One-Shot: The Vamp

Dec-03-08

Wow, John made the major mistake of opening the whole “lame villains killed by Scourge” can of worms that I am more than willing to exploit. I LOVED the Scourge storyline if only for the fact that I also LOVE horrible D-grade villains. That being said, even I have absolutely no clue who this character is.

From the brief and utterly confusing info I gleaned off the internet, this chicky-poo can turn into a giant, squishy pink blob man with crazy brain powers called the Animus. Conversely, she also wore a belt supplied by SHIELD that enabled her to duplicate the powers of another nearby person…like a low-rent version of DC’s Vixen. I have no idea why anyone at Marvel thought that those two power sets made sense together. She was a double agent for SHIELD and The Corporation (who had genetically given her the Animus-swapping ability…but controlled it remotely without her input). That’s probably kind of awkward at office parties.

In addition to my previous ignorance, I also have no idea what her name or her costume had to do with anything.

Now here’s where it gets weird (he says with tongue planted firmly in cheek). There’s something about a fight with Captain America and Hulk and a crystal club (wha???) being smashed which held Animus’s psionic abilities. Vamp goes in a coma for some reason. Off-panel, she recovers, spends time in jail, and then shows up at a bar with a bunch of other low-rent baddies who get mowed down in a hail of glorious double-Uzi fire by Scourge. But that’s not the end of the story! See, Arnim Zola (good ol’ “camera for a head and face for a torso” guy) collects her remains and clones her to use as a pawn in committing crimes and collecting money for more science experiments involving attaching appliances to body parts or something. Then Deadpool, of all people, shows up and destroys the clones and the remains and any semblance of comprehension.

The slate is now clean. It’s all up to you, John. How do you revamp the Vamp?

The initial concept of the Vamp (which Jason sort of missed) was actually rather smart.  On the one hand, you have the Vamp, a pretty enough woman with a belt that gave her special powers.  She worked for SHIELD and was a hero.  On the other hand, you have the Animus, a huge, hulking man, with psionic powers and a psionic club, who worked for the Corporation and smashed heroes.  What no one suspected was that these two beings were the same person, because they looked nothing alike (even being different genders) and had powers that were completely different.  She/he was the perfect double agent!  Honestly, my only problem with this concept was that Marvel didn’t take her far enough; I would have decided that neither SHIELD or the Corporation knew about the other identity, and had her play both sides against each other, rather than being a loyal agent of the Corporation.

Of course, that’s all ancient history.  I imagine that many heroes now know that Vamp and the Animus are one and the same, if only because the character is so completely different and off the wall that she/he must be regular conversation at superhero get togethers (“Hey, did I tell you about this chick, the Vamp, that I fought?  She could turn into a man, man!”).  Sure, we could stick her in some new hero’s book (perhaps she could confound the Sentry or something) and do the double agent plot, but that seems like it would be treading old ground, and who wants that?  No, I think we need to go in a new direction with the Vamp.  That might be best accomplished by focusing on the Animus.

Arnim Zola, as we stated, had been cloning villains, and he cloned the Vamp.  Said clone was destroyed.  But perhaps that wasn’t the only clone that Zola created?  I mean, the Vamp’s powers were pretty unique (I can’t think of another hero or villain who can switch genders and powers so completely like that) and Zola would have no doubt enjoyed examining that further.  So, while Vamp’s body was being destroyed by Deadpool, there was another clone, at another location, that was being subjected to various tests by Zola.  When Deadpool destroyed the other bodies, it caused a neural feedback loop in the surviving Vamp body as well, knocking it unconscious while also locking the body into it’s current state.  Unfortunately, at the instant of the Vamp’s death, the second clone had been in its Animus state, and it is this form in which the Vamp is now stuck!

Let’s be clear here; the Animus is considered a man, but he’s really a walking monstrosity, uglier than the Hulk and about 7′ tall.  The formerly buxom and somewhat pretty Vamp is now stuck in this form, and she’s not happy about it.  For a short while, she goes on a rampage (and we see this in the book of the hero who must stop that rampage), basically lashing out at everyone and everything around her.  A hero is called, there’s a fight, and the hero manages to drive away the Animus, but not capture him.  Afterward (and off panel) the Animus begins to think.  He’s calmed down a lot, but he’s still faced with a dilemma; he’s a woman stuck in a man’s body, and a really ugly man at that.  What to do?

