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

Feb-10-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Speaking of reviews….

Feb-04-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pfft…I’m NEVER wrong.


The Avengers: Reassembling Greatness.

Jan-12-09

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

Until now!

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

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

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

Where do we start with the Meanwhile…Avengers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that cool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, who would be on said roster?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.


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

Oct-15-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Oct-14-08

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

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

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

What about my own picks? Read on….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jean Grey: Rising like a Phoenix…again and again and again….

Oct-02-08

So, we’ve made our first small push into the world of the X-Men, and what have we learned? We’ve learned that Peter David writes some of the best mutant books around, we’ve learned that Jason hasn’t read too many stories featuring Nightcrawler, and we’ve learned that just that short stint into the X-World gave me a headache. The sad thing about that last statement is that the concept of the X-Men and the mutant world is a solid one. The oppressed minority is never a theme that will grow out of date or become less relevant (sadly) and it will always resonate with readers. Unfortunately, over the years Marvel’s Merry Mutants have become so horribly enmeshed in a convoluted and hard to follow continuity that sometimes trying to figure out where a certain character stands can be difficult for the casual reader (and sometimes it’s hard for the devoted reader). As a case in point, let’s examine the poster child for screwed up continuity….Jean Grey.

Jean Grey was introduced in 1963 as one of the five original X-Men. Given the name of Marvel Girl, she was telekinetic. She and Cyclops were dancing around a relationship, and would eventually become romantically involved, a romance that would last for more than four decades. Marvel immediately began to confuse Jean’s origin by claiming, after she had already existed for some years, that she was not just telekinetic; she was also telepathic. Plus, she’d known Professor X for years before joining the team. Um. Ok. Well, that was never shown in her early appearances, but no worries. We’re comics fans, and we can roll with these things. Jean left the X-Men when the series was revived from obscurity in the mid-70s, but she continued to make guest appearances in the title, and was unlucky enough to be guesting when the Sentinels came calling. Along with other members of the team, she was kidnapped to outer space. On the return trip (after the Sentinels had been defeated), Jean piloted the space shuttle back to Earth through a radiation storm, while the other members of the team stayed safely in some shielded pods. Sadly, the radiation was too strong, and poor Jean died when the ship crashed into the Hudson River.

Her first death lasted less than an issue; she was back pages after expiring, now calling herself Phoenix, and with powers far beyond those of mortal mutants. She made even more appearances in the title as Phoenix, but her power levels began to grow to truly cosmic levels, and after going a tad mad and destroying an entire planet, she committed suicide to protect those who she loved from her own out of control powers and emotions. Oooh, death #2. This one was going to last a little longer. Five years, to be precise.

However, while Jean was dead, she wasn’t forgotten. Cyclops met another woman who looked exactly like Jean. Her name was Madelyne Pryor, and while Cyclops could never completely forget about Jean, he began to fall in love with Madelyne. They got married, and Madelyne got pregnant. Everything looked rosy. Then Jean returned.

Yes, during a routine emergency, the Avengers found a life support pod in the Hudson River. With some help from the Fantastic Four, they cracked this baby open and found….Jean Grey! But wait…wasn’t she dead? Well, not as dead as you might think. It turns out that Jean Grey had never been Phoenix. In reality, the Phoenix was a cosmic force, who had put Jean in suspended animation and had taken her place. Jean had never destroyed an entire planet. That was all the Phoenix Force. Jean was now free and clear of the guilt, but wait…she no longer had telepathic powers. She was only telekinetic again. But she was back. She didn’t want to rejoin the X-Men, who at that time were associating with Magneto, who felt that he could be a good guy if he just ran around with a giant ‘M’ painted on his costume, so she convinced the original X-Men to form a new group: X-Factor.

The idiocy which was the original X-Factor is fodder for another column, but I do want to digress for a minute: This is where it became clear that Cyclops is a jerk. When Cyclops finds out that Jean has returned to life, he abandons his wife and UNBORN CHILD and immediately runs to her side. He comes back shortly after his son is born, but stays for a very short period of time and leaves again. This would be a slimy enough move if he told Madelyne that he was divorcing her, but he doesn’t even do that; he simply leaves, with not so much as a “Dear Madelyne” note. Wolverine wasn’t kidding in the first X-Men movie when he called him a dick.

It’s then revealed that Madelyne looks so much like Jean because Madelyne is actually a clone of Jean, created by the villainous Mr. Sinister (who is villainous because it’s hard to be a hero when your name is Mr. Sinister). Madelyne suddenly has super powers, begins calling herself The Goblin Queen, and fights Jean to the death. Madelyne dies, but not without revealing that (and I must quote Wikipedia for this, since even though I’ve read the bloody issues, I still don’t know what happened) “the piece of Jean’s consciousness that had merged with the Phoenix Force (which had migrated into Madelyne Pryor upon the death of the Phoenix) returned to Jean, granting her all the memories of both Madelyne and the Dark Phoenix. Jean now also contained a spark of the Phoenix Force but would later expel it while helping an alien world fend off a Celestial.” Thank you Wikipedia. So, Madelyne is dead, there’s only one Jean Grey again and even though she’d never been Phoenix, she now remembered it like she had been, and had a sliver of cosmic power in her. And, even though she’d never been her own clone, Madelyne, she remembered that too as if she had been. Oh, and somewhere in there she regained her telepathic powers. Also, somewhere in here, I began drinking heavily.

Jean and Scott now plan to raise the baby that Scott and Madelyne had, since Jean, with Madelyne’s memory, considers it her baby as well. Of course, they don’t have much of an opportunity to raise the child, before it’s infected with a technovirus by the villain Apocalypse, and they have to send it to the future to be cured, where it will also be raised and will grow to become the hero Cable, who will come back in time as an adult. He’ll actually come back in time twice, coming back again some years later in a younger incarnation calling himself X-Man. Jean tries to deal with parenting both of these people, but it’s difficult when they’re almost as old as she is. Of course, she should be used to it since a daughter from YET ANOTHER future timeline that had already come back to the past, when Jean was originally dead, and had called herself Phoenix, and had joined the X-Men. Jean met her a few times after she returned to life, and the meetings were often awkward, as any meeting with your child from an alternate reality would be. I’m sure we can all relate.

Who wants aspirin?

So, Scott and Jean finally get married. For a honeymoon, they go to the future, where they get to raise the son that they sent to the future years ago and who would become Cable. They spend years in the future, but she doesn’t actually age because she’s inhabiting someone else’s body at the time. So, she does get to raise her son…well, Madelyne’s son, but it’s almost like her own. So, everything is hunky-dory in Jean-land and things can get back to a semblance of normality, right? Well, not quite. Cyclops, proving he’s just as much a dick now as he was when he deserted his wife and infant son, starts having an affair with Emma Frost, a former villain who tried to kill Jean on numerous occasions. The two women aren’t too friendly, since when Sentinels killed Jean a few years before (the third time Jean died) she had projected her mind into Emma’s comatose form. Not surprisingly, Emma was never happy about this, and even less surprisingly, Jean eventually returned to life in her own body. Anyhoo, Cyclops explains to his wife that he and Emma only screwed around on the mental plane, not in reality, so it doesn’t count. Jean’s not sure she agrees, and the marriage isn’t doing well.

Things never have the chance to get sorted out. Jean is on a spaceflight with Wolverine and they are being pulled toward the sun. Perhaps Jean should stay the hell off spaceships? In any case, Wolverine kills Jean so she doesn’t die when they go into the sun, because being stabbed through the heart with bone claws is so much more enjoyable then being incinerated. Death #4. To the surprise of no one, Jean returns to life, again manifesting the Phoenix Force which makes no sense, since she was never Phoenix in the first place! Arrrgh! I hate these stupid writers! Why can’t they keep their bloody stories straight!? This sort of thing is the reason that…..

Sorry. (Keep it together John. You’re almost there. Deep breaths.) Ahem. So, Jean is alive for the fourth time, and returns to Earth, where she fights Magneto, who kills her for the fifth time. This happened four years ago, and she’s stayed dead so far, but anyone who thinks that this one is going to stick needs to go back to Remedial Comics and read some more Marvel comics.

I’ve just re-read that, and it still makes no sense to me. What really bothers me is that I like Jean Grey; I think she has interesting powers, and I think she’s an interesting character, when she’s not being crushed under the weight of her own ridiculously convoluted backstory (and I’ve actually simplified things and also left out some minor deaths and story points). If the X-Titles can do this to one of the founding members of the X-Men, it becomes obvious why so many people have problems following their titles.

What say you? Does Jean have potential? Do you agree that she’s been ridiculously mishandled? Is there even anyway to save a character this badly mangled?

Holy crap.

Yeah. Should we go back to talking about the Avengers?

No, no, this is good. I mean, really it’s awful, but in a good way. You never realize how ridiculous a lot of this sounds until you see it written out in a completely biased way. Wikipedia gives a solid history of the character, but they don’t delve into the laugh-out-loud horror and nonsense implied in such a backstory.

I agree that Jean Grey used to be an interesting character. And, even though I’m usually completely against the soap opera aspects in the X-Men canon, her frustrating love triangle with Cyclops and Wolverine was inspired. Of course, as you’ve pointed out, they never really handled Cyclops’s side of it very well. What a lousy double standard.

