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.


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Marvel: The Manhattan (Kansas) Project

Sep-08-08

Seeing how long our extended conversation was going on this topic, I decided to break it out into its own entry. I’ve included the key bits of the dialogue that led up to this discussion, so that this entry can stand on its own. For more reference, please refer back to the “Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!” post. And now, on with the groovy ideas…

I suppose you could make the argument that there is more crime in New York City than in many other places, but is there really more crime in NYC than there is in Washington DC? In Los Angeles? In any major city in the United States (and probably in other countries as well)? An argument could also be raised that there’s more going on in New York City to attract criminals, and more money for criminals to make. While I would certainly agree that it may make more sense to hit a bank in the middle of NYC than to rob a bank in the middle of Missouri, when you factor in the chances of being caught in NYC over being caught in Missouri, I’ll take Missouri, thank you very much.

As silly as it seems for there to be so many superheroes based in NYC, it makes even less sense to have so many supervillains based there. Why wouldn’t someone like the Shocker head out to Kansas or to Florida? He could clean up! We tend to look at someone like him as being pretty lame, and having stupid powers, but that’s just because Spider-Man makes the Shocker look ineffectual. Against normal policemen, the Shocker would be very difficult to beat. So, why doesn’t he go fight regular policemen, and stop banging his head against the wall that is Spider-Man? The same could be said of so many villains around his power level; they may not be perfect against superheroes, but they would do well in areas that don’t have so many super-powered do-gooders. Why would they stay in the superhero capitol of the world?

I also LOVE the idea of a villainous mass exodus from the streets of downtown Manhattan. I can just picture one of those patented Marvel bad guy rallies in the basement of some abandoned church (or at the Bar With No Name) where the collected group just says “F*** This” and hits the road, hobo packs over their shoulders. That would make for a funny, if not enlightening, miniseries which could delve further into the operation and effectiveness of the 50-State Initiative. There’s no fighting the logic that even corny villains will do much better holding up the First National Bank of Wichita, then waiting in line with all the other thugs to rip off the same ATM machine across the same street from Peter Parker’s apartment building.

This would also create endless scenarios for up-and-coming characters to make a name for themselves. If I were trying to prove my worth, I certainly wouldn’t want to be battling evil on the same city block as the Fantastic Four. How can you compete with that? How do you get noticed (in a good way)?

Great idea! A limited series where a bunch of villains finally figure out that staying in New York isn’t getting them anything except continually jailed by all the big name heroes around! Six of them (as a convenient number for a team) decide to go somewhere less populated, like Kansas. Of course, every state is supposed to have an Initiative team, but they haven’t all been announced. Either team in Kansas isn’t set up yet, or (and I like this idea better) we can create our own group, probably consisting of a lot of the…um, lesser known superheroes. Ok, the dregs of the superhero community. Then we can have the loser villains against the loser heroes! Hey, it gives the villains a chance; I’d rather fight Frog-Man over Spider-Man or the Thing. And may I, as an aside, point out that Frog-Man is already on an Initiative team; he’s stationed in Kentucky.

So, what villains could we use? Who always operates out of New York and gets their butt handed to them on a regular basis because of it? I have to say, I’d start with the one we’ve already named, and in fact, I’d make him the mastermind and leader of this little field trip. Yes, I think the Shocker should be the one to decide that New York is no longer healthy for him. Tired of being a joke and being smacked around, he decides to gather up some of his buddies and hit the road. Who else could he take with him?

Well, I see that Marvel has introduced a second Kangaroo. This is obviously a sure fire winner, since the idea of a bad guy who can….um, jump, and can…well, he can kick. Jumping and kicking bad guys have always been successful, as seen by such luminaries as Toad and Batroc, who are very successful and popular. Anyway, I think the new Kangaroo should get the heck out of town with the Shocker and his crew.

How about Electro? Honestly, Electro has mad power and should be an A list villain, but instead, he gets beaten by everyone he fights (how did Daredevil beat this guy? Electro throws lightning bolts from his hand. Daredevil smells well). He can do better.

How about the Hypno-Hustler? C’mon, we have to use him! The 70s are back, man! And the Hypno-Hustler, he’s a real cool cat.

To round out our group, let me throw out a couple of names, and you can tell me if any of them strike your fancy: Jester, Mr. Fear, the Owl, Stilt-Man and the Eel.