From here we feature the Animus as a recurring villain in the same hero’s book, but this is a smarter Animus, one that’s planning.  At first, he’s behind the scenes, and we don’t know who he is.  The reveal that our master plotter from the past several issues is the Animus should be a big one, since the last time the readers saw him, he was raging at all around him, and seemed a mindless brute.  Only now do the readers realize that there is more to him than a sub-rate Hulk clone.  Animus first commits a few simple robberies for money, careful to not be caught (perhaps we saw these robberies as epilogues in previous issues, with the culprit off panel the entire time).  Once he had some money, he assembled a gang, and had them execute his wishes.  The Animus’ plan is to find someone who can reverse the effects, and allows him to change back into his female form again.  He just wants to make sure he has the money to provide this scientific genius with a fully equipped lab once he captures them.

Who is the genius?  Someone the hero is familiar with would be ideal, or perhaps even the hero themselves, if they’re scientifically inclined.  Is the scientist able to find a way to return the Animus to his Vamp form?  Perhaps, although if they do it the first time, it kills the ability to bring the Animus back.  I believe the Animus could be a useful villain in the Marvel Universe, and one with a very clear goal.  Heck, he could even eventually join the Thunderbolts, if he was promised a cure by the government.  There’s potential here, and I’d love to work this character back into the Marvel Universe.


One-Shot: The Wraith

Dec-03-08

Jason and I have had such grand plans for this website, and there have been suggested commentaries on Grant Morrison, James Robinson, the state of hot writers, and the recent cancellations of various comics that we have vowed (to each other) that we would bring to our readers. Sadly, I have been buried under various projects at work, and just as busy (if not busier) in my personal life when I am not on the job. Jason has also been busy, as well as fighting a series of winter illnesses. Unfortunately, these circumstances have combined to make our postings much quicker than intended.

Currently, I have a window of time in which to post, and was planning on starting a deep and philosophical discussion. However, I quickly realized that while I have time now, I won’t have much more today, tomorrow is going to be busy, and Friday and Saturday I will be out of town on business. Therefore, if I start something deep and meaningful today, I won’t likely have the time to follow up on it until next week. Hence, the One-Shot: we can get some content on the blog, and still make our other commitments.

The Wraith is a character from Marvel Team-Up who first appeared in the late 1970s. He is the brother of policewoman Jean DeWolff, an important part of Spider-Man’s supporting cast before she was killed off in the appropriately titled “Death of Jean DeWolff” storyline. Brian DeWolff, our focus for this one-shot, was a policeman who was shot by criminals. His father found him, and used an experimental process to nurse his son back to health; this process also endowed Brian with psionic powers. For a time, Brian had no control over himself, and his father used him as a puppet, making the Wraith a criminal. Brian finally was able to regain his senses and wanted to become a hero, but wasn’t seen much in that capacity. Finally, he was killed by Scourge, without ever getting the opportunity to really show what he could do.

Brian DeWolff (Earth-616)
Personally, I’ve always liked the Wraith, and regretted his death at the hands of Scourge. However, did he really die? His powers made it quite easy for him to fake his death, and I’d love to see this character return to the Marvel Universe (although Marvel does have a cool looking new Wraith in their cosmic comics, so this one might need a name change). I’d be curious to see what a creative person like Jason might do with him. So, have at it Jason! Make me proud!

Ah, right…the ol’ “cop shot by criminals is conveniently rescued by dad who zaps him with experimental technology that gives him brain powers” origin. Classic Marvel. The interesting part about this character was that he had the ability to read minds, induce illusions in others, zap folks with mind bolts and even possess someone, but he himself was also susceptible to being controlled. He was the monkey in the middle. He could have been the puppet master and the puppet at the same time…which really begged the question of who was truly in control of the third person. Was it Wraith or the person controlling Wraith? That’s weird.

Sadly, Marvel saw to it that this unique anomaly was removed from the character as he developed, which left him as just another bland mind-powered dude in a funny costume whose Spider-Man-obsessed sister was killed by a bad guy. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen a bajillion of ’em.

