Title Revamp: Nightstalkers

Jan-07-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, seriously.

Stop laughing!

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

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

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

Honestly, that’s all I’ve got.

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

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

Yes? No? Maybe?

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

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

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

I’m going to ignore Tigra for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dwell on that for a moment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew. Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

I like the sound of this new Nightstalkers book.

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

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

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

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

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


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The Most Wonderful Stories of the Year

Dec-18-08

Ah, do you smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire? Is Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Do you hear yuletide carols being sung by a choir? Are folks near you dressed up like eskimos?

If you answered yes to those questions, then it must be Christmastime in your land! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s no denying that the holiday has a tremendous importance in much of the world, especially in America. It’s become the one day of the year where most of the country shuts down, so if you’re not out there celebrating Christmas, you’re probably pretty bored on December 25th. It’s also hard to avoid the decorations, the songs, and the Christmas episodes which air in so many television series. Comics, never an industry to pass up a trend, has also published Christmas stories, dating all the way back to Christmases in the Golden Age of Comics.

Yes, there’s Superman, trying to help Santa by shoving him down the chimney. It seems that, if Superman is successful, he’s likely to destroy this poor family’s chimney. Perhaps Santa’s bringing them a new Hydro-Thermal heating unit, so they don’t need that chimney anymore. I’m also thinking that Santa may end up with some broken bones. But, the point is, that Christmas has been showing up in comics since the medium was invented. Look, even that current comics curmudgeon Batman had the Christmas spirit back then!

Some readers may be confused by this cover, and the odd drawing of Batman’s face. What he’s doing is smiling. I know. I’ve never seen it before either. Apparently he’s amused by making the old man and the little kid lug around all those toys, while he gets to mosey along, completely unencumbered. And people said Superman was a dick.

Throughout the Golden Age and some of the Silver Age of comics, it wasn’t unusual to find at least one Christmas story in the titles of your favorite heroes during the holiday season. After all, many of these books had more than one story an issue, and continuity wasn’t very well maintained. However, when Marvel started tracking continuity in their comics during the 1960s, it became more difficult to do Christmas stories on a regular basis. After all, a year’s worth of comic stories might only take 2-3 weeks for the hero featured within them, if that long. If Marvel started printing Christmas stories every December, it would seem like their heroes were celebrating Christmas every month! DC soon encountered the same problem when they began to track continuity more closely. However, both companies realized that there was an audience for holiday stories, and if they couldn’t tell them in the regular books (which they would still do, just not that often), they’d publish special books just for that purpose. That is indeed what they did, and both have published Holiday Specials with some regularity ever since.

So, over the years, both companies have published a wide array of Christmas stories. Many of them have been quite good, and some have come from some unusual sources. In 1980, before he became the well known writer and artist that he is today, Frank Miller wrote and drew a Batman Christmas story for that year’s DC Christmas special. It’s a very short tale (as most of the Christmas tales were) and was entitled “Wanted: Santa Claus-Dead or Alive!” Sadly, while not a bad story, this one’s not nearly as exciting as the name suggested it might be. It mostly focuses on a department store Santa who has a checkered past and wants to go straight, but gets pulled into a heist on Christmas Eve. The story has a happy ending (as most Christmas tales do) and even includes the tease of a Christmas miracle. It’s nice to read it, just to see a time when Batman was portrayed as somewhat grim, but not a total psycho. It’s almost impossible to reconcile this portrayal of Batman with Miller’s later work on the character though.

Miller was obviously a fan of drawing people in Santa outfits, since he went back to that well in Daredevil, during his “Born Again” storyline. In that story, Turk, a minor punk that Miller had created for his run on the book, steals a Santa suit, hoping to get some money from strangers who would think he was collecting for charity. When an insane Matt Murdock sees this, he confronts Turk, only to be knifed by the punk and almost killed. Ah, now that’s the Frank Miller we all know and love!

The list of holiday stories is long and varied. Have any of them stayed in your memory?

Short answer? No. Not a single one. I mean, I have vague memories of Christmas-themed things, but I can’t place any of them or give specific details. I do know that this book is mixed in among my myriad longboxes:

It was an oversized issue that had a bunch of very short stories in it, some reprints of older material, lists of holiday stories from Marvel’s early days and even a page of Christmas carols rewritten with X-men-based lyrics. Exciting, no? There was a tale about Punisher redistributing drug money to the needy. Thor fighting some trolls while his dad lied about being Santa. And Captain Ultra (WTF?) fighting off Plantman in order to save everyone’s Christmas trees. LAME.


And I can’t believe that John didn’t mention the GLX-Mas Special that came out a few years ago and featured the Great Lakes Avengers a presented by Dan Slott. I know John is a big fan of the GLA. Sadly, there wasn’t anything aobut this comic that really stood out as “memorable” or even “good.” Wait, I take that back. MODOK makes an appearance. That’s always memorable (but not always good).