What do you think? Can we find six great bad guys here or what? With the Shocker leading them to glory, how can they be anything but the most dangerous group this side of the Frightful Four?

Shocker = brilliant…especially given the “lack of confidence” problem they’ve introduced for him. It would make perfect sense for him to want to scoot out of town as soon as the going gets rough(er). And if we have him, we have to bring his “partner in crime” (and one of your favorite baddies) Hydro-Man. But you can do better with the rest of your picks! Electro? He’s like Shocker’s bigger brother when it comes to powers (which would make Eel his little brother, I guess). Mr. Fear has already been revamped by Ed Brubaker in Daredevil and Bendis did the same with the Owl. Jester was shot in the head during Civil War. There was an actual funeral for Stilt-Man. And so on, and so on, and so on.

I love Hypno-Hustler though.

Kangaroo is classic and could always be paired up with Grizzly or Walrus (other memorable members of the League of Losers). How about White Rabbit? She’s a real doozy of a villain. Oh, and you forgot the wonderfully asinine Mr. Fish! So, hmm, what does that give us?

Shocker (with shocking powers), Hydro-Man (who’s all wet – HA), Kangaroo (he hops well), Hypno-Hustler (the Guitar Hero champion of the Marvel Universe), White Rabbit (complete with carrot-themed weapons) and Mr. Fish (as strong as a fish is, um, strong, or something). I don’t know how you could possibly come up with a more complete range of powers. This is one well-rounded gathering of failure.

I’m laughing already.

The funny thing is, at least half of the people on the team were considered criminal “masterminds” when they were introduced. I can already see them fighting with each other over “tactics” and “leadership” ability.

I like the idea of plopping these fools down in Kansas…it’s America’s navel! Coincidentally, there’s a city in Kansas named Manhattan too. I smell a convenient yet harmless misunderstanding!

So what’s the plan? How do they meet up? Who do they face off against?

I. Love. Your. Team. Why someone hasn’t already published a title teaming Shocker, Hydro-Man, Kangaroo, Hypno-Hustler, White Rabbit and Mr. Fish is beyond me. They’re the Legion of Doom for the 21st century! I truly am laughing already, although everytime I type “Hypno-Hustler” or “Mr. Fish” I start chuckling, so I’m amusing myself, without even typing anything coherent. Heck, I could fill row after row with “Mr. Fish”, “Mr. Fish”, “Mr. Fish” and consider this our best entry ever. However, I shall try to aim slightly higher.

How do they meet? Well, Shocker and Hydro-Man must hang out at the Spider-Man Rogues’ Gallery annual picnic. No? Too much farce you say? Ok. The Shocker is in jail, where he spends the majority of his time. However, this time he’s had it and he vows never to be sent back to jail again! Now, Shocker spends a large part of his life in jail, so he’s going to know the ins and outs of the New York penal system better than anyone, and I imagine when new prisoners are introduced, the Shocker may actually be one of the people that many of them go to in hopes of learning the ropes. At least, he’d be one of the people the losers go to.

The Shocker wants out of jail, and knows he can’t get out on his own. He also knows that real villains won’t talk to him, because they consider him a loser. Besides, Shocker doesn’t really like working with the big name villains. Usually when he tries that, they use him and discard him (as the Masters of Evil did back in the 80s when they set him up to be captured by the Avengers, and had programmed him with false information when he was questioned). So, since he knows many of the….well, we’ll call them less prominent villains that are jailed with him, he starts asking around to see who might be up for a jailbreak. He goes to Hydro-Man first, since he knows Morrie Bench has no aspirations to leading a group, and he also knows Hydro-Man may be the most powerful person who’ll actually give the Shocker the time of day. He picks the Kangaroo as the strong man of the team (I can not believe I just typed that sentence). He thinks the White Rabbit, as a lady, might be useful in distracting the guards. Mr. Fish is chosen because, as a criminal mastermind (Bwah-ha-ha!) he has contacts on the outside, who can get them some materials for their jailbreak. The Hypno-Hustler? He overhears their plans, and threatens to turn them into the guards if they don’t let him in on the thing. Agreed. And our powerful sextet is born!