Regardless of his abilities, bringing him back from the dead is no big hurdle. He had already transferred his consciousness from one body to another after he was killed by Scourge, so there’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t have done the same exact thing right before he was killed A SECOND TIME by Morbius. Yes, that’s right, Morbius.

See, John left out the part where Wraith went cuckoo after Sin-Eater killed his sister. He decided to take it out on the entire NYPD, because whenever I drop a quarter down a manhole I send scathing emails to Microsoft too (see how much sense that made?). He showed up at a random police station which just happened to be the same random police station that Scourge was hanging out in, dressed as a policeman, waiting for a chance to shoot Flash Thompson (because evidently Flash Thompson was some secret third or fourth-tier supervillain whose costume was out-of-date or something). Nothing about this makes any sense, so I’m just winging it. Oh, and then he led some sort of anti-vampire clubhouse gang which ticked off Morbius enough to cause the good doctor struggling with his inner demon to commit cold-blooded murder on an obviously mentally impaired man. I guess a restraining order was just too much paperwork.

To recap: A cop is shot by criminals. His dad saves his life with a super brain machine. He becomes a quasi-superhero. His sister gets killed by a crazy dude, so he goes crazy in return and is killed by Scourge. However, he transfers his spirit into another body only to then be killed by Morbius. That’s where we stand.

My solution? Well, obviously, he transfers his spirit to another less-dead body (perhaps one that is bulletproof and teeth-proof). Let’s assume that each time he transfers his consciousness that there is some degradation and that degradation takes the form of reverting back to his previous mental susceptibility. Boom! Problem solved. Wraith is back, baby! And he’s only one of, technically, four Wraiths currently operating in the Marvel Universe. That shouldn’t be too confusing.

The angle I would take would be to make this “consciousness jumping” a prominent power. He previously had the ability to possess up to one mind at a time, but I say we take it a step further and say that he actually transfers his whole spirit into that body and makes it his own. Now, this could come in handy in using Wraith as a decoy or a spy…he could technically be “disguised” as anyone and still have the ability to infiltrate and use his mental powers on people.

I could see him as an ally of someone like Captain America. Cap needs a way to get inside Hydra, for example. Wraith simply possesses a Hydra operative and walks right in to the eye of the storm. Cap then guides Wraith to use his head-zapping skills to get whatever info or create whatever situation is deemed necessary. Then Wraith hops a ride back out in someone else’s brain and no one is the wiser. Talk about your Secret Invasion! ZING!

Hell, he wouldn’t even need the goofy costume shown up above. He could be anyone and anywhere at any time! It blows the mind.

Of course, that brings up the ethical issue of using someone to achieve your goal. It’s kind of a sick trick. And might be best suited for more of a horror angle. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like pursuing that.

And, I’m spent.


How to make your lame villain scary

Oct-30-08

Both Marvel and DC have something in common; their superhero universes contain a lot of lame villains. Oodles. Marvel tried to correct the problem in the 80s when they introduced Scourge, a character who seemed to exist only to clear out some of the deadwood in the Marvel criminal community. However, not only did Scourge miss a ton of losers, but many of the ones he killed have seen their gimmicks and names passed to new thugs, so their legacies (such as they are) live on. Perhaps seeing that this attempt at eliminating pathetic evil-doers didn’t stick, both Marvel and DC seem to have settled on revamping many of their villains and making them, as the kids say, bad asses. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. Herewith are our recommendations for turning the Ringer into next year’s villain du jour.

1. Less blood, more threat: The most popular way to make a villain seem scary is to have them go out and rack up a body count that borders on genocide. Popular thinking seems to believe that, if your victims don’t number in the triple digits, you’re small time and might as well go back to fighting Captain Ultra. Alternately, you don’t have to kill a lot of people, if you kill just a few, but really gruesomely. Now, gruesome can have its place, but often times today’s comic writers seem to simply be trying to outdo the last gruesome death that saw print, and consequently, the deaths themselves mean little.

