Character Revamp: Santa Claus

Dec-19-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of that power set?

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

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

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

Too dramatic?

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

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

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

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

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Dream Team: The Masters of Evil

Dec-01-08

We’ve assembled quite a few Dream Teams over the past few months, but precious few of them have been teams of villains. Today we rectify this oversight, as we explore the Masters of Evil. The Masters have been the major villain group to clash with the Avengers throughout the history of that heroic group of costumed do-gooders, first appearing in the sixth issue of the Avengers comic. Originally, the Masters was a group that consisted of arch foes for the current active roster of the Avengers. Baron Zemo, their leader, was the wartime enemy of Captain America; the Melter was a foe of Iron Man; the Radioactive Man had battled Thor; and the Black Knight had crossed swords (well, actually he had crossed lances; he didn’t use a sword) with Giant-Man.

Together, these villains had a vested interest in knocking off at least one member of the heroic super group. Through the years, subsequent gatherings of the Masters of Evil weren’t always made up of villains that hated Avengers members. When the Beetle, for example, joined the Masters, he was basically a Spider-Man and Human Torch foe. While that’s all well and good, for our Dream Team, I’d like to go back to the idea of choosing villains who have a reason to hate the Avengers. I’m going to go with a group of six villains to face off against our heroes, which is a little large for many villain groups, but not unusual for the Masters.

For the leader of this group, I’m going to pick Kang the Conqueror. Many people might dismiss Kang as a choice, since he’s never been a member of the Masters, and more importantly, he often works alone. However, Kang is the one long standing Avengers foe who has worked with groups in the past (he fought alongside his Anachronauts on more than one occasion) and I can easily see him forming a group to help him take down the Avengers. He’d have to be leader, as he wouldn’t settle for another position, but he’s a good leader. He also provides a lot of technology to the group, some decent strategy (he has conquered entire worlds) and an ability to stand toe to toe in combat with almost any one of his enemies. Most importantly, he really hates the Avengers.

Next up on my list would be Sandman. Personally, I like Sandman as a hero, but apparently Marvel’s powers-that-be do not, as he’s been returned to the ranks of villainy, where he hates everything that he did while a hero. I imagine he also hates the Avengers, probably for taking him in and tricking him into doing good acts. I think he’d enjoy getting revenge. I also imagine that he’s got to be a thorn in the side to many of the Avengers themselves. After all, the Avengers pride themselves on taking in felons and reforming them. They did it with Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Vision, Black Widow, and the list goes on. I believe that Sandman is their only failure, and certainly some Avengers would have a problem with that.

My next choice would be the Grim Reaper. As the brother of Wonder Man and related (sort of) to Vision and the Scarlet Witch, the Reaper has always been an interesting villain. He went through some radical changes in the 90s, making him much more powerful, but now that he’s reverted to human, he’s obviously not powerful enough to take on the Avengers alone. He’s teamed with certain villains in the past (usually calling themselves the Lethal Legion) and there’s no reason why he couldn’t join the biggest group of Avengers-haters out there. In a group, his powers would be more helpful and effective anyway..

Halfway through the line-up, and I’m going with Mr. Hyde. The group needs a powerful strong man, and honestly, I tend to find most of those super-strong types to be horribly boring. Hyde is at least somewhat interesting, and more importantly, he’s somewhat scary. He’s capable of doing monstrous things, and more than willing (perhaps even anxious) to inflict your deepest nightmares on you. If you put him and the Grim Reaper together, it might actually create a very scary duo, and I can see our splash page when they’re first introduced, in a dark panel, lit by a single flash of light.

My next choice may seem a little off the wall (again), but I’d like to see Deathbird as a member of the group. The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and along those lines, I think they need an alien to fight. Plus, Deathbird has issues with members of the Avengers (Hawkeye in particular) and has clashed with the superheroes many times. I would imagine that she has her own agenda for joining, one we’ll find out many issues later, but she could be an effective team member.

Finally, I’d choose Whirlwind. As a villain, he’s been something of a joke for awhile, but he’s actually got an interesting power, and he’s also got a personal connection and hatred for the team (and an obsession with the Wasp, which is interesting and somewhat more relevant today, with celebrity stalkers an increasingly common phenomenon). I think it would be possible to make him an effective, and somewhat creepy, super-villain.

So, we have Kang leading Whirlwind, Deathbird, Mr. Hyde, Sandman and Grim Reaper. Your rebuttal?

And rebut I shall! Since as far back as I can remember, I have been a huge fan of the Masters of Evil. I’m thinking I was more interested in the concept, a group of less-than-stellar villains brought together to defeat a common foe, than I was interested in the actual members. When I first started collecting comics, one of the earliest books I remember picking up was Avengers #55, featuring the second incarnation of the Masters of Evil. Individually, the members’ power sets weren’t much to crow about, but when you assembled them and handed them at least some form of loose strategy, they were a much more effective product.

Later incarnations of the team sought to overpower the Avengers by sheer numbers. The most successful of these teams was the fourth group featured in the “Under Siege” storyline. That group of 18 bad guys destroyed Avengers Mansion, hospitalized Hercules, bitch-slapped Jarvis and captured Captain America, proving that with a bit of organization anyone can look good. Not too shabby for a crew of also-rans.

There have been eight different lineups for the team. Out of those eight, three have been led by a Crimson Cowl (one of which was revealed to be Ultron) and three have been led by a Baron Zemo (one by the father and two by the son)…the other two were led by Egghead and Doc Ock, in case you were wondering. The sixth grouping eventually became the first lineup of the Thunderbolts, which was another well-written plot.

Why do I make mention of all of this backstory stuff? Well, I just wanted to point out that when it comes to the Masters of Evil, the whole is considerably stronger than its parts. And that’s what I want everyone to keep in mind when I make my choices (and make fun of John’s). I just wish we had more than six slots to fill! Well, here goes nothing…

John said Kang – Blah. That’s all I really have to say about that. However, I will expand upon that comment if only to cast aspersions. Kang? Honestly? Look, I get that he’s a big time Avengers foe and I can appreciate the history there. To tell the truth though, I hate time travel based bad guys. And I really just can’t wrap my head around Kang. I don’t see him ever leaning on the lower tiers of earthbound villainy to accomplish his goals. He pulls entire armies out of the timestream and loads them up with the latest in future technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. His motives tend to gravitate more towards world domination than simple revenge plots against terrestrial heroes. I don’t buy it. Therefore, I’m going to go with someone who seems a bit more practical given what has recently transpired in the Marvel Universe. And that person would be The Mandarin. I don’t care if you come up with a hokey resurrection plan and put the original Mandarin in charge or if you leave it in the hands (pardon the pun) of his son, but the Mandarin is ripe for reexamination. He’s an old school Iron Man foe who could easily see an opportunity to take advantage of Tony Stark’s less than stellar public ratings.

John said Sandman – And Jason is okay with that. Sandman has a great visual power and more than enough grudges against Spider-Man (a current Avenger) and the hero world in general to justify his inclusion. I don’t know what his specific tie would be to the Mandarin, but I know that Sandman was involved with Silver Sable’s crew and there are some international implications right there.