I know there are some others that I’m forgetting. Comics have a way of trying to drill home those “true meaning of the holiday” messages as often as they can. I’m sure there’s a Spider-Man story about helping out a little kid in a hospital or something about the Justice League helping an orphanage fight the evil utility man who keeps turning off their heat. And I know for a fact that there have been about four dozen modern comic interpretations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Bah Humbug, J. Jonah Jameson!

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tick’s Big Yule Log Special. It’s a glorious flip book. One side features a story where Tick and Arthur are hired to play mall Santas and get caught up in an evil elf’s revenge plot. The other side of the book shows us how Arthur tries to teach the Tick the true meaning of Hanukkah. Brings a tear to my eye every time.

Of course, my favorite bit of holiday comics lore has no tie to the season or really any particular day for that matter. It’s something that has been around for decades and still shines as one of the greatest catchphrases in modern pop culture: Luke Cage’s “Sweet Christmas!” exclamation.

Sweet Christmas, indeed.



2009 Superhero Resolutions

Dec-17-08

When we’re not trying to save a forgotten character or rehabilitate one that seems to have fallen off-track, we (or at least I) always seem to end up taking the industry to task for one reason or another. I guess blogs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have anything to complain about! As the clock winds down on 2008, it’s easy to look back and point fingers. At the same time, this joyous and comforting season provides the perfect opportunity to look ahead and resolve to make changes. While I promise to try to be funnier without being so caustic (except when it comes to Bendis), I figure some of our favorite Marvel and DC heroes and villains are also hoping to make some positive changes in their lives too.

With that in mind, here are our thoughts on what some of those New Year’s resolutions may look like:

Spider-Man: I resolve to find true love. I really think it’s time that I settle down, find a wife, and get into a solid domestic relationship. That’s the one thing in my life that seems to be missing. Seriously. Like, it was there and then it wasn’t. Weird, huh?

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Hulk: I resolve to be a better father. Kids learn from example. I can’t be leaping all over creation smashing stuff and speaking in broken English. What kind of precedent does that set for my little Skaar? Less mindless violence and more dedication to the arts, that’s my goal. Maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Aquaman: I resolve to…hello? Is anyone listening to me? HELLO?!? Stupid fish aren’t even paying attention anymore.

Punisher: I resolve to only kill people who deserve it. And by “deserve it,” I mean “does something that falls within my broad and ever-changing definition of evil…from kiddie porn to jaywalking, on any given day.” Honestly, that guy driving that Miata the other day? He was just asking to be blown up into tiny pieces with a bazooka and about a half-dozen other high-explosive armaments. Should whack his family too. What kind of person drives a Miata?

Luke Cage: I resolve to never join a group called the Dark Avengers. Kinda sends the wrong message, ya know? Sweet Christmas!

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Iron Man: I resolve to start drinking again. Can you blame me?

Blue Beetle: I resolve to stay relevant regardless of losing my solo series and becoming a quasi-legacy to a character who was never all that fabulous to begin with. But hey, as long as I keep making appearances on a keen new Batman cartoon, everyone will love me! I mean, look at the headliners I’m appearing with…Plastic Man, Red Tornado, uh…Aquaman? Damn it. I’m screwed.

Madrox: I resolve to stop sending doubles in to deal with the crying baby. It’s not fair to them and it doesn’t really teach me anything. Although, on the bright side, at least I’m not the one who has to put up with all the screaming and crying. Considering half the kid’s genes are from Siryn, that’s probably a safe thing.

All-Star Batman: I resolve to stop talking like a goddamn retard.

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too…ah, crap.

Dr. Strange: I resolve to be the central character in a Bendis crossover this year, meaning I also resolve to act horribly out of character as long as that advances the plot, no matter how nonsensical that may be.

Cyclops: Now that my current honey, Emma Frost, looks to be going evil again, I resolve to find another skank to bring home to my bedroom. I wonder what Selene, the Black Queen, is up to. Jean would be so proud.

Wolverine: I resolve to only appear in fifteen books a month. Wouldn’t want to become overexposed.

Thor: Verily, I doth resolveth to speaketh in English most plain, so as not to confuseth those who doth find themselves arrayed around me.

Hercules: Verily, I doth resolveth….hey Odinson! Getith thine own resolution. Fine. I doth resolve to ne’er move from the fine publication in which I currently reside. It is mine now Hulk, you poor excuse for a hero! You shall ne’er move me from it!

She-Hulk: I doth resolve…sorry. It’s contagious. I resolve to get my own title again. I wonder who can relaunch me this time? Maybe I’ll give Byrne a call….it’s not like he’s doing anything important right now.

Sub-Mariner: I resolve to enter rehab this year. I mean, have you seen me lately? I look worse than Tony Stark did after a three month bender!

Dr. Light (female): I resolve to turn back the clock on my personality and act like I did in 1986 again. It may not make sense to anyone else, but there’s a reason I’m ignoring the last 20 years of my life and acting in this manner. Honest.

Obsidian: I resolve to go back to the JSA and fade into the woodwork again, since the only title to explore my character is now, <sigh>, cancelled.