Sadly, the only thing I can think to do (since she will inevitably return at some point) is to give her some sort of brain injury. Honestly, if we’re going to embrace all the daytime mantras for these characters, we might as well incorporate some memory loss. I’d take it a step further and actually give her a physical blow to the head that cuts off some of her exaggerated powers, makes her forget her past with Scott and all the weird alterna-kids, and maybe even forces her to absentmindedly drool a bit. Ooh, maybe even give her an eyepatch. Eyepatches are cool.

Seriously though, Jean became highly inconceivable once her powers and abilities ballooned out of control. The twisted relationship she shared with Scott was completely unbelievable. And the Cable-Nate Summers-Rachel Summers-Madelyn Pryor-Phoenix stuff just makes my cerebellum bleed. I has head asplode!

Jean Grey was great as a cute telekinetic girl, sort of naive and sheltered, who grew up to be a stalwart supporter of a dedicated cause. I have a weakness for redheads, so I always wanted her to be useful. Most of the time I was disappointed. And it’s strange to say that the X-world isn’t really that much different without her around.

That said, she is the only female founding member of a fairly significant part of Marvel’s history and should be restored to a position worthy of such status. I was only half joking when I suggested memory loss. If she were to forget who she was, what she was able to do, and what she meant to people, I think her character could be regrown in a positive way. It would be a natural catalyst to dampen her powers. It would also allow us to explore other relationships with her, which would then cause reactions in her former friends and lovers. And it would add an innocence back to the character which has been sorely lacking. I mean, really, I think you become pretty complacent with things after your third or fourth death. Or so I’ve heard.

So yeah, I’m actually advocating a swift blow to the head. How does that feel?

I think you may be on to something. There’s no real way to fix Jean’s backstory; any fix that I can think of would just complicate her history even more and that’s the last thing she needs. I think the best thing to do when she returns (and we all know she will) would be to just ignore the past, and the only way that the character can ignore it is if she doesn’t remember it. Whether that actually involves the Blob smacking her on the head and giving her amnesia, or more likely, Jean returning from the dead with the amnesia already in place, that’s the best way to go.

As for reducing her powers, I don’t mind the telepathy (although I don’t think it’s integral to the character), but they truly have to divorce her from the Phoenix concept once and for all. It was a great plot, and the original story is a classic, but it’s done now, and it’s time to move on. Keep her power levels down to more average levels, and instead of focusing on whether or not she’s going to go cosmic again and start destroying planets, focus on her personality.

That brings us to her love life, and yes, let’s move her beyond Cyclops. That ship has sailed, and Cyclops is obviously over her. I’d love to see them actually explore the Wolverine angle. Of course, Marvel has teased it for years, but I think they’re afraid to let Wolverine get close to a female. I’d love to see what would happen if Wolverine began to get close to Jean; especially a more innocent Jean. It could be interesting for both characters. Not that Wolverine is the only option; let Jean play the field a little. I’m not saying she should sleep with any guy with an X on their costume, but let her date a little and see what’s out there. Since her first appearance in 1963 she’s been stuck on Cyclops, who’s treated her horribly. It would be interesting to see her with anyone else. (It also might be interesting to see Cyclops’ reaction to Jean dating other men. Would he finally get jealous? Would other characters put him in his place, by relating his past missteps in the romance department?)

So, Jean comes back, as we know she will, and she has amnesia, allowing the character to begin in as fresh a way as possible. I like it.

Yes, yes! I was more or less angling for the amnesia angle. My favorite resurrections have always been the mysterious ones. And what’s more mysterious than when the character herself doesn’t even know what happened? I say they stumble upon her lying nearly unconscious out in some barren desert. She gets nursed back to health, eventually regains some of her powers (I guess I don’t mind the telepathy. I just hate when the power levels are so crazy.) and maybe even falls in love with…Angel or Iceman? How awkward would that be for everyone involved? Cyclops would probably instantly pine for her, which could end up backfiring easily as she gets turned off by his constant whining and attention. Teach that jerk a lesson.

I know it’s a cop out, but a permanent sort of amnesia is a great way to reboot relationships and personalities and all the rest. Bring back Jean, but make her a blank slate!


Dream Team: X-Men

Oct-01-08

“Meanwhile…Comics!” has existed for five months now and we have yet to delve into the vast world of Marvel’s mutants. The soap opera plots, the endless parade of characters and the Moebius Strip-like continuity have clearly struck fear into our comic-loving hearts. For some, X-Men lore is better experienced than explained. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t play favorites.

There are clearly characters that I enjoy over others. There are also characters who play nicer than others on a team. If you can somehow capture the intersection between the two, I think an X-Men Dream Team is possible. Of course, there are pretty much no parameters for creating an X-Men team. The ranks have swelled from the original cast of five to two teams of five or six with color-coded names. You’ve had the Xtreme X-Men, two X-Forces, New Mutants, Young X-Men, New X-Men, another set of New Mutants, a couple different X-Factors, Astonishing X-Men, and a base team with a rotating cast of anywhere from 8 to 20 members. This is leaving out smaller gatherings of mutants like Fallen Angels, X-Terminators, X-Statix or Excalibur. I guess I’ll just start picking people and stop when it feels right. So who would be on my perfect X-Men? I’m glad you asked…

Cyclops: Obviously. Not a true born leader, but sculpted and refined along that path by Professor X. Cyclops has been in pretty much every incarnation of the X-Men since its inception (including a 200-issue run from the beginning of Uncanny X-Men). I always found it funny that he was the only character on the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 who was both in the background as a member of the original team and also shown “busting out” as a member of the new squad.

Kitty Pryde: Whatever codename she happens to be going by this week, I think Kitty is perfect. Her power set is unique. The fact that she has grown up as part of the X-family is important, as is the fact that she’s developed a very strong-willed persona in that time.

Colossus: Sure, he’s got an interesting past with Kitty, but the main reasons for including him on any great X-Men team are his strength and his background. I liked the era of X-Men that featured characters from around the globe. I think it added a unique viewpoint and showed that mutants could be anywhere.

Iceman: Another original member who has really shown his strengths throughout his career. His powers have increased as has his heroic attitude. He’s also good at delivering one-liners. And I think he’s got an interesting look.

Mystique: This is the first of my “huh?” picks. Again, her look, her background and her powers are unique for the team.

Siryn: See above. I’m sure I could make a better argument for her than Mystique. Siryn is a legacy member. She’s fiery and temperamental. And I love the fact that she’s pregnant with Madrox’s child.

Madrox: Obviously. Madrox is, perhaps, my favorite mutant of all time. I love that they’ve added a tilt to his powers that allows his clones to have their own adventures and their own emotional set, which he can then reabsorb into himself.

Dust: Gotta have a rookie on the team. This is someone who has a truly unique set of powers and would look up to Kitty as a mentor/role model.

That gives me four men and four women. Three members with projectile-based attacks and one strength-based. One who can fly (three if you include similar powers from Iceman and Dust), two who can change shape, two who can pass through things. The only angle missing is someone with mental powers, but I’ve never cared for that focus anyway.

Yep…eight is enough. What do you think?

You know, I’d love to agree with you on a lot of these choices….but I can’t. I think I shall agree on a few though. Let’s see if I can’t organize this so it’s easy for the folks at home to follow along.

Jason says Cyclops: I agree with much of what you’ve said about Cyclops, and he really is the quintessential X-Men leader. However, I have to admit that I tend to find Cyclops rather boring. For years he’s had only a sliver of a personality, and while they’re trying to make him more interesting now, it’s not working (mostly because it’s hard to believe that he’s finally developed a personality after years of being rather dull). However, there is another X-Men leader who’s almost as iconic, and much more interesting as a character, and that’s Storm. Her powers are more interesting, and she managed to lead the X-Men for years when she didn’t even have any powers. So, I’d prefer to swap Cyclops for Storm.

Jason says Kitty Pryde: And John agrees. Wholeheartedly. Fascinating character, lots of fun, neat powers….run with this one.

Jason says Colossus: Well, Colossus is certainly Zzzzzzzzz. Wha! Sorry dozed off. About Colossus…Zzzzzzz. Yeah, that’s basically how I feel about Colossus. I have always found him to be one of dullest characters in, not just the X-Men mythos, but any mythos. Much like Cyclops, he seems to be defined only by his intense brooding and whining about the depressing twists and turns that his life has taken. Hey, I sympathize Big Guy. Your life does suck. You were better off dead.

Replacing him is somewhat problematic, if you want to match powers. When you get right down to it, the X-Men don’t have a lot of super strong characters. While a super strong hero is one of the components of almost every team, the X-Men have never seemed to really need one. However, since you mention Madrox (and we’ll get to him in a minute, but here’s a spoiler; I also think he should be on the team), I’d like to nominate his fellow X-Factorian Strong Guy as a member of the group. Strong Guy, also known as Guido, has the strength, but a much more interesting personality. He seems to be a smiling joker, but there’s real pathos under there. I think he’s much more interesting.

Jason says Iceman: I’m going to nod in accord on this one as well. He does have a fascinating look, and he’s easily the most interesting character of the original team. One of the things I love about Iceman is that he’s been around the Marvel Universe longer than anyone but the Fantastic Four, Spidey, and some of the very early Marvel heroes. I mean, Iceman is a veteran of the hero business, and yet, he’s not totally committed to it. He’s not developed his powers as much as he could have, and although he’s been doing more of that lately, there’s still territory to mine in that vein. I also think he may be the only CPA the team has, which I find is a niche many teams don’t take the trouble to fill.