John said Grim Reaper – Isn’t he dead? Again? Still? I see Grim Reaper as more of a team leader these days, after his stints in the Lethal Legion and all that. Not sure he’s sane enough to play a subsidiary role! Plus, he’s been killed and resurrected so many times that he actually comes off as more of a parlor trick than a real threat. I’d go with one of my favorites in here, like Absorbing Man or Mysterio, but we’ve already used them in our Frightful Four revamp (and we’re trying to create some continuity in our own version of the Marvel U). Since they’re not available, I’ll turn to a relative mainstay in the Masters of Evil lineup: Grey Gargoyle. He’s currently a member of The Hood’s Syndicate, which is similar in scope to the MoE, but I don’t see that as a stumbling block. Besides, this could be the opportunity we need to turn Gargoyle into the Wolverine villain we imagined.

John said Mister Hyde – Sure, we need a big, dumb strong guy for the group. He has previous experience as a member of the group, bringing him onto Avengers radar. And he’s generally considered a foe to Thor, Daredevil, Captain America and Spider-Man. He’s part of The Hood’s team too, but since he was part of the Masters that almost took out the Avengers for good, I could see Mister Hyde crossing party lines for another shot at those particular good guys.

John said Deathbird – And Jason said “who?” I’m probably forgetting a storyline somewhere, but isn’t Deathbird primarily an X-Men foe with the occasional Ms. Marvel fight thrown in for good intergalactic measure? Regardless, I still say blah or the same reasons as Kang. I’m looking at villains with grudges who actually live in the same solar system. If we need a female for this group of ne’er-do-wells, let’s go with someone like…uh…well, I can’t think of any relevant females. Instead, I’m going to suggest the old Power Man & Iron Fist villain Chemistro. Now, stop laughing and hear me out! This isn’t just an Affirmative Action appointment. Actually, Chemistro is serving as the unofficial right hand man to the The Hood and, as such, he could be the catalyst to pull both Gargoyle and Hyde back to the Masters of Evil. Maybe he’s looking for a more assertive group of villains to help lead? Either way, pairing he and Gargoyle up is pretty powerful and could get ugly.

John said Whirlwind – And, again, I’m good with that pick. He’s one of the original Masters members and has been in nearly every gathering of the group. Whirlwind has a devastating range of powers and, as John pointed out, he’s a rather creepy individual.

So, my Dream Team version of the Masters of Evil has Mandarin leading Sandman, Whirlwind, Grey Gargoyle, Mister Hyde and Chemistro. I still think we need more than six members though, just for “cannon fodder’ alone!

How many villains would you like? I have no problem with adding a few more, and I’ll throw in some suggestions as we move through my rebuttal to the rebuttal.

I think you sell Kang short, as far as what he could bring to the team, but saying that, I love the idea of the Mandarin taking the top slot instead. I personally am a big fan of the current Mandarin (the son of the original) and thought that he was an update of the original (who had become something of a ridiculous caricature, rather than an actual character) that worked really well. That’s the sort of thing I think Marvel needs to do more often, creating a legacy from one generation to the next. The current Mandarin is a lot more calculating than his father ever was, as well as being a first class fighter in his own right, and I’d love to see him lead this group.

If I thought you sold Kang short, then I think you’re completely missing the potential in the Grim Reaper. This guy has died, been resurrected, died again, come back as an indestructible zombie, worked with supernatural lords of darkness, then been brought back to life again. The last time we saw him, he was a little overwhelmed by his experiences and was trying to figure out how he fit into a world where he was simply human. He’d had tremendous power, but now he was just a typical human (missing one hand), albeit one with access to a nifty mechanical scythe that had lots of gadgets embedded in it. I think that Eric Williams is happy to be a human again, as he gets to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh that he seemed to miss while undead, but at the same time he’s come tumbling down the ladder of power, and now is desperately clinging to the bottom rungs. I’d like to explore the possibilities inherent in that concept, and I think the Masters of Evil would be the place to do it. Yes, he’s been a leader, but his confidence is shaken and his position in the criminal underworld is tenuous at best. He’ll take the subordinate role; the question is, if he begins to get his confidence back, will he be content to stay there?

I’m going to hold onto the Grim Reaper for at least one more round, in the hope that you see the error of your ways. However, if we’re adding more members to the group, that doesn’t automatically exclude the Grey Gargoyle. Now, personally, I’m not as big a fan of the Grey Gargoyle as you are; I think he’s a mildly interesting foe who works well in certain cases, but I don’t see him as part of the Masters of Evil. That being said, you wanted cannon fodder for the group, and you also wanted to try and build him into a better villain, so he can stay.

As for Deathbird, I can’t believe that you don’t remember her, as she featured in a story fighting your favorite Avenger, Hawkeye. This story cemented Hawkeye as the Security Chief of Cross Technologies, as well as cementing him as a scurrilous rogue, when he planted a big kiss on Deathbird after defeating her. Yes, she has appeared in more X-Men books over the years, but she has also played a role in other Avenger stories, most notably being an important player in Operation: Galactic Storm. I included her for two reasons: first of all, the group needs a female. Second of all, for decades the Avengers were known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and they’ve fought a large number of extraterrestrial foes in that regard, yet none of their extraterrestrial foes are represented in the various Masters of Evil teams. While I wouldn’t want to see the Masters become the home of numerous space cast-offs, I thought that having one alien on board would add an element of the exotic to the group, and still fit in with the themes of the Masters. I won’t fight too hard for her, but I do think she has a place. Replacing her with Chemistro, unfortunately, misses the reason she’s on the team in the first place.

Chemistro, I must say, is an excellent choice for the team though. I do like the character, he has very interesting and visual powers, and he’s got a grudge against at least one of the main players in the Avengers. I like the idea, and I think he can join.

So, basically, I’ve kept all of my choices (except Kang) and added all of your suggestions, for a total of eight Masters of Evil. It would be Mandarin leading Sandman, Mr. Hyde, Whirlwind, Grim Reaper, Grey Gargoyle, Deathbird and Chemistro. Hmmm. I’m still not sold on Grey Gargoyle, but let me hear what you have to say about the Grim Reaper and Deathbird. I hope I’ve sold you on the Reaper, but I’m not so sure about Deathbird. I think she can work, but I can also see your argument that she can’t, and I’ll be curious where you stand.

Given the explanation you’ve provided, I can see Grim Reaper on the team. I’ve always liked the guy. My only complaint is that his backstory got completely muddled and became laughable at best. If you think he can right his ship and get back on the truly evil bandwagon, then I’m all for it.

However, with the concession of Kang, it now makes even less sense to have Deathbird on the team. She’s the only pick who is not an Earth-based character. Where does she fit into the equation? Who recruits her? How does it happen? I just can’t see a sensible case in my head for including her amongst this group of villains. If you can find a suitable female rogue (or two) that would have access to the other members we’ve already included, I think that would make much more sense in the long run. I’m just not going to budge on this one!

And I think anywhere from eight to ten characters is a better base for the team anyway, especially considering we have two teams of Avengers right now and, depending on what happens at the end of Secret Invasion, we may have three or four teams soon if you include Nick Fury’s group. If you can come up with two females to replace Deathbird, that would give us nine total.