Scarlet Witch: I resolve to return to comics to say what I should have said in 2005: “No more Bendis.”


Making Civil War more Civil

Dec-09-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comic Cancellations and the Comics Industry

Dec-08-08

While Jason and I may have been slow in posting the past few weeks due to other commitments, the comics world has continued to move forward. One of the big recent announcements made by the Big Two was DC’s decision to cancel their mid-tier Bat-Books, including Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. This may have come as a surprise to some readers, but it’s not an unusual move. None of those books had a buzz about them and sales had been mediocre for some time.


This tactic, of culling the weak from a herd of related books, is not unusual. Marvel, when it introduced its “Brand New Day” storyline into Amazing Spider-Man, used that as an opportunity to cancel all of its other monthly Spidey titles, although they then began publishing Amazing Spider-Man every week, so that may have been a wash. Throughout the past decade, Marvel has also taken the hatchet to its bloated X-Men family of titles on a few occasions, although such cancellations never seem to trim the line for long, with new books and relaunched versions of older books soon appearing.


In fact, that’s one of the questions that one must ask when confronted with news of this sort: does it matter, in any conceivable way? It’s possible we won’t see Birds of Prey again, but does anyone truly believe that there won’t be another Robin series popping up down the line? All it would require would be a hot artist or writer being brought on board and that title could easily be relaunched, with a new number one issue, and if we’re really lucky, variant covers (perhaps with special metals used on them)! Cancellations like these, while frustrating to those fans who follow those series on a monthly basis, are normally just speedbumps in the road for these established characters, who will either guest star regularly in their parent title, or will be back soon enough in their own title. Cancellations are only a concern when you’re a relatively new, untested property, like say, Blue Beetle.


Yes, DC has also announced the cancellation of their Blue Beetle title, and sadly, the titular hero has no other place to call his home. Cancelling a title such as Blue Beetle or the critically acclaimed Manhunter (or, on the Marvel side, the oft-cancelled Spider-Girl) often means that the characters who have lost their book will disappear, rarely, if ever, to be seen again. If the writer of that title is writing other titles for the company, they may be able to move some characters over into their non-cancelled titles, but that’s not always the case (and for a character like Spider-Girl, who’s in a different continuity, it’s not really even possible). Many people have attacked and lambasted DC over its decision to cancel Blue Beetle, as the character had just appeared on their new cartoon show The Brave and the Bold, and the cancellation was seen as a poor marketing move, which it might well have been, had DC ever marketed its comics towards the viewers of the show in question.


In any case, the comics blogosphere has been all abuzz the past few weeks as numerous armchair quarterbacks discuss these cancellations, and what sort of an effect they will have on the industry as a whole. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to inject my opinion into a topic that other’s have milked dry, I am going to jump into this fray, as is the lovely and talented Jason. I think we bring a unique perspective to this debate, in that we are not armchair quarterbacks of any sort; I, for one, sit in an office chair, with no armchairs in sight.


So, let me outline what we’ll be discussing, and then I’ll turn this over to Jason, who’s been hoping to rant for many days now. We’ve mentioned the different types of cancellations: mid-tier books that will likely be back soon; mid-tier books which are absorbed into the parent books in their line; and the third stringers who may disappear altogether with no other title to call home. The question is: are these sorts of cancellations wise business decisions? Do they help or hurt the comics industry as a whole? Are they a shortsighted decision or one that looks to the future? To begin the discussion, I turn this over to Jason, but I’ll be back with my own thoughts on the subject soon enough.


To begin, I would like to point out that my chair does have arms, but it is also on wheels…so I think that technically rules out any sort of “armchairing” on my part. You’re right to relate that I have been waiting to rant about this topic for a while now. I kept starting and stopping my own version of this post because I had just too many thoughts and opinions to blurt out. I didn’t want to tax anyone’s reading comprehension abilities as I vacillated wildly from topic to topic. I’m sure this response will meander into the realms of economic concerns, buying habits, related cultural industries, the counterintuition of the industry and a bunch of other things. However, first I’m going to try to address John’s questions straight on.


John asks if “these sorts of cancellations are wise business decisions” to which I respond: ANY sort of cancellation is usually a wise business decision. And, quite honestly, I wish the Big Two would do more pruning of their overgrown product lines. It’s all about curb appeal…and right now, neither Marvel or DC has much of that when it comes to attracting new readership. The mentality of the last decade or two, to be filed under “Lessons NOT Learned From the Mid-90s,” is this: if readers love Mr. Super in one book, they’re sure to love him in eight books! If they are willing to fork over $3 for one comic featuring Mega-Dude, imagine how much we can squeeze from them if we have Mega-Dude appear in a dozen titles this month! On its face, that sounds like a great supply-and-demand model, right? Unfortunately, comics are a different sort of beast. Maybe I read the monthly Mighty Mr. Super title because I like the writer or the artist, whereas Awesome Mr. Super, Mr. Super Adventures, and Mr. Super Hangs Around Outside Elementary Schools employ creators who don’t twirl my baton. Or, and this seems to be the one the big boys can’t seem to understand, maybe I only have $3 this month! Maybe, I buy a bunch of other books (including, ironically, some from the same publisher) and don’t want to make that commitment or be faced with that choice. Or let’s say I do make that commitment, but now I have to drop one of their other titles in order to read more about Mr. Super.