Jason says Mystique: You know, I actually do like Mystique. Yet, I have to agee with what you said about her and ask “Huh?” She’s a neat character, but I don’t think she belongs in the X-Men. She’s a villain and works better in that context, and if you want to make her more of an anti-hero, I still think she works better on her own, or with a team that she has control of. Instead, I’d nominate her son, the ever fuzzy Nightcrawler. I think that Nightcrawler has one of the best looks in comic-dom, and his powers are different and interesting. Plus, he has a long history with the TV, and helps out with the different nationalities that you mentioned earlier. I’m also going to return to something I mentioned in the Avengers, and that’s his religious background, which I think can be interesting if not dwelled on, but used only when appropriate.

Jason says Siryn: I understand why she would be nice on the team, since Madrox is on the team and she’s carrying his child. Sadly, I’m not that fond of Siryn. I don’t dislike her, but she leaves me somewhat cold. I would instead suggest that we replace her with something that this team is desperately lacking, and it simply wouldn’t be the X-Men without one…a telepath! Specifically, I contend that Psylocke would be the perfect candidate to fill that void. I know that she’s been treated horribly over the years. She started out as such an interesting British noblewoman who became another cookie cutter killer (another sad casuality of the 90s) and then had her backstory horribly mangled when she got split into two beings. To that I say, whatever. I’d like to strip her back to her core, of a telepathic British woman who’s endured some harsh times, but who is still a product of her upper class English upbringing.

Jason says Madrox: Couldn’t agree more. I give all the credit for this to Peter David, who took a character that had been a joke for years and reinvented him as someone worth reading about. Without a doubt, he’s the most interesting character in the X-Universe, and perhaps the most interesting character in the entire Marvel Universe. He deserves his shot at the big team, and I’d like to see him get it.

Jason says Dust: John says who? Man, making me use Wikipedia. Huh. Whaddya know? I’ve read her appearances, and still couldn’t remember her. Man, if Grant Morrison can’t make a character memorable, perhaps that’s a strong hint that the character should be forgotten. Still, I like the idea of a Muslim on the team. The X-Men have long been used as symbols of any group of people wrongly hated and persecuted for something, and Muslims in America can certainly count themselves among that number. That being said, I have problems including her on the team, when I simply don’t care about her. I would disagree that the team needs a rookie (just like you don’t think they need a telepath), and were I going to replace her, it would be with Dr. Cecelia Reyes. I can hear you thinking the same thing about her that I feel about Dust, but I’ve always liked this character. First of all, it gives the team a medical doctor, which I am amazed more teams don’t have. Second, it fills the role of a rookie, without going with the more cliched young adolescent coming into their own. Dr. Reyes is a grown woman with a lifetime of experiences; those experiences just don’t include using her powers to fight Magneto. She’s a strong female character, but she doesn’t wear skintight outfits (usually) and she’s not a sex object.

So, I have Storm leading Madrox, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Dr. Reyes, Strong Guy, Nightcrawler and Psylocke. Four men, four women. Four different nationalities. Nice mix of distance powers and brawlers. Thoughts?

Ah…here we go again. These are funny exercises to me because I know we like a lot of the same characters and I know we both have our favorites too. It’s compelling trying to find a satisfying balance. Makes me wonder if the actual Marvel writers go through any of this or if they just selfishly pick whoever they want. Anyway, on to Round Two…

John says Storm: Wow. I don’t think I can put into words how much I dislike Storm. Never liked the character (even when she had a mohawk). Heck, I get irritated just thinking of the voice used for her in the X-Men cartoon. And I have a distinct problem with mutants whose powers extend outside of themselves. How does having a unique DNA map translate into being able to control natural winds, precipitation and freaking lightning? There’s zero correlation. I will say it here and now: I HATE Storm. If you want to do another old school X-Man with the power of flight (and a neat new healing ability), let’s throw Angel into the mix. He and Iceman have a looooong history of working side-by-side, from X-Men to Champions to Defenders to X-Factor and back again. Warren has a more cerebral approach to the cause and, in all honesty, is a bit of a pacifist. I think he’d make a solid leader with good judgment. Let Bobby assume some of the responsibility for the team in the field, and you create an interesting dynamic as well.

John says Nightcrawler: Honestly, I feel pretty much the same about Nightcrawler. I don’t necessarily hate him for being who he is, but I despise the one-dimensional characterization he has endured for the last 20 years or so. “Ooh, he looks like a demon but he’s really a devout Catholic!” Whatever. Get over it. I like the idea of having a teleporter on the team, but Kitty is close enough for me. And, truth be told, I was subliminally trying to put together a team of mutants who could easily appear as normal human beings in public. Unless you employ the hokey image inducer belt he sometimes wore, Nightcrawler does not fit that bill. I’d much rather see Forge or Cannonball in this slot. Forge has a very unique and useful ability, but Cannonball adds a bit more youth and action to the team, so I’m going with him.

John says Psylocke: I like Psylocke and will give you that one. I agree that she was a great character before they messed with her.

John says Cecilia Reyes: And Jason says: BORING. Force field generation, huh? Oh boy. In my defense, Dust had a useful (and extremely powerful) ability and she’s a fan favorite. If I wanted force fields, I’d pick Armor. At least she has a discernible personality. I’m not insisting on a rookie, but I think it adds a bit of adventure and uncertainty to the team. If you don’t like Dust, may I suggest Pixie? She has limited teleportation powers, can fly, and emits a magical “pixie dust” that creates some pretty potent hallucinations.

John says Strong Guy: I hate to rag on your counter-picks, but I find no joy in Strong Guy either. I really liked him in the earlier X-Factor title. I thought he was funny and his story was kind of tragic. However, now he just bores me. His codename started out as a clever aside too, but now I just think it’s kind of…uh…unprofessional? There’s nothing to really set him apart. I’d rather throw a revitalized Dazzler into the mix and angle my team more towards finesse than power. Dazzler has connections to Cannonball (who rescued her once), Pixie (who is a fan of her music), Kitty & Psylocke (she was on the X-Men with them previously), Iceman & Angel (through the original X-Factor) and Madrox (because Strong Guy was her bodyguard). She’s like the perfect “Six Degrees” member!

We agreed on Iceman, Kitty Pryde and Madrox. Plus, I gave you Psylocke. That means we’re halfway there!

So, my rebuttal is as follows: Angel & Iceman leading a team of Madrox, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Cannonball, Dazzler and Pixie. Four boys and four girls. Some flying, some mental abilities, and at least two projectile-based attacks. Two original members without any of the true icons (please NO Wolverine or Gambit). Well-rounded and tied together nicely. Your turn!

Yeesh? Hate Storm much? I found it amusing that you mention her voice in the cartoon. The old Fox X-Men cartoon had to have had the worst Storm voice ever. She was so horribly dramatic and she always yelled her lines. My friends and I actually had one of her lines enter our lexicon; in an episode where the X-Men got their butts handed to them, Jubilee is complaining that its all her fault. In an attempt to console her, Storm explains that Jubilee is not to blame for their poor showing: “We all failed. Together.” Bwah-ha-ha! Ah, I still chuckle thinking about it. Anyway, my point is, I agree with you on her cartoon presence, but I think that Storm is a much better character than you give her credit for, and I’ve always loved the issue where she kicks Cyclops butt without her powers.

However, your suggestion of Angel is a great one. Angel is an interesting character, one without a lot of power (I suppose in 1963, the ability to fly was considered enough of an ability to get by as a mutant), but with decades of experience. I think the idea of Angel and Iceman leading the team together is brilliant; they’ve got the seniority, the experience, and the relationship between them to make this a fascinating concept. Winner! Angel is in.

I can’t believe you’re dissing Nightcrawler. I think he’s one of my top three favorite mutants ever, and I’d like to fight for his place on the team. Even if you jettison the Catholic part of his character (and your description of the way he’s been handled baffles me, since his religion is almost always ignored in stories), I like him because he’s more upbeat and fun. He’s a swashbuckler, and good grief, the X-Men need more characters like that. He’s rarely sunk into the morbid pathos that infects so many of the team. However, you countered with a character that I almost suggested instead of Dr. Reyes, and that’s Cannonball (I also almost suggested Forge, a character I’m also quite fond of). Cannonball is a great character; a genuinely good person that’s trying to do the right thing, but without the boring non-personality that often infects Cyclops. I also like the idea of having a character from the American south who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotypes of that area; yes, he has the accent, but he’s smart, he’s well mannered, he doesn’t eat grits…he’s not a walking caricature. Cannonball it is.

Pixie? Pixie? Maybe I’m just old, but the new characters universally fail to interest me, and Pixie is certainly one of those. In fact, I can’t find a young X-hero that interests me. I find them bland and uninteresting. I picked Dr. Reyes not because of her powers; I find powers to be one of the last reasons I use to select a character. I almost always choose personalities first. You can have the best mix of powers in the world, but if they’re grafted onto boring two-dimensional characters, it won’t really matter. However, if you have characters that work well together and interest both the writers and the readers, you can find ways to make the powers work together. Dr. Reyes was a different personality, someone that you don’t find often in super-hero books. Usually the new hero is an adolescent, coming to their powers at a point in their life where they’re just developing into the adult they will become. Dr. Reyes is someone who’s already an adult, and has quite a few life experiences, and now she finds this unwelcome superhero world shoved into her life. I think that could make for interesting stories.