So there you go.

If you’re willing to give me Grim Reaper, I can dump Deathbird. Hmmm, two evil females to replace her….that may be difficult.

The female that perhaps makes the most sense is the Enchantress, in that she has been a member of the Masters in the past, and has a grudge against Thor (who isn’t really associated with the current Avengers, so it may not matter). While I like the character, she doesn’t really fit with everyone else we’ve assembled and I’m not sure how she’d join, although I suppose all we’d have to do is have her banished from Asgard and she could be in. Still, I’m not feeling the love for her.

I almost suggested her originally, but decided against her. On further reflection, however, I’d like to throw out the name of Madame Masque. Yes, she is also normally a leader of criminals, not a follower, but like the Grim Reaper, she’s also fallen on somewhat hard times. I’m not sure if she’d join the group, but considering how paranoid she is, I think she might, just to make sure that they weren’t plotting against her. Besides, she was first introduced as a flunkie (to Midas) and I can see the Mandarin choosing her as a second in command. She’s also got a tie to the Avengers, having fought them (especially Iron Man) in the past, and she’s a smart, slick woman who could prove a valuable ally.

For a second woman I would recommend Nightshade. She may seem an odd choice, but I selected her for three reasons. First, I think she’s a pretty interesting character, one that’s had run-ins with many of the Avengers over the years, and who is mercenary enough to take the job of joining the Masters to fight them. Two, the Masters don’t currently have a scientist, so she fills a niche in the group. And three, I couldn’t find any other women to join that made sense.

Thoughts?

Hahaha…classic. I was going to choose Nightshade originally, but thought that her lack of powers was a bit of a setback. However, using her as the “smart chick” who can supply weapons and gadgetry to the field agents makes a lot of sense. She’s had run-ins with Power Man and Iron Fist. Plus, she’s the one responsible for infamously turning Captain America into a werewolf. I like it.

I figured you’d go for Madame Masque too. She’s another one who’s currently siding with The Hood and his criminal entourage…the group that seems to have usurped the Masters’ position as “general collection of villains going against the Avengers.” There could be a side story in the works about how this group has splintered off from The Hood for some reason and how retribution could be meted out. Again, I like it!

That gives us a solid lineup of second-tier villains mashed together by a criminal mastermind for a common nefarious cause. It’s the ideal definition of the Masters of Evil! Our Dream Team has Mandarin leading a cabal comprised of Sandman, Whirlwind, Mister Hyde, Grey Gargoyle, Chemistro, Grim Reaper, Deadly Nightshade and Madame Masque.

Good show!



Dream Team: The Justice Society of America

Nov-10-08

Ah, the Justice Society of America, or the JSA, as it’s known to its friends. The JSA is DC’s oldest super-hero team, debuting during the early days of World War II. The concept, revolutionary at the time, is now old-hat; a publisher brought their most popular characters into one team, in one book. The JSA survived and prospered throughout the war years, but like almost every superhero title, their popularity waned after the war, and they were soon gone from the shelves. When DC relaunched the superhero genre in the late 50s and early 60s, they created the Justice League of America, an updating of the JSA in much the same way they’d updated the individual members of the JSA, like their new Flash and Green Lantern characters.

Soon, the publishers of DC Comics brought the JSA into their new and updated universe, but for years the JSA didn’t have much to differentiate it from it’s newer and younger counterpart, the JLA, except for that one key element; the JSA members were older. Otherwise, the JSA was just another super-team, and although they tried to maintain their own series a few times, they never seemed able to hold onto the popularity and respect due the original superheroes. However, when the JSA title launched, under the pen of Geoff Johns (and writing partners David Goyer and James Robinson in those early days), the old stars of DC Comics were finally given an identity separate from other teams; they were the legacy team.

DC has done something that Marvel has been unable to do, and that’s create a legacy for many of their heroic identities. Perhaps it’s because their heroes have always been more important than the secret identities, and therefore easier to replace, DC has managed to put succeeding generations of heroes behind the same mask. Flash is the best example, as we moved from Jay Garrick in the Golden Age, to Barry Allen in the Silver Age, to Wally West today. That’s the model for the JSA; it’s about the older generation teaching the younger generation what it means to be heroes. World War II veterans fight alongside teenagers, and everyone learns.

The problem with the JSA is that their roster is huge; they often have 20-30 members, even if they may not all be active at once. I find it difficult to narrow down the ones I think are vital to the team, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to give the group eight members; we normally do seven, but since the JSA is a team that has always been larger than other teams, I’m relaxing that restriction here. I’m also going to say that I love almost every member of this team, and I think all of them deserve a place here, so if your favorite is left out, it probably didn’t mean I don’t like that character; it just means that someone had to give. So, who makes the cut?

The Flash (Jay Garrick) and Green Lantern (Alan Scott): The JSA, to be the true legacy team that they are, must have some of the original members active. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of original members left alive, but these two are necessary to the team. Besides being quite powerful, they have the wisdom and the patience to deal with the younger generation and the experience to teach them. I’m going to leave out Wildcat, the other active member from the old days, for space reasons, which tears me up, as he’s a fascinating character in his own right.

Hourman and Black Canary: The son and daughter of the original members to beat those names, these two have gained their superhero identities by inheriting them from their parents. Both of them are smart and experienced, and their powers are a little bit more street level. Some will say Black Canary belongs with the Justice League, but I say phooey on that notion; her home is the JSA, just like it was her mother’s home. Besides, if we can get her out of the JLA, we can get her away from the horrid Green Arrow and put her with the man she’s much better suited for:

Dr. Mid-Nite: Although the current isn’t related to the original, he’s assumed the mantle of the new Dr. Mid-Nite with grace and style. Yes, he has the original Mid-Nite’s ability to see in the dark and some nice fighting skills, but he’s most useful to the team as a medical doctor. I don’t see why more superhero teams don’t look into having a medical doctor on staff; that comes in handy constantly. The man behind the mask is also interesting, and he and Black Canary became an item until DC decided to bring Green Arrow back from the dead. That was such a horribly bad idea, and I’d like to see Canary and Mid-Nite give it another shot.

Mr. Terrific: The Golden Age Mr. Terrific was, to be honest, something of a goofy character, and wearing ths slogan “Fair Play” on his costume didn’t make him look like any less of a tool. While the current Mr. Terrific doesn’t seem to have much better fashion sense than his predecessor, he’s a brilliant character, and the perfect leader and organizer of the team.

Stargirl and Jakeem Thunder: The new Stargirl has matured more than perhaps any other character in comics in the past few decades; this is someone who’s had an actual character arc, and readers have seen her grow from a spoiled little girl into a worthy hero. I have loved watching her learn from the members of the JSA, and she may be the strongest argument for the value of this team, and for training the younger generation in the field. Jakeem is also maturing, and while he’s not at Stargirl’s level yet, he needs to be on the team so they have someone to mentor. Plus, his friendship with Stargirl is strong and they have a great dynamic.

There’s my eight characters. Mr. Terrific leads Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Dr. MidNite, Stargirl, Hourman, and Jakeem Thunder. What do you think?