Once the jailbreak concludes, the group plans their next move. Everyone expects that they’ll lay low in New York for a few weeks before taking on Spider-Man. “We’re kind of like the Sinister Six!”, exclaims the excited Kangaroo, before getting smacked in the back of the head by Shocker. The Shocker proclaims them idiots if they want to stay in the city, and lays out his plan to go to Kansas, where there are no heroes. Some grumbling is heard about tornadoes, but in the end, it’s hard to deny that Kansas seems a heck of a lot safer. Mr. Fish grumbles that you won’t be able to steal as much money at a Kansas bank as you could a Manhattan bank, but Shocker asks him how much money he’s ever gotten away with in New York. When Mr. Fish reluctantly admits that he’s never made any money in New York, since he’s always caught, Shocker smugly figures that even some money is more than the nothing they’re getting now, and they’ll be free to spend it. “Just think….enough money to buy anything; even a brand new Honda Accord!” Wowed by the Shocker’s pie in the sky dreams, the group heads to Kansas, and no doubt, hilarity ensues as they leave the city.

Upon arriving in Kansas we can follow some of their criminal activities, and it would be fun, I’m sure, to see how these people commit robberies when all they have fighting them is the Kansas police. It would also be amusing to see how the citizens of Kansas, who don’t normally have people in brightly colored spandex or people with the head of a fish in their midst, react to these odd crooks. However, after a few crimes, when our group is feeling on top of the heap, we see that another group of costumed individuals has become aware of their activities. Yes, after a few off panel speech balloons where this new group discusses that they’ll have to stop our villains, we pan out to reveal the Kansas squad of the Initiative!

Who might be involved in this group? Sadly, Frog-Man, my first choice, and Captain Ultra, my second, are already involved with the Initiative in other states. This gives us an idea of the scraping the Initiative is doing to field teams in all 50 states. I think it might be nice to create one or two of our Initative group, although I’d make them more “Legion of Substitute Hero” types. These heroes should have somewhat silly powers, perhaps relating to Kansas (although I have no idea what relates to Kansas besides “The Wizard of Oz” and tornadoes). As for existing heroes we might be able to use….if Frog-Man got a job, what about Spider-Kid, who teamed with the former during a fight with the White Rabbit? Man, I’m having trouble coming up with other characters. I wish I had a copy of my “Marvel Universe” books with me. There was a character in the early issues of Alpha Flight named Cascade, who was basically Hydro-Man. Would we want someone on both teams with the same power? Peter Milligan introduced some characters like Anti-Matter, when he was writing X-Force which could be interesting to play with. What about the White Tiger? Hopefully you have access to some research materials and can come up with some good ideas.

Your “origin” story is a good start, but it seems a little too convenient for me (not to mention it’s rather strange that White Rabbit would be in the same prison as all the guys). Here’s how I see it beginning:

A beat up 1983 Chevy Camaro is cruising down an empty desert highway. It takes a turn into an expansive parking lot and heads directly towards a looming prison building out in the middle of nowhere. After parking the car, a solitary man gets out and walks slowly up to the front gate, head down and hands jammed deeply into his jeans pockets. He buzzes the gate and announces his name, “Morrie Bench. I’m here to pick up Herman Schultz.” He steps back as the gate swings open and the dark hallway beyond is quickly filled with sunlight. Herman Schultz shuffles forward, a forearm covering his face to blunt the glare…

See, I kinda feel like it should be an Ocean’s 11-style romp. Sure these guys are losers and they know it, but once they get back together those old feelings of invincibility start flooding back. Shocker and Hydro-Man are the low-rent versions of Brad Pitt and George Clooney who think they can “get the band back together” for one last ditch effort at making a fortune and making a name for themselves. Of course, the smoothness and wit employed by the Pitt/Clooney team when gathering their troops doesn’t come as easily to Bench/Schultz. I see a bunch of crossed off names, a series of hang-ups on the phone and a lot of begging and pleading until they finally manage to put together a truly stellar (haha) group of supervillain VIPs.

The interesting thing about this rather nondescript group (except for the guy with the fish head) is that, away from their costumes, they look like everyday people (except for the dude sporting the gills and fins). There’s something to be said for being able to just walk around town without instantly causing shock or fear (Mr. Fish should probably stay in the car, huh?). For the most part (save one member), these bad folks can operate at will in a place like Kansas.

I also insist that we somehow work, into a conversation, the line: “We’re gonna take Manhattan…Kansas!”

On to the heroes they will face. In my book, it all begins and ends with Americop. Seriously. He’s from Texas which is vaguely near Kansas. He’s mainstream Marvel’s version of Marshal Law. And he was recently captured by the Thunderbolts under the pretense of the SHRA, which means he’s available for use in the Initiative. Plus, he’s a rather ridiculous caricature.

