Jason and I have spent quite a bit of time over the last few months reimagining Marvel and DC characters, trying to reposition them for success in today’s marketplace. This is something that both companies do on a regular basis. However, alongside searching their vast catalog of characters for ideas, both companies also go back to failed series and try to revamp them. It can be quite a quandary, trying to determine what made a series successful enough to launch but not strong enough to survive long term. Intrigued by this challenge Jason and I also thought we’d take a look at some failed series and try to make them viable for 2009. For our inaugural expedition into the land of failed series, we’ve chosen one of the bright spots of the 1990’s: Marvel’s Nightstalkers.
No doubt all the comics fans out there are now thinking “Of course, the 1990’s. That’s where all the great ideas in comics originated!” <sigh> Oh, you cynical, cynical comics fans. Sure, the 1990’s were full of dark characters with mysterious pasts and no personalities; full of men with huge guns and biceps larger than their heads; full of characters with “Death”, “Dead” and “Blood” as part of their names; full of grim and gritty stories, full of characters choking on their own machismo and testosterone; and full of writers who misunderstood their craft, designing long run-on sentences, separated by semi-colons only, as if that made them grammatically correct. All of this is true. However, there may be some genuinely good ideas in that decade, and Jason and I hope we’ve found one in Nightstalkers.
First, some background. The year is 1992. Marvel has been finding great success with books that have a horror background. Characters such as Blade and Morbius the Living Vampire have joined Ghost Rider on the top of the sales chart; okay, okay, maybe the first two aren’t on top of the sales chart, but the fact that they’ve managed to land anywhere on the sales chart is a pretty miraculous feat. Marvel decides to capitalize on the success of these darker, more horror-oriented series by creating a line of comics under the banner of “Midnight Sons”. Marvel created a few new series for this line of comics and one of those series featured a group of vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers.
The three members of the Nightstalkers were all existing Marvel characters. The most popular one today would be Blade, the half-vampire vampire hunter that we all know thanks to three movies starring Wesley Snipes. However, the first of those three movies was still six years off, and Blade was not well known. He was joined by Hannibal King, a private detective who had been turned into a vampire while on a case, but who hated his condition and had never taken to drinking human blood. The final member of the group was Frank Drake, a normal human whose only claim to fame was that he was a direct descendant of Count Dracula himself. These three had worked together in the past, but had split up. Dr. Strange, who was being mysterious and self-serving, as 90’s comics heroes were wont to be, manipulated the three into re-teaming as the Nightstalkers, and history was made!
Sadly, the book only lasted 18 issues, but it drew on past Marvel continuity, referencing stories from the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the conclusion of the book, all three members of the team were believed dead, but in the intervening decade, they’ve all returned to life in the Marvel Universe.
Horror may not be the draw it was when these comics were introduced, but at the same time, I believe there is a market for it. This book has the potential to stand apart from most of the other series on the shelves today, and I think there may be a glimmer of potential here. Hey, if Buffy can go seven seasons, and enjoy a popular career in comics, with the riff of slaying vampires, surely this concept could work at Marvel as well.
What say you, Jason? Can we make this work?
Was there ever a character named Deathblood? That would’ve been totally awesome! If it doesn’t exist, we should will it into existence. I would read that book until my eyes gave out. Seriously. Imagine the possibilities! There would, of course, be some death…and probably a generous amount of blood. Maybe not necessarily in that order, mind you. I’m seeing a cross between Spawn and Punisher. Oh wait, didn’t Marvel try that with one of its Punisher relaunches? Never mind.
And I missed the part where you explained how Kolchak was involved in the whole team thing. What paragraph was that in?