I will admit up front that I am not as familiar with some of the newer characters in this book as I am with the traditional old-timers. My collection includes a few of the later issues of All-Star Comics and a pretty generous run of All Star Squadron, but with the various crises confusing or flat out eliminating most of the continuity of those books, I don’t know what’s relevant or not. I’ve read the initial four or five trades of the first JSA series and I read the first half dozen or so issues of this latest series, but my history with the title would be best described as “spotty.” That being said, I’m still going to give this a good go. I fear, however, that you may end up winning this round because I won’t be able to argue very effectively for my picks!

Off the top of my head, I know that the Justice Society has almost always had the presence of at least one Hawk family member…usually Hawkman. I know they’ve played host to Dr. Fate and The Spectre. And some quick research tells me that Atom, Starman and Sandman have all played parts on the team from time to time. Current continuity seems to preclude a few of them from being on any team since they’re either deceased or missing or their current incarnations have no real ties to the JSA, but I’ll give this thing a shot anyway. Here’s my JSA Dream Team:

John said Flash and Green Lantern: I find it difficult to argue with either of these and, as our presidential picks went a week or two ago, I think it’s pretty obvious that we both have great affection for these characters. The legacy of the characters, in both name and experience, is essential to any incarnation of the JSA. So Flash and Green Lantern are in.

John said Mister Terrific: Again, I’ve always liked this character and I think it’s important to have someone on the team who is a legacy by something other than relation. Mister Terrific is a smart man and a good leader.

John said Stargirl and Jakeem Thunder: Okay, here’s where we first part ways. I’m good with half of the duo here. Stargirl is a great character. I love the way she has proceeded to become a strong hero and overcome the fears and doubts she had when she first began. And her background is, perhaps, one of the strangest yet strongest ties to a DC legacy: her stepfather was the sidekick of a Golden Age character that eventually inherited the equipment of Starman. That makes her a unique necessity to the JSA. However, I’ve never had a good feeling about Jakeem. I just don’t get the allure of a street smart kid and his magic pen genie. Take that writing instrument away and he’s fairly useless. No, my pick for this slot would be Obsidian for a number of reasons. First, he’s Alan Scott’s son which adds a bit of depth and a new dimension to the legacy aspect. Alan should show fatherly concern whenever they’re in battle. Secondly, Obsidian is gay and I just think that’s something to showcase in the book. And third, his power set is much more interesting and tangible.

John said Hourman and Black Canary: Again, I think we’re going to split the difference here. Hourman is a unique concept for a hero…making him extremely useful for short periods of time, but vulnerable the rest of the day. I’ve always liked the look of the character too. But, in an effort to further solidify the legacy of the team, I’ve decided to throw Hourman’s wife onto the roster instead of Black Canary. Liberty Belle (formerly Jesse Quick) has inherited the powers of both of her parents, giving her flight, super speed and increased strength. That gives us not only a parent/child relationship on the team, but also a husband/wife dynamic.

John said Dr. Mid-Nite: Yeah…I’m not feeling him either. A surgeon who can see in the dark is helpful how exactly? Besides, if I don’t have Black Canary on the team to explore any sort of relationship, then Mid-Nite can be discarded as well. I would prefer to fill this slot with another legacy character who played a prominent role in the second volume of the series: Sandman. Again, I feel that his power set is useful to the team. He has the experience of being both a former sidekick to an original team member and a former chairman of the JSA itself. Plus, he seems to be the resident detective whose skills would play well with Mister Terrific’s science background. And, with Terrific’s current position in Checkmate taking up a good portion of his time, I’d even return the chairmanship to Sandman.

So, my lineup is as follows: Sandman leading a team of Flash, Green Lantern, Mister Terrific, Stargirl, Obsidian, Hourman and Liberty Belle. I suspect a counter-punch is imminent…

Well, I can’t punch too hard, as you agreed with half of my line-up! That may be a first for us here in Dream Team Central. As for the ones you disagreed with, I’m stuck with the problem that I really like my choices, but I like your characters as well. Let me see if I can agree with half of your new picks as well.

I love Sandman, and thought his time as chairman was one of the best eras of the book. He was so close to making my roster, and since you chose him as well, who am I to say no? He’s in, and he can be leader (especially since his new costume is so cool, modeled after the original Sandman).

I didn’t like Obsidian for many years, as I think his early appearances were characterized by him being something of a waffling loser with no self-esteem. That being said, ever since he turned evil, and then came back to the ranks of herodom, he’s had a strength that he was lacking before. I think the writer of Manhunter has used him to great effect, and I do like having him on the team with his father, since these two have a lot of issues to work through. He’s also in.

That means we agree on the team except for that one last slot. I have to be honest; I would have used Black Canary in my JLA dream team, but I was saving her for my JSA dream team. I know she’s a founding member of the JLA in the post-Crisis DC Universe, but I truly felt she fit into the JSA better than she ever did the JLA. That being said, I think she fits into the Birds of Prey better than either team, so I might be willing to let her go from my JSA team if I wasn’t replacing her with Liberty Belle. I agree that having a husband and wife on the team, as well as two legacy heroes is a great idea, and I loved Liberty Belle when she went by the name Jesse Quick and appeared in the Flash comic, but lately she’s been putting me to sleep. I want to like this character again, and there is a lot of plot potential here…..oh, I give up. You win. She’s in.

I’m fine with your roster: Sandman as leader, with Green Lantern, Flash, Mr. Terrific, Hourman, Liberty Belle, Stargirl and Obsidian.

And can we put Dr. Mid-Nite on the team as someone who stays back at base and waits for people to be injured? He can hang out with Ma Kunkle.

What the…?!? Who are you and what have you done with my friend John? Seriously? That’s it? I was sure you’d have some sort of trump card in your back pocket that you would confound me with and I’d be forced to bow down to your more convincing reasoning. Now I’m just confused, but happy nonetheless.

I agree that Mid-Nite should hang around as a supporting character. I was originally going to suggest the same thing for Mister Terrific because of his involvement with Checkmate, but I feared that his lack of appearances wouldn’t be fair to such a great character. The same thing for Flash. I was going to suggest that he take a backseat to Liberty Belle and act solely as a mentor for her, but then I thought about the great dynamic he and Green Lantern share and I could imagine a storyline where the two of them just reminisced over a drink or two.

I originally wanted to put Cyclone on the team, but thought better of it because…well…she’s just kind of annoying.

So that does it, huh? The Justice Society of America Dream Team is Sandman, Flash, Green Lantern, Mister Terrific, Stargirl, Obsidian, Hourman & Liberty Belle.


Moon Knight: Brought into the Light of Day

Nov-06-08

Moon Knight, oft described as a Batman clone, has had a long but relatively undistinguished career at Marvel Comics. Personally, I’ve always felt the Batman clone comment was unfair; yes, they’re both superheroes who are millionaires and mostly fight at night, but otherwise, the similarities are pretty nonexistent. I mean, Wayne’s loyal butler is English and Moon Knight’s is French; I don’t see how their lives could be more different.