Extrapolating that kind of effect can be difficult, but I’ll try to explain it in small numbers. DC launches Blue Beetle to some critical success. It begins to build an audience. DC faithful like it enough to add it to their regular buy lists. However, then DC decides to launch an event comic that is destined to “change the DC Universe FOREVER.” Well, being a DC fan, you feel like you need to see this. You stretch your budget a bit to include this overpriced piece of garbage, but that’s pushing it. You like Blue Beetle and don’t want to give up on it yet…I mean, they’re going to introduce this new character, build a world around him and let him enjoy some adventures on his own before trying to force decades of unrelated continuity into the title, right? AHAHAHAHA. Don’t hold your breath. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that everything is going swimmingly over in Beetle-burg. Now, DC decides that Batman is going to die. Oh no! Not one of the major comic icons of my lifetime! I need to follow that story desperately! Um…bye-bye Blue Beetle or big event comic or DC in general just for forcing me to choose. In fact, maybe I’ll just give up completely on comics. Granted, that may be pushing this example to the extreme, but it’s possible. The goodwill that was going to be built by Blue Beetle or Secret Six or Birds of Prey or The All-New Atom or Shadowpact or anything else, is now dribbled away by DC trying to do too much at once.


That’s an example of what can cause a new book to be cancelled, but what about a mid-tier book? Well, it’s a similar track. Companies forget that there is a limited audience out there and that that audience has a limited budget too. You can’t have the mentality that “everyone in the world wants to read every book I make” and hope to have great success in this business. I haven’t gone back and crunched years of data on the topic, but I can make a few educated guesses about those second-level titles. Let’s say The Supergroup sells 100,000 copies a month. The company decides this is a good time to take advantage of increased readership and introduce The Fabulous Supergroup as a companion title. For the sake of simplicity, readership on the first issue of Fabulous is also 100,000. Wow! Another hit on their hands! Of course, over the release of a few issues, the numbers adjust themselves to account for readers making a decision between the two titles or deciding the creators aren’t their favorites or the stories aren’t interesting or whatever. After issue #4 hits the stands, Fabulous is now attracting only 70,000 readers and the original title is down to about 90,000. In order to regain some flagging interest, the company decides to launch a solo title for their most popular character, Mega-Dude. Mega-Dude’s premiere issue flies off the racks at a pace of 120,000. Awesome! But now it’s decision time again. Do readers feel that Mega-Dude is better on his own (meaning an uptick in the solo series, but less interest in the team book)? The original series drops to 75,000…Fabulous now sits at 50,000 (and is on the bubble for cancellation now) and the solo series settles in around 80,000. Do they feel that three titles with Mega-Dude are way too many and decide to drop one or two of them? Do they get completely fed up with Mega-Dude’s overexposure and drop all the titles? Do they decide to stick with all three but now have to drop the Mr. Super title because of a limited budget? Or does a rival company take advantage of the diluted market and launch some new fan favorite title that attracts 150,000 purchases and shoots to number one on the sales chart?


Someone is going to lose.


And that’s just the economic semantics of the deal. Having the same character appear in a bunch of different books every month is a horrible way to keep characterization and tell fluid stories. Why can’t there be just one X-Men comic? You have great stories to tell? Perfect! Tell them in one book. Maybe increase the page count or put it out bi-weekly or something. Is there really any need to dilute the characters and their gravitas just to kill a few more trees and put more stress on your readers’ wallets? At the very least, combine the titles…if two books cost $6, you should be able to double the page count and produce a single title for $5. If every publisher would follow this model, readers could get more bang for their buck and the market would turn to one more similar to Japan’s booming market…with thicker monthly books that contain multiple stories. Less titles to fret over, but more stories in each book.


I’ll skip John’s second question and go right to the “shortsighted decision” inquiry. Yes, I believe all of these cancellations are shortsighted. It has nothing to do with the titles themselves, but with the overall mentality of the comic industry. Everything they do is shortsighted. Switching creative lineups. Launching assorted miniseries. Killing off established characters. You name it, it’s a blindfolded dartboard mission. Even the things they think they have planned out ahead of time end up being retrofitted at the last second. Look at all the stories about DC’s big event books for the past two years…Dan DiDio has lorded over the titles, making adjustments, removing key plot points, changing characters and generally mucking about in the creators’ realm all in the name of “executive editing.” And how has that worked out for them so far? I’ll tell you: confusing, self-referencing, continuity-laden stories featuring third and fourth-tier characters that the average literate person doesn’t recognize and could care less about. You’d think they’d learn after one debacle, but instead they keep trying to adjust for each event, making them go further and further off track until the Final Final Final Crisis will be a one-shot featuring Bwana Beast playing a game of battleship against the head of Toyman. And someone is bound to say, “Wasn’t that one dude on the Super Friends cartoon?”