*AHEM* Anyway…yes I think we could make this work. I’m not sure that the draw is all that strong for another teaming of Blade and a couple relative no-names. I’d rather see a new team put together that combines various expertises and makes sense. I’m not even sure I’d put Blade on the team. I think he’d play better as a form of competition for the group or someone who offers them advice, but can’t really be pulled from his own hectic schedule to assist. There should be a straightforward, non-powered human detective type, some sort of lower level magic wielder, and then someone more creature-based to assist in tracking and the brute strength category. Here’s what I’m thinking: Dominic Fortune, Brother Voodoo and Tigra.
Look, I can explain it all. The title begins with a focus on Fortune. He’s an older man who has given up the pretense of playing the hero. His swashbuckling outfit has been replaced by a drab, ill-fitting gray business suit. Sure, he may have let himself go a bit, but he can still tussle with the best of them if need be. He’s seen his fair share (and then some) of the crap that goes on in a hero-driven society and black clouds continue to follow him. He battled Nazis and zombies (not at the same time). He rescued diplomats from terrorists. He fought alongside the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Silver Sable. Yet after all of these adventures, and even because of them, he still watched his son die in his arms. This singular event has led him down a tragic path of divorce, depression and digging for lost dreams at the bottom of a bottle. To say he’s seen it all would be an understatement. The only logical next step for Fortune, the only thing that will give the rest of his shattered life purpose and help distract him from his own problems, is to help solve the problems of other people. Detective work!
His contacts and experiences take him to all corners of the world, from the classic gothic scenery of Eastern Europe to the mystical realms of deep Asia to the haunted swamps of the American South. Every encounter uncovers another supernatural mystery until he eventually decides that it’s foolish to undertake these things on his own. He needs a team.
Enter Brother Voodoo. He has recently packed up his costumed identity and launched a speaking tour of the country’s institutions of higher learning. Voodoo’s presentations on turn of the century occult figures and their relation to ancient tribal rituals pack auditoriums from coast to coast. With a bit of government consultation on the side, he’s leading a fairly happy lifestyle. That is, until the vivid dreams start keeping him up at night. He sees glimpses of the future: key locations, specific artifacts and blurred figures. Is it coincidence or fate that he bumps into Dominic Fortune on the busy streets of San Francisco one blustery, winter afternoon?
Honestly, that’s all I’ve got.
I really want to shoehorn Tigra in there because she’s been dragged through the mud the last couple years at Marvel. And the team needs a female presence. And Tigra’s pretty cool visually.
Can you do anything with that beginning? Do we need some sort of serious, tangible enemy? I see the whole thing playing out with a hard-boiled noir vibe. The narrator of the series would be Fortune and his dialogue would be blunt and clipped like a Sam Spade voice. I’d really like to tap into a sort of rain-soaked tension where it always seems to be dusk and everything happens in the shadows. Costumes would need to be modified or eliminated outright. Some special technologies would need to be invented, but still remain practical.
Yes? No? Maybe?
Interesting. I’m with you part of the way on this one. I was also going to suggest that we not reteam the original three members on this one, as they don’t quite work for me and I think we could do something more interesting. Your suggestions begin the work of something more interesting, but I have a few ideas for some different paths.
First, Dominic Fortune is a great idea. Wonderful character and he’d fit perfectly into this group. I really like the idea of someone who has seen it all and who doesn’t have any powers, but has skills. He’s burnt out, he’s tired, but deep down, he still wants to do the right thing. I’m good there.
I’m good with Brother Voodoo. He concerns me a little, since his name and costume can seem so silly, but I have always thought that he was an untapped resource in Marvel’s litany of characters and I would appreciate the chance to explore his history, his powers, and who he is as a man. With a darker book, we could go places with voodoo that more mainstream books don’t, and perhaps his costume could be tweaked a little to look more menancing and less like he’s at Mardi Gras.
I’m going to ignore Tigra for now.
