Just because he built some high-powered armor doesn’t make him an expert on state affairs. Putting him in charge of the world’s covert intelligence system makes nearly as much sense as putting a former equestrian judge in charge of emergency management.

Tony Stark is flawed, physically and mentally. He has his demons (which I don’t believe have been explored much lately). And, quite frankly, he doesn’t have many close friends. There are a lot of things I would do with him if I had the chance. First off would be creating a solid cast of supporting characters. He used to have a group like this…not the greatest, but they were there. Who does he have now? I think the version of Stark in The Ultimates is vastly more interesting as a character. Stark in the traditional Marvel Universe is boring and one-dimensional. Who are his arch enemies? Who are his love interests? What happened to make him such a vessel for the current jingoistic views?

Bring him into current history. Maybe he meets up with the grandson of Yin Sen (the other prisoner that helped him design the armor) and they forge a relationship that turns into a fierce competition. Or maybe Yin Sen’s ancestors successfully sue him for a portion of the armor rights. I dunno, but it’s an intriguing concept. How would Stark handle it if someone was better than him at creating these suits of armor? Would his ego be horribly crushed if he came to the realization that Yin Sen may have contributed more to the original armor design than previously acknowledged?

I would love to see Stark stripped of all his technology and dropped into a situation where he has to MacGyver his way out if it. A plane crash into a remote mountain range. Lost and disoriented in the back alleys of some mid-Saharan nation after a failed assassination attempt. Whatever it is, get him away from his increasingly omniscient and immortal armor and show us the man underneath. There are so many things that can be done with this character. To me, he just seems to be a broken record right now.

Let me jump around a little bit. First of all, I agree completely that one of the problems with Civil War was that Iron Man and Captain America were on the wrong sides. Captain America was a solider for goodness sake as well as a police officer; if anyone should have argued for training superhumans, it should have been him. Heck, he fought like crazy to keep the Young Avengers from actively adventuring because they weren’t trained, so why would he fight it like this. And again, even if Cap thought that the Registration Act violated civil liberties, he knows that you can’t fight that sort of thing in a super-hero brawl. Moreover, Iron Man has fought the government in the past over their attempt to appropriate his technology and resources, so yes, he makes more sense in the anti-registration side. I’d also agree that the series was vague on who exactly had to register. Tony Stark should have been immune, since he had no powers. For that matter, so should Captain America. So would the Black Knight, the Falcon, the Black Panther and numerous others. I assume that there was some sort of wording in the law that took these sorts of people into account, but the series just never explained that; just another area where the Civil War we got was not nearly as good as it could have been.

That being said, it is the Civil War that we got, and I think we have to live with it. Trying to change it now would require continuity backflips that I don’t even want to contemplate, although I’d be open to any suggestions you have. You suggest that Tony Stark, since he is tied to Vietnam, should be aging. I like that idea, but he can’t be the only one to age. If you age Stark, you have to age everyone in the Marvel Universe, since they’re all connected. That’s a huge undertaking, and I can’t see it going over well. Stark can’t remember founding the Avengers forty years ago, while Pym, Janet Van Dyne and Captain America remember those days as being five years ago. Stark’s history is much too intertwined with other heroes to not create a domino effect by aging him.

Is Tony an expert on military or intelligence matters, and can he lead S.H.I.E.L.D.? Well, no, no and yes, in that order. Some of the early issues of his comic that show him as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. point out that he’s trying to run the world’s premiere intelligence organization like a business, and why that’s causing problems. He has some great scenes with Dum Dum Dugan, as Dugan is incredibly frustrated with how Stark is running things. I mean, we don’t want him to run it exactly like Fury, since if that’s the case, we may as well have Fury running it. The interesting parts of that story deal with how things are different now, and what sort of organization will S.H.I.E.L.D. become with somewhat different at the helm? We’ve seen Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades….let’s use this as an opportunity to freshen up, not just Stark, but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well.

