The NewMU so far…

Jan-06-12

Hey…it’s our 100th post! And it only took us 3 years and 9 months of constant non-attention to get that far! I can hear all of you clapping out there. Nothing more deafening than silence.

All sarcastic celebrations aside, I wanted to take this time to sum up what we’ve proposed so far and see if there’s any way to integrate our past “revamp” ideas into our NewMU. We still have another 36 titles to go, but this may speed things along and save us some redundant repeating.

So far, we’ve set the Fantastic Four on a path to science adventure…turned Dazzler into a teenage pop star…and fused the angst of the X-Men with the politics of The Authority to bring you The Ultimates. However, some of the other titles we have slated for the NewMU — including Hawkeye, Dr. Strange, Moon Knight, The Defenders, Namor and Nightstalkers — were already given the treatment by our magical maneuvering. The problem is, we’re kind of dedicated to making sure we don’t repeat the use of secondary characters where they don’t fit, not to mention that some of our plotlines could contradict. So, here’s a quick summation of what we foisted upon our curious readers in the past…

Nightstalkers – Dominic Fortune is hired by Frank Drake to investigate some supernatural goings-on. He runs into Brother Voodoo in Charleston, South Carolina and finds out that the mystic man has been having dreams about him. They learn that something is afoot with the Darkhold and Morgan Le Fay is involved. In fact, Morgan is using Tigra as a present-time conduit for her foul dealings. The team rescues Tigra and continues tracking the Darkhold for Drake, unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes.

Moon Knight – Go heavy on the multiple personality angle. Introduce supporting cast for each persona. Relocate to Chicago. Run afoul of crazy Egyptian cultists worshipping Anubis, not to mention a new Serpent Society and a reimagined Killer Shrike.

Hawkeye – Moves to LA where he becomes spokesman for Damage Control West, but he’s also doing espionage work for Nick Fury with the help of Black Widow. He hires Pym as a technical consultant. Starts a feud with Taskmaster and maybe the Night Shift or even our revamped Circus of Crime.

Dr. Strange – Takes Scarlet Witch as his apprentice and falls into a love triangle with her and Night Nurse. He relocates to Boston and writes a self-help book or anti-magic book or romance novel…basically, he writes SOMETHING and goes on a book tour. Befriends a research librarian and an FBI profiler. Runs afoul of Cyrus Black, a more sinister Hangman and a new steampunk-based villain. Book also delves into the deep roots of magic in the NewMU.

Namor – Atlantis is an entire country, not just one big city. Each region is run by a magistrate and all magistrates sit on the Council of Argos with Namor as their king. The economy of Atlantis runs on selling fishing and mining rights and coordinating trade routes, but certain sectors thrive on salvage work and piracy. The island-state of Madripoor is involved as well as Dr. Doom in his bid to build a navy. Atlanteans live in coral caves and shipwrecks, their lands lit by phosphorescent algae. They have a UN ambassador but lack the high technology of the past.

Defenders – Team of Hellstorm, Cat, Gargoyle, Black Knight, Dr. Druid and Cloak and Dagger are brought together to “defend” reality from supernatural threats and to investigate the dark corners of the NewMU. They face off against The Zodiac and wreslte with the Darkhold.

Oh, and I also reread our revamp of the Frightful Four (Absorbing Man, Titania, Trapster and Mysterio working for The Wizard) and think that the idea of a competitive foe would work well in our NewMU FF. Food for thought. We also wrote up retellings of Iron Man and Spider-Man early on in the blog’s life, but those weren’t nearly as well fleshed out as these other six.

It’s now up to John to point out the obvious in these previous revamps and tell me everything that’s wrong with trying to integrate them into the NewMU.

GO!

There are some solid ideas here, and I think we can use them as a starting point for some of the titles we want to launch.  I’m going to touch on these titles a few at a time, so we constantly know about which one we’re arguing.

Let’s start with Nightstalkers.  If you haven’t read our first take on this group, please do so.  It’s in the archives and what I say is going to be drawing heavily on it.  This revamp is likely to make it to a conclusion with the least revisions.  Much of what we said at the time, as far as the concept being sound and wanting to do more magic or horror stories, still stands.  The characters we had chosen, Drake, Voodoo, Tigra and Fortune are all available, and I had no plans to use them in anything else.  Ditto for our main villain, Morgan Le Fay.  However, we were basing this series on a lot of past continuity, continuity which doesn’t exist in the NewMU, so there are going to have to be changes made.

The first and most obvious is Frank Drake.  In our version, he was crippled and broken because of his time with the previous Nightstalkers.  I still like that idea, and I think we just need to adjust it a little bit.  I don’t think there was a previous incarnation of this team so his injuries did not come from that team’s demise.  I think that he was broken and beaten during a previous encounter, perhaps with our main villain, Morgan.  We can still touch on him being a distant relative to Dracula, but perhaps, instead of that turning him into a vampire hunter, it just ignited his interest in the occult and the supernatural.  Through his studies in that area he learned of Morgan and the Darkhold, and while trying to stop her from getting her hands on it, he was badly injured and disfigured.  It gives our team one more tie to Morgan and also means that there may be some interesting team dynamics between Drake and Tigra.

Obviously, Tigra in this world can have her origin considerably streamlined and she won’t have to deal with the stupid pregnancy she was coping with when we did our first reimagining.  I think we take the opportunity to completely remove any type of scientific origin for her powers, and her time wearing a cat-suit, to better fit her in with the tone of the book.  In the new MU, Greer Nelson was also a student of the occult, and she found an incantation that enabled her to summon one of the mystical cat people.  As I mentioned in the original post, these Cat People are not the relatively cheery and bright ones drawn by Al Milgrom in the West Coast Avengers….they are much more cat than people, all dark colors and fanged maws.  When Greer first summons them, she doesn’t realize just how nasty they can be, and is whisked away to their dimension, intended for a sacrifice.  However, once there she quickly forges a bond with Balkatar, one of the preeminent Cat People, who convinced their leaders that she should not be sacrificed, but should be returned to Earth as their emissary.  The leaders agreed, but changed her into the werewoman Tigra to ensure her loyalty.  Once she returned to Earth, she used her newfound abilities to help people, but I think we also need to borrow a little from Catwoman here and make her something of a champion of cats.  It’s not her biggest priority, but she will aid them if she knows they are in danger (like if they’re being mistreated, or if a large cat escapes from a zoo she might be the one to recapture the cat).  Anyway, while doing some heroing a few years ago she crossed paths with Morgan, which is when Morgan bonds to her, as we mentioned in our original revamp.  We could even later reveal that Morgan is the one who manipulated Greer into summoning the Cat People in the first place, and that Morgan helped convince the leaders of that race to return Greer to Earth, just so she could have an agent on that world (and again, this could cause some nice friction between Drake and Tigra down the road).

Our other three characters (Fortune, Voodoo and Morgan) don’t require much change.  All three of them can basically maintain their origins, and we just drop most of their time interacting with superheroes.  Honestly, Voodoo never did much of that anyway until recently, so he’s easy, and Fortune never really did either.  His son can still have died following in his father’s footsteps…we just need to take Iron Man out of that tale (and honestly, Iron Man was barely in it, even though it happened in his title).  Morgan is much the same….we remove her tussles in the present day with the Avengers and Spider-Woman and she’s good to go.

Do you agree with what I changed?  Any thoughts?

The fact that Morgan LeFay is an actual figure from literary legend means that we don’t have to mess with her much at all, like you said. We can just start fresh. Same thing with Tigra. And, on the plus side, we don’t have to worry about the goofy, outdated costumes for Fortune or Voodoo either. I agree that the bones and most of the meat still hold true for this revamp. Probably one of my favorite things we ever conceived.

However, if there were ever an opportunity to present Dracula to the NewMU, this is clearly it. We can introduce Frank Drake as a man who is scarred and broken and slowly reveal that it was because of past struggles with vampires. We can keep a lot of the history shrouded too so the readers are never sure of his intentions.