Let’s be clear: a huge body count is absurd, and it’s one of the things that’s pushed the Joker from menacing to maddening (for the readers). You don’t need to murder a stadium of sports fans to make a point, and how many villains are interested in doing that anyway? It makes your villains seem like crazy comic book villains if they’re going after huge masses of people. Most readers can’t relate to that sort of crime; none of us really expect to get blown up with lots of other people in a mass venue. That’s where people feel safe. Instead, keep your villains relatable; if they’re killing people, have them break into the house in the middle of the night, or catch someone walking home from the movies (perhaps after seeing a Zorro flick). Then you’re hitting your reader somewhere they’re more familiar and you’re more likely to dredge up some scares in them. Of course, this will work even better if you follow tip #2:

2. Let your reader get to know your victim: The better the reader knows the victim, the more impact it will have when your villain offs them. Of course, you don’t want to have Terra Man kill Lois Lane just to make him scarier, but you can introduce other characters for Terra Man to kill or threaten. The reader doesn’t have to spend a lot of time with the character; it can be a simple page or two, as long as you use that space to effectively convey enough of a piece of the victim’s personality so that the victim can be seen as a person, and not just as a piece of meat to be ground up by your villain.

3. Strip your villain back to basics: Often times what makes a villain even lamer is when writers try to give them more gimmicks and more toys in an attempt to make the villain more threatening. Unfortunately, this often backfires, and the villain comes off looking worse than ever. Let’s use the Ringer for example. For those who don’t know, the Ringer is a Marvel villain who’s gimmick was…well, rings. He had all kinds of different rings which did different things, and every time he appeared, it seemed he had a new set of rings that could do even more useless tricks. I would get rid of all of them and stick with one of his original gimmicks: constricting rings. Instead of having the Ringer tossing exploding rings across Times Square, have him sneaking through the dark alleys. He finds a victim, slips out of the shadows, and quickly slides a constricting ring around the victims throat. Then he watches as the poor person suffocates at his feet. Or perhaps he wants the victim for some future purpose. One ring around the body, which constricts enough to prevent the person from taking a deep breath (driving most of the fight from them) and then another around the wrists to bind the victim and make it easy for Ringer to capture them. That’s much more threatening than anything the character has ever done in the past.

4. No more primary colors: We’ve discussed a lot about art the last few days, but I need to mention it again. If you want a scary comic, you need art that provokes an atmosphere. It’s not just about the pencilling and inking, but you also need a strong colorist, who can keep the colors muted and provide a spooky setting, without making the book a bloody, dark and impossible to read mess.

5. Allow them occasional victories: Many villains are considered lame because they never win. Of course, when we’re reading this sort of story, we know the villains will lose in the end (unless you’re reading current DC) and that’s part of the tacit agreement we, the readers, make with the creators. However, it’s important to note that, unless you want your villain to be a laughing stock, you need to give them a win every now and again. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but if they never manage to bring any plans to fruition, they’re certainly not going to be scary. Perhaps some of their early plans succeed because the hero doesn’t know about them, or perhaps they even beat the hero a few times, when the hero isn’t expecting them or their abilities. In the end, it’s just important that they sometimes succeed, so the reader doesn’t know if they’re actually going to pull off the plan that will spell the end for a threatened supporting character. If the villain sometimes wins, they become credible, and then they can start to become scary.

There’re some ideas. Agree? Disagree? Have some of your own?

Yeah, I have a suggestion. Don’t ever again write a post that mentions both Terra Man and Ringer. That was the most frightening thing I ever read!

The one point you make that I feel the strongest about is #5. If the villain isn’t a credible threat, they’re never going to be taken seriously. Look at someone like Green Goblin. On paper, he’s ridiculous. But what was the first big thing he did as a villain? He offed Spider-Man’s girlfriend. Instant archenemy.

And I think #4 is an important rule. I mean, really, who’s scared of Shocker in his yellow quilted shirt? Or a giant orange Armadillo? Or Wizard in his fancy purple and red ensemble with the giant helmet (or, for that matter, the Leader and his giant cranium tucked into an orange and yellow turtleneck)?