Moon Knight is Marc Spector, a mercenary and soldier-of-fortune who fights another mercenary named Bushman, and loses badly. Left for dead in the Egyptian desert, he is rescued by devotees of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon and Vengeance. Unconscious and near death, Spector has a vision in which Khonshu appears to him and offers him a new chance at life if Spector will be Khonshu’s avatar on Earth. Spector agrees, his life is saved and, when he returns to the United States, he creates the Moon Knight identity.

Not a bad origin, although, as mentioned, it hasn’t led him to much success in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps he should have surmised times would be tough when his first appearance was in Werewolf by Night, one of Marvel’s titles in the 1970’s which tapped into the horror market. This was in 1975, and after that appearance Moon Knight jumped around the Marvel Universe a little (even joining the Defenders for a few issues), until finally securing his own series in 1980. Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz chronicled these adventures and, while the book was critically lauded, it didn’t do wonders in sales, and was cancelled in 1984. Since then the character has appeared in numerous one-shots and limited series, and has also received other chances to carry an ongoing series; he’s currently on his fourth.

None of these series have been spectacularly successful, although all have had brief flashes of fame. Normally, it is the artist that seems to make the public take notice of a Moon Knight comic; Bill Sienkiewicz was in the beginning of his career when he pencilled Moon Knight, and it helped to push him into the spotlight; Stephen Platt was his penciller in the mid-90s and was quite a hit with those who enjoyed his very Image-esque art style; and his current series started off strong with pencils by fan-favorite David Finch. Oddly, while Doug Moench, his co-creator and original writer, gets some credit for his early stories, most other writers are rarely thought of in connection to the character.

Perhaps one of the reasons for that is Moon Knight’s striking visuals. His costume is distinctive and jumps off the page at the reader; the flowing cape and the contrast between the white of the costume and the dead of night work together to make Moon Knight a character to remember. However, his personality often seems to be ignored in the rush to focus on his visual representation, and I’m not sure that’s wise. The character actually could be quite interesting, if properly developed. So, the question before us for the next few days is: How do we make Moon Knight the interesting and successful character he has always had the potential to be?

Nail on the head with that last paragraph. Sienkiewicz set the tone for every Moon Knight story that will ever be published. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. At the time, his style was quirky and gritty and maintained a certain level of darkness and chaos. The art had a quasi-supernatural feel to it which fit the character’s design and his backstory well. I think Finch did a nice job in capturing that roughness in both his posing and his costume design.

The only problem (and it’s a big one) is that Moench’s ideas were a bit ahead of their time. See, Marc Spector was a mercenary and he realized that he was no Clark Kent…meaning that it may be obvious to the fine folks of Chicago that Spector and Moon Knight are one in the same. So, he takes the blood money he has earned and invests it, becoming a millionaire. He then creates the identity of Steven Grant to rub elbows with the upper crust folks. To keep up with what’s going on at the ground level, he also creates the identity of cab driver Jake Lockley. Let’s recap that. We have Marc Spector the mercenary, Moon Knight the superhero, Steven Grant the rich dude and Jake Lockley the common man…all in the same body. Helping him with this marvelous charade are his pilot/butler Frenchie and Marlene, the daughter of an archaeologist he tried to save from Bushman’s greed. It was a brilliant concept that allowed Moon Knight to mingle in different social classes without anyone suspecting his true alter ego. Imagine the long sleepless hours, the precise yet hectic schedule and the general confusion this kind of lifestyle would create. The story potential was limitless.

Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after only 38 issues.

And here’s where the problem of Moench’s ideas comes in. See, no one else knew how to handle the multiple personality thing. So instead of trying to use the concept creatively, Marvel’s editorial department allowed it to just be shoved aside and retconned away. When the Fist of Khonshu miniseries was released (with an all-new creative team), all of the established bits of Moon Knight’s background were stripped off. Alan Zelenetz, who had taken over writing chores on the last few issues of the ongoing series, was tapped to “reinvigorate” the Moon Knight concept. So what did he do? Well, let me break it down for you: Marc Spector abandons the identities he has created, including Moon Knight (bad move). He gets telepathically summoned to Egypt by the Khonshu followers (huh?). They give him a bunch of “mystical” weapons…some of which were created by Hawkeye that one time the Avengers got sucked back to ancient times (…speechless…). He absorbs the Spirit of Khonshu which gives him limited superhuman strength based on the phases of the moon (which is kind of cool, except when he has to say “I can’t fight this week. The moon’s in a waxing gibbous. Sorry.”). And he turns his back on his supporting cast to go hang out with the West Coast Avengers (and later finds out that it was actually Khonshu who wanted to join the team because he was always picked last for dodgeball or something). About the only really cool thing to come out of that miniseries was this Sienkiewicz cover:

So that’s the first reason behind the character’s continued wading in the bottom-feeding realm of Marvel’s cast. But I’ve got another pretty valid reason too: his rogues gallery. Check out this short list of villains that he has faced throughout his adventures: Bora, Bushman, Coachwhip, Commodore Donny Planet, Conquer-Lord, Flag-Smasher, Grand Bois, Hatchet-Man (his brother Randall), Hobgoblin, Jester, Karg, Killer Shrike, Master Sniper, Midnight Man, Morpheus, Phantom Rider, Ringer, Secret Empire, Sons of the Jackals, Stained Glass Scarlet and Werewolf by Night. Not exactly any Ali-Frazier matchup in the bunch, huh?

And let’s not forget that he’s been killed at least three times during his career too. I don’t want to make it sound like that’s a unique thing in the comics world, but when your character isn’t in a top tier book a needless death/resurrection thing can really throw off sales.

Basically, it comes back to the tenets John and I espouse for every revamp we detail. 1. You need a unique selling point. In this case, Moon Knight had it with the multiple personalities. 2. You need a strong supporting cast and some relevant foes to fight. The former was taken from him while the latter never developed. And finally, 3. You need some consistency. Stick with it. Make something of it.

In Moon Knight’s latest ongoing series, writer Charlie Huston brought the character out of a self-induced exile and revealed his waning faith in Khonshu, his apparent addiction to prescription painkillers and the trouble he’s having rebuilding past friendships. That’s all a great start. He’s even hallucinating from time to time. Great! The only thing I wanted to see more of was some sort of mental imbalance from trying to play so many different characters throughout his career. Unfortunately, the later issues of Huston’s run have turned into a stream of brooding heroes and punching contests. He did re-introduce Midnight, the poorly-conceived sidekick that was foisted upon us all during the second Moon Knight ongoing title, but that whole plot turned into a watered down version of the Miracleman/Kid Miracleman dynamic.

There’s more to say here about direction and mistakes and missed opportunities, but I’ll turn it back over to John for now. What can be done to re-energize this property? Can Moon Knight be made into a top player in the Marvel Universe? Should he be?

Well, making Moon Knight a top player in the Marvel Universe suggests making him front and center in the Marvel Universe, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I enjoyed the issues when Moon Knight was in the West Coast Avengers, but it never truly fit the character, and he always looked out of place with the team. In addition, because the Avengers rarely run around during the evening, he was forced to fight a lot during the day, and amongst the rest of the team, he just became another costumed hero. I don’t have a problem with him being an associate of the hero community, but I think he should be on the edges, and if he gets involved in things, he should be allowed to do things his way. I’d recommend few guest stars in his book, at least from the heroes and those that do drop by should expect to be dragged into Moon Knight’s world, rather than vice versa.