Now for John’s last question: “Do cancellations help or hurt the industry as a whole?” Well, personally, I think there’s some good and some bad. There have been titles that have bled readers without outside influence, proving they probably didn’t deserve the attention they were granted. There have been titles launched that had great buzz before they hit the stands and then just fell flat, whether from overblown expectations or suck-o creative output. And then there are books that really could have been something, but were given no promotion, overpopulated with ill-conceived crossovers, or hastily tossed on the chopping block to save the 14th useless and watered-down Cool-Man title. As a whole, I wish the industry would think a little before they launch the titles, take better care of them once they’ve launched and look across their entire line before they start cutting off noses to spite their faces, so to speak.


I have a lot more to say on the topic, but I’ll give it back to John to digest my rant and reply appropriately.

Well, before I delve into what you wrote too extensively, I have to completely agree with you that these choices are short-sighted, and that all the choices the Big Two make fall into that category. Sadly, I feel that’s a problem with much of the world today; we tend to live in a very short-sighted society, which can’t look more than a few weeks or months into the future. The comics industry is obviously not as strong as it could be, as it has been in the past, and indeed, as strong as it is in other countries. While there are numerous reasons for this, I believe that, to change this and to really turn the industry around, the leaders of this industry are going to have to look to the future and make some difficult choices. They need to completely change the way they do business, because the current business model? Not working out so well.

I agree with much of what Jason says, although I feel that you don’t hit a wall of diminishing returns in a financial realm only, when you publish multiple titles featuring the same character; you hit that same wall in a creative realm as well. Put simply, Batman may be one of the most interesting characters in creative fiction, but he’s not interesting enough to feature predominantly in six books a month. If you insist on publishing six books a month featuring this character, you are going to start running out of ideas, and you’re going to either recycle old ideas (changing little) or you’re going to get some really bad stories.

Understand that I am quite cognizant that bad stories can happen in the books of characters that only have one title. My point would be that, in the case of a character like Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, you should easily be able to get the top creators in the business to chronicle their adventures. If you restrict their adventures to one main title, you can have the top creators in the business telling their stories, and you don’t have to worry about trying to find others to pad the pages of the many ancillary titles that feature them. You would have creators who would be building on many years worth of stories, yes, but those years would only be filled with twelve or twenty four issues worth of stories, not sixty or seventy two issues, as we have now.

I also see how budgets are limited, and multiple series featuring a favorite character can really hurt a buyer’s wallet. I’m sure that, if this was suggested to the Powers That Be that run DC and Marvel (and I’m sure it has) they would counter that, if they drop two Superman titles a month, the consumer who was purchasing them wouldn’t then start picking up Manhunter and Blue Beetle; they’d simply save the money, or use it on another form of entertainment. Unfortunately, the Powers That Be could be right, and consumers might react that way. Still, I believe that it’s a chance that must be taken. I believe that, if given more choices, not only might current readers try something different, but that new readers might be brought into comics, since there would now be a better chance that the Big Two were publishing something that might interest them. This wouldn’t be a quick process, as there are decades of preconceptions built into our culture, but going back to making far sighted decisions, those preconceptions will never be broken down if steps aren’t taken to do so.

Okay, intermission is over. The rant may continue.

Right. I’ve gotten my breath back and I’m ready to sound off again! I like the point you raised at the end. I think there’s a general fear within the industry that they’re competing against video games and movies and all the other related disposable entertainment. However, you can’t ever succeed if all you do is operate on a fear-based model. Don’t take chances! Don’t do something that may alter the sales patterns of the last four years! Don’t make any changes to characters or continuity that can’t be explained and changed back at a moment’s notice! Don’t try to attract new readers in a new way! Don’t put any effort into cross-promotion outside your sheltered little industry!

Look, how simple could this be? Instead of putting the onus on the retailer to sell your product, why don’t you do something that could help out everyone? Pundits like to draw conclusions about comic books from comic-based movies. The new Batman flick did gangbusters, that must mean the comics are selling millions too, right? Um…no. The person who watches a movie isn’t necessarily the same person who has spent a decade following the adventures of his favorite hero. Sadly, while most comic book readers will flock to comic-based movies, most comic-based movie watchers don’t flock to comic shops. They go home and watch TV or go see another movie or go out in the sunshine and engage in sports or social events. It’s not a two-way street by any means of the imagination. Readers need to be cultivated and, in a way, bred into existence. I can’t think of one person I know these days who just decided one morning to be a comic book reader. And the industry does little to help. I always believed there was potential to cross-promote a movie into a visit to the comic shop. That is, until I actually owned a comic book store. When someone wanders in looking for a recommendation, sometimes you’re at a loss. Sure, if they just saw From Hell or V For Vendetta, you can recommend the source material verbatim. However, X-Men: The Last Stand came out while I had my store. Someone who knows nothing about the X-Men, aside from what they’ve seen in the theater, comes in looking for an X-Men comic book. How do you explain to them that there are about a dozen titles to choose from? Or that you could recommend another dozen or so collections and trades, all with different characters, plots and creative teams? Which do you think they’d like? Which ones do you personally think are fabulous, but could lose the person you’re showing it to? And if you make one bad recommendation, you risk losing that customer forever (not that there’s a guarantee that they would come back anyway).