However, if you don’t like her, and I don’t like Pixie, and can’t find anyone else that’s young and interesting to me, could I counter with Forge? We both like him, and he does present at least a little of the outsider mentality. Yes, he’s worked with the team a few times, and he led X-Factor for a short while, but he’s not much of a field agent, and I’d like to see him in that role. Plus, if you want a more skilled team, I think Forge fits that bill admirably. It also would be nice for the team to have a scientist type, and perhaps Forge could come up with some nifty gadgets for Angel to use, so he doesn’t have to just fly around like a giant cardinal all the time.

Dazzler? I strongly dislike this character. She was mildly interesting in her early appearances, but of course, she looked so ludicrous at the time (70s disco has much to answer for; Marvel has even more to answer for by introducing a 70s disco character in the 80s) that I couldn’t take her seriously. When she returned to prominence in the 90s, she looked much better, but her personality was intensely irritating. She grated on me everytime she spoke, although to be fair, almost everyone on the team then grated on me. Chris Claremont had entered that period of his career where everyone spoke in the same voice, one where they had a sing song rhthym to their speech that could drive a strong man to Jack Daniels and quaaludes. However, she was egotistical, selfish, pushy and seemed like she’d be more at home hanging out with Brenda in 90210 than she was on the X-Men. Ugh.

If you’re more insistent on a snotty female who is pretty, skilled and drives everyone around her crazy, how about using M? I’d be worried about taking too many X-Factor characters, but we’re back to just using Madrox again. M has some useful powers (and gives us superstrength again), and while she’s extremely arrogant, she’s fun. She annoys those around her, but in such a way as to amuse the reader. Plus, you had originally hoped for a more multi-national team, and most of those members have been eliminated by one or both of us, so this gives us the chance to bring in someone who is not American.

So, we have these members settled: Angel and Iceman lead the team. Members include Kitty Pryde, Cannonball, Psylocke and Madrox. That’s six definites. I am offering Forge and M as our last two members. That gives us three woman and five men. It also gives us a Native America, someone English and someone from Bosnia, so there’s some diversity. I like it. You?

Man, you cave too easily! Funny, I was just reading that last paragraph and thinking to myself “who the heck is from Bosnia?” Then I whipped over to Wikipedia and realized that Monet was Penance. I don’t think I ever knew that (I quit reading Generation X fairly early on). I love Monet in X-Factor. I think she would be a brilliant addition because of the awkward tension she could drum up concerning Madrox. She also has ties to Cannonball from the X-Corps days. As you stated, she adds some super-strength to the mix and she has some telepathic abilities as well.

I do like Forge. My concern with him is that he seems so much older than the rest of the team. And, like you said, he doesn’t seem to have on-the-field experience. He’s used to working in a lab on his own time. I’m not sure how his reflexes and reaction skills are. That said, he is handy to have around…I dunno. I go back and forth with him. On one hand, he hooked up with Storm. On the other hand, he fought alongside Rom the Spaceknight. On one hand, he has a long history with Madrox. On the other hand, he’s deeply mired in the types of twisting plots and traps that have haunted X-Men comics for decades. Hmm…decisions, decisions.

There were some other names that I was playing around with. Juggernaut always interested me as a good guy, but without Professor X in the picture, he seems out of place with this group. I always liked Havok and Polaris. Marvel has really done a number on Polaris, making her crazy, then one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and now she’s off in space with the Starjammers. Whatever. Havok has lost a lot of his focus too. He was always best when either paired with (or in conflict with) his brother or in a relationship with Polaris. Without either of them around, he’s pretty drab.

Y’know what? I’m going to backtrack a bit and throw Nightcrawler back onto the table. I still don’t comprehend how you think religion hasn’t been the focus for him. Every story I remember reading (aside from that first mini where he was some sort of pirate) had to do with him seeking penance, trying to find reason in the world or just isolating himself to study the Bible. However, he offers a solid bridge between the old and new X-Men and he has a truly unique ability. Plus, he’s pretty tight with Kitty.

I think that lines up nicely for us, and it’s not what anyone would expect if we said “name the X-Men.” I’ve never been a fan of the obvious though, so Angel & Iceman leading a team of Madrox, Cannonball, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and Monet seems right to me!


Circus of Crime: The Greatest Foes on Earth?

May-29-08

Let’s do something new this time around. Bring on the bad guys! Sure, we could’ve picked a big name like Magneto or the Red Skull as our first villain revamp…but where’s the fun in that. No, we decided to go with a little-known group that has gone up against such formidable opponents as The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Sensational She-Hulk and…uh…The Hilarious Howard the Duck.

Circus of Crime

Look, I’m kidding. I actually REALLY like the Circus of Crime. I think it’s a cool idea for a villain group. Let’s face it, circuses are sort of creepy. And the traveling ones already have that fly-by-night rip-off vibe to them (in addition to the creepiness). The Circus of Crime has an even weirder vibe: it was begun by Nazi sympathizers! Yes, Maynard Tiboldt led a ragtag group of German spies posing as circus performers. Their modus operandi involved gathering an audience, hypnotizing them and then stealing their stuff. That was about it. Although the magic of it all was that the victims didn’t remember being robbed, which meant the bad guys could move on to the next town without worrying about getting caught.

The lineup for the Circus of Crime most often included the following: Ringmaster (with his hypnotizing hat), The Clown (with a unicycle and juggling balls), Bruto the Strongman (who wasn’t all that strong), Human Cannonball (who, uh, was shot out of a cannon), The Great Gambonnos (two leather-loving acrobat brothers), Princess Python (who had a snake) and Live Wire (a cowboy with an electric rope). It was a grouping sure to induce fear at its very sight…or waves of uncontrollable laughter.

As things stand in current Marvel continuity, Ringmaster and the Gambonnos were captured during Civil War. The Clown, who I feel had the most potential, has joined the Gamma Corps as part of World War Hulk and is now the oddly feathered and clawed Griffin. And Princess Python is now on her own and was last seen at the funeral for her “husband” Stilt-Man. That leaves a dude in pretty good shape, some guy with a huge cannon and an electric cowboy…not the best makings for a powerful group dedicated to evil and mayhem.

Granted, some of the characters shown being captured during Civil War have already been seen back on the streets (see Trapster, Wizard, Hydro-Man, Titania and Klaw as the new Frightful Five), so it should be pretty easy to bring out Ringmaster and start fresh…but I recommend leaving the S&M twins in the pokey.

So where do we go from here? How do we make the Circus of Crime into impressive enemies? Circuses are kind of strange in today’s culture. A lot of the stereotypical characters are outdated. And the hypnotism angle is pretty one-dimensional. But it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, get ready for the most stupendous, most spectacular, most fantabulous revamp in the history of comics…

You know, for many lame, D-List villains, you have to work on giving them a personality. However, the Ringmaster has been used to great effect by some previous writers (like Peter David during his run on The Incredible Hulk) and he has a personality. I also agree that the circus angle is actually pretty cool; love them or hate them, circuses tend to evoke strong emotions in people, and evoking emotions is something you hope to do anytime you’re writing something. Plus, you have a lot of room to work with some rather odd, perhaps disturbing characters in a circus setting, since, to a large extent, anything goes!

Saying that, the entire concept never worked. The idea of hypnotizing everyone in the circus tent and then robbing them and leaving is truly absurd, even for the Silver Age. First of all, how could you possibly hypnotize everyone in a circus tent? In every drawing I’ve seen of the Circus of Crime, they sat people all around them, so at least 25% of the audience was staring at the Ringmaster’s back, while fully half of them could have only been getting his profile. That means you’d almost have to hypnotize the audience in stages, and how could the people who had not been hypnotized yet possibly have not noticed that huge chunks of the audience were now sitting still and doing nothing? Plus, what happened if someone left the main tent to go to the bathroom or something? If they walked back in when the looting was going on, wouldn’t that put a crimp in the plans of the Circus (although this could be prevented by locking down the tent right before hypnotizing began). One more problem: the Circus robs the entire crowd and then moves on (in their first appearance in The Incredible Hulk, if memory serves, they left town as soon as they were done looting and didn’t even finish the show. Plus, they looted the entire town, houses and all, not content just to loot the crowd at the big top. Apparently the entire town went to the circus. This town obviously loved themselves some clowns and trapeze artists). Surely, when hundreds of people find themselves much poorer, it wouldn’t take an Elongated Man to notice that they had all been to the circus and there would be quite a few arrest warrants out for the Circus. I mean, it’s not like they could hide….they’re a freakin’ circus!

Plus, the individual characters had their problems as well. The Ringmaster has one gimmick, and darned if he doesn’t drive it into the ground. If you’re blind (like Daredevil), close your eyes (as Spidey has) or grab his hat (which is pretty easy to snag), he’s powerless. Good grief, the hat doesn’t even look like it fits on his head snugly….I think he’d be defeated by a strong breeze! The most amusing character had to be the Human Cannonball, who often had to go into action sans cannon. In those instances, he basically put his head down and ran into people. I suppose I shouldn’t joke, as he put J. Jonah Jameson in the hospital that way once, but he looked ridiculously silly. Ugh.