I like Fortune’s past continuity, except for the superhero involvement you pointed out, and we can always just present it all in a simpler form. Brother Voodoo has some strange continuity that can be jettisoned too. Heck, the NewMU might make this Nightstalkers launch even easier than previously thought.

Now what about Moon Knight? I personally think this one is now easier too. Instead of having to go back and re-explain the multiple personality thing, we can just introduce this character and all his quirks and facets at once. No preconceptions. And instead of “revamping” villains, we just create them as we described. But that origin needs some work…

I agree with you that the villains we picked for Moon Knight and our basic concept of the hero work fine.  But you’d like to find a different way to get him to Khonshu?  We need to keep the Egyptian god for two reasons.  First, his powers depend on the phases of the moon, and one of his main villains is a cult of Khonshu.  I don’t want to jettison those ideas.  Plus, we have Moon Knight slotted into the new MU as a more magical book, and while he won’t be casting spells, I think he does skirt that line between the supernatural and the scientific.

The first thing we can do to help his origin is remove Bushman from it.  We had both agreed in the original post that Bushman is a waste of ink and since we aren’t including the character in Moon Knight’s current adventures, it’s a waste to have him so intimately involved in Moon Knight’s origin.  We need Moon Knight to have started out as a mercenary or else we’re not going to be able to use the Marc Spector origin….he has to have the training to do what he does as a crimefighter.  We could simply replace Bushman with Shrike in his origin, but that seems like a wasted opportunity as well.  I’m going to kick this back over to you…I did the easy thing and removed Bushman.  What else needs done to his origin?

Man, didn’t think you’d punt it THIS badly! Yes, my main problem with his origin was Bushman. With him out of the picture, we can turn Marc Spector into a bit of a jerk on his own.

Let’s say, for the sake of a quick solution, that he’s tromping around Egypt to help quell some radical Muslim uprisings. He stumbles upon a group of Egyptian scientists at an archeological dig and figures “Hey, there may be some money to be made here.” He muscles them a bit, makes some threats about stealing artifacts for the thrill, and accidentally knocks some funky obelisk over. The obelisk cracks and a spirit charges out of it and into Spector’s body. BOOM. He’s now the Fist of Khonshu whether he likes it or not. Moon Knight fixed.

Looking ahead, I think our Dr. Strange title is solid, the Namor pitch I put together actually works better without having to backtrack all of Atlantis’s history (thought Doom’s role will be diminished due to upcoming ideas), and the Hawkeye title should still be okay with the removal of Pym (since we *surprise* have plans for him elsewhere). A Damage Control title is also in the works, so that’s a quick explanation for Hawkeye.

Unfortunately, I think our Defenders idea, that I seemingly loved at some point, is now pretty awful and ruined. Agreed?

Not even close to agreed!  Well, I agree we’re done with Moon Knight (he really was an easy one), but for the rest?  Let’s start with Hawkeye.  We have to remove Hank Pym as we have other plans for him, as you teased.  I’m also not sure if we want to use Nick Fury, as I believe we have plans for him as well.  That leaves a book with only Hawkeye and the Black Widow.  I suppose we can deal with the two of them as our leads, and it makes sense.  Since we’re starting afresh, we can again go back to basics with their origins, both of which work pretty well, and we can pretend that Black Widow’s HORRIBLE 60s outfits never happened (nor Hawkeye’s late 60s horrible redesign).  We can also jettison all of the Cold War baggage of the Black Widow’s character, which is kind of nice.  And we can simply have them operating out of Los Angeles.  But do we really want him to still work for Damage Control?  Is that going to make this a sister title of the Damage Control comic?  We’ve been pretty careful in our titles not to have sister titles and to make everything stand alone.  Sure, there will be crossovers, but nothing that makes you buy multiple titles for one story or that requires a very strong sense of continuity.  I’d prefer to put Hawkeye back with Cross Technology.  So, we have a book where one lead (Hawkeye) is more of your traditional superhero, and the other lead (Black Widow) is more in the vein of your traditional spy.  They’re an item and sometimes he pulls her into his world while other times she pulls him into hers.  Does that work for you?

In a sense, yes. I forgot this was going under more of an “espionage” umbrella (we’ll detail the sub-categories of the NewMU in another post). Although, I’m not adverse to having him work in the public eye and then operate in the shadows as well. Damage Control West would be its own entity and I don’t think there’d be much crossover at all between a Hawkeye title and a regular Damage Control title. Not opposed to the Cross Technology thing either. Just saying it could go either way.

For the moment, I’d prefer to keep the titles completely distinct, so let’s go with Cross Technology.  Perhaps down the road we’d be able to move him to Damage Control without continuity issues, but I think it would be great if all the books started off feeling self contained, with the exception being any team books (like Avengers) that feature characters who have their own titles and our one character that is supposed to be seeded across a number of books (and I’ll be discussing him shortly). 

This brings us to Dr. Strange.  Our pitch for the character is pretty strong, and I certainly think we keep Night Nurse in the book.  Unfortunately, we’re now down an apprentice, since we’ve used the Scarlet Witch in Ultimates.  I’d like to keep our love triangle intact, and I also think that we need a reason for Strange to have an apprentice.  As we mentioned in the original revamp, Strange is a powerful and important figure…why would he even have an apprentice, unless there’s a darn good reason for it.  Originally we had suggested Wanda because her powers were so strong she rewrote the universe.  Now we want to find another powerful woman in the new MU who’s powers are strong enough and uncontrolled enough that she could be a threat if not properly directed.  I’m going to suggest Magik.

Illyana Rasputin is a young mutant with the ability to create portals that can transport her through time, space and dimensions.  She accidentally creates a portal that opens to the realm of Limbo, ruled by Belasco and inhabited by demons.  She is kidnapped and raised as Belasco’s apprentice.  She eventually escapes him and returns to our dimension, the new ruler of Limbo.  This is basically the same as her origin in the original Marvel Universe.  Now, in that original Marvel Universe, she had trouble maintaining the balance between her good side and her demonic side, and this probably wasn’t helped by the X-Men’s attitude, which seemed to be “Oh, she’ll figure it out eventually.”  She didn’t, which led to the Inferno crossover where demons invaded the Earth.  However, what would happen if Strange got involved?  I mean, Magik is an incredibly powerful sorceress, but she seems to use her magical abilities instinctively, without any real knowledge of what she’s doing.  If Strange brought her under his wing and trained her, he could not only help her hone her powers, but he could help her learn how to keep her demonic side at bay.  The only other major thing I’d change about her is her age…in the original she ages from about 8 to 15 years old while in Limbo.  To keep our love triangle from becoming too Lolita-ish, let’s age her from about 15 to 25 while in Limbo.  Boom.  New apprentice.

Otherwise, we had almost all brand new ideas for this title.  Morbius can still stick around as an ally and information source, and our villains were basically all new.  I should say that this way we can add Belasco to the cast of villains.  I’ve always loved Belasco, and he’d be so much better as a Strange foe than he was fighting Ka-Zar (Ka-Zar, for Kirby’s sake!).  I’d also suggest that, if we’re going to have Strange going on the road doing magic to make a living (as we suggested in our revamp) he should have a manager.  How about Madrox?  We’ll be talking more about Madrox when we discuss his book, but I think a dupe of Madrox in that role would be fun.  Otherwise, I think we’re good with him and can move to Namor.  Your thoughts?

I had totally forgotten you used Scarlet Witch in your Ultimates title. How silly of me. I always liked Magik’s look. Never understood what made her a mutant (I guess the portal thing?), but I’m glad she’s been rescued from a horrible continuity loop. Is she still a mutant in the NewMU, or just a being that was born with magical powers? That’s the only question I have.

Now, about my Namor pitch. Like I said earlier, lifting the weight of continuity off the idea makes it breathe even better. Our new Atlantis is spread out across all the oceans. Factions are ruled in a feudal system below water. Above water, everything is politics from the UN ambassador to scattered embassies. Deals are struck for shipping rights, outlying Atlantean villages turn to piracy, citizens live in shipwrecks and coral caverns. I think Doom can still play a pivotal role here. Perhaps he and Namor are an unofficial “team,” so that the two of them can cross over into each other’s titles? Or do you want to back off Doom completely (so he can shine in his own upcoming book) and give the “fellow monarch” spot to someone else from the Marvel Universe?