Maybe I was just a bad salesman…I’ve heard from both sides of that argument already. I know that not all superhero movies can pull a revered plotline straight from the pages and slap it up on screen. Concessions need to be made in terms of pacing and costumes and special-effects abilities and even for the translation to viewers who aren’t familiar with comics in general. But imagine how much easier things would be at the retail level if there were only one Batman title on the shelves. Someone walks in, says they just saw the film and now they want a Batman comic and BOOM, instant sale. You don’t need to spend an hour explaining the story or the crossover or the extraneous characters popping in and out of every other panel. Just, here’s the monthly Batman title. I would also like to believe, and maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, that one title would mean better stories. You have a built-in filter. Let the top creators pitch their stories and pick the ones you think are tops. Don’t just settle for whatever because you have 150 pages to fill in a month and you think consumers are mindless sheep. KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid!

I’m old enough to remember the DC Implosion of 1978. Twenty titles were cancelled and a handful of other planned books were nixed due to low sales attributed to a couple winter blizzards (which points to an obvious flaw in your business plan). Granted, none of the titles were anything to write home about…with the exception, in my little world, of Mister Miracle and Secret Society of Super-Villains. However, DC was also on the verge of eliminating their flagship title and namesake of the company, Detective Comics. Only a last minute merger with the better-selling Batman Family kept Detective in print. It goes to show that a bloated line can be dangerous for even your most historic titles. Maybe Detective should’ve been sent packing? Nostalgia can only sell so many books, the rest need to be sold on story and characters…unless you count that brief span in the 90s and early 00s where sales were artist-based, which always baffled me.

Of course, once you start talking about cancelling titles, the fanboys start to freak out about cuts across the board and people losing jobs and companies going out of business. I recently read a post on the new version of Blog@Newsarama (which is horribly amateurish and, at times, just plain awful, compared to what they had before), in which the author tries to make a connection between a film studio cutting back on its staff and the time of the successful comic-based movie coming to pass. This point is crowbarred in right after he points out that The Dark Knight just made a billion dollars and that comic-based movies are more successful than ever. If comic-based movies are so successful, why then, in any sense of the definition of logical, would film companies stop making them? Just because they lay off part of their office staff in order to reduce overhead, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to wipe their upcoming slate and devote all their resources to making documentaries about churches and playing chess. They’re not going to suddenly stop producing the one film genre that is bringing in demonstrable cash. And, even if they did, there’s absolutely no correlation between a reduction in comic-based movies and the sudden and complete collapse of the comic book industry. Popular comics have been produced since the 1930s or earlier, and the first successful comic book movie was…Superman back in the late 70s. With a glowing track record like that, I’m pretty sure the industry will survive.

I’d also like to point out that comics more or less thrived during the Great Depression and, even though the popularity of superhero comics waned in the post-World War II world, other genres…crime, horror and romance…rose to outpace their flagging sales. Granted, comics back then were MUCH less expensive and usually appealed to a broader swath of the population, but the need for entertainment and an escape from reality are never stronger than in poor economic times. I don’t see this as a doom-and-gloom scenario. Rather, I see today’s market as a chance to correct problems, exploit opportunities and generally right a ship that has been lazily listing for the past decade, like a rowboat with only one oar…circling and circling until the rower can’t do it anymore and the boat just drifts off into the horizon. Build up a new readership! Limit your best characters to two titles AT MOST! Create some new, compelling characters that can stand the test of time (Marvel’s last wildly successful characters, Wolverine & Punisher, were both created 30 years ago)! Come up with stories that create a foundation for new worlds instead of just referring to things that happened 25 years ago in a book nobody remembers! Go forward! Stop looking back!

Whew. That’s enough for me right now. I’m going to slap my tag team partner’s hand and just slump down in the corner until I’m needed again.

Way to go Champ. You got ’em on the ropes. Now just take a swig of this water and take a minute to catch your breath.

It has become the sport du jour in the comics blogosphere to explain to all who will listen what the best way is to fix the current economic slump which has affected the comics field since the mid 90s. I don’t think either one of us claims to be experts, but honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the current business model being used by Marvel and DC simply will not be effective in the long run. They may be able to squeeze out a few more dollars from loyal customers over the next decade, but after that? Unless they change the way they do business, I simply can’t imagine there will be much of a comics industry after that point in time.