But there’s hope for these malcontents yet! I like the Ringmaster, and would love to see him headline a new circus. However, I believe the hat has to go. Looking at modern circuses (which, I will admit, I don’t attend, so my research is being done through the magic of the internet), I’m not seeing anyone wearing a goofy hat like that. I think his outfit needs modernized. The hat looks silly, and to be honest, it’s too easily taken away. I’d recommend one of two options. The first would be to fit him with some sort of hypnotizing contacts. Too silly, you say? We’re talking about a man who leads a Circus of Crime, I say! My problem with it, actually, isn’t that it’s silly so much as it seems cliched. “The man with the hypnotizing eyes!” sounds like the title of a 1950s 3-D extravaganza, not the man we need headlining the Circus of Crime. Plus, it has nothing to do with him being a ringmaster, which, you know, is kind of his schtick. I’d instead recommend that the hypnotizing effect be built into his coat. Ringmasters still wear the more outrageous, colorful coats that old Tiboldt sports, so why not put the effect there? It’s more stable and not likely to fall off, as the hat was, and it looks better. Plus, he could make the coat durable (perhaps bulletproof it?) so not only does it hypnotize folks, but it also helps to protect his skinny ass from the Hulk the next time the Circus tours the southwest.

Even if the original Clown is now running around as the Griffin (and I have no idea how I missed that development, and more importantly, why it seemed to fit the Clown’s character) we need a new clown. In fact, we might want more than one. If memory serves, the original Clown rode a unicycle and juggled. While I have no doubt that these abilities gave Peter Parker nightmares, we might want to find another angle for our new Clown. Now, the juggling and unicycle riding did point out two traits of a good clown; balance and coordination. I see us being able to take a Clown in two different ways; we could go more of an acrobatic route, making him a tumbling, spinning loose limbed harbinger of destruction. However, that doesn’t yell out clown as much as it yells out contortionist or acrobat. So, I would say we could go more in the other direction and make him like the Jester. In fact, let’s make him the Jester! I mean, a jester is really nothing more than a medieval clown. Plus, many storylines over the years have revolved around the Ringmaster and the Clown vying for control of the Circus (geez, these guys have really got to aim higher). What if Tiboldt approaches the Jester, and the two form a partnership. The Circus is basically co-run by these two, although, of course, neither one trusts the other. It provides some interesting give and take within the Circus, as the two work together relatively well, while still trying to outshine the other and seize solo power, while giving us a Clown who’s more than just a guy on a unicycle.

I think having a strongman is a good idea, whether it be Bruno or someone else. Does he need to have his “powers”, such as they aren’t, updated? I don’t know. There’s always room for a guy who’s just human level strong. I think Bruno just needs a personality. Perhaps he’s driven to be as strong as he can be, since he knows he doesn’t have another gimmick. Perhaps, in his quest to be as strong as he can be, he’s started using steroids, and is hooked on them. He’s even bigger and stronger than we remember, but also perhaps a little more prone to rages and harder to keep under control. He also now has a more personal reason to steal money; to pay for more steroid treatments. I also think he’d like to try and show off his strength against the heroes they encounter. While he may not be a match for Spider-Man, he might be stronger than Daredevil, the Black Widow or many other non-super strength heroes.

I also think adding in some new characters is imperative. We had a lady that trained snakes, and that’s somewhat impressive I suppose, but there are a lot more animals than snakes at a circus (actually, now that I think about it, what circus has snakes?). What about trainers that have lions, tigers and elephants at their beck and call? Side point: using these trained animals also provides a nice way to dispose of snoopy townspeople who may think the Circus is up to no good. What about some trained horseback riders? They can do some amazing tricks, so surely that could be put to good use in a fight. I think that acrobats are important, even if the Gambonnos were not the best example of the breed. Plus, if we throw in a freak show, as you sometimes see at a circus (or carnival, and the Circus of Crime always seemed to be a mixture of both) you can really get crazy!

That’s a lot for you to chew on though. Go ahead, chew, and then let me know what you think. There’s lots we can do with this, though.

Agreed on all of the above. You actually made me laugh out loud and I had to explain this whole thing to my wife. She just stared blankly at me when I was finished. Different strokes, right?

Ringmaster is an interesting character that has been given a personality (albeit one that involves him getting beat up and running away a lot). A clown is necessary and, as you mentioned, perhaps more than one. Your Jester idea has promise. I’ve always liked Jester. However, what if we take the clown to its next logical conclusion: multiple clowns coming from a single source (similar to Madrox’s power)…that would solve the “how many clowns can climb out of a tiny car” conundrum. Perhaps you can even mix in a bit of Speedball’s original power. Could you see an entire team of clowns bouncing all over the place in total chaos? And he needs a ridiculous name like “Chuckles” or “Giddy” or “Jerky.”

I also agree with your feeling that we need more members. There’s two ways we can go about this: tack on some existing villains that would fit in with the Circus’s theme or create some new villains specifically made for the team. I’m just going to vomit up the ideas I scribbled down last night and see if anything clicks with you:

EXISTING CHARACTERS: Madcap (this old Captain America foe is impervious to pain and quite insane and his costume is ridiculously garish), Machete (the knife-thrower from Batroc’s Brigade), Puppet Master or Tinkerer (someone who can create marching toy soldiers or other weird circus-themed machines), Stilt-Man (currently deceased, but the suit is always up for grabs), Red Ghost and his apes, whatever is left of the Death-Throws(Knicknack, Tenpin, Ringleader), maybe even Taskmaster?

NEW CHARACTERS: You mention the sideshow freaks, which I think is a perfect idea. Let’s create a new shape-shifting character named Sideshow. Let’s get a new strongman but give him a Bane vibe where he can increase his strength through some sort of pump or something. We can name him Blockbuster or Big Top. Maybe Ringmaster doesn’t have his hypnotic powers anymore and is just a schemer like Lex Luthor. The new hypnosis guy could be a mystic Swami or Fakir, like a snake charmer. An animal expert is key too. Someone not unlike Kraven the Hunter, but with the Aquaman-esque ability to control the beasts. And then there are the generic stereotypes that could be worked into any of these characters to good effect…a midget, a carnie, a contortionist, etc.

I also agree that we need to take a different look at the circus theme. When I think of a circus these days, I think of two things. The first is the traditional Ringling Bros. show. The second is something along the lines of Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque angle provides a new level of weirdness and creepiness…the colors, the music, the very strange scenes. Ooh, that gives me an idea too. What if Ringmaster plays a hypnotic calliope (sort of like Hypno-Hustler…hehe)?

What characters do you think work best? How many do we want in the cast? And how do we put this all together organically?

Wow. Lots of great ideas here. Let’s take a look.

I love your new clown! Combining the powers of Speedball and Madrox makes for a surprisingly formidable opponent (perhaps too formidable, to the point where I’d recommend limiting the amount of duplicates he can create at perhaps five or six, so you don’t have an army of Speedball types overwhelming any good guys, and more importantly, overwhelming the other members of the Circus) and I also like using one of the names you suggest. Giggles would be my pick for the new Clown. I’m not sure that we couldn’t use both Giggles and the Jester, but certainly the Jester would not be necessary.

I don’t see Machete in the Circus. He seems too serious to me, although I admit his ability with knives is perfect for a circus setting. However, it could be interesting to have a former South American freedom fighter (if I remember his origin correctly) working with the Circus. My question would be why would he work for the Circus? I guess he could do it for the money, since that’s why he joined Batroc’s Brigade. Still, he wouldn’t be my first choice, although I think a knife thrower is a good idea. Perhaps someone younger, a little more punk…let me think on that.

The Red Ghost also doesn’t seem to fit, personality-wise. The only way I can see him working is if he ran the Circus, and I prefer the Ringmaster in charge. We could have the two of them in a partnership, as I suggested with the Jester, and there is some potential there. Certainly his super-apes would fit in perfectly with the Circus; perhaps we could have the apes, but not the Red Ghost? I’ve never liked the Red Ghost anyway, and he doesn’t really fit anymore, now that the Communist threat he personified no longer exists. Perhaps something happens to the Red Ghost, and the apes escape, and the Circus finds them? That could be quite interesting, as they form a bond with their new trainer (who would probably treat them better than the Ghost ever did), and eventually, when the Red Ghost came searching for them, lots of interesting plots could ensue.

The Taskmaster doesn’t work as well for me, as again, he’s pretty successful on his own, so why would he work with the Circus? The Puppet Master is a possibility, but I don’t think he’s a perfect fit. The Tinkerer might be, since he could work behind the scenes and make some money; I’d say that he should be available to supply the Circus with their needs, even if he’s not an actual member.

I’m not trying to discard all of your suggestions, since I think they’re good. I love Madcap with the Circus; I don’t know if he’d stay, since he’s insane, but that’s also just as good a reason for him to stay. The whole concept of the Circus seems like it would work well for him, and he’s certainly dressed for it. The Death-Throws are perhaps the most perfect fit in the entire Marvel Universe, and I’d sign them up immediately. Someone new using the Stiltman armor also makes sense. You could also grab whoever the heck the current Ringer is and use him, and I think you’d be in good shape. The Circus could be a great way to grab some of the poorly used (or rarely used) Marvel villains and really make them matter again.