I would say that Magik is a mutant born with the ability to open portals.  This leaves us open to crossover with some mutant titles in the future.  It’s not that I don’t want to see books crossing over (what’s the point in a shared universe if there’s no sense of continuity between titles?) it’s just that I want them to happen organically and not right away.  It seems like it’s more fair to the creative teams and readers if each title has a chance to establish themselves before they start crossing over, and even then, I think we should keep crossovers to a more reasonable number, so they stay special and feel like a big deal.

Of course, that leads perfectly into a discussion of Namor.  You’re correct when you say that starting over with a new continuity tends to make your concept even stronger.  I still think that this is a great place for the kingdoms of the new MU to be seen and played against each other.  Doom would certainly have to be a factor, as would Black Panther, but both of these characters are slated for their own titles in the new MU, so I’d like their roles in Namor’s title to be downplayed.  They’ll be around, but not the center of attention.  We’d have to strip out (at least initially) the plot about Doom setting up ports for his new navy.  If that happens, let’s move it down the road and let it happen in Doom’s own title (or a proper crossover between the two).  If we remove Doom from the spotlight, who can we shine it upon?  I recommend the Inhumans.

I think that the Inhumans are a strong concept, but I don’t think they work as well when they try to headline a book.  I think they’re best in a supporting role, and I think this is a role that works well for them.  While Namor and Doom may make sense working together, the actual Atlantean and Inhuman races make a lot more sense as a team.  They’re all outsiders, unable to function easily in human society, so they have a strong initial bond.  Plus, if they would ever have a falling out and go to war against each other, it would be a much more interesting conflict than if Atlanteans simply fought the humans of Latveria.  Heck, you even have a perfect ambassador for the Inhumans in the person of Triton.

The villains you mention all still work well.  Some of them, like Diablo and Mole Man, were also mentioned in our Fantastic Four book, but villains can often be used in multiple titles, and neither of them were integral to the FF.  They could easily move between the two books.  I think it works. 

Sure, I have no problem with the Inhumans. It’d be nice to stick them somewhere…and honestly, looking ahead to our other titles, I don’t see much more room for them. Maybe there’s even an organic way to find a love interest for Namor out of that group. Always nice to see a marriage bring two kingdoms together.

So, this post helped us flesh out five of our pending titles (Nightstalkers, Moon Knight, Hawkeye, Dr. Strange and Namor). The only loose end left hanging is The Defenders. The group has always been near and dear to my heart. That’s why we tackled it so early on in our blog’s infancy. Unfortunately, I don’t think we had our sea legs under us yet and the revamp left a bit to be desired. I think we should start a new post for that one.

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One-Shot: Nightwatch

Nov-21-08

Sorry we haven’t been as attentive to the blog this week. John and I both got hit hard by real work that pays actual money to us for the effort. Imagine that! I haven’t even read my comics for the last two weeks. But, with the holidays fast approaching, I’m hoping we have some extra time to do a few interesting things with “Meanwhile…Comics!” Or at least the same old stuff. Either way, I promise we’ll get to the Grant Morrison critique next week.

Anyway, I’ve been threatening John with this ridiculous one-shot for a while now and I thought today was as good as any to spring it on him. I really, really, really want to know what he would do to make Nightwatch an interesting and relevant character in the Marvel Universe again. More importantly, I want John to explain how Nightwatch isn’t just Spawn with a stupider origin.

The year was 1993. The Image boom had taken its toll on the creative spark at the “House of Ideas.” And, like all good plagiarists before them, Marvel thought it would be a good idea to (almost a full year later) jump on the bandwagon and drum up a character that looked and acted exactly like Spawn, in the hopes that some overzealous, junior speculator fanboys would blindly confuse the two and maybe buy a couple dozen extra copies of the Marvel book instead. Oh, and they made the character crossover with Spider-Man in nearly every appearance, especially that god-awful Maximum Carnage storyline. Guilt by association, Spidey!

Nightwatch, I believe, was created out of sheer boredom by Terry Kavanagh (who, in the 90s, quickly became one of the most hated writers Marvel ever had on staff). His first appearance was, technically, made in Web of Spider-Man #99 and his origin was some convoluted chronological loop strategy where he came back in time to warn himself not to come back in time…or something…I dunno.

His powers were the ability to turn invisible, to glide (using his semi-sentient cape) and to suck very, very badly. Horribly, in fact. Awful enough to cause serious pain. And tears. Many, many tears.

Thankfully, Nightwatch died in the rehash of his ridiculous self-fulfilling origin. I realize that this will make any sort of revamp a little more complicated, but honestly, the character is so irredeemable that anything you come up with would be an improvement. This may be the most useless character Marvel ever created. Worse than Irving Forbush. Even if you resurrect him using a profanity-spewing unicorn and a handful of creamed corn, it’ll make more sense than this lame hero ever did.

Good luck and have fun. Hugs and kisses.

Man, when you kept threatening me with a horrible one-shot, I had no idea how cruel you were going to be.  Geez, what did I ever do to you man?  Did I run over your dog or something?  Hell, for giving me this loser, I’d think that I ran over your wife!

I’ve never actually read a Nightwatch comic, so I have no connection to this character (although it kind of sounds like no one has a connection with this character).  I’ve read the history I can find about him (surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of internet sites run by his adoring fans) and that just resulted in a headache.  I love the fact that, when he realized that he was destined to die, he ran and hid on a deserted island.  How does one do that exactly?  Can you call up your travel agent and ask for a one way ticket to whatever deserted island is in this year?  Can you buy a tour book, Fodor’s Guide to Deserted Islands?  Are they that easy to find?

The first problem in using this character today is that he’s dead.  Of course, this being comics, that’s really more of a mild inconvenience than a full blown problem, but we should attempt to work with it.  Luckily, he’s traveled through time, so the problem is almost immediately solvable through the use of a time paradox.  It seems that Nightwatch is continually living the same events over again.  He finds his dying self, uses that technology to become a superhero, then dies trying to warn himself not to do the things that kill him.  This cycle repeats ad infinitum, but it could be easily interrupted.  That’s how we bring him back. 

Kang the Conquerer is having one of his fights with the Avengers, and thanks to Thor’s hammer, the adversaries are actually moving back and forth through time, battling each other fiercely.  During the battle, the chronal energies they’re throwing around knock Nightwatch off course, and instead of landing in the past where he normall does (where he gets in a fight with terrorists and dies) he lands in the present day.  Kang and the Avengers don’t even notice what they’ve done, and their battle continues; we’ll see no more of it in the comic.  It’s inconsequential to our story.

Nightwatch is a little surprised by this, but he’s still fatally wounded (which he was when he traveled back in time originally) and he collapses on the street.  He’s found by some citizens and taken to a hospital, where we find that his wounds weren’t as fatal as he thought and that advances in medicine in the past few years means his life can be saved.  After convalescing for a few weeks, he’s released, only to learn that he has been declared legally dead and that his personal life, in many ways, is over.

Nightwatch wanders the city, trying to figure out what to do.  He’s a little shellshocked, but he learned a few things.  First, as a hero, he was horrible.  He tried to jump into the fray, fighting alongside big names like Spider-Man, but wasn’t really able to contribute much, and when he finally tried to adventure on his own, that lasted for only a few weeks before he died.  Second, he’s such a small cog in the scheme of things.  The Avengers and Kang didn’t even notice him when they saved his life, and he assumes Spider-Man wouldn’t remember his name either.  Finally, his life was saved today, not so much by the cape and cowl crowd, but by normal people and some skilled doctors.  They were the real heroes.