The sad thing about this is that there are a LOT of truly good books being produced right now. Regrettably, not many of them are being produced by Marvel and DC for their flagship titles, but the well written and compelling stories, with strong artwork that serves the story well, are out there. Comics can be great, and we see evidence of that right now, but we need to communicate this information to the general public. It’s become quite common to have a newspaper, magazine or mainstream internet site do a story about how comics aren’t just for kids anymore, but that’s not true promotion, or at the very least, it shouldn’t be the beginning, middle and end of promotion. Events such as Free Comic Book Day is a grand idea, except that it begins and ends in the comic shop, a place that most people who aren’t comics fans already don’t visit. We need the comic shops to go out amongst the population and sell their wares, luring the unwary back to their place of business after distributing free samples of their wares.

I’ve come to the point where I simply don’t read the amount of mainstream superheroes that I used to, which I find rather depressing. I love superheroes. I understand that they can be considered gaudily dressed symbols of a stunted adolescence, or brightly colored avatars of a power fantasy, but I don’t care. They’re neat, and when done well, they can be as deep and meaningful as any other type of story. When done well, they can also just be a heck of a lot of fun, and there’s no shame in that either. Unfortunately, so many of them aren’t done well anymore, and while I still read scads of comics (and keep up with developments occurring in both DC and Marvel), more and more what I’m reading comes from DC’s Vertigo line, from Dark Horse, from IDW, from Oni or Fantagraphics or from various and sundry other independent publishers. I enjoy their books, and I enjoy the opportunity to explore their worlds, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really miss reading the adventures of my favorite superheroes, particularly the Avengers, Fantastic Four, JLA and Titans, all of which I’ve found all but unreadable lately.

Perhaps the best way to end this thought would be through the following story. I have been trying to trade my single issue comics in for trade paperbacks for years now, as I find the trades easier to read and easier to loan to people. I also regularly go through my trades and single issues, purging those where I have duplicates of the story in another format, or those where I realize that the story isn’t very good, or doesn’t appeal to me. I never sell my old trades or single issues, but instead I try to give them to people, and many of my friends who don’t regularly read comics, but know of them, are the recipients of many of these. Nine times out of ten, the trades that they love, and the ones that they remark on, are the older ones, from the 70s and 80s. Usually I’m told that these stories were easier to follow, that they made more sense, and that they weren’t as violent or profane, which some of them find offputting (particularly those with children). If my friends and their families are indicative of the general, non-comics reading public, might we not want to consider the ramifications of their opinion?

Well, we’ve wandered all over the field on this one. Are we ready to draw some conclusions and move on?

Wait a second, you’re giving away comics? Why wasn’t I told about this? What’s going on?!?!

I kid. John actually gave me an entire longbox full of comics once. He’s quite the generous sort and always eager to spread the comic gospel to the uninitiated. I guess my past ownership of a store and our continued blathering about comics on this here internet page qualify as missionary work too. We’re like Mormons, but without all that nonsense about finding gold plates buried in the woods (and the polygamy too). I’ve been to Utah. It’s nothing special. Go Team Comics!

I have no conclusions to draw about what we’ve said. I feel like, at times, we’ve argued both ends against the middle…with the middle being rational thought and the ends being “everything is fine” and “everything is falling apart.” The industry needs to change somehow. Everyone knows it. This “circle the wagons” mentality just further insulates an already shrinking fan base while doing nothing to attract new readership. The ones inside the fortified castle are either dying off or trying desperately to break out by pounding their heads on the walls. The ones outside our little fantasyland have no idea what’s going on and just go about their business with a faint recollection that Superman is Clark Kent…or something.

At the same time, the industry isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to say comics are bulletproof when it comes to the economy, because we all know how the industry is so very capable of shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis, but being on the low end of the entertainment radar can sometimes be a boon. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We could make a list of things the industry should at least TRY to do, but no one would listen anyway. And we’ll just keep reading whatever they put out, in one format or another. Who’s worse…the executives and editors or the readers themselves? During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama often used a quote by Albert Einstein to explain the need for change and I think it’s appropriate here too: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Maybe it’s all our fault.


Costume Critique: Night Thrasher

Oct-17-08

They say that clothes make the man. I don’t know who “they” are, but they must have been crying in their Chardonnay when Marvel unveiled Night Thrasher for the first time.

The above picture really doesn’t do the defunct leader of the original New Warriors justice, but it’s almost like Marvel knew that and refused to actually ever show him in his full glory. Where’s the overcoat? Where’s the skateboard?

Yeah, that’s right. I said “skateboard.”

You can rest assured that any time a superhero uses a skateboard, it’s going to make them a memorable character…one way or another. And Night Thrasher certainly doesn’t disappoint in that realm. Nothing says XTREME!!! quite like a dude hitting another dude in the face with a gnarly deck (and then chugging a Mountain Dew while totally high-fiving any nearby object with limbs).

But that is neither here nor there. Sure, the skateboard is an integral part of making fun of this lousy costume, but it’s not the only failing point. Let’s start from the top:

Night Thrasher looks like one of those low-budget direct-to-video superheroes who assembled his costume by shopping at the local sporting goods store. I can imagine him going through a hastily scribbled checklist with his precocious neighbor kid sidekick…

NT: Paintball mask?

KID: Check.