I do like your Sideshow idea, and I also like a snake charmer. However, while I can appreciate the appeal of a Lex Luthor, I’d really want to give the Ringmaster some sort of abilities. In the end, he’s a decent schemer, but he’s not the best, and I’m not sure that’s where his strength lies. I certainly don’t think that we want to make him too good at it, since he’s certainly never been the criminal mastermind in the past. Hypnotism always made sense for him, since it was the job of the Ringmaster to grab the attention of the audience and keep it. If we’re going to remove that power (which works, since we already wanted to get rid of the stupid hat), I’d like to replace it with something else that fits the Circus or Ringmaster theme. How about some sort of light powers? It may not seem to make much sense, but I think it could. Using mechanisms sewn into his jacket, he can raise and lower light levels. As a ringmaster, he would use this to raise and lower the lights in the different rings of the circus (again, drawing an audience’s attention to where he wanted it by lowering the lights in one area and raising them in another), and as a supervillain, he could create darkness or blinding flashes. It’s still not tremendously powerful, which fits him, but gives him a gimmick, which I think he needs.

With that being said, how is the Circus going to commit crimes (or what sort of crimes are they going to commit)? If the Ringmaster isn’t hypnotizing the entire town, what are they going to be doing for money, as they tour the country?

Imagine the chaos the Circus could create if they had half a dozen clowns bouncing around, coupled with every small-time projectile-hurling villain throwing out their weapons of choice. It’s like the perfect storm! Add in an armored dude on stilts, a maniacal contortionist with a bubble gun, an Indian fakir commanding a crowd of wild beasts, a shape-shifting freak, a ‘roid-powered brute, and an army of remote-controlled toy soldiers…all led by the hypno-hype of Ringmaster…and I think you’ve actually made the Circus of Crime into formidable foes. I can hear the happy-go-evil pipe organ music already.

Despite my ideas and your counter-ideas, I’ve come to the realization that Ringmaster should be left as is. Sure, his power is a bit sketchy and pretty handily diffused, but his personality and his background are well established and he makes sense as at least the figurehead of the team. The snake charmer can couple as a controller of tigers, elephants, baboons and other native Indian animals. That makes sense. You didn’t comment on my suggestion of a Bane-like strongman but I think it’s a logical progression (and could add some tension in the group if his usage gets out of control). Hell, Madcap could just wander in and out of the team as he pleases. We’d need to come up with some sort of twisted origin for the Sideshow character…I’m thinking something to do with coming from an inbred family of former circus freaks (eww). Finally, even though it was my idea, I’m not completely sold on the idea of the Tinkerer in the group either. Though I could see a path involving he and Ringmaster coming to some sort of agreement to aid each other.

As far as actual crimes go, it has to be wide open. Look, everyone is going to see them coming from a mile away. I would assume that at some point in Marvel’s history, its inhabitants have been made aware of the weirdo in the top hat running the evil carnival. With that in mind, and with the powers of the group we’ve established, I say they go after big targets with big crowds. I’m thinking Times Square on New Year’s Eve…big ticket political fundraisers…high-profile charity events…public unveilings of prominent structures or exhibits…anything that would attract a lot of people with a lot of money. Hell, they could slip in unnoticed at an amusement park and pretty much hold the place hostage too. There’s no way Spider-Man or Daredevil could take them on by himself. This positions the Circus as major foes for a heroic team.

The big step is the origin story. Obviously a group of Nazi sympathizers is a little anachronistic these days. Of course, with Ringmaster and the concept of the Circus of Crime already established, they don’t need a full-blown origin…just more of a “hey, where’d all these new folks come from?” update. But what’s their motivation? Pure crime? And who do they end up tangling with? Put it all together for me, please…

I don’t think the Nazi sympathizer angle has been mentioned since the early 60s, and honestly, I’m not even sure it was mentioned then. It may have just popped up in a Marvel Universe Handbook, linking the Circus to a like named creation from the Golden Age. That being said, I also agree that we can easily ignore this little bit of continuity.

So, what’s their new origin? Well, the Ringmaster has been having a rough time of it lately. Actually, he’s always had a rough time of it. He’s been abused and made into a punchline (which, admittedly, isn’t too difficult when you run with a clown, a couple of twin acrobats and someone who thinks head butting is a super-power) and he’s rather tired of it. He tried to cooperate a few times with SHIELD and the federal government, and got nothing for it. He’s broke, he’s frustrated and he doesn’t know where to turn. That being said, he really only knows one thing; committing crimes with his crazy circus crew. Sadly, that crew hasn’t worked too well in the past. He decides to talk to the Clown and see if the Clown has any ideas, since the Clown always had a devious brain. When he tries to contact the Clown and finds out that the Clown has become the new Griffin, Ringmaster is despondent….even the Clown is poised to hit the big time, and he’s a freakin’ clown! But then the Ringmaster stops….if the Clown can reinvent himself so wildly, why not the Ringmaster?

The Ringmaster decides to rebuild the Circus, bigger and better than ever. Using his hypnotic hat, the Ringmaster can commit enough small and petty crimes to get himself some traveling money (how hard would it be to knock over the local gas station or liquor store if you could just hypnotize the clerk into giving you the money?) and he starts scouring the globe for his new recruits. In whatever series the new and improved Circus would make their first appearance, I’d start showing little tidbits of the Ringmaster’s search…a page or two for a few issues of him meeting some of our new characters and convincing them that he can make them a lot of money. It may be a hard sell for the Ringmaster at first, since it’s not like the Circus of Crime is a big name that criminals will flock to, but I think he can do it. In the long run, a ringmaster is a salesman and they’re good at getting your attention, so I think he could be successful. I mean, he’s always been a little geek in a blinding suit and he got the original Circus to follow him for decades.

Once his Circus is assembled, he knows they’re going to need some tech supplies. He contacts the Tinkerer, who’s in retirement, and offers him an interest in the Circus if the Tinkerer will supply them with their gadgetry. The Tinkerer is a little dubious, but the Ringmaster promises that the Tinkerer doesn’t have to be involved in any of the overt legal activity and the Tinkerer finally relents (perhaps he sees this as a steady source of income so he can retire somewhere nicer, like the Caribbean, or perhaps he needs money for a child or grandchild that’s in trouble). In any case, he’s around in a part-time capacity. I don’t see him traveling with the Circus, but I do see him showing up on-site occasionally, to make adjustments to his equipment and to see exactly what the Circus requires of him.

So, we now have the Circus assembled, and we’ve been teasing it in a page or two for the past few issues of our title. We can then reveal them in their full glory and set them against our hero team. Yes, I said team; while they could go up against a single hero, I always like setting teams against teams. Let’s put them up against our new Defenders, from a few posts back. To me, however, the important thing that makes this Circus so much better than the old is that they don’t lose, at least, not at first. I’d prefer to use them like the old Serpent Society in Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run. Let’s allow them to commit some successful crimes, and perhaps, let’s see a little of them in smaller groups, where perhaps two or three of them are committing crimes on the side (sanctioned by the Ringmaster, I think, although it could be interesting if they’re doing it without his knowledge, especially if they jeopardize the larger operation).

Thoughts?

See, it’s the little things like that last idea that could make this villain team interesting again. Some of them end up being like rogue factions of their own team. The strongman has a drug problem. Maybe the new Clown or the Fakir beastmaster or Madcap just rubs some of them the wrong way. There are a lot of little subplots we could throw in there that would make it even harder on Ringmaster to hold the group together. And maybe, ultimately, he can’t hold it together.

Perhaps Ringmaster doesn’t have the charisma to collect the team and he’s actually begging all these new recruits to join up, making promises that he can’t really keep. He needs the Tinkerer (or Jester) to step in and help him control the chaos. The Serpent Society is the perfect comparison for this. I remember the build up with that group…they had their own compound, there was a constant struggle for leadership, and they actually made some progress in their agenda. Plus, the Serpent Society had that same kind of kitschy, classic comic book villain vibe. They have a goofy theme that fits so well in the comic book world. I think that’s why I always had a thing for the Royal Flush Gang over in DC’s universe too.

I’ve also always liked those two or three-page backup stories that appeared in certain series. The oddly paced buildup, the curiosity as to what was going to happen, those kind of things are great for comics too. The sad thing is that Marvel doesn’t have a lot of team books. I’m not sure this group would make sense against the supernatural concept we devised for the Defenders. At the same time, they don’t seem powerful enough to face either of the Avengers teams that are currently in play. Obviously, none of the X teams are a good fit either. Is there a new New Warriors title out again? That could work. In the long run, I don’t think the Circus of Crime is actively looking for anyone to fight. They’re going to try to make as much mischief as they can while also avoiding any potential beatdowns.

Sure, we could have them randomly appear in any number of titles just to be token villains that get their butts handed to them in every appearance. But if we really want to up their image and make them formidable again (or for the first time, really) I believe there are two perfect titles to showcase the new Circus of Crime. The first is Marvel Comics Presents…a book that would allow us to tell our own story, standing alone from the more rigid continuity in certain key titles (and also allowing the Circus to be the main focus of the story instead of whatever hero they were fighting). The second book might make even more sense, and lead to an extra long story arc: Avengers Initiative. Imagine, if you will, the Circus of Crime touring the country on a crime spree and having confrontations with the Initiative team in each state. It would be a great way to show how these state teams work and allow us to showcase various members of the Circus and how useful they are. At the end of the run, the Circus of Crime would either be impressive enemies or soundly defeated and never heard from again.