Now, Nightwatch is also a doctor and he decides that he’s going to devote his new life to helping people with his medical skills just as much as he does with his powers.  Unfortunately, he has no money and no identity, since the world considers him to be dead.  However, he has courage and conviction, and that’s going to have to be enough.  He spends the next few weeks prowling the back alleys of the city, using his powers to steal small amounts of food and looking for people who might need a doctor.  He’s not trying to stop crime per se; he’s trying to help victims of it.  He finds mugging victims or those injured in the passage of a superhero brawl, and he sneaks in and saves them.  Since many of his powers are stealth oriented, it means he doesn’t have to fight every villain just for the sake of it.  If he sees Shocker knocking over a bank, and it’s after hours and no one’s inside, he may not get involved.  However, if he sees someone mugging an innocent civilian, he’ll stop the mugger, and then do what he can to treat the injuries of the victim.

I’d probably run with that premise for perhaps a year, introducing some street folk as supporting characters.  Then I’d have Nightwatch save someone who has money, and who, grateful for having their life saved, wants to help Nightwatch save even more people.  It would be a slow process, as Nightwatch wouldn’t want to take the money at first, but eventually this patron would convince Nightwatch of his (or her) sincerity, and would bankroll a free clinic that Nightwatch could run.  This would give him a permanent setting, and a supporting cast, and he could spend his days healing the sick that come to the clinic, while still going out at night to find those in danger in the city.

Maybe he and Night Nurse could work together, although I see Nightwatch being less specialized in super powered injuries, and more willing to help anyone who came to his doors.  It would be a great way to involve him in plots, parading a wide variety of sick and injured people to his door.  I think it could work.


Casting Call: Dr. Strange

Sep-18-08

The last casting call was so much fun, I thought we’d try another. This time, we’re going to cast a Dr. Strange movie, based on the proposal that we created back in the spring.

I think we’re going to load this a little heavier on the heroes. We need our titular hero, Dr. Strange, of course. We need his apprentice, the Scarlet Witch. We need his love interest, Night Nurse. We need his manservant, Wong. Plus, I’d like to sneak in his ally, Jericho Drumm, also known as Brother Voodoo.

On the villain side, I’ll stick with one, although he can have lots of flunkies if necessary. This is going to be someone that we created ourselves, someone that has never been seen before: our cyberpunk villain.

This casting call creates some unique challenges. While Strange, the Witch, Wong and Brother Voodoo have an established history, Night Nurse wasn’t used for years, and then she appeared for only six issues, and we’ve never seen our villain before. That means it’s going to be a little more difficult for us to argue who would be good in those roles. However, I have faith in our ability to argue anything, so I’m sure we’ll succeed on this as well.

Take it away! The casting couch is open!

I figured this is the one you’d pick next. You’re so predictable, but hopefully, my choices for the roles won’t be (meaning I won’t tap George Clooney as the good doctor even though he used to play one on TV).

Whoever plays Doctor Strange has to be a rather lithe man, someone who looks young-ish for his age and has the demeanor to pull off a serious yet dry-humor-dotted script (so he should most likely be British). He has to be believable, basically. For that kind of pathos, I turn to…

Rufus Sewell. I love this guy as a darker, smirking professional with a glimmer in his eye. You may remember him from A Knight’s Tale opposite Heath Ledger or, more recently, in the HBO miniseries John Adams.

That was a relatively easy choice for me. However, the female roles are a bit harder. There are a lot of qualified females out there who fit the general look and feel of both Scarlet Witch and Night Nurse. Wanda’s role needs to be filled by someone who seems a little confused (to play up her recent breakdown) and delicate, yet has an inner strength that is apparent, minding the fact that she used to be very powerful. This one will surprise you:

Linda Cardellini. She has most recently been seen on ER, but has a longer history which includes Freaks and Geeks and two runs as Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies. She has a bit of a tomboy feel to her while also remaining strongly feminine. She also looks like the type who could get jealous easily (and make you pay for it dearly).

Night Nurse, as you’ve pointed out, is fairly unknown to most people, civilian and fanboy alike. However, based on the recent vision of Marcos Martin in the Doctor Strange: The Oath miniseries, we know that she’s a brunette, she’s very self-assured and she appears to have some bit of Asian ancestry. I’m going to select another of my favorite females on the planet, Miss Olivia Munn.

She can be seen weeknights on G4TV’s Attack of the Show where she makes geeks drool. She also has quite the acting chops, having appeared in weekly parody skits where she has donned the memorable costumes of both Wonder Woman and Princess Leia. I could definitely see her holding her own in a smart-ass exchange.

The character of Wong pretty much screams for a Chinese national. I can think of no one better than the star of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, Stephen Chow. Shave his head and he’s good to go.

And, the person who would best portray Brother Voodoo came to me rather quickly as well. I briefly debated whether or not Voodoo should be older than Strange, but finally decided that it wasn’t really relevant. As long as he has the right kind of face, the character should be easy to portray. That’s why I turned to Chiwetel Ejiofor…

He’s a bit younger than Rufus Sewell, but I think he looks like a contemporary. Besides, he needs to be attuned to a different type of magic, something that may keep him younger or in better shape than the less rigorous monitoring that Strange performs. Ejiofor is English-born and has spent nearly his entire career in small film roles from American Gangster to Children of Men to Serenity.

Finally, a young villain who has no small amount of confidence in his abilities. He’s bright-eyed and eager to impress, but he’s also deeply disturbed and willing to do anything to get his way. I’m thinking a quirky mix of Jude Law and Macaulay Culkin…a younger Robert Downey Jr. or Justin Timberlake without all the annoying qualities of Justin Timberlake. So…

He’s the new Chekhov in the new Star Trek movie! He played admirably alongside Mr. Downey Jr. in Charlie Bartlett. He was even kidnapped by the aforementioned Timberlake in Alpha Dog. This is Anton Yelchin and he’s my vision for a badass steampunk/cyberpunk bastard sure to jab a sharp thorn into Doc Strange’s side.

What say you? How did I do?

Petrfect casting. Next!

Oh, it’s not quite that simple, except that it kinda is. First of all, for the record, I debated quite a bit about whether or not to cast this group, and almost suggested we cast our group of criminals in Manhattan Kansas. It was only the sad lack of actors in Hollywood who have the head of a fish that helped me decide to go with the Strange group.

That being said, I actually don’t have any problems with any of your choices….not really, anyway. They’re all perfectly good choices, and they certainly came out of left field. You chose an interesting group of actors, and I really only have a problem with one of them, and even that one isn’t one I’d fight too hard to change.

Rufus Sewell is a good actor, and I can easily see him as the good Doctor. I can’t believe that you think I would have cast George Clooney, just because he played a doctor on TV. That would have been silly. I was actually considering Hugh Laurie. I kid, although Laurie might be able to do a passable Strange. Still, Sewell would be a better choice.

My favorite choice of yours, and the one that made me smile was Linda Cardellini as Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. Brilliant! Gold star for you. I couldn’t possibly improve on that casting if I tried.

My least favorite pick, and the one I have the most chance of arguing, is Olivia Munn. Dude, she hosts a show on G4TV. Why didn’t you just pick someone off the view, or pick Connie Chung? That being said, I haven’t watched her show, so I shouldn’t throw stones in her direction; a lot of actors and actresses have started with more humble beginnings; Greg Kinnear started out hosting Talk Soup on E! and he has certainly done well for himself in the field of acting. So, for me to dismiss her on that basis would be petty and close-minded.

I like Stephen Chow quite a bit, but I’m not sure why he should be cast as Wong. Wong needs to radiate tranquility and I’ve not seen anything in Chow’s filmography that suggests he can do that. I’ve also never seen him in a serious role, and I think Wong is pretty serious. I’m not hating Stephen Chow in the role, but he seems, to be honest, kind of random. I’m going to suggest someone else. I’m going to suggest Rick Yune, who can be seen (bald!) in Die Another Day.

If you ignore the junk on his face and figure how he might look bald, but without the make-up, I think it would be a good fit for Wong. Plus, Yune can be silent and just stand in a scene, since that’s what he spent most of his time doing in Die Another Day. I almost hate to use him in this part, as I think he’s a good actor and might want to cast him somewhere else, but right now, I think he might be a slightly stronger choice than Chow, unless you have a better argument for Chow.