NT: Knee and elbow pads?

KID: Check and check.

NT: This costume is gonna be rad and really strike fear into the hearts of those evil real estate guys hoping to close down the local rec center in order to put in a parking garage for their high priced condos.

KID: Right on, NT! We should have one of those rousing 80’s-style montages!

NT: Not now, precocious sidekick. Evil is afoot!

KID: Awww…

NT: Back to the list. Random pieces of dirtbiking “armor?”

KID: Check.

NT: Long black overcoat?

KID: They sell those at sporting goods stores?

NT: Nah. I already had one. Just thought it would look cool. It’s totally black.

KID: Okay.

NT: Skateboard?

KID: Huh?

NT: You don’t expect me to take the bus, do you? Plus, I can totally smash some faces with it. THWUMP!

KID: Right. I think I hear my mom calling me…

NT: Not so fast, true believer! We have one more important element to consider.

KID: What’s that?

NT: Sticks.

KID: Sticks?

NT: Oh yeah. I could make some wicked weapon out of sticks.

KID: …

Aaaand…scene. Seriously. What were they thinking?

There is absolutely no way that I can top what you just wrote. I should point out that, in all fairness, I found myself loving the character of Night Thrasher, as Fabian Nicieza wrote him in the original New Warriors comics. I actually count Nicieza’s New Warriors as one of my favorite comics from Marvel in the early 90’s and I thought he did an amazing job at making these characters interesting and making the book unique. However, that does not excuse this costume. Or the skateboard. Good Lord, the skateboard!

Of course, skateboarding was popular in the early 90s, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it would show up in a comic. But a popular fad does not a new hero make. Hackeysack was also popular, and I suppose we should all thank someone at Marvel Editorial for nixing the sure-to-be-classic, HackenSackster, who must have been discussed at the same meeting. We were spared one hero born of a then-current fad at the very least.

The skateboard of young Night Thrasher was perhaps never put to better use than when it was employed against the Punisher, as a weapon. I would love to have been Microchip at that time.

MICROCHIP: Man, Frank, you look like crap. What happened to you?

PUNISHER: Some kid hit me with his skateboard.

MICROCHIP: BWAH-HA-HA!!

PUNISHER: Shut up Micro.

I was really hoping to find some screen caps of Night Thrasher beaning the Punisher with his skateboard and using the skateboard as a shield against the Punisher’s bullets, but sadly, the internet is failing me today. Of course, the Punisher need not be as embarrassed as Terrax, a freakin’ Herald of Galactus, who also got slapped around by a young punk using a skateboard to escape the power cosmic. Truly, I think the skateboard should have caught on in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man used to have roller skates; he should have been trading them in for a skateboard!

The skateboard actually disappeared after a year or so, no doubt as people realized that it was not lending their new character much dignity. Sadly, that horrible helmet never left, and so our hero looks like he should be killing pretty co-eds at Camp Crystal Lake. Look, it’s not that a helmet isn’t a good idea for your costume when you’re going to be fighting the forces of evil. It’s a great idea. But dude, you’re a Bruce Wayne rip-off with tons of money; heck, even your skateboard was made of some super strong alloy and tricked out with blades and other gadgets. Why did you think it was ok to spend $8 on a hockey mask and consider your headgear good to go?

How many jokes do you think Night Thrasher had to endure for the knee pads? “Why do you need the knee pads Thrash? Got some special plans with Kid Nova after the fight?” “Oh, shut up Speedball.” Were the knee and elbow pads there to teach kids about safety? That seems a mixed message: “Yes kids, you can jump around on your skateboard, stabbing and punching people, and you can play with guns and grenades and fight really buff guys who carry Uzis….but for the love of God, WEAR YOUR KNEE AND ELBOW PADS!” Perhaps they were to be like Batman’s chest emblem; it’s brightly colored and it’s supposed to serve as a target for criminals to shoot at, so they’re hitting him where he’s most heavily armored. Perhaps Thrash thought that, since they were some of the only areas on his costume that weren’t black, they’d attract the bad guy’s fire. Or perhaps he thought he could Brer Thrash them into attacking there: “No sir, Mr. Terrax, please don’t hit me in the elbows or knees! I’d surely be defeated if you hit me there!”

Finally, I have one question: What the hell is the point of the bandanna on his leg? It’s on every single bloody version of his costume, and it makes so sense to me. At least I can say that, while the elbow and knee pads are ugly as sin, they do have a practical purpose, since they do provide protection, in case he falls off his skateboard in the middle of a fight with a Herald of Galactus (how embarrassing!). But what does the bandanna signify? Is it supposed to be a gang sign? Is he in a gang? The other New Warriors didn’t have to wear colors. Is it a symbol of some sort, like when you have handkerchiefs hanging out of your back pocket; certain colors denote certain things you enjoy? Was Thrash cruising people as he battled crime? Please, can someone explain the bandanna?!

Yeesh. Not a bad character; horrible costume.

Damn. I forgot the Chachi bandanna. It really did tie the outfit all together.


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.