Bingo! You nailed it, I believe, with your last suggestion of using them in Avengers Initiative or MCP. The fact of the matter is that they don’t want to fight heroes (or, at the very least, the Ringmaster doesn’t want to….perhaps some of his new recruits would like to take down some heroes, which, again, could create some interesting problems within the ranks), and I don’t see them being the main villain for any team out there right now. However, showcasing them in a title where they could run up against multiple heroes is a brilliant move.

I also really like the idea of the Ringmaster starting out confident that he’s created a new and much more impressive Circus of Crime, and slowly coming to realize that he’s actually succeeded far beyond what he had intended. This Circus is simply too much for him to control (perhaps the reason the Circus was always so lame is because they were being held back by the Ringmaster). He eventually reaches a point where, to maintain control, he realizes that he’s going to need help, and partners with someone (or, perhaps, tries to have the Tinkerer upgrade his powers and abilities, hoping that new ones will help him retain control). There’s actually a few different ways this could go, as the Ringmaster struggles to maintain order in his Circus. Does he succeed? Is he forced to forge a partnership with someone else (and if he does so, is it really a partnership? If he chooses someone who can control the Circus where the Ringmaster can’t, why would this second person need the Ringmaster? His best bet would be to choose someone who can’t control the Circus without the Ringmaster’s help, to maintain a balance of power in the partnership, but would the Ringmaster realize this? Or will he be too desperate at this point in time to think that far ahead?)? Or is the Ringmaster driven out of the Circus he helped rebuild, and who would take his place?

Yes, there’s some great stuff here. Perfect for a run in Marvel Comics Presents, I’d say.


Young Justice: Where has all the justice gone?

Apr-22-08

In the long and storied history of the “Meanwhile….Comics!” blog, we have only really dealt with Marvel matters. This is not because we are not fans of DC, or of other comics companies. Partly it’s been because Jason and I are much more conversant in Marvel history than we are in DC history. Partly it’s been because Marvel seems to have issues which we had more of a passion to discuss than anything in DC. And, at least for me, partly it was because DC comics has, in my eyes, become a violent, unhappy, soulless entity over the past few years, and trying to discuss any character they currently publish is likely to be painful. While I’m not particularly stoked about the direction of the Marvel Comics line, it has me doing cartwheels compared to the direction of DC Comics, which has me often feeling somewhat nauseous.

Many people would point to Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis as the tipping point where DC Comics began to move away from telling stories about spandex clad do-gooders, and began telling stories about psychologically scarred arrested adolescents living out some sort of power fantasies by beating the living snot out of each other. And rape. That became an important part of many of these stories. Those people who look to Identity Crisis as the starting point of the degradation of these great heroes are not entirely wrong, but there is an event for me that predates this 2004 miniseries by some time….the cancellation of Young Justice in 2003. That was the beginning of the end for my close relationship with DC Comics.

Young Justice began life in 1998, during one of DC’s Fifth Week Events called “Girlfrenzy”, in a one shot written by Todd DeZago entitled Young Justice: The Secret. The team at that time consisted of three of DC’s hottest young heroes, all proteges of an established DC A List character: Robin, partner of Batman; Superboy, inspired by Superman; and Impulse, nephew of The Flash. The three of them joined forces again in a two issue prestige format miniseries called Justice League: World without Grown-Ups, again written by Todd DeZago. Apparently these issues were successful enough to merit a series of their own, and very soon, Young Justice #1 debuted in September of 1998.

The creative team for the first issue, and almost every single issue thereafter, was writer Peter David and artist Todd Nauck. The three young heroes spent the first few issues as the only members of the team, save for a recently resurrected Red Tornado, who served as their “adult” supervisor. However, David quickly expanded the group by introducing some female members; the Secret, who had appeared in their first adventure; Wonder Girl, who had worked with Wonder Woman; and Arrowette, who had appeared earlier in the comic Impulse and acted as a female Green Arrow-type.

Many people attempt to pigeonhole Peter David as a comedy writer, and coupled with Todd Nauck’s artwork, which had a lighter, more cartoony feel, these people may have written Young Justiceoff as a silly book for kids. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, Peter David can be quite amusing, but his humor is always in service to the story, and he can handle serious storylines with the best of writers. Alternating between lighter issues with those that handled very serious subject matter, David kept the series always enjoyable (and proved that adult topics could be handled with indulging in the sort of hysterical melodrama and violent power fantasies that now seem to characterize so much of DC Comics’ output). Todd Nauck’s artwork was likewise a joy, and while it may have seemed cartoony to some, he was able to handle drama and tension very well.

I could go on raving about the series, and may in follow up posts, but for now let’s move on to it’s tragic resolution. In 2003, Warner Brothers debuted a new cartoon series called Teen Titans, which was going to star the characters from DC’s long running comic series of the same name. Unfortunately, DC didn’t currently have a Teen Titans series, as most of those characters (and the niche that series filled in the DC Universe) was being filled by Young Justice. DC became convinced that they needed a Teen Titans comics series to match the new cartoon, so they cancelled Young Justice (whose sales did not warrant such a cancellation). They then published the execrable Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day miniseries, which served as the launching point for the new Teen Titans and Outsiders series.

Unfortunately, rather than bringing Peter David and Todd Nauck over to the new Teen Titans series to continue their stellar work, DC decided to bring in Geoff Johns and Mike McKone. Now, I’m personally quite a big fan of both Johns and McKone, and gave the new series a try. Unfortunately, within a few issues they had already begun the task of dismantling the character development and relationships which had been cultivated in Young Justice, and by the third issue they had changed Impulse into Kid Flash, showing a complete misunderstanding of who Bart Allen really was. I left the series as a reader in disgust.

The purpose of our blog is not just to point our problems in continuity or in publishing, but to try and fix them. Sadly, I’m not sure if this is fixable. Besides trying to reunite David and Nauck on a book, the characters that were once a part of Young Justicehave been scattered since the end of the series. Both Superboy and Impulse are now dead and Secret has been depowered. Of course, this would all be a moot point anyway, as it does not seem that DC’s editorial policy would allow a series with the sort of sensibility that Young Justice possessed to be be published. I’d like to come up with something and I’m open to suggestions.

First of all, I agree that we need to dip into the DC end of the pool every now and then just to be fair. Unfortunately, just like you (and even though I owned a comic book store for a while) I don’t have the same deep knowledge of DC’s history. I can cover the Justice League, Flash and Green Arrow pretty well, but other than that I only know the names of characters and not much else.

That said, let me start my response to your post with the information I gleaned from last week’s New York Comic Con. During one of DC’s many panels, the question of collecting Young Justice into trades came up and was pretty quickly brushed aside by the higher-ups at DC Comics. So, I think that raises some questions that our website was designed to tackle. This might not be along the lines of “how can we fix it?”, but it does cover the ground of “what went wrong?”

You were obviously a dedicated reader of the title and my experience with it consists of seeing a few covers here and there. Therefore, I defer to you to explain the appeal to me a little more in depth. For instance, what were the circumstances that brought the group together? What villains did they face during the title’s run? What were the relationships that were built? How was the strength of the supporting cast?

I think by studying some of these points, we may be able to do a re-pitch of the series (or at least convince the editors that releasing the trades would be beneficial). I’m encouraged by the fact that the main series kept a consistent creative team, that usually helps with a book’s quality and direction. So let’s start there and see what builds.

What went wrong? With the title itself, I’d say precious little. Let’s start at the beginning. The original three members of Young Justice were Robin, Superboy and Impulse. Each of them had worked with the others once or twice, but the trio first worked as team to save a young girl called Secret from the D.E.O., who were keeping her under lock and key and trying to determine the extent of her powers. The boys managed to free her and found they worked well together. They next met when an ancient Atlantean force called Bedlam transported all the adults of the DC Universe to a parallel world. With only children and teens left, the three young men found themselves elevated to the status of senior heroes, and teamed to defeat Bedlam.

After this adventure, the three of them decided to stay together as a team. Why? Mostly because they simply needed the friendship and comraderie of being with other people their own age, who understood the pressures of being the next generation of a superhero legacy. Although they were a super-team, they were also friends; it was almost more of a club in those early days. Soon, Red Tornado, who had lain inactive in the old JLA Secret Sanctuary, awoke from his stasis, and he became the mentor for the group. It was inevitable that the group would not remain a “boys club” and sure enough, shortly after they formed their group, they became embroiled again with The Secret, as well as Wonder Girl and Arrowette. The girls joined the team, and the full roster of Young Justice was formed.

Again, the series was somewhat lighthearted, but there were also some very serious stories. One of their early villains was named Harm, a young man who seemed completely evil. His parents knew their son was a monster, but were afraid of him. While Young Justice battled Harm, the true meat of the story was the psychological battle within the mind of Harm’s father, who wrestled with the question of whether, if you knew your son was an evil person, totally devoid of merit, could you take the necessary steps to stop him?