Your comments about his supporting cast are well taken, and they’ve not been used much recently. Happy Hogan died during Civil War, Pepper Potts has been working with The Order (although with that title being cancelled, she should be free again) and James Rhodes is working with The Initiative. I would like to see more supporting cast, but I think a new group has to be created, and that could best be done with him installed in S.H.I.E.L.D. as its head, since he’ll be around a whole new group of people. Your other ideas, about Yinsen and his armor, are very interesting, but there’s a problem; you’re working with the Iron Man you want, not the Iron Man you have. If you’re not fond of what’s been done with him, and you don’t think it’s the best direction to take the character, how would you get him from where he’s at to where you want him?

Well, obviously we need a scandal. Isn’t that the way most of these things are handled (at least on a quasi-governmental level)? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to discount Civil War, but we have to move on from that somehow. Otherwise, the continuing scenario makes him a controversial character for pretty flimsy reasons.

So how do we pull the trigger without horribly damaging the character? An inappropriate relationship? That might make Tony Stark some sort of pariah, even if it’s merely a misunderstanding. Some sort of fraud? Too damaging to his business persona, even if it’s proven to be a well-choreographed set-up. Perhaps a stress-induced relapse with his alcohol problem? This option is definitely believable…alcoholics struggle with their disease every day. It would make him sympathetic while also giving him an avenue to redeem himself. Maybe being the head of SHIELD is more than he bargained for. It starts out as something he turns to to calm his nerves, but knowing how one drink can lead to many, it could quickly spiral out of control and affect his crucial judgment when it comes to international security (and not to sound cloying, but it’s also a good window to introduce his problem into a film sequel). Bottom line: he makes a horrible mistake and is forced to step down.

In all honesty, I can’t see him garnering a positive supporting cast simply from the SHIELD ranks. Their agents are mostly pretty anonymous and it might come across as forced to create specific personalities just for Stark’s interaction. I can see him gathering a crew of loyal cohorts through these various “tests” I would put him through, a group of people with varied talents and interests beyond his. Making Tony more multi-dimensional through these adventures and relationships would be a priority and a natural progression…adding a spiritual, intellectual and emotional depth to him. Plus, there could be an entire storyline in there with “Where has Iron Man gone?”

To take it one step further, how about sending Tony on a healing quest after his SHIELD failure? With his alcoholism reasserting its grip on his psyche, Tony Stark decides to drop off the grid and clean himself up old-school style. Put Iron Man aside for a while and delve into Tony Stark as a person. He travels, he gets involved with locals, he finds intrigue…like a modern Indiana Jones without the relics. Tony rediscovers his humanity after being so consumed by technology (some of his health problems have been made rather extraordinary…he installed a chip in his spine and effectively “rebooted” himself?!?)

Hell, in the long run maybe he returns to society as a pacifist and that’s what leads him to pass down the armor to a younger successor (perhaps Yinsen’s kin?). He realizes that Iron Man is still important to the world landscape, but he just doesn’t have the drive any longer to don the suit himself. He becomes the mentor and the benefactor. Iron Man’s greatest supporting player could be Tony Stark himself!

I think there’s certainly some potential in what you’re doing here. However, I have to admit that the alcoholism subplot seems somewhat played out. How many times are we going to go down that road? Yes, I understand its part of his character and it something that all alcoholics deal with every day; that being said, using it again in a work of fiction makes it seem like a convenient plot device, and it also seems to weaken Stark’s strength and resolve as a character. He’s a hero and falling to the disease again, even to a lesser extent, seems to chip away again at what makes him a hero.

I also agree that Stark is an interesting enough character to support a book if he doesn’t show up in armor. However, it may not be very popular to do a book called Iron Man without the title character ever appearing. Perhaps a name change? Tony Stark doesn’t make for exciting cover copy; Tony Stark, International Man of Mystery? How do you write a book like this? If you remove Stark completely from his technological background, have you moved him too far from the source of his character? I mean, at that point you might as well write Indiana Jones, since some would argue that you’re no longer writing Tony Stark. While I think a short (one story arc, tops) break from the world of technology would be a nice change, any more than that and you’ve gone too far. Tony Stark is the cutting edge of technology. It’s part and parcel of who the man is. I still think you would have a more interesting story by allowing him to stay in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and dealing with how this man, who is in love with technology and ran a business for years, would run the world’s premiere intelligence agency.