Free Spirit is an interesting recruit. She was originally subliminally programmed to hate all men (which I’m sure will play really nicely against Americop’s inflated machismo) and she has the same basic skills as a Captain America type. I know we need to include some “heroes’ with substantial powers, but it’s also rather funny to just have a team of really well-conditioned individuals taking on our evil supergroup. Let’s face it, aside from Hydro-Man, there’s not a LOT of power in our baddies. Shocker is pretty useless if you can either shake his confidence or take away his equipment. And the rest of the group are basically rejected audience members for a Let’s Make A Deal taping.

I hate to spring it on you, considering his power set is nearly identical to the previous two members, but Demolition Man (or D-Man) is actually from Kansas and is considered a “potential recruit” for the Initiative. Being a sort of hometown hero, I’m sure D-Man would have problems over leadership issues with Americop. Can you see that I’m trying to build up tension within this team before we’ve even assembled it?

Keeping with the overall theme of lame, what about including Human Fly, Marvel’s resident stuntman/daredevil/masked Evel Knievel clone? He’s sufficiently odd and useless.

I feel like we need to include some sort of actual heroes with actual powers, but I can’t think of anyone that isn’t either already working on their own or claimed by another Initiative team. We could always create a character or six, if we really have trouble finding suitable members. I feel like we should try to counter some of our villains’…uh…powers? We need someone who can fly (to offset Kangaroo — I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face), someone with energy projecting abilities (our anti-Shocker) and maybe an elemental type (to overcome Hydro-Man)?

How about Thin Man from the old Liberty Legion? It’s said that he doesn’t age and he has useful powers, plus his decades as a costumed hero could give him a mentor role to the group (or another source of aggravation to Americop who will see him as the “out of touch” old guy trying to relive his past).

For good measure, why not throw former Force Works member Cybermancer into the group? She’s got powered armor giving her blade missiles, a cloaking device and a stun ray, in addition to enhanced strength, speed and endurance. She has ties to Tony Stark. And she was recently apprehended by SHIELD (and supposedly deported to Hong Kong…but that’s easily changed).

That’s a mess of a group right there. Feel free to make changes as you see fit…or just start from scratch!

Wow. I like your idea of bringing the baddies together better than mine, so we’re good there.

As for your hero team, there are some I love and some I don’t. I love the idea of using the Thin Man. A little used character whose powers aren’t very strong, but who has a lot of experience. As you say, he’s the perfect mentor for the group, yet he won’t overshadow them. Nice choice.

As for the rest of the group….I know so little about Cybermancer, but from what I’ve read, I like what she would bring to the group. The Human Fly is also an interesting choice, and more importantly, he has some different powers. I think these two are great choices.

However, for the last three…..I actually like Free Spirit. She’s a neat character with an interesting personality. She does have the “women better than men” thing, but she’s also trying to live up to the ideals of Captain America. It makes her a deeper character than she may seem on the surface, even if her powers are dull and boring. I absolutely dislike Americop and his powers strongly mimic Free Spirit’s powers; however, his personality would make for a very interesting dynamic in the group. He’s sure to clash with both Thin Man and Free Spirit, and that promises to be very interesting. He’s in.

Sadly, there is a line though, that I must draw, and that line is drawn right through Demolition Man. I do not, and have never, liked this character, and I’ve read just about all of his appearances in Captain America. Power-wise, he’s much too similar to both Free Spirit and Americop, and personality-wise, he’s much too close to Free Spirit (without the woman-power angle), since he’s also trying to uphold the ideals of Captain America. In my opinion, he’s simply not interesting and unique enough to be a member of the team.

Who should replace him? Man, that’s a difficult question. I’m going to go back to someone I mentioned above, and that’s the previously named Spider-Kid, now known as the Steel Spider. He was fighting the Superhuman Registration Act, but during a battle with the Thunderbolts, got his arm eaten off by Venom. I think that having his arm eaten off would certainly be traumatic enough that he might reconsider his stance on the Registration Act, and I can see him deciding to join up, lest any other appendages be sacrificed to his former political position.