Your Brother Voodoo is a great choice as well; and your choice for our villain is somewhat inspired. It completes a list of actors who operate on the fringes of the mainstream, which is perfect for a group of Strange actors. All of these actors fit together well, and everyone seems to belong, except for the talk show host and the guy mostly known for doing broad comedies. I’ll let the woman go, but I’m just not sold on Chow.

Would it help settle your uneasiness about Olivia Munn if I told you that she spent two seasons on a show called Beyond the Break about a bunch of girls surfing? How about if you knew that she’s set to star in a film with Rob Schneider? Or playing an asylum nurse in an upcoming horror flick? See? A NURSE. Case closed.

Honestly, I briefly considered Rick Yune, but couldn’t get past his perfectly coiffed hair. Heh. Seriously, I thought Wong exhibited a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor in Brian K. Vaughan’s masterful miniseries and just thought that Chow had those chops. Of course, I guess there’s a difference between dry smarminess and outright buffoonery. So, I concede the role of Wong to Rick Yune at your insistence. So, our cast:


Dr. Strange: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love this Character

May-16-08

I am a huge Dr. Strange fan. Considering that he’s been around the Marvel Universe since the early 1960s, that he’s been published on a semi-regular basis since then, and that he’s been a member of both the Defenders and Avengers, one might think that many people agree with me. However, it’s the “semi-regular” publishing schedule above that seems to be the problem. Dr. Strange has had numerous series, but seems unable to sustain one that lasts much past 100 issues. When one looks at the talent that have worked on these series, including such respected writers as Roy Thomas, Roger Stern, J.M. DeMatteis and Warren Ellis, as well as such popular artists as Butch Guice, Paul Smith and Mark Buckingham, it causes one to stop and think. Why doesn’t he enjoy enough popularity to at least keep a series going? And how can one reposition him to be a character that can keep a series going?

Part of the problem with Dr. Strange, I believe, is that he is a sorcerer. I’m not sure if I can explain why this is, but it seems that most magical characters have trouble maintaining a popular following. I would say this is true for any magic-based character in any superhero universe. Strange’s counterpart at DC, Dr. Fate, has the same sporadic publishing schedule as Strange. No other magic-based hero in either universe seems to have made even that much of a splash. Marvel includes such characters as Talisman, Shaman, Dr. Druid and even, to an extent, the Scarlet Witch, and none of these characters has ever been able to carry a series. In many ways, one might think that DC would have better luck with such characters. DC has the Vertigo imprint, which has often focused on magical worlds and characters, but even their premiere magical hero, Tim Hunter, has never been able to sustain a series. In their mainstream universe, Shadowpact, a series with many magical characters, also failed to survive. What is it about magical characters that seems to turn off readers? Or are these results typical of many comics published in the major superhero universes, and they have nothing to do with the magical nature of their stars? After all, a lot of comics characters have had problems maintaining an ongoing series. Still, when you compare Strange to his other contemporaries of that time in Marvel, and look at the track record of his original creators (Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the co-creators of Spider-Man), it certainly doesn’t look like you want to be a magic-based hero in the Marvel Universe.

I’ve read and loved Dr. Strange stories from the sixties through the current decade, and some of the runs on the character have been brilliant. I have to mention (as I seem to mention him in every thread) that Roger Stern did one of the best runs on Dr. Strange in his publishing history, particularly the storyline where Dr. Strange goes up against Dracula and attempts to destroy all the vampires in the world. Truly remarkable storytelling. There have also been times in Strange’s publishing history when even I was ready to drop the book; Geof Isherwood, you were a great penciler, but I’m not sure you were ready to write the series. But again, can’t this be said of any character that’s existed for as long as Strange has? What is it about the successful times that works for Strange?

One of the things that I feel every successful comic series truly needs is a supporting cast. Many times, Dr. Strange doesn’t really have one. We always have Wong, his faithful manservant….and that’s often it. Roy Thomas gave Strange perhaps the largest supporting cast, with an apprentice, Wong’s fiancee, an undead brother, two female friends, a business manager, and Strange’s girlfriend Clea. I think that’s one of the reasons that Thomas’ run on Strange (which Thomas wrote with his wife) is so successful; there’s a community within the book, and lots of characters to interact. One of the other things the Thomases did was to bring Strange down to the level of mere mortals. I think part of the reason that Strange can be difficult for some people to like is that he isn’t really very….normal. I know, I know, who is normal in a superhero universe, but if we pick someone like Peter Parker (the typical example) he’s someone that the reader can relate to. He has the same problems, fears and speech patterns that we do. No one thinks or talks or acts like Stephen Strange. He’s truly in his own little world. Now, for some readers, that’s probably a plus, as it makes him more interesting, but I imagine for every person that prefers Strange be offputting and odd, another three find him cold and unrelatable.

I think another part of the problem is that Strange is a more cerebral hero. While cerebral heroes can be popular (both Mr. Fantastic and Professor X have been around for some time), they don’t tend to headline their own titles. Most characters that do headline their own titles are action oriented. They have a problem, so they hit it. Or stab it. Or web it. Whatever they do, they take decisive action to neutralize it. While Strange can certainly hold his own in a fight, that’s not really what he’s about. He’s much more likely to find out about a problem which he can deal with, study it, research it, and then come up with a solution. That doesn’t always make for scintillating comics.

So, I’ve identified some of the problems with Strange and why it’s difficult to write him in a successful series. How about other ideas as to why his series don’t end well? Ideas on how to fix these problems?

Ah, good. This one is a bit more difficult to hammer out. I’ve also been a fan of Dr. Strange for a long time. I have a near-complete run of the original Strange Tales, a HUGE Defenders collection and mixed issues from pretty much every incarnation of Strange’s eponymous titles. That said, I can’t really put my finger on why I like the character. The sad thing is that it’s probably the costume that first drew me in. And the Steve Ditko style with the crazy hand gestures and psychedelic backgrounds.

If you look at the root of the character, he’s pretty much a jackass. Don’t know if you caught the direct-to-DVD cartoon that Marvel released last year, but it was pretty faithful to Strange’s origin…he’s a stuck-up surgeon who pities himself when he gets in a car accident that ruins his career. He goes on one of those “meaning of life” searches and climbs the proverbial (and literal) mountain to find the wise man. He’s selfish. He’s accustomed to a certain way of life. And he’s oh so lonely.

Obviously you’ve nailed one of the big problems with the character: his lack of a supporting cast. There have been times in his existence when he was surrounded by some interesting people…Wong is always good (check out Brian K. Vaughan’s The Oathminiseries with art by the Ditko-like Marcos Martin), he plays nice with the Night Nurse, and he and Spider-Man make a good Butch and Sundance team. I’ve never really cared for his pseudo-wife Clea or any of the assorted apprentices he took on. The challenge is that, by definition, the Sorcerer Supreme is fairly independent and doesn’t keep a big social calendar. There are about a billion artificial ways to surround him with “friends,” but none of them stays true to the basis of the character. Personally, I don’t like him as part of the Avengers for this very reason. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to him being a part of the team (other than the fact that Bendis likes to write him). So that’s step one: how do we get him involved with others?

The other problem you mentioned goes to the core of his history. Magic doesn’t sell books. Even the folks at Marvel know this. Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada tackled this issue a couple years back in a Newsarama interview where he stated that “There are no rules to his universe and from a storytelling perspective that’s problematic.” Sorcery has no boundaries. Every conflict is solved just by the writer making something up out of the blue. Until we can attach some limits to what he can and cannot do (and, consequently, what his fellow magic-based allies and enemies can and cannot do), this problem will never go away. Because of this, Strange is often relegated to the corners of the Marvel Universe. He’s either dealing with the things that no one else is aware of or can’t deal with themselves. Or, he’s forced into an advisory role like his business card should say “Magical Consultant” or something.