I actually think the idea of him being a mentor to someone else in the armor has potential, although Denny O’Neill played with that a little after Tony Stark recovered from his second bout with alcoholism and James Rhodes was in the armor. Still, I do think that Stark could survive in a position of mentor to a newer hero, as long as he had that technology to tinker with. I think if you could get him to that point without pulling the old alcoholism chestnut out, and without having him wander the hinterlands, you’d have a stronger book and one more in touch with the character of Tony Stark.

I’m thinking we’re not going to agree on this one. I’d say we should let the readers decide, but I’m not sure if we have any.

Oh, you’re not getting off that easily! This is a big deal for me…that’s why I picked Drunk Tony as my avatar!

You don’t want to back down on the alcoholism thing because of Stark’s “strength and resolve” and you believe that using his disease would be going back to the well one too many times. But I say it’s just the opposite. He became an alcoholic and then he relapsed once (during the time you mentioned). That’s it. Are you honestly going to tell me that someone with his status and celebrity, with all the stress he’s under and the expectations piled upon him, is going to have such an easy time dealing with his problem? I call shenanigans.

Look, the strength of the Marvel characters (at least in their heyday) is their flaws. They make mistakes. They have angst. It’s a natural progression. You expect me to believe that someone with that kind of money and lifestyle isn’t going to fall into the same traps again? I’d list all of today’s celebrities that’ve gone down that path, but I’d quickly run out of fingers and toes to count on. It’s almost as if it’s just expected these days that relapses will occur. The stories you don’t hear about are the ones who’ve successfully controlled their disease. And you know why you don’t hear about them? Because they’re not interesting. Comics are supposed to tell intriguing stories with action and emotion, ups and downs, facing enemies head-on and conquering them over and over again…not just about some famous dude who had too many drinks once but now he’s fine. YAWN!

But that’s okay. We’ll let the drinking thing go. I still say he needs conflict. I don’t want to read another book about political situations and black-ops missions and unbelievable tech solutions to every single problem. That’s what really bores me about Stark. Everything is so easily overcome just by slapping some circuitry onto it. You say that Stark is all about the cutting edge, but I argue that that’s what makes him so one-dimensional. What else do we know about him? Where’s his depth? There are no friends, no love interests, no other connections to the real world. Even when he’s out of costume, his life is still all about being some sort of superhero. He’s so vanilla.

So here’s the one-word scenario that’ll keep your SHIELD option open (even though it seems like the equivalent of letting Halliburton officially run the CIA) while still giving Stark some much-needed character: COMPETITION.

As Director of SHIELD, I assume Tony Stark would be responsible for outfitting the organization with the best equipment they can get. Tony’s ego won’t allow him to imagine that someone would have better products to offer than his own company (And as a weird aside, isn’t it a conflict of interest to have the Stark CEO as Director of SHIELD? I have to admit I haven’t been reading the title lately. Was that ever explained?). However, he has to at least entertain bids from other companies to keep everything on the up-and-up. Let’s say that he and a select group of advisers attend a convention for Tactical Weaponry and Defense Systems. They stumble across a small company that just blows away everyone…their tech is simple and efficient, their designs are streamlined and intuitive…to put it plainly, Tony is pissed.

This small company earns a contract with the US government. When a fanatical right-wing militia tries to take over DC, the units using this technology neutralize the militia members quickly and effortlessly before SHIELD can even mobilize. Stark doesn’t like this idea. He sends SHIELD agents to investigate the company. The agents are captured after trespassing on the company’s grounds. The ensuing media coverage is a huge blow to Stark’s standing.

The back and forth continues with SHIELD and this company until Iron Man gets involved and discovers that the lead designer for this new firm is actually Yin Sen’s grandson and the company is run by Yin Sen’s daughter (*cough*potentialloveinterest*cough*). Then AIM gets involved and manages to steal some of this new technology. SHIELD must work side by side with Yin Sen’s family to shut down AIM’s plans and recover the prized tech.