If we’re talking about turning villains more towards the scary side of things in terms of tone and method, then I think there are three other points that need to be made:

6. Intimidation works. A strong baddie is an imposing baddie. And I don’t mean that he has to be huge or have some sort of magnificent power that cancels out the sun. Perfect example: Galactus is NOT scary (especially his movie version…ooooh, a cloud!). No, I’m talking about their mere presence sending a chill up someone’s spine. The foe could be old and frail, like Cassandra Nova or have a really bizarre look, like Emplate, and they would be more effective than Turner D. Century in his spiffy suit. This criteria is one of the reasons why Doctor Doom, Ultron and Red Skull have remained on the scene for so long. Plus, it helps to keep the main threat hidden for as long as possible in order to build up the suspense. Show a creepy hand or part of a horrific visage every now and then, but keep the big reveal until absolutely necessary. Evolution is a viable course to follow too. Take Annihilus for example. When he was first introduced, he just looked like a dude in a giant metal bug costume. However, his latest incarnation shows him in a more insect-like form and, I have to admit, he’s a bit skin-crawly now.

7. Go off the deep end on occasion. There’s something to be said about being organized and rational. Perfection involves a certain type of horror. However, that perfection can be elegantly offset with the occasional psychopathic outburst. Tear apart a puppy with your bare hands. Push a stranger off a bridge. Randomly erupt and beat the beejesus out of one of your henchmen with a nearby computer keyboard, cackling wildly as letters and numbers careen off his scalp. Divine madness goes a long way towards building a scary reputation. That’s one of the few things I’ve respected in good portrayals of the Joker.

8. Have a grand scheme. Anymore these days, villains are just out on personal vendettas which, while they have their place in history, do not build up a broad depth to your villainy. None of the bad guys seem to have any plans beyond eliminating so-and-so. What then? Now, I’m not saying we should go back to the days of simple bank robbing or awkward planning to poison water supplies with special fish, but there has to be a rational beginning and end to the rampage, aside from ending up in jail. To be effective, you have to follow through. An exception to this rule is taunting. A great villain needs to be able to taunt without remorse…kidnapping loved ones, stalking alter egos, harassing coworkers and implying even worse plans. That stuff always works. Not to say it couldn’t be augmented with some unrelated evil plotting.

Scary is in the eye of the beholder. And I feel that there are very few villains in today’s comics that fit the bill. Most of them are just glorified punching bags. The most recent example of a good revamp that I can think of is Dr. Light. DC definitely made him a creepy dude. Of course, a swift kick to the nuts remedied that. Taking a previous example, I’m not sure we could ever morph Turner D. Century into a formidable foe, but I think the rules we’ve set out are a clear checklist for avoiding the pitfalls that created Mr. Century in the first place.



Costume Critique: Blue Streak

Oct-17-08

The first one came so easily to me, that I decided to do one more. And John bringing up the terrifying mental image of a roller skating Iron Man just made me think of this guy:

BLUE STREAK! The hard-skatin’, gas mask-sportin’, rootin’, tootin’ supervillain. God, I loved the late 80s, the age of over-armored bad guys with horrible “current events” gimmicks. Blue Streak first appeared waaaaay back in 1978 in a Captain America comic. Of course, back then his costume was fashioned after another timely fad…DISCO.

Groovy, man. I don’t even want to go into what’s wrong with that picture. Let’s just stick to the later version.

The Marvel editors must have spent a lot of free time wandering the aisles of the nearby Modell’s. A “battle suit” made out of shoulder pads, a catcher’s chestplate, knee and elbow pads, shin guards and a ski mask is not something you stumble upon by accident, unless you have a shopping cart and a limited budget.

The sad thing is that he’s not even wearing Rollerblades, which would’ve been somewhat more acceptable. I think. No, this guy’s sporting the old school skates…the kind of outfit you expect from the Freddie Mercury lookalike in the mesh tank top cruising down the Santa Monica promenade. How did Captain America take this guy seriously. Sure, he could fire lasers from his wrists and throw down razor-edged caltrops from his fancy hip pouches, but when it comes down to it, he’s a bright blue dude on roller skates. You know how you defeat someone like that? Trip him.

Son of a bimbo??? Did he just call Cap a “geek?” I’m sorry, Roy Thomas and John Buscema must’ve lost a bet to have created this tool. It is nice to see Cap on his Ameribike shooting out the ass-end of his Amerivan though. VROOM!