Those are two big problems to work around and/or eliminate. Now, what are the strengths of Doctor Strange? What are the things that make him unique and interesting…besides his costume? I’ll start the discussion by offering these insights: 1. He has a unique perspective of the Marvel Universe, having teamed up with many different characters and visited locations and dimensions that others never even knew existed. 2. Vice-versa, his experiences have put him on a higher plane than many of the folks he engages with on a day-to-day basis (perhaps he feels more comfortable around individuals like Silver Surfer and Thor as opposed to everyday folks like Captain America and the tech-based Iron Man). 3. His background provides creators a lot of leeway when it comes to creative foes and abilities.

And, as a beginning storyline, I think there’s something to the idea of finding the source of magic power in the Marvel Universe and organically placing rules and limitations on how it is used. Thoughts?

You’re quite correct when you say that Strange has teamed up with a large proportion of the Marvel Universe. When anything magical effects someone’s life in their title, it’s almost a guarantee that Strange will be present. He’s the go-to magic guy and it’s given him exposure to a great number of heroes. That being said, does that work as a hook for his own book? (And I’m not saying that I thought you were suggesting it, as I don’t think you were….I’m just working through some of the points you mentioned.) Of course, it really doesn’t work that way. Marvel tried that basic idea with their Secret Defenders series in the ’90s, when Strange gathered a group of heroes to him in every issue to go fight something that Strange had detected, but didn’t want to deal with on his own. Unfortunately, not only is that not much of a Dr. Strange book, it’s not much of a book at all, with no strong storyline running more than a few issues. Marvel also seemed to try to make Strange’s book a team-up book itself during the Thomas’ run, when they had a guest star every issue (which was made even worse by crossing over constantly with ever single Infinity Whatever miniseries that was currently being released). Basically, those issues turned Strange into a guest star in his own book, and that didn’t work either.

I certainly think that he relates better to fellow mystics and to more powerful beings than he does your run of the mill superhero (and I agree that he does not fit into the Avengers at all. His inclusion on the team is made even more non-sensical because he refused to get involved in the Civil War, but is now suddenly fine with taking a side and fighting this fight. Great timing Strange, but you’re a little late as the war is over. Perhaps, had you gotten involved sooner, you could have helped to give the war a different ending…). I’d also venture to suggest that your typical superhero isn’t too comfortable around him. Yes, he’s at all of the big crossovers, and he’s often a relatively important figure in them, but he’s also aloof from most of the heroes he encounters. But how can we make this work in a series?

Perhaps a team-up series is what is needed, but not one in the traditional sense. Perhaps a new apprentice is needed, but someone both expected and unexpected. What if we started a series with Dr. Strange training his new apprentice, the Scarlet Witch? In current Marvel continuity, Wanda has been depowered and is living a peaceful life. However, it’s a sure bet that her enemies will find her, and they won’t be too pleased with her. Since she doesn’t have her hex powers, she’ll need to find a way to defend herself. She’s shown an aptitude for magic before, so what if she were to decide that magic is a path she should pursue, to defend herself from those who would do her harm. She and Strange have always been shown to be somewhat close and I think Strange relates to her better than he does to most heroes. Would he train her? I think he would, if she asked, especially when you consider that Wanda has proven herself mentally unstable, so the discipline that magic demands of one would be the perfect way to help Wanda gain control over her mental difficulties (plus, if she did start to slip again, you’d have Strange right there to contain the situation).

This gives us someone who is not a novice in magic, but also someone who has never really delved deep into its secrets, staying with Strange. Wanda could serve, to an extent, as the eyes of the audience, learning things as we do. Although only one other person in the cast (which would include Strange and Wong), she should provide enough of a contrasting personality to make for some interesting interactions around the Sanctum Sanctorum. Plus, Wanda also has ties to the superhero community, which could force Strange to sometimes deal with other heroes, which would be a great way to express how removed he is from the typical do-gooder. If Hawkeye or Wonder Man swing by the Sanctum to chat with Wanda, how do Strange and Wong deal with them? Is there anyway these people can relate to each other?

That’s just one idea. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on other Strange pitches, or on this one.

The Scarlet Witch is a great way to organically include some of the superhero community in a Dr. Strange title. And she seems like a good fit, especially playing off her mental instability. I think it would be a great set-up to have Strange take her in and then she makes up an entire relationship (far beyond what really exists) in her head…almost like Fatal Attraction…which would be made even more tense once we introduce Night Nurse as Strange’s love interest. We could turn the book into not just a magic-based title, but also a sort of romance book (which I think works lovely considering the almost Gothic background of Strange’s powers).

There’s a fine line you’d have to toe with this kind of title. Strange almost needs to stand alone in the Marvel Universe. He needs to explore bizarre dimensions and encounter offbeat characters. At the same time, you need to infuse his book with some regular superhero guest stars in order to tie everything into regular continuity. And there’s the rub (and most likely the reason why his title always falls to the wayside): too many superheroes spoil the book. Magic and other powers don’t work well together…the dynamics clash, the realities contradict each other. Too many guest stars and the book loses its focus. Too few guest stars and the book loses its broader interest.

A few of the plot ideas I worked up for our Defenders post would play here just as well. Dr. Strange has toyed with Black Magic in the past. It would be intriguing to have him come face-to-face with his “dark doppelganger”…the yin to his Sorcerer Supreme yang. I could also see a lot of the magic/superhero characters appearing in this book, folks like Brother Voodoo, Morbius, Werewolf By Night (and the other fringe characters from the Night Shift), Gargoyle, Hellstorm and Terror Inc.

I’d love to see some camaraderie among this group of heroes. Maybe they get together regularly and play poker or paintball or something. Maybe they trade war stories over some drinks at a dive bar somewhere. Strange always comes off as kind of pompous around the hoi polloi of the Marvel world, but maybe among his peers he has a different personality. Maybe they even pick on him or make fun of him. And perhaps they pull magic-based practical jokes on each other! It reminds me of some of my favorite Avengers moments when you see the heroes out of costume just interacting with each other as people.

Personally, I think Strange needs a tangible rogues gallery too. He’s battled against Mephisto, Nightmare and Dormammu so many times that it’s become routine. Let’s create some real human-based threats, some really creepy folks with the worst intentions in mind. Darker villains mixed with more light-hearted characterizations could be a nice dichotomy.

So give me a fully-formed pitch using some of these elements. I forgot to do that with my Namor tweaks (and should probably go back to it). Let’s put our heads together and come up with something we’d all like to read…

Hokey smokes! Could I agree more with your thoughts on Strange’s villains? No, I don’t think I could. I am not a fan, in any title, of using the abstract cosmic entities as regular villains. All of them should pop up from time to time when you’re writing a character at Strange’s power levels, but they should not be the core of the character’s rogues gallery, and they’re pretty much all Strange has. Sure, some people would say that Baron Mordo is a member of Strange’s rogues gallery, but unfortunately, he’s really been beaten down so many times, and we’ve been told so many times that he is weaker than Strange, that he’s lost any amount of threat he once possessed. Also, he’s dead, or at least he was the last time I checked.

Mordo is, however, the direction I would recommend for villains, in that he is human. I know that conventional wisdom dictates that the hero’s adversaries be stronger than the hero himself so that they can be considered a threat to the hero. Unfortunately, with Strange it’s difficult to make his foes more powerful than him, and not have them be cosmic menaces. I think, though, that power is not everything. Luthor and the Joker have been tormenting their respective heroes for over half a century and they’re both physically weaker than their counterpart. A true villain doesn’t just need power to be a threat, and I think your idea of making the villains more in tune with a darker, Gothic style would really work well for this character.

I also like the idea of a love triangle. For decades, Marvel thrived on the love triangle; Stan Lee seemed to want one in every single early Marvel title. You don’t see it as often in current Marvel titles, but it is a good choice for drama and intrigue. It works even better with a character like Wanda involved, since she may not be tied to reality very closely. If Strange is supposed to be helping her retain her sanity, and yet his relationship with Night Nurse is threatening that sanity, what would Strange’s reaction be? Where does his responsibility as Wanda’s friend, physician and teacher end and begin?