This gives us someone who has a passing familiarity with at least one of our villains (he helped stop the White Rabbit years ago), and it gives us someone with a more multi-faceted personality than D-Man’s “I love Captain America.” Yes, it gives us two “tech experts” in both him and Cybermancer, but I think their approaches are much different. Cybermancer is more of a “regimented, working in a lab” type of builder, while Steel Spider is more of a “making suits of armor in my garage” tinkerer, and their two different approaches should make for potential conflicts.

How does that change work for you?

Now how did I know you were going to have a problem with D-Man? I like the idea of replacing him with Steel Spider, and Steel Spider’s motivation is duly noted. I also like the fact that Steel Spider not only has a limited history with White Rabbit, but just his name and appearance will bring back bad memories for Shocker and Hydro-Man.

Free Spirit, Americop and Thin Man will build an effective tension in the team as they squabble over who’s right and who’s wrong. I definitely see Americop as the natural leader of the group just based on what he stands for. Of course, his past recklessness and over-the-top form of justice will have to be constantly monitored and tempered much like the Thunderbolts have to do with both Venom and Bullseye to ensure neither gets out of line.

The more I think about the actual potential of this group (though I’m still not sure how effective they actually have to be to defend Kansas…which could prove to be an important flaw in the Fifty State Initiative plan), the more I’m starting to doubt my own goofy suggestions. Sure, you’re bound to scrape the bottom of the hero barrel at some point, trying to stretch 50 multi-member teams out of a limited pool of attractive candidates, but did I really mean to include Cybermancer and Human Fly? Those are just horrible choices. What do either of them bring to the table that is in the least bit interesting? Granted, Human Fly may just want to prove his worth, but he has absolutely no useful powers or talents. Would he even make it past the Initiative’s screening process? And Cybermancer…do we really need to remind people of Force Works?

There are two solutions to this dilemma. First, we just give Kansas a four-person squad. No big deal, right? And there’s really no reason to force some awkward members onto the team in the first place. Hell, Alaska only has one person defending them and she barely has any powers at all. Another choice is to pad out the team with some recognizable candidates and hope for the best. After doing a bit of research, I may have the solution…

Ant-Man and Stature.

Think about it. Both of them are currently in training at Camp Hammond. Both of them are sort of “legacy” characters. And there’s some interesting stories that could be told concerning both of them (they’ve already had one big brawl after Eric made some rude comments). Stature is the daughter of the second Ant-Man and she has powers based off Hank Pym’s size-changing experiments. Eric O’Grady stole the new Ant-Man suit out from under Pym’s nose and is now trying to make the best of it under government supervision. O’Grady is also quite the womanizer and Stature is a…well, she’s a woman. She’s young and impressionable. The two of them together make no sense, and yet all the sense in the world. They could be Marvel’s new version of Ant-Man and Wasp. They both have ties to original Avengers. They both have size-based powers. It’s a natural fit.

I’m just not sure it’s a natural fit for a superhero team based in freakin’ Kansas!

What do you think? Can Stature make a name for herself away from the Young Avengers? Would putting her in this group give her an easy out should the YA reform at some point? Do you like her teamed up with the new Ant-Man? There’s bound to be some emotion involved there because of what happened to her father. I could go either way…it may work beautifully or it may fail miserably.

I actually very much like the idea of Ant-Man and Stature being assigned somewhere together. I imagine that Stature would have huge problems with the new Ant-Man, as she would want the legacy of her father to be filled by someone heroic and honorable, and the new Ant-Man is neither. Plus, she may be frustrated because she sees herself as carrying on the legacy of her father, but the world is likely to see only the new Ant-Man to be a reflection on the old Ant-Man.

That being said, I fear we may be the victims of our own good ideas. We have a villain team (who we’ve somewhat forgotten) that we really like and want to tell neat stories about. In most limited series of these types, you spend your time focusing on your villains; the heroes appear but aren’t really explored, because the story isn’t about them. However, we’ve now created what could be a fascinating group of heroes, ones that I would like to explore in more detail. How can we work all of this into one limited series? I’m glad I asked me that question, as I have a few solutions.

First, we could go back to the idea of focusing on the villains, and not delving into the heroes. However, the heroes will be seen in the book, and perhaps, if people like the villain story, we can then sell a story about these heroes after the villain story is finished. Drumming up interest in the heroes may be a longshot, but I would suggest we do the villain story first, since that’s even more of a longshot.