When all is said and done, Tony’s ego is bruised but he also realizes that he isn’t necessarily the bee’s knees when it comes to the future. Maybe this is his opportunity to take a break, expand his point of view and go explore the world. I agree it shouldn’t be for more than a single storyline, but it would give Tony a chance to meet some people and forge some new relationships (Speaking of Forge, why doesn’t he work for Stark?). And Iron Man doesn’t need to be put aside completely. If Tony decides to fall off the grid, I’m sure he has the means to make sure no one can track him. That said, he could leave Iron Man in the hands of Yin Sen’s grandson…could be entertaining to have him in the suit and everyone interacting with him while thinking he was Tony Stark. He would be overwhelmed and slightly confused, but would rise to the occasion.

My major complaint with Stark right now is that it’s hard to make him a compelling character by putting him behind a desk and handing him some papers to push around. Competition, doubt, ego-breaking and the subsequent relief and need to wind down could play out nicely and reinvigorate a rather flat alter ego. The resulting adventures with Yin Sen’s grandson as Iron Man could also add some depth to an Iron Man character that for years has been all about just flying in and blasting some bad guy. And this plot surrounds him with new faces and new locales. I think it’s pretty win-win, if you ask me.

Wow. Maybe it’s the week off from work; maybe it’s spending five days in Vermont and actually having clear air to breathe (the lack of pollutants in my bloodstream is making me punchy); perhaps its the incredible amount of work I’m shoving to the side of my desk while I instead read and reply on the webpage….whatever it is, I think this approach has potential. First of all, it recognizes where Stark is right now in the Marvel Universe. Second, it harkens back to his origin by using relatives of Yinsen.  Quesada, while writing the book, had created “The Sons of Yinsen”, a group of Yinsen’s disciples who had created a cult based on the man. However, I see no reason why this cult’s existence would invalidate their actually being blood relatives of the man. Here’s how I see it working….Yinsen was obviously in political hot water and he knew it. He helped to slip his family out of the country right before he was captured by Wong Chu. His family, not knowing the resources or determination of Wong Chu to hunt them down, decided it would be safer to change their names and live in secret. However, Yinsen’s offspring inherited their father’s brilliance, as well as some of his early designs that were incorporated into the Iron Man armor. They begin their work to build a global technological empire, but still don’t keep their connection to Professor Yinsen hidden. I’d even say that it would be a mystery for a few issues after they’re introduced, and then it can be a big reveal.)

I love the idea of putting Forge and Iron Man together for awhile, or simply using Forge as a supporting character in the book. Man, if we’re trying to hurt Stark’s confidence, how difficult would it be for him to work with someone (or have someone working for him) who’s a better inventer and designer than he is? I mean, Stark is good, but Forge is a freaking mutant, and this is what he does; he invents things. Think of the improvements that Forge could make to the Iron Man armor. Perhaps, we have Tony and Yinsen’s daughter running around the world doing the globe trotting you seem so determined to get in the book. Meanwhile, Yinsen’s grandson stays behind to be Iron Man, with Forge working with him as a mentor and available technology help. What could be very interesting here would be if Yinsen Jr. and Forge make a better team and a more effective Iron Man than Stark ever did alone. Again, let’s nail Stark’s insecurities. I think there is real potential here.

Weird…I just read the first issue of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and he sort of plays up Stark’s insecurity about technological competition (he also includes a brief battle with members of an AIM side project). The only difference between Fraction’s story so far and the idea that I came up with is that Stark’s competition is a bad guy…Obadiah Stane’s son, to be specific. I love Fraction’s writing, but I think this kind of paints him into a corner. They’ve already set Stane’s son up as being a bit of an evil jerk. The only way this storyline can end is in Stane’s eventual defeat. So, in the long run, Tony gets another enemy. I feel like our revamp offered Tony a new group of friends and branched out the Iron Man character in new directions as well. I suppose both results are necessary at some point in the title’s continued history. Meh…maybe I’m just jealous that Matt gets to play in the Marvel sandbox while I remain a meager blogger!