I think a pitch is beginning to come together. We want a darker tone; not grim and gritty “Let Me Pull Your Head Off” dark, but something more Gothic and tilting toward horror. We want Wanda in the Sanctum, but she is going to be just part of the story and we don’t want her to overwhelm. I think guest stars can be done organically, and I really like the idea of Strange being different around them. If nothing else, there must be some magical lingo that these guys and gals would throw around when they’re together that most of us wouldn’t know. Surely there’s a sense of camaraderie that exists between them. I mean, the magical world is one that is so different from what the rest of the world sees as reality, that being able to walk in that world must be somewhat like joining an exclusive club. Strange would almost have to be a somewhat different person around these people.

I sincerely hope that I have not just reiterated what you already said in your post. I think we’re getting close here, but I simply can’t seem to write this without being interrupted; I’ve been writing this for an hour, and I’ve been interrupted at least seven times, so I’m going to sign off now, and let you put this all together in a pitch. Hey, you’re great at that stuff!

Aw jeez, you had to throw it back in my lap, huh? This one is a lot harder to wrap my head around. We have a lot of beats so far, but no real plotline to weave it all together. I think we have to establish a few unique villains. We need to set up a new apprentice, a love interest and a deeper supporting cast. We need to delve into the origins and limits of magic in the Marvel Universe. And we need to give Strange more of a personality and more of a sense of community (at least among his peers). I don’t have a complete answer for any of these problems, but I’ve got some notes that I’ll share with you. We should be able to hammer something out together.

Taking my points in order, let’s first look at potential villains. As I’ve said, my initial thought for an archenemy (a la Luthor or Joker) is to establish someone as Strange’s polar opposite whose ultimate goal is to see Dr. Strange fail. The easiest thought here is to bring back someone who crossed paths with Strange long ago…someone like Cyrus Black. Or to bring in someone who has a past with supernatural characters and demons, such as Dr. Glitternight. Either one would come as a surprise to Strange and could be slowly revealed over the course of the story. As far as new and different characters go, there are a lot of themes we could follow. The first that comes to mind for me is something classically Gothic or Victorian-inspired. This could take the form of a character based on someone such as Edgar Allan Poe or Lizzie Borden. We could bring back a character like The Hangman, but make him much more sinister…surrounded by the ghosts of crows, like shadows (interestingly enough, a group of crows is called a “murder” and “A Murder of Crows” would be a great title for a story arc). Perhaps a character called the Undertaker that has more of a gritty Western or even a straight-off-the-Mayflower feel and he could have a host of minions, like Children of the Corn, setting him up as their Fagin. That’s pretty creepy. Maybe some villain that has something to do with the ancestors of our forefathers and their Freemasonry ties…connected somehow to the secrets of America. Pirates are always a good foil…historic and knee-deep in murder and lost souls. Maybe there’s some value in pursuing the spectral manifestation of his deceased sister as a villain? And last but not least, perhaps Strange should face someone who represents the next generation. What if we gave him a younger foe who employs all the trappings of the Steampunk genre? I could see a bad guy who looks a lot like the Jack Knight Starman, with his goggles and pulp serial-influenced staff. Maybe he has a bunch of magically-imbued gadgets and whiz-bang inventions. I like that a lot, a bit of the old and the new.

We’ve already selected Scarlet Witch as his new apprentice, and I think that’s a perfect fit and makes a great amount of sense. Inject Night Nurse as the love interest and, like we discussed, you can build a lot of friction and potential (the story arc title of “Bizarre Love Triangle” just screams out to me). But these two, along with Wong, don’t make a very full supporting cast. Personally, I’d love to see more of Brother Voodoo and Michael Morbius hanging around and offering advice and assistance. Beyond that, there must be people that Strange interacts with on a professional, if not personal, level. How about giving him a historian/librarian figure for research purposes (ala Buffy and her Watcher)? A professor of the occult would make sense, as would a psychologist or social anthropologist…or even an FBI profiler if we get involved in weird serial killers or crime patterns. It would also make sense, given his collection of magical items, that he would be acquainted with a monster hunter (or relic hunter) such as Elsa Bloodstone. Finally, in a storyline concept I haven’t mentioned before, let’s give Strange a career. What if he wrote a book about his life? Would he have an agent? Perhaps some “magic groupies?” For a little humor, what if he goes on a book tour and has a stand-up comedian as his opening act? It may seem a little out of place, but it could also offer an outsider perspective to Strange’s daily life.

The next point may be the hardest to crack: the origins and limitations of magic in the Marvel Universe. I’m just going to throw these things out there and see if anything sticks. Most of the magic found in literature and legend seems to stem from religion, specifically lesser religions like Wicca or Voodoo and native groups like Druids, Shamans, Witch Doctors and the Aborigines. This would imply that magic has a natural base attuned to the Earth itself. Now, what if magic is powered by the Gods, who are actually the true denizens of Earth, and each pantheon has its own followers. The Gods with the most followers have the most power, but their magic has less effect due to being “watered down.” The most potent magic comes from those who haven’t lost their relation to the planet. But the source of the magic isn’t the Gods themselves. What if the source was something called The Belief and it was held inside something intangible called The Tapestry (stick with me, I’m going into Grant Morrison mode). Now, The Tapestry is made up of threads called “reality rifts” that allow the magic users to peer into the truth of the planet (kind of like The Matrix). And what if there was a limited amount of magic because there are only allowed to be a set number of magic users…each one acting as an anchor or “hem point” for a particular rift? There is a true balance needed in order to keep The Tapestry whole and to keep The Belief contained. Perhaps there are too many magic users and it gets to the point where magic is being rationed…when someone is using it, someone else cannot. This could lead to natural limitations on magic in order to keep it flush with power. Let’s say that magic can no longer be used to harm, only to dissuade or distract. it must be defensive or protection-based. Even dark magic can no longer damage an opponent, instead it causes fear or confusion. This could easily be mandated across all of Marvel’s magic-based characters.

Springing from that comes the idea for another group of characters who could be allies or villains: the insane. Perhaps they’ve caught a glimpse of The Belief and cannot fathom its truth. We could bring back characters like Mad Jim Jaspers, Tatterdemalion or even Jamie Braddock and his crazy quantum strings. They could act as prophets or guides for Strange. They could be protectors of The Tapestry. Or hell, they could just be there to fight.

The last point should occur organically after all of these other things come into place. By putting Strange around more people, his personality will develop. We can create a magic lingo similar to the style in the Ocean’s 11 movies…where the characters discuss grifting schemes and famous ploys, but this lingo is based in terms of Vaudeville acts, early stage magicians, various turn-of-the-century inventors (Tesla, Edison) and a number of religious references like saints and relics…the Double Houdini, the St. Crispin’s Folly, the 23 Skiddoo. etc. Could be a lot of fun actually.

Couple all of these ideas with a general theme headed more into the macabre and horror side of magic, that focuses more on the “what could happen if…” side of things, and I think you’ve got a winning formula that would touch on the dark, the different, and the uncomfortably humorous all at once. Strange needs to be less about the 1960s cosmic vibe with its weird dimensions and backgrounds and more about the counterculture of today with its effects on the planet and its resources. Think less hippie and more Emo or Goth, right? It may even be worthwhile, if we pursue the young Steampunk angle, to make Strange the proverbial fish out of water who doesn’t understand this cultural shift and can’t quite come to terms with it.

Wow…that’s a lot to think about. I’ll give you the weekend to mull it over…

I’ve had to read this a few times, but my final feeling is….wow. There’s a real story here. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure that magic needs to be strictly defined and structured; to me that somewhat defeats the purpose of magic. Yes, I know in the hands of a lazy writer magic can become its own deus ex machina and every story can be finished by the magician literally pulling a rabbit out of their hat. That being said, I think you can have a strong story without those clear definitions. However, I also think your ideas on how to define magic are very strong and could make for some interesting stories, so I’d certainly support that direction.