That being said, I truly do like the character. I’ve perused a few issues of the current run, and honestly, I thought they were practically unreadable. I found them to be full of mopey, over rendered characters speaking in tortured prose that made absolutely no sense. I read three issues in a row, and never really knew what was going on or what the character’s motivations were. The art was, I believe, attempting to be dark and moody, but sadly was simply dark and ugly (this was after Finch left the title). I was very disappointed, because I did enjoy Moon Knight and thought that a lot more could have been done with him.

The multiple personality bit was brilliant, and I enjoyed the fact that it could serve almost like a superpower in some cases (at one point during Moon Knight’s tenure as a West Coast Avenger, the villain Dominus paralyzes the Avengers by affecting their minds; Moon Knight is immune, because every time Dominus hit him with the ray, it just knocked out one personality, and another was always there to take over). However, I never saw the downside to the multiple personality really explored, and it needs to be. The man is at least three different people and there are literally hundreds of issues worth of stories that could be written on that premise alone.

I also believe that the visual style of the character is very important. The demands of it are not easy for any one artist to draw, especially if you play up the multiple personality aspect of the character. The world of Moon Knight is a dark place, and it needs to be drawn dark, but still readable, straddling that fine line between a horror book and a superhero book. Steven Grant’s world is that of high society; it’s bright and well lit and needs a different feel. Jake Lockley is more of a dark, noir feeling, since he’s on the streets with the people. Finally, Marc Spector is a straight up action mercenary, so a cleaner action style works best for him. To really emphasize the different personalities, you really want to portray their lives in distinct styles of art, which is going to be difficult for a lot of artists. There are some who could do it, although it might be best to hire two or three different pencillers, or to have different inkers working over one penciller to really make the book look unique. The differing artistic styles could seem jarring, but I think they’re necessary to really get across the fact that there are so many different people in Moon Knight’s head.

Even with that being said, we still have to work on his supporting cast and his rogues gallery. I think his supporting cast has potential. Marlene is a gorgeous woman who’s been shown to be strong as well. The interesting thing to explore there is how does Marlene love a man who is actually four different men. Does she love them all? Just some of them? How can she help him integrate his four personalities into one? (For that matter, does he even want to integrate his personalities?) What kind of woman can live like this? I also think that Frenchie could be used more. He’s run quite the gauntlet, and has been beaten up and paralyzed numerous times over the years. They’ve also recently decided that he’s gay. He’s Marc’s oldest and only true friend, and he needs to have a place in the series. He’s not just an “Alfred”, but a very involved participant in Moon Knight’s activities, with a long history of experience as a mercenary and the mechanical expertise to keep Moon Knight’s gadgets working.

The rogues gallery though? Yeah, that’s going to take a bit more work.

The thought of having more than one artist on an ongoing Moon Knight title is not only brilliant, it’s practical. Sure, setting the right mood is important for the book. What may be even more important to the success of the book though is its schedule. Marvel is notorious for its lateness. Having multiple artists means less pages for each and could (if everything is planned well) result in a shorter completion time. Of course, if one of the artists falls behind, then it could also spell certain disaster. It’s tricky.

I agree that Moon Knight needs to stay on the fringe. And the idea of visiting heroes adopting his tone is crucial. It’s like what we talked about with the horror setting. You need consistency to pull that stuff off correctly. Spider-Man is a good fit. Punisher may have his place. And Daredevil seems to work on the same outskirts of the Marvel Universe. Hulk? Not so much. Iron Man? Too techy. And the team thing is right out the window.

The multiple personality aspect HAS to be brought back. That’s what made him different from Batman. He actually played different roles all the time and it didn’t seem silly (Matches Malone, anyone?). Plus, it gives the opportunity to wonder which one is the REAL character. So many ways to play that theme out.

His supporting cast is small but important. Frenchie gives support and Marlene grounds him somewhat. I think there’s a big opportunity to expand the cast though…add some tension.

The rogues gallery has me stumped right now. One would think that his archenemy should be Bushman, but there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the character. He’s just an angrier version of Marc Spector. No, Moon Knight should be dealing with the more shadowy types. Conspiracy theorists. Twisted religious causes. Human trafficking. Back alley genetic experiments. The kind of overtly creepy stuff that the other heroes don’t want to get their hands in, let alone acknowledge.

We’ve established a general tone and at least one or two things to explore. You want to take a stab at the rogues thing? Maybe throw some names out and I can see if I can make them fit? Other ideas for expanding the supporting cast? And didn’t we make mention, during our Go West musings, that we would relocate him back to Chicago? Is there something we can do with that?

I’m going to start by discussing the rogues, since I think we agree that a hero stands or falls on the strength of their Rogues Gallery. You mentioned some of the people he has fought in the past above, and I’ll start with them. I should make sure I agree with you on Bushman first though. Bushman is, quite simply, dull and uninspired. The only reason he’s stuck around is because he was part of Moon Knight’s origin, but that ship has sailed. Time to use a better class of villain.

My first pick for a member of his Rogues Gallery would be Killer Shrike. I’m well aware that Shrike has never had a large role in the Marvel Universe, and this has puzzled me for some time. First of all, I like his visual look, and in the Moon Knight title, that’s important. He has a neat, streamlined look, with a nifty cape. The colors of his costume are dark, and he’d fit in quite well in a darker, moodier comic. Killer Shrike may need an attitude adjustment, or perhaps we simply need a new Shrike, which should be easily accomplished. Visually, I think Shrike is as close to Moon Knight’s opposite number as currently exists.

Another possible villain for him would be Hobgoblin. I fully understand that Hobgoblin is seen as a Spider-Man villain, but with the Green Goblin back among the living, Hobgoblin has faded from the scene in the Spidey titles. Let’s give him a new lease on life with Moon Knight. Again, Hobgoblin has a great visual look and is actually a rather scary looking bad guy; I’ve always felt he was a much more menacing villain than the Green Goblin. There have been quite a few men behind the mask of the Hobgoblin, and we could use any of them, or create our own Hobgoblin. Or, if we simply must keep Bushman in the picture, make him the new Hobgoblin. He wouldn’t be the first mercenary to don the costume, and you can retain the connection he has with Moon Knight and reinvent Bushman as a more interesting villain at the same time.

Sadly, Moon Knight’s past foes are really rather pathetic (although this could be a place to use the Ringer I mentioned in our “Building Better Villains” posts over Halloween), but I did notice Coachwhip. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Serpent Society, and perhaps we could gather a few of their former members (including Coachwhip) into a smaller Serpent Squad to bedevil our heroes. Most of them are fairly freaky and would work in an edgier story.

After that, I fear we’ll be creating villains for Moon Knight. It might be interesting to create at least one villain that’s seen more often for one of the other identities. For example, a corporate bigwig who runs in the same circles as Stephen Grant could be interesting. He could either be a true villain who simply likes to run with the jetset or he could be more of a weak man, who does bad things because he needs to in order to maintain his lifestyle. The interest would be in seeing how Moon Knight handles him when this guy stumbles into that area of Spector’s life. It could be even more interesting as Moon Knight’s personalities begin to overlap; he can normally keep them separate because their worlds are so different. What happens when those worlds touch? How do his personalities interact when someone crosses from one life to the next?