Second, we split our six issue limited series. We alternate issues, telling the same story from different points of view. The first issue is the villains, and covers a day or two. The next issue is the heroes, and it covers the exact same span of time (we’d have a clock in the corner every once in awhile so the detailed fans could check the times and see what each team was doing at a particular time), but from their point of view. Back and forth, each team getting three issues. I’d recommend different artists for each team, so that the heroes and villains would have distinctly different looks depending on whose point of view we’re reading.

Option three is somewhat like option 2, but we don’t alternate issues. Instead, we tell both stories within the same book. This has been done many times and many different ways. We could do a flipbook, in which case I’d recommend doing it as I suggested in option 2. Or, we could do alternating pages, or one story along the top and one story along the bottom; there are lots of different choices but we’d want to make it clear that we’re doing two different stories.

In the end, I think we have two great ideas, and while they could survive independently of each other, I think they’re stronger together.

I tend to agree with your general feeling. We always try to come up with the best for everything and I think, in this situation, we may have gone a bit overboard. The original idea was to showcase a group of desperate villains in a new setting, maybe throwing them up against a ramshackle state defense squad. Instead, we now beefed up the heroes to the point where they can actually go toe-to-toe with the bad guys and then the status quo isn’t shaken at all.

If we were to do any of the solutions you suggested, I definitely like the idea of alternating issues between the heroes and the villains. However, I think we should backtrack a bit.

Let’s save the Ant-Man/Stature drama for something else that I have in mind (next post, perhaps?). We’ll keep the Kansas Initiative team as: Americop, Free Spirit, Thin Man and Steel Spider. That’s plenty of folks for Kansas…and it offers the interesting team dynamic and conflict we talked about above. Plus, it puts the onus for success back onto the lame villains and builds up a “root for the underdog” scenario.

The focus of this miniseries should be bad guys trying to find some success. If they do succeed, then it opens a bunch of doors for other good vs. evil conflicts across the country. If they ultimately fail, then it proves the true need for the Fifty State Initiative. Either way, Marvel wins a bit. I’m still undecided on how I want the whole thing to play out.

Cool. We yank Ant-Man and Stature, and we don’t focus on the heroes, but instead focus on the villains. The heroes may get a few scenes here and there, mostly likely as either preludes or post-scripts to a fight with the villains. We hint at their personality conflicts and the tension in their team, and especially how said conflict will effect them during a fight, but we don’t explore it. They aren’t our focus. Our villains are.

I think that, at the end of the series, I’d like to see the villains (or at least some of them) achieve some sort of victory. They don’t have to get away free and clear and perhaps some of them fail miserably and don’t get away at all. It might be interesting to run Mr. Fish or the Hypno-Hustler as a joke throughout the entire series, making them seem incompetent and having the others consider them worthless, and then have that character walk out of the mini-series as the only one still free. Perhaps that character has even been planning the fall of the rest of the team throughout the entire series, or perhaps that character hasn’t, but is just savvy enough to escape the fate that befalls the rest of the group.

Or, perhaps these six villains actually do win when all is said and done. Perhaps they actually gel into a team and become effective, or perhaps they don’t gel and aren’t too effective, but they manage to win anyway (kind of like how Major Disaster and his Injustice League were ocassionally effective in the old Justice League comic). We could also go with the old tried and true staple of having a more powerful villain behind the scenes, one that has been pulling the strings all along (but I admit, that would be my least favorite option).

If I were to choose one option, it would be the team actually winning. I would shy away from making them too effective; they’re not total morons, but they really aren’t too good at this. Still, through a modicum of skill and some blind luck, they manage to pull off a victory. They don’t leave the heroes dead or bad wounded, but they get away, and for these villains, that’s a victory on par with Berlin falling in World War II.


Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!

Sep-02-08

Our last topic on Hawkeye and where we wanted to take him got me thinking about the Marvel Universe map. The House of Ideas prides itself on building a universe that is steeped in the “real world.” Their biggest heroes fly above the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the travails of our world are often mirrored in their own…from wars and disasters to celebrities and politics. Of course, establishing that, it often makes me wonder why nearly 100% of the Marvel Universe characters live and work in the New York City area. There’s a whole wide world out there!

I just wanted to rally together a post where we can bring up storylines that took place outside the Big Apple city limits. I’m talking major activities, not single issue excursions. And I’m thinking maybe we can propose some meaningful relocations or invent some new situations that would require the attention of superheroes elsewhere in America. Granted, the Initiative has been launched and, ultimately, there will be teams assigned and active in each of the fifty states. Though I don’t think that should limit our thoughts.