So, what I think this group needs is a tie to the past. Hey, call me crazy, but I’d like to see this group tied into those who’ve gone before. I also think that this book needs a main villain to call it’s own. I have a solution to the first problem already. At the end of the previous series, all three stars are presumed dead in an explosion. However, it’s later revealed that Frank Drake (the only completely human member of the group) survived, although the explosion left him scarred and crippled in both body and mind. I’d like Drake to be set up in New Orleans; he has bought an old mansion in the city, one that got badly damaged during Katrina, and he’s been living there. Drake hires Fortune for a case. We don’t know it’s Drake at first; Drake doesn’t want to be seen, as he’s hideously scarred, and he’s also not quite sane anymore. Drake uses intermediaries and rather bizarre and unnecessary procedures to stay hidden from Fortune, but Fortune takes the case, as he needs the money. The case is related to the big bad of the series, and that’s what draws in Fortune.
I’d like to have Fortune encounter Voodoo in New Orleans while on this case. Is it a cliche to have them meet in New Orleans and to have Drumm there in the first place? Possibly, but there’s no denying that Drumm has spent a lot of time in that city, and it is viewed as a place with deep ties to voodoo. Fortune and Drumm end up crossing paths and Fortune asks for Drumm’s help, since Drumm knows not only the city, but the supernatural side of things much better than Fortune does. Drumm has those visions and dreams featuring Fortune that you mentioned above, so he’s willing to comply. As they begin working together, they get drawn deeper and deeper into the unpleasantness of the supernatural badness Drake is involved with, and by the end of the first story arc, they’re committed to staying together and fighting this big bad to the end.
I see Drake remaining as a peripheral member of the cast. Drake is someone who is clearly not completely sane, but he also knows a lot about the supernatural, having fought it his entire life. Still, that explosion changed him, and I don’t think the readers are ever entirely clear who’s side Drake is on. Why keep him around then? Because I think Fortune sees some of himself in Drake. Drake was the only human member of the original Nightstalkers, and while Blade and Hannibal King walked away from the explosion without major repercussions, Drake was mangled beyond repair. Fortune can see how that could be his fate, as he works alongside his two super powered teammates (yes, I haven’t forgotten Tigra) and it terrifies him. At the same time, he also sees the evil and destruction that the supernatural baddies cause, and Fortune feels that they will do even worse to even more normal humans if he doesn’t stand against them.
Does that work for you? In many ways, it’s your original idea. I just added Drake and moved the location. There are two things that we need to solve. The first is who the big bad might be. I don’t know that he would have to be in every issue, but I always like the idea of a monumental evil hovering over our heroes. Drake has been present for the destruction of two different vampire lords: Dracula and Varnae. I’d be tempted to bring Dracula back, as he’s a big name and everyone knows him. However, that feels like it’s been done, back in Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula series. It sure is tempting though, as he’s a fascinating character. If we don’t use Dracula, we could go with the current vampire lord, as Drake might want to destroy the successor to the creatures that ruined his life. Or, it might work better to move into another area of the supernatural and leave the vampires alone for now. Thoughts?
And then there’s Tigra. I agree that she’s been handled poorly by Marvel (which she has been almost throughout her existence with that company) and I agree that the group needs a female. Plus, while superpowered, she’s not overpowered and fits with the group. Finally, her ability to sneak around, her senses, and her close-up fighting style would all fit the feel of the series. So, I like her. However, I’d like to find a hook to bring her in. Do you see one?
It’s tough. Marvel has really painted her into a corner in recent months. She’s been beaten by The Hood’s Syndicate, played as a double-agent during Civil War, and now gotten pregnant by a possibly Skrulled-out Hank Pym. However, if you dig into her past, you’ll find stints as a SHIELD agent, a police officer and a detective (alongside Jessica Drew). She got tangled up in a mystical plot involving Morgan Le Fay, lived in aboriginal lands, ventured around the galaxy with Starfox, was influenced by Agatha Harkness and spent a lot of time alongside Scarlet Witch. Not to mention the fact that her powers and form come from an ancient race of Cat People! Any one of those instances could’ve spawned a connection to associates of Fortune or Drumm. She’s supposedly a member of the Initiative’s Arkansas team now. If we’re fighting the White River Monster or the Bigfoot from The Legend of Boggy Creek, then we’re golden!