That’s a start at a Rogues Gallery. I’m sure we could find some other villains being underused in other areas of the Marvel Universe, dust them off, and give them Moon Knight as a sparring partner. I think Xemnu the Titan is free…

After your “time to use a better class of villain” comment, I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but the selection of Killer Shrike as a main foe is brilliant! I feel dirty inside. To tell the truth, Shrike and Moon Knight have a lot in common. Both were mercenaries before they became costumed types. Both have generally succeeded on their own skills, with the exception being Shrike’s powered armor. And both have pretended to be something they’re not…Shrike has actually posed undercover in a number of criminal organizations. To take it a step further, there’s the topic of vengeance. In one of his earlier adventures, Moon Knight faced Shrike (with Ringer and Coachwhip) who managed to shoot down the Mooncopter (don’t laugh) and nearly kill Frenchie. Shrike was never punished for that daring act.

Now pardon me for a minute as I digress into another revamp, but I think we need to update Killer Shrike as well. I don’t mind the guy in the suit. He has that military background and extensive experience working in the underworld with various unsavory types. However, he has a few faults too. First of all, I don’t know about the cape (or the goofy plume on his head…if he still wears it). I could picture some sort of wing-like thing similar to Black Bolt’s costume. Secondly, his name is just silly. Can we drop the “Killer” part and just call him Shrike? I mean, from a scientific stance, all shrikes are killers. They’re creepy little birds (also referred to as “butcher birds”) that like to impale their prey on thorns or sticks. Why can’t we adopt some of that nastiness in his characterization? If Marvel wants to have a more visceral, ground-level title, this could definitely be it.

Your next pick was Hobgoblin and I have to disagree with you. As much as I like his look (even with its similarities to Moon Knight), in my mind he is inexorably tied to Spider-Man. Each man behind the mask had some sort of tie to the Spider titles and most of Hobgoblin’s encounters took place with Spidey. If we took the character and put Bushman or another meaningless person under the cowl it really wouldn’t make sense or be an original story. That’s a dead end to me. I would suggest we could use Demogoblin, because he had a previous run-in with Moon Knight too. However, I think his demonic origin may be a bit too “out there” for a grounded title. Let’s just skip the whole goblin subset.

Coachwhip is an interesting possibility. And she would add a villainous female to the ranks. I would absolutely LOVE to construct a new Serpent Society and the Moon Knight ongoing series is the perfect place to present a darker, dirtier lineup that could become involved in some of the less-flashy types of crime I mentioned earlier in the post. I’d include some of the members with interesting names and powers like Boomslang (which is actually one of the most venomous snakes in the world), Puff Adder and either Sidewinder (useful powers) or Cobra (creepy powers), plus create a couple new ones perhaps based on snakes like the Keelback, Lancehead and/or Pit Viper.

As far as creating new villains goes, there are a lot of options. The one you mentioned seems like a sort of Kingpin/Norman Osborn thing…which is an expected, though not altogether horrible, direction. Although I must say that “The Committee” sort of serves that kind of purpose for him right now (without the personality involvement you mentioned). It would be intriguing to have a bad guy who Moon Knight encounters in his various personas…a ruthless tycoon that gladhands with Steven Grant then badmouths Jake Lockley as the lowly driver. It would be kind of cool to demonstrate how someone like that acts when they have to interact with those they deem below them. Of course, this same guy might look up to Marc Spector and need to hire him for some nefarious scheme.

I could also see us creating a sort of anti-Moon Knight character as perhaps the champion of another Egyptian God, one that is in conflict with Khonshu (and, as an aside, didn’t the Serpent Society pal around with a version of Set – the Egyptian God of chaos?). Or perhaps we could set up an underground group that worships a different interpretation of Khonshu and is at odds with Moon Knight (sort of like radical Islam versus traditional Islam). That’s one direction.

I’m all for making Killer Shrike simply Shrike, since that’s less typing. Let it be done! Actually, I agree with everything you mentioned about him, and truly believe that he could be a first class villain for our hero.

I could disagree with a lot of your Hobgoblin comments, and while I agree that he’s tied to Spider-Man now, I don’t think it has to stay that way. After all, Sandman was another villain tied to Spider-Man, who moved over to become a Fantastic Four villain, and of course, the Kingpin was every inch (and he has many inches) a Spidey villain, who’s now more universally thought of in connection to Daredevil. These seem odd at first, while a reader’s mind adjusts, but soon the villain becomes associated with their new antagonist. I’d also point out that Jason Phillip Macendale, one of the Hobgoblins, was very pragmatic and I think he’d be happy to continue his criminal career avoiding Spider-Man. I could make these arguments, but I won’t. I’m more than willing to concede the Hobgoblin, mostly because you like the idea of a new Serpent Society!

I like the concept of keeping it smaller, with more like 5 or 6 members, rather than the 15 or 20 they had at one time. I think the character of Sidewinder is a fascinating one; he had gone straight, I believe, to be able to spend time with his child, but there are many ways to bring him back to the bad side of the street. That being said, I’ve also learned to like Cobra, a character that I never thought much of. Mark Gruenwald really fleshed him out during his Captain America run, and I think the Cobra would be very interesting; combining him in a group with Sidewinder could lead to some clashes, since both of them led the Serpent Society at times, and the two of them aren’t getting along right now.

While I recognize the cliche of the evil businessman, I think a character that can interact with all of Specter’s personalities is too valuable to dismiss. Besides, we don’t have to make this character a ruthless planner, which does tend to be the stereotype. Instead, he could simply be a weak willed man, who is desperate to hold onto what he has and will do reprehensible things to retain his wealth, his power, or maybe even his wife. Perhaps his wife is shallow and vain, and will leave him if she doesn’t get the jewels and valuables she covets. Perhaps the man is a city politician who had a skeleton in his closet, and was determined to hide it during a re-election campaign. He was forced to associate with less than reputable people to accomplish this goal, and unfortunately, he opened a door that he has not been able to close, as these people continue to force him into other actions or risk losing his political clout under a scandal. Perhaps he’s a young man who’s running his parents’ business, and not doing a very good job of it, and is willing to do anything to keep the business solvent so his parents won’t be disappointed. My point is, we don’t have to use the Norman Osborn archetype for this character if we don’t want to.

As for a secret organization, like the Committee or the Secret Empire, I like the thought of one, but the reality always seems to fall far short. In the end, they seem to either have no personality and/or very nebulous goals. If we were to use such an organization, we’d have to know exactly why they were formed and what their motivation is, and I’d want to detail out at least a few prominent members so that we had some personality we could infuse into their appearances. I think one of the main problems with the Secret Empire is that everyone has their identity hidden by those bloody faux Ku Klux Klan robes they wear. Normally the identities of the important members is a secret to the reader, as they’re someone the writer wants to reveal down the road, so they aren’t given personalities, in the fear that this could clue the reader into their true identity. Phooey! I say give them individual personalities; it makes the organization so much more interesting than any minor mystery about who’s actually hiding behind the hood.