So let’s first show our hands on what “Westward Ho!” storylines we can recall from Marvel’s glorious past:

  1. The Champions – Marvel’s first attempt at making a left coast splash was a bit strange, with a membership that boasted a Greek God, a Russian spy, two members of the original X-Men and a demon on a motorcycle. The “group” located themselves in downtown Los Angeles and are most famous for fighting Swarm, the awesome Nazi beekeeper-turned-skeleton dude. Rumor has it, had the title continued, Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts would’ve been added to the roster.
  2. West Coast Avengers – Obviously. The team set up headquarters outside LA. The series lasted for 102 issues and then begat the horrendous Force Works which lasted an additional 22 issues and is notable for its cringe-worthy artwork and nonsensical plots. West Coast Avengers, however, was pretty dang awesome.
  3. The Order – Matt Fraction’s short-lived series about the new California Initiative team placed the team in Bradbury on the northeastern edge of Los Angeles.
  4. The Defenders – During their “New” period, the non-team centered themselves in a Colorado property owned by Warren Worthington’s family.
  5. Daredevil – Temporarily relocated his heroics to San Francisco alongside his then-girlfriend Black Widow.
  6. Incredible Hulk – Of course, Marvel’s re-imagining of the Jekyll and Hyde classic originally took place in the deserts of the American Southwest.
  7. Wonder Man – His brief solo series positioned him as a wannabe actor/stuntman in Hollywood.
  8. Spider-Woman – Jessica Drew began her costumed career in Los Angeles.
  9. Werewolf by Night – Poor, cursed Jack Russell lived in Malibu, California.
  10. Moon Knight – Not sure where he was officially based back in the day, but Marc Spector was born in Chicago and spent quite a bit of time (whether chasing werewolves or joining the Avengers) on the West Coast.
  11. Howard the Duck – Originated in the Florida Everglades and lived in Cleveland, Ohio.
  12. Great Lakes Avengers – Proudly representing the Upper Midwest.
  13. Uncanny X-Men – Recently relocated to San Francisco. Time will tell what that move holds.

Can you think of anyone else in Marvel’s stable who has spent considerable time somewhere in the United States that isn’tNew York (or New Jersey, which is pretty much just New York’s jockstrap)? And, furthermore, can you think of anyone who should spend time outside of Manhattan? Chicago, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis, Las Vegas, anywhere in Texas, even the New England states? It’s a big country. There’s bound to be some stories to tell out there somewhere.

I suppose we should mention Alpha Flight, who spend their time in the beautiful wilds of Canada, and Excalibur, who spend their time in jolly old England. With that being said, I agree that New York City has been overused to the extreme by the creators of the Marvel Universe. Of course, the original reason (so the legends say) that Stan and his co-creators used New York City so much in the early days of Marvel was because they all lived in the city, so they knew it. As time has passed, many creators of Marvel titles have left the city and now live all over the country, so this reasoning should no longer hold true.

I suppose you could make the argument that there is more crime in New York City than in many other places, but is there really more crime in NYC than there is in Washington DC? In Los Angeles? In any major city in the United States (and probably in other countries as well)? An argument could also be raised that there’s more going on in New York City to attract criminals, and more money for criminals to make. While I would certainly agree that it may make more sense to hit a bank in the middle of NYC than to rob a bank in the middle of Missouri, when you factor in the chances of being caught in NYC over being caught in Missouri, I’ll take Missouri, thank you very much.

As silly as it seems for their to be so many superheroes based in NYC, it makes even less sense to have so many supervillains based there. Why wouldn’t someone like the Shocker head out to Kansas or to Florida? He could clean up! We tend to look at someone like him as being pretty lame, and having stupid powers, but that’s just because Spider-Man makes the Shocker look ineffectual. Against normal policemen, the Shocker would be very difficult to beat. So, why doesn’t he go fight regular policemen, and stop banging his head against the wall that is Spider-Man? The same could be said of so many villains around his power level; they may not be perfect against superheroes, but they would do well in areas that doesn’t have so many super-powered do-gooders. Why would they stay in the superhero capitol of the world?

I’ve never understood why Captain America didn’t relocate to Washington DC. I know he doesn’t work for the government, but he’s concerned about protecting it, and shouldn’t the symbol of our country be located in the country’s capitol? Did he just stay in New York so he could hang out at Avengers Mansion?