And what’s with the gas mask? Was Blue Streak moving so fast on his little training wheels that he was actually at risk of losing his breath? My guess? That mask is actually just used to catch the tears of shame streaming down his cheeks.

You know you suck as a bad guy when another bad guy makes it his life’s work to kill you.

Scourge: Saving Evil’s Reputation, One Mercy Killing at a Time.

Jason was kind enough to take the lead on this post because he’s better at finding and posting pictures than I, and because he seemed to need to get some thoughts about this guy off his chest. Sadly, he has once again said most of what needs to be said about this loser. Of course, I made that statement about Night Thrasher, and still managed to ramble on about him at length, so let’s see if I can do that again, shall we?

I would actually very much enjoy picking on his original, Disco-era costume, but I suppose we shouldn’t be too harsh on that decade, since fashion took a holiday for those ten years. Perhaps his costume looked good when it debuted, although I’m guessing it was considered a fashion faux pas even back then. I’m sure that Blue Streak and his creators thought that the new, armored duds were an improvement over the white leather suit with the blue lightning, but you know, they were kind of wrong. Sure, the armor makes practical sense, so they get points for that, but then they immediately lose those points for choosing to make the armor ugly, and decidedly impractical in many ways.

Certainly, if one is roller skating along at speeds of 40-50 mph, one would want head and face protection, if for no other reason than one doesn’t want to pick bugs our of one’s teeth. However, the design of the helmet (or ski mask; I’m unclear as to whether that’s supposed to be a thin helmet or a thick wool mask; I’ve been studying the art and it’s not horribly clear and I can’t find the information online anywhere) is so unnecessarily ugly that I have to wonder what the designer was thinking. The worst thing about the headpiece is that ridiculous air hose, which makes him look like some sort of alien. While I agree that an air supply probably wasn’t necessary, I don’t begrudge Blue Streak having one, except that it would have been possible to use one that wasn’t connected to a distracting hose, particularly when that hose goes….nowhere? The best I can tell is that the other end of the hose is connected to the back of his suit, which seems odd, since shouldn’t it connect to an air tank? Is he basically sniffing his back? Man, I hope he doesn’t stop for beans before a superhero fight; that air hose could end up being deadlier than any fight with Captain America!

Besides, what self-respecting villain would want to use an air supply that was dependent on an old fashioned hose like that? That hose is begging to be cut, and Captain America could easily sever it with one throw of his shield. Considering that armored heroes like Iron Man had been running around with internal air supplies for years before this outfit first saw print, I’m not sure why Blue Streak felt he needed to pretend he was getting his air from somewhere else. Perhaps the hose was just for looks? If that’s the case, it’s still a bad idea; once Cap severed it with his shield, he could then have grabbed it and used it to yank this guy’s helmet/hood right off his noggin and then proceeded to beat this loser with his own costume. Ahhh, I would have enjoyed seeing that fight depicted in an issue of his comic.

A closer look at those skates reveal them to appear to be the skates of the 70s-80s variety, the type which younger readers are probably wholly unfamiliar. These skates required a key, which was used to tighten or loosen the skates, and that’s how one put them on and removed them. I wonder if any of his villain comrades ever played practical jokes on him, where they hid his key, and he was stuck in his skates for a few days, rolling through the showers and the mess hall. Or perhaps they could have hidden his key when he wasn’t wearing his skates, and when he went to commit a crime, he would have had to do it sans his trademark mode of transportation. I can see the cab pulling up to the bank, and Blue Streak climbing out, wearing the outfit at the top of the entry, but instead of skates, he has on white tennis shoes. It couldn’t make the outfit look any worse.

Yes, Scourge did the comics world a favor when he killed this one. Sad that Marvel felt the need to bring this lame villain back during Civil War. He appears to be wearing the same costume. <sigh> Marvel, Marvel, Marvel….

Blue Streak

Well, on the plus side, it looks like they’ve at least simplified the stupid air hose on his mask. I can’t see enough of his costume to determine if they lost those snazzy hip packs or not. I will say one thing though, you know you’re pretty bad-ass when you need knuckle guards. Rock on, newly resurrected Blue Streak!