Arrowette also had a fasincating story arc. Relatively early in the series’ run, one of her favorite teachers at school was killed by a jealous ex-boyfriend. Arrowette was enraged, and hunted down the killer. She soon had him at her mercy, and would have killed him if not for the intervention of Superboy. Later, after her emotions were calmer, Arrowette realized what she had done, and was scared to learn she was capable of murder. She vowed to give up being Arrowette, which she did. One would have thought that she would have either disappeared from the comic, or she would have eventually reclaimed her mantle. She did neither. She remained true to her vow, never donning the costume again, but still staying an important character in the further adventures of Young Justice.

Red Tornado, as the group’s mentor, could have been ignored. However, he was given some strong plots, as he tried to reclaim his humanity and make a life for himself with his estranged family. Eventually, he realized that his family needed him, and was more important to him than the team, so he resigned as their mentor. In his place, the group found a new mentor in Snapper Carr. Of course, Snapper has been knocking around the DC Universe for over four decades, but he often doesn’t seem to fit. Putting him in an adult role, mentoring kids who were experiencing some of the same things that he had experienced as a teenager, gave Peter David the chance to explore Snapper Carr’s personality in ways that it had not really been explored.

The interactions between the six main members of the team were also interesting. Robin acted as the leader, but was often challenged by Superboy and the developing relationship between the two of them, as Superboy came to respect Robin, despite Robin’s lack of powers, kept the team dynamics fresh. Wonder Girl began the series as an inexperienced and unsure heroine, but matured throughout the series’ run, eventually winning election as the new leader toward the end of the series. The mysteries surrounding Secret continued to be explored. Members became romantically involved (as teenagers do) and some new members joined the team, including the Ray, who finally found a place on a team with members closer to his own age.

In essence, it was a dynamic series, not taking itself too seriously, but willing to tackle adult subject matter when it was a natural outgrowth of the story being told. It never went for sensationalism, but instead contented itself to tell strong, solid stories that you could enjoy reading.

Okay, so from what I understand – and from a quick blast of Wikipedia knowledge – two of the team members are dead (Superboy, Impulse), one has decided not to be a hero anymore (Arrowette) and another is depowered (Secret). Not only that, but their initial mentor (Red Tornado) is possessed by Amazo while their later mentor Snapper Carr is working as some sort of spy for Checkmate. I have no idea how you could put this all back together again. And would it be worthwhile anyway? After all that these characters have been through, the innocence and youth is gone from them (as it is from 98% of the DC Universe).

From your description and from what I’ve been able to deduce online, the series sounded like an unofficial version of the original Teen Titans…formed out of a kinship based on being “sidekicks” or younger versions of their inspirations. Add in the world-weary mentor role and you could almost say it was a Fagin and the orphans scenario played out in comic style (without all the stealing and such).

There’s three trains of thought that I can come up with on this one. The first one is the most realistic: DC puts out collections of the 55 issues plus all the one-shots and miniseries, somewhere between 6-8 trades and it’s done. The second path is kind of a cop-out but ultimately makes sense with what’s going on in the DC Universe right now: make one of the 52 Earths a “World Without Grown-Ups” planet. This would give the team a chance to play out their adventures in a unique setting. They’d be THE heroes of the world yet would still embody all the insecurities and angst of their age and maturity level. Could be a fun way to play with all the toys in the sandbox. The third way is probably the most difficult: find new youthful characters in the DC-verse and bring them together logically to form a new Young Justice team. I don’t know which young heroes remain unblemished by the current goings-on at DC nor do I understand how they could be coaxed into befriending each other anymore, but that is one way to make the magic happen again.

There’s also the problem of who would handle the title? Peter David is exclusive to Marvel, as of February 2006. And the last I knew, Todd Nauck was at Marvel too, drawing Spider-Man. You and I both approve of the writing of Geoff Johns and his handling of superhero types, but I wonder if he’s too steeped in the current DC malaise to properly infuse this proposed title with the jolt of youth it needs.

While I may not have an immediate solution to the writing, I think Karl Kerschl would be an excellent choice for the art. His Teen Titans: Year One and All-Flash #1 work is both quirky and beautiful at the same time.

Writers and artists aside (though I think it’s interesting to discuss), which of the three solutions I offered do you think is best for Young Justice?

At this time, I’d just like to see them acknowledge that the team existed, and issue trades containing the entire series. I think it deserves that much. Let those of us who were fans of the series have the opportunity to enjoy it again, and perhaps they can draw in some new readers at the same time. I don’t see any point in trying to recapture the series with the same characters, as that would require so much continuity twisting that my head hurts just thinking about it. I also don’t see a point in putting them in another world in the multiverse. I’m not usually a fan of that sort of thing, since it never seems like the stories matter much when it’s not the mainstream universe that the rest of the comics line is based in. That being said, I’d like to choose both your first and third options. Let’s see them replace this group with something akin to Young Justice in tone. DC needs a book like that.

I realize that this post probably makes it seem like I am rabidly anti-DC and that’s honestly not true. While I admit that my early comic experiences were overwhelmingly of the Marvel variety (I found most of DC’s output in the early 80s to be rather dull and stodgy, while Marvel seemed cool and hip), I did soon begin to branch out to many other companies, DC among them. During the late 80s I came to like a lot of DC comics, and for some years during the 90s, I was reading more DC than I was Marvel, thanks to both a plethora of strong DC series, and Marvel taking a huge downswing in quality (teenage Tony Stark? Was that really necessary? A clone saga in Spider-Man that lasted for years? The Invisible Woman wearing a bikini top on her Fantastic Four outfit?). I have always loved the Justice League (thanks probably to the Superfriends cartoons of my childhood) and I think DC has some great characters and books. They also, as a company, understand the concept of a legacy much better than Marvel, and I love the way some identities (Flash, Green Lantern, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and others) have been handed down from hero to hero.

That being said, I’ve become quite disillusioned with DC over the past few years, and it’s not just because I’m not a huge fan of this dark turn they’ve taken. It should not come as news to anyone who follows comics that it isn’t the strongest business in the world. Many articles have been written on how one brings new readers into the fold. I don’t believe that most of DC’s current output, mired in continuity and dripping in death, dismemberment and rape, really reach out to a new audience. I think it plays to the same aging audience that has been reading the book for years, and it sure as hell isn’t going to draw in any children. Young Justice had the potential to appeal to a younger audience. Please note that it wasn’t written for a younger audience; Peter David wrote mature stories. However, his stories were accessible to people of any age, and I would argue they were appropriate for readers of all but the youngest ages (and truly, some of the sexual innuendo would have passed right over the heads of the really young anyway). Moreover, Nauck’s artwork was the sort of pleasant, happy artwork that would catch the eye of a younger reader, and he was such a strong storyteller, that no one would have trouble following the story. While we may not be able to use David and Nauck, surely we could find some creators who could do the job, and perhaps provide a safe haven for some younger readers (and older readers who don’t want to read about rape, death and decapitation on a monthly basis) in the DC Universe.

You mention Geoff Johns, and while I was very disappointed by his Teen Titans series, I do think he’s a very good writer. Moreover, he did a book with a similar theme in his very entertaining Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series, so I think he could handle it. Another writer who does a lot of work for DC and can handle anything she’s given is Gail Simone. She certainly has a lighter side, and her books always rise above the norm. A writer who I haven’t seen anything from for awhile, but who has an excellent eye for character is Devin Grayson. She worked on a previous Titans series and really did a nice job bringing the characters together and bouncing them off each other. As for artists, I’m somewhat familiar with Karl Kerschl’s stylized art, and while it’s taken me some time to adjust to it (you could take an eye out with his pointy knees and elbows), I think he would fit the style. I know he’s working for Marvel (and I’ve heard rumors he’s retiring), but I’d also recommend Mark Bagley, one of the strongest, most reliable, and perhaps most underrated pencillers around, who’s proved he’s good with teenagers in Ultimate Spider-Man. Sadly, Mike Weiringo would have been perfect; his death was such a loss to the comics community.

As for characters, I’m afraid I may not be as familiar with who would work as I once was either, and I’m also not sure who’s been spoken for other places. I think you could use Robin and Wonder Girl, and the Ray joined in later issues, and I believe he’s available. I also believe Empress, who joined in later issues is available, and perhaps they could use Supergirl. I also think it would be cool if they used Mia Deardon, the current Speedy. There’s six characters, and all of them except Empress have a heroic legacy to live up to. We’d just need a new mentor. Hmmmm…someone who hasn’t been used in awhile. How about Major Disaster? He’s tried to be a hero many times…when last seen he was an alcoholic, but if he got over that and acted more like he did as a leader of Justice League Antartica, he might fit in. There was also a group called Old Justice in the original series, comprised of sidekicks from previous decades, and included Doiby Dickles. He’d be perfect! He’d be more like a grandfather, but it could be an interesting direction; he’s certainly seen his fair share of odd stuff, and doesn’t seem fazed by anything. Do you have other suggestions?

The first character that came to mind for me was the new Blue Beetle, but I believe he’s tied up in the new Titans series somehow (again my lack of current DC lore comes to light). There’s also the newly rediscovered Traci Thirteen who’s started a relationship with Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle)…her father could be a pretty wacky mentor too. Maybe Klarion the Witch Boy…wasn’t he briefly in Young Justice?

Regardless of membership, I’m still not convinced that a lighthearted, youthful team like this has a place in the current DC Universe. Perhaps it is best to just release some trades and let this one shuffle off the mortal comics coil.