It sounds to me like we’ve got some arcs ready to go. The first story arc, I think, should be where Strange actually takes Wanda in as his apprentice. By giving Strange an apprentice, we have the opportunity to delineate the rules of magic you’ve created, since Strange would be explaining things to Wanda. We wouldn’t want to dump lots of information on the reader at once, but you could spread the exposition out over the course of many issues, parsing the information out to the reader in ways that would make them want to know more. I see Wanda, Wong and Night Nurse as our regular supporting characters; those characters who we see in every story arc, and really, in every issue. Wanda and Wong live with him, and Night Nurse must visit quite a bit (kind of like Morgana Blessing in the older issues, but not as annoying). The other types of characters you mention are a great idea, but I think they need to be introduced slowly, over multiple arcs. Strange’s world is so different from the world of other hero’s that I think we want to allow the readers to grow into it organically, rather than shoving many characters at them in the first arc.

I think the villain in the first story arc should be someone more “classically” magical, so to speak. Reinventing an older supernatural villain would be a fine choice. Your description of the new Hangman is a little too much like the Scarecrow (Marvel, not DC) for me and Dr. Glitternight sounds a little too silly for me to take him seriously. I like the name Cyrus Black, and if you don’t mind Harry Potter fans confusing him with Sirius Black, I think he might be the way to go. I still don’t think that Black can be as strong, magically, as Strange is (the job title of Sorcerer Supreme kind of precludes others from having the same magical powers as Strange), but I think he’s a planner, perhaps one with access to some powerful artifacts or monstrous servants (enter Elsa Bloodstone). I also love the idea of Strange having a Watcher-type of contact, who helps with research, and could help him figure out what some of the magical items of power Black is using might be.

I think the second story arc might best focus on a more gritty, grim villain, someone based on Poe or Borden as you suggested. They know some magic, but where they really become a threat is in their ruthlessness and, perhaps, insanity. Their magic is more cult based and much of it comes through ritual. I think that Strange may be somewhat surprised and taken aback by the sorts of crimes this villain would commit, and the lengths this villain would go to in order to achieve his goals. This would be a good time for Strange to seek out and become acquainted with a new ally; the FBI profiler type that you mention. Strange and his allies are somewhat out of their element with the crimes this villain is performing. Strange has seen some crazy stuff, but there’s always been an element of civility behind it. Mordo may have been a gruesome creep, but he didn’t do a heck of a lot in the way of human sacrifice. This guy does, and it throws Strange for something of a loop. This also might be a good time for him to seek aid from Brother Voodoo, since voodoo (in my admittedly limited knowledge) also tends to be more ritual based.

I’d save the Steampunk baddie for another story arc, although he’s my favorite, I have to admit. I love the idea of someone mixing science and magic (it’s an area of Doom’s character that I never felt was addressed enough); there’s so much that can be done with it. Again, it also gives the villain an edge over Strange without making him more magically powerful than Strange. And again, it’s also an area where Strange is somewhat at a loss; sure, he can counter this guy’s magical abilities, but how much does Strange know about technology? Can he even program a VCR? It also gives Strange a need for another ally; enter Dr. Michael Morbius, who knows all about technology as a scientist.

In amongst these plots, we have the slow simmering love triangle between Wanda, Strange and Night Nurse, which can explode into it’s own plot at some point. Plus, we throw in some scenes which shows what Strange does when he’s not being the Sorcerer Supreme, as he hangs out with the other magical members of the Marvel Universe that we’ve mentioned. The only point I’m stuck on is his job. I somewhat see where you’re going; after all, where does Strange get his money? He hasn’t held a job since he became Sorcerer Supreme and he spent all of his fortune before that day. To an extent, writing a book would work for him; he could set his own hours and he certainly has a lot of experiences from which to draw. What sort of book would he write? You suggest an autobiography. I’m not sure if that would work for two reasons. First of all, Morgana Blessing wrote his biography when she thought he was dead in the early 90s (he even went on a talk show to discuss it). Second, I see Strange as not really wanting his life to be open to the public; I don’t think he’d want people to panic when they realized what he’s been through. Perhaps you were suggesting that he write a book about his life before he became the Sorcerer Supreme, which could be interesting, but it doesn’t have much of an ending if he wants to keep his life secret. “I had a horrible accident, became a drunk, but everything got better and now I….don’t do much.”

At the same time, there’s potential there. Perhaps Strange would spin his non-magical story into a self-help type of book? Perhaps he’d write about the non-mystic teachings of the Ancient One, exhorting people to throw off the shroud of commercialism and live a life of peace and tranquility. It’s a little cheesy, but it also seems like the sort of thing Strange might write. I almost suggested he write fiction (maybe fantasy or science fiction, based on his adventures, but which he markets as fiction), but I’m not sure I see him doing so, as it seems to trivialize what he does. I’d love to do something like market him as a romance novelist, but that seems way too far out there for him. Besides, if we want him doing a book tour, we need the sort of book that lends itself to those tours, and people love them some self-help books. And who wouldn’t want to write the scene where Strange guests on Oprah?

That seems pretty pitchy to me. Thoughts?

I think it’s great how you’ve managed to work an additional supporting character into each story arc and you’ve pinpointed which one would work for each aspect of the story. I’m still a little unsure of how we work the villains into the action. Obviously, if we use Cyrus Black, there will be scenes showing him plotting a comeback (without revealing his face). He has a beef with Strange that was never fully explored. That one makes sense. And the opening arc with Wanda and Night Nurse is easy enough to establish. But beyond that, how do we approach making the bad guys a threat to Strange. I mean, the guy never seems to leave his house. I can’t imagine that his potential foes would just walk up and knock on his front door. Perhaps we need to give him a job to get him out in the public and have some interaction. You can only get away with so much coincidence and mistaken identity ploys before it gets ridiculous. I also wouldn’t want to rely on his allies coming to him for assistance as a way to launch every plot.

So the big stumbling block is still his career. How does he put food on the table? Stephen Strange has a smarmy personality. I could see him hamming it up on those celeb-journalism shows. I don’t know how much the public knows about him in general. Does anyone remember him as a surgeon? Does anyone know he is a magician? He could potentially write a New age sort of book…a spiritual health book written by a real medical doctor would create good buzz. Maybe he’s bored of being trapped in his secret home all the time and decides to get a little public face time by becoming a stage magician (a la Zatanna). He could write a book on the history of magic, but put a realist spin on it (coming from the medical field) to mask his true background. Or perhaps there’s some sort of political turmoil in the Ancient One’s homeland of Kamar-Taj (or Tibet) and Strange comes out as a pseudo-celebrity to defend the country. Any of these could be pre-established in our first story arc and then fleshed out as the base for the whole Wanda situation.

I totally agree that any new villains should be a different type of problem for Strange. The cosmic situations and the continuous magic-versus-magic fights get old quick. The steampunk angle enables us to show Strange getting frustrated. Any historically-based opponent allows us to add an element of research to the confrontation. And then the horror cult thing is just weird and disturbing (I still like “A Murder of Crows” as a title).

Ooh…I know a way to start this whole thing. What if there’s a truly bizarre serial killer haunting the Marvel Universe? Maybe using a team of possessed children to commit the murders (eww…twisted)? Dr. Strange has just finished a book about psychic investigators and mystical ways to solve crimes, using his medical background as a sort of anti-authority. During an appearance on his book tour, he’s approached by the FBI profiler we’ve discussed and he gets brought in to the search for the killer. Along the course of the investigation, he ends up revealing his true position to the profiler…this brings trust and adds the profiler to Strange’s inner circle. The plot also puts Strange out in the public eye, which could be a launching pad for others to seek his help or want to stop his interference.

Damn, now I’m thinking it might be smart to have him write a book “debunking” hauntings from the studious medical point of view and have his book tour take place in supposedly haunted locations. Is that too much of a cop out? Meh.

Either way, the book tour thing really helps progress the arcs we’ve proposed. New locations offer more chances for conflicts, experiences and information. It would add an additional element to have his supporting cast spread out across the country (or even the world, depending on his tour stops). People coming in and going out of the storylines organically, as you’ve mentioned, makes it seem more natural than the whole “Scooby Gang” vibe of something like Buffy.

Hmph. Seems to me that we’ve come up with about two years worth of material, depending on how it all pans out, and the potential to keep the series going in a great direction for a long time to come. I really need to work my contacts to get in touch with some Marvel editors. I wonder how they’d feel about our little blog?