The Avengers should certainly move out of the city. If they want to stay close to the city, for whatever reason, that’s fine. But the mansion has too often come under attack, and that endangers all their neighbors. They tried to move the mansion once, to a floating island off the coast of the city, but Doom sunk it, so they went right back to their old location, right in the middle of the city. I’m not sure why they’re so fond of the city, but at the very least they should be in a suburb. Maybe they can rent the X-Men’s old mansion in Westchester?

Of course, there are those characters that really do belong in the city. Spider-Man shouldn’t move out of New York, as he’s as much a part of the city as Batman is a part of Gotham City. I think the Fantastic Four should stay in the city; they were there first and it truly does help to ground them as humans first and heroes second. However, I would say that the other New York heroes, like Daredevil and Dr. Strange, should feel free to get the heck outta town.

I’d love to see Dr. Strange move somewhere a tad more atmospheric than Greenwich Village. Perhaps he could relocate to Boston or to Salem. It seems like New England would be a perfect area for him, one steeped in history and ancient secrets. Or, perhaps he should move to Louisiana, into the old French Quarter of New Orleans. There certainly must be areas that scream magic more than his current digs.

This has been a little scattered, I’ll admit, simply because there’s so much to discuss, and I’ve been throwing out ideas left and right. Do you have some ideas you’d like to focus on?

Well, Alpha Flight and Excalibur are givens (and both have had extensive runs in the past). I was focusing more on activity within the US borders. I just remember how DC dropped Chemo on the city of Bludhaven during Infinite Crisis and I can’t help but think of the near-complete super-community loss if Marvel were to do the equivalent with their Big Apple.

Hmm…Doctor Strange in New England is an interesting premise. Didn’t the Defenders have at least a temporary HQ up there? That’s where the Hellstroms were based, right? And, of course, Brother Voodoo is usually based out of New Orleans. But being that none of those mentioned are nearly as prominent as Strange, it would be an easy transition to get him out of town…especially considering all the troubles with Skrulls and Registrations and magical conflicts.

Relocating Captain America is an inspired no-brainer in itself. Look, Marvel clearly creates most of their heroes and villains based off of certain archetypes, stereotypes and themes. By extension, those characters should be placed in the cities that most perfectly mirror their most important attributes. For example, put the cocky, scene-stealers in LA…the political-minded folks arrive in DC…the down-to-earth hardworking heroes go to Chicago and other midwest towns…it all makes perfect sense.

I also LOVE the idea of a villainous mass exodus from the streets of downtown Manhattan. I can just picture one of those patented Marvel bad guy rallies in the basement of some abandoned church (or at the Bar With No Name) where the collected group just says “F*** This” and hits the road, hobo packs over their shoulders. That would make for a funny, if not enlightening, miniseries which could delve further into the operation and effectiveness of the 50-State Initiative. There’s no fighting the logic that even corny villains will do much better holding up the First National Bank of Wichita, then waiting in line with all the other thugs to rip off the same ATM machine across the same street from Peter Parker’s apartment building.

This would also create endless scenarios for up-and-coming characters to make a name for themselves. If I were trying to prove my worth, I certainly wouldn’t want to be battling evil on the same city block as the Fantastic Four. How can you compete with that? How do you get noticed (in a good way)?

I suppose we have to be careful with who we try to move where though. Some of Marvel’s oldest heroes have their origins built around their surroundings. As you’ve said, Spidey and the FF stay in New York. I also think, because of his strong ties to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, that Daredevil has to stay put as well. As far as other folks with their own titles: Punisher seems to be everywhere at once, so it’s hard to rectify him being based out of NYC. For a hero whose motivation is based around removing corruption, I’d rather see him working in DC…Hulk is all over the place and rarely ends up in Manhattan anyway…Iron Man should clearly be located in a region that is more tech-heavy, somewhere like Seattle or San Francisco or The Triangle in North Carolina (though I can’t picture Tony Stark with a southern twang)…Iron Fist, due to his background, is fairly global…Black Panther is in Africa…Moon Knight could easily be placed in Chicago…Ghost Rider is on a motorcycle…Thor is, uh…

Quite frankly, I could care less where the X-Men call home. Their melodramatic adventures take them all over the universe, and their headquarters get blown up at least once an issue anyway.

I guess the biggest problem is the villains. If you remove them from the equation, then there isn’t a need for the hero density in downtown New York either. Villains are stupid.


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!