A counterpart to Moon Knight, embodied in the avatar of another Egyptian deity? I can see that. The only other Egyptian deity that ever regularly appears in Marvel comics (and certainly the only evil one) is Set or Seth, depending on who’s writing him. You mentioned tying him into the Serpent Squad, which would make sense, because of the snake motif. However, we could also go with Sekhmet, a lion god that has fought the Avengers and the Black Panther. Even more interesting could be using an avatar of Anubis, the Egyptian god of funerals and mummification. In fact, Moon Knight had a run in with one of his priests already. A modern day priest of Anubis, Sheikh Ahmad Azis declared himself the reincarnation of Aram-Set and named himself Anubis the Jackal. He was killed in a confrontation with Moon Knight, way back in the first issue of his second series. Perhaps this Sheikh actually was connected to Anubis, and Anubis annoints someone else as his avatar to get revenge for the Sheikh’s defeat?

So, we have Shrike, a new Serpent Society, an unscrupulous businessman, a new Committee or Secret Empire (choose your favorite) and an avatar of a rival deity. That should keep Moon Knight busy, and the other heroes won’t laugh at his Rogues Gallery anymore. What about his supporting cast? Do we stick with just Marlene and Frenchie?

Your idea of having a Set-based avatar running alongside the Serpent Society makes me chuckle. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because it reminds me of Cobra and their dealings with Serpentor. Ridiculous. There are, however, some interesting paths to explore in the Egyptian pantheon. And I think that stuff could be mined to great effect. Also, I think one way to expand his supporting cast would be to introduce some sort of native guide or foreign professor steeped in the mythologies. If it were a guide, it could be someone who is determined to serve at Moon Knight’s side, in honor of Khonshu, and that would lead to some funny encounters with Frenchie as they both try to help Moon Knight. Perhaps the professor type could be female and Steven Grant could meet her at a museum fundraiser…the two of them hit it off and he uses her as a resource. I think we have to be careful to build up his alternate identities and make at least one of them strong enough to stand on its own. That’s another Batman trap we don’t want to fall into, where the costumed character is a bigger presence than the man under the mask.

Frenchie and Marlene should be the all-time core of the series. Building up both of their personalities apart from Moon Knight will help strengthen the storylines overall. And we can have supporting cast members bloom out of those characters too…Frenchie’s new boyfriend or a new love interest for Marlene that ends up being part of our new Secret Empire. The multiple personalities give us a lot of chances to introduce new characters, both useful and disposable.

I’m interested in the move to Chicago. There’s already an established image of political corruption there, which would lend itself to some sort of evil underworld. Crime has been up in the city recently as well. The Serpent Society might set up house there, seeing it as ripe pickings and new stomping grounds away from a gaggle of heroes. The Windy City backdrop gives us an easy in for pretty much everything we’ve talked about so far.

I’m certainly all for moving him to Chicago; think how cool his cape will look in the wind out there! I also like your idea of an expert in the Egyptian pantheon. One thing to consider about his supporting cast touches on something you mentioned, which was that we wanted to make sure his secret identities are all strong characters in their own right. By doing that (and I agree that it’s essential that we do it) we create a situation where Moon Knight almost is his own supporting cast. We now have a book tracking seven characters, if we include Frenchie, Marlene, our new expert, and all of the four Moon Knight personas. It also would probably be wise to introduced a few supporting characters for each personality who don’t deal with any of the other sections of Spector’s psyche. For example, Jake Lockley might have a few informants who only ever deal with him; Spector would have a few mercenary contacts and Grant would have some high society friends. We’d need a few recurring characters for each of these personalities if we’re going to sell them as independent of each other.

I would see the structure of the book being similar to the Green Lantern title that DC produced back in the early 90s; one story arc would deal with Hal Jordan, then one with John Stewart, and then one with Guy Gardner, with occassional stories involving them all. Of course, Moon Knight would always dominate the book, but I could see one story arc putting more focus on his Jake Lockley persona, and then another spending more time with his Steven Grant side….that sort of thing. The first story arc would have to introduce all of the personalities to the reader, but there would be plenty of time to flesh them out down the road.

Hmmm. We covered supporting cast and villains; we’ve discussed how to structure the series, and what we think the important beats are….did we forget anything?

Well, I don’t know if you have any opinion on it or not, but I think we should do a quick examination of Moon Knight himself and see what works and what doesn’t. As things stand, he’s pretty much Batman in white. We’ve talked about increasing the presence of his various identities, but we haven’t discussed what we might change about the guy in the fancy outfit. Does he have any sort of powers? What are his limitations? Does he rely on painkillers to get through his adventures? Is he a gadget hound? Does he have a Mooncycle and a Moonmobile and a pair of Moonskates? Let’s do a quick inventory of what makes Moon Knight tick.

I would like to see his “lunar-reliant” abilities make a return, not necessarily in reference to the various phases (though it would be cool to remove any additional powers during a new moon and have his powers go overboard during a full moon) but more in the “better at night than in the daytime” sense. He could be similar to a werewolf but without the creepy transformation. Honestly, he looks ridiculous fighting in broad daylight but the full whiteout effect would be pretty effective at night.

I think his painkiller addiction should be front and center in dealing with all of his various identities. The drugs will color his entire life, but each alter ego will handle it differently.

And the gadgets have to go. I don’t mind him having some sort of staff or a couple bladed weapons that may have been given to him by followers of Khonshu. However, the mass-produced throwing weapons and the helicopters and submarines and dirigibles have to go. I don’t like the “funded by a millionaire” quality of the character. It makes him too much like Batman. He should be more of a ground-level hero…relying on his skills and his environment to take out the bad guys.

I agree that returning to him his Khonshu derived might is a good idea.  If he’s Khonshu’s avatar, he really should get something out of the deal, and I love the idea that these abilities are dependent on the phases of the moon.  Ditto your feelings about the powers perhaps getting a little too strong and out of control during the full moon.

As for gadgets, I think he has to have some.  I mean, he is a millionaire, and surely he does something with his money.  I wouldn’t give him a utility belt and a submarine, but I’ve always liked his flying Moonjet (or whatever he calls it) and it does provide him with transportation, which every hero needs.  However, maintaining that would probably be expensive enough; certainly I think he should fight with his traditional weapons, like the ankh. 

I will admit that the painkiller addiction seems a little too Desperate Housewives to me.  I’m not fond of it.  That being said, it makes perfect sense; how would a human who gets beat on as much as he does, with no real powers to speak of, survive that sort of pain.  Of course, if we’re returning a measure of superstrength to him with his Khonshu given powers, would he still need the painkillers?  I’m thinking that, when the moon is waning, he would need them, since his powers are at their weakest.  However, for much of the rest of the month they wouldn’t be as necessary; of course, he’s addicted to them, so he’s taking them all the time.  Do they interact with his powers?  If he breaks the addiction, what does he do at those time when his powers aren’t strong enough, and he needs relief from the pain?  There is some potential in this concept.


The other FF: The Frightful Four

Aug-12-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other ideas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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