On your other embellishments: I don’t mind involving Drake at all and I dig the angle you’ve given him…almost sets him up as the unseen benefactor of the team, the Charlie to their Angels! However, I think it is horribly clichéd to have Fortune and Drumm (and Drake) set up stakes in New Orleans. Too obvious. That’s the reason I pulled Drumm out of the area to begin with. I like the idea of Fortune and Drumm both trying their hands at something other than “superheroing” and then being quasi-involved in it again anyway. Just when I thought I was out…
Back to Tigra…the only thing I can think of to really connect her to our team is to have her announce her pregnancy to a gathering of the rest of her female hero friends. Someone could suggest that she get away to clear her mind. She has already talked about terminating the pregnancy and that alone could lead to her deciding to remove herself from the scene and seek out a quieter existence somewhere else. I don’t want to force a coincidence into the structure (because I hate it when teams are brought together for no apparent reason), but we could create a plot point that has all threeof these characters in the same place at the same time for three completely different reasons. I mean, I had Fortune and Drumm literally bumping into each other. Granted, Drumm was having visions and has that mystical background so he knew how to deal with the encounter. I dunno. Heroes always seem to find fights wherever they go!
As for the villain, I’m very tired of vampires. And zombies. Werewolves aren’t completely played out yet…skeletons…mummies. Maybe the team is debunking monsters of urban legends? Maybe the main baddie is Morgan Le Fay battling Drake for his bloodline. Or Drake could’ve run afoul of the Cat People during his rehab period (hence Tigra’s involvement…fighting on the opposite side at first?). Perhaps we merge two of the Midnight Sons titles and incorporate the Darkhold into this one (I know we mentioned it in our Defenders revamp last year too)?
Let’s dwell on that for a moment…
I understand your hesitation in using New Orleans, and I suggested it for two main reasons. First, I think that there’s certainly a lot of atmosphere and mood that’s inherent in the setting, which would be great for a horror themed title such as this one. Second, I think that, after the devastation of Katrina, New Orleans has emerged as an interesting urban area with a lot of stories to tell, as people rebuild and the city continues to redefine itself for the 21st century. Still, I don’t have a problem relocating them elsewhere. San Francisco doesn’t thrill me simply because it’s where the X-Men currently are, and I’d hate for them to cross paths, although there are approximately 20 gazillion heroes in New York, and they rarely cross paths with each other. I’d like a city with more atmosphere and the potential for horror. Boston springs to mind, but we had suggested that for our Strange revamp, and Strange would run in the same circles as this group, so it makes it implausible that they would all be in the same city and not meet. I can’t think of another city off the top of my head that would have the necessary atmosphere, and San Francisco certainly does have atmosphere, with the winds and the fog and the older areas of the city, so that works for me.
So, Fortune comes there at the behest of Drake, and he runs into Drumm, who has been having some odd visions and dreams that include Fortune anyway, so the two of them are now working together. Tigra, meanwhile, has taken a leave of absence from the Initiative to deal with her child. Honestly, I hate the idea of her being pregnant, and I don’t care whose kid she’s carrying. It just doesn’t fit Tigra, who seems, at her best, to be so strong and independent. One could make the argument that a child would mature the character and there could be a lot of plots spinning out of the child, but honestly, they’re not plots I’m either interested in telling or reading. Generally, I think introducing children hurts books. It works for a group like the Fantastic Four, because it reinforces the idea that they are a family, and all you’re doing is expanding that family, but for a loner like Tigra….no, it doesn’t work for me.
So, I believe that Tigra takes a leave from the Initiative and deals with the child. Does she have an abortion? We can leave that open to debate and never show it. I think she would, but if you don’t want to court controversy, she could have simply miscarried. I mean, she’s a member of the race of Cat People and the father was a Skrull. What are the chances that these two species would even be able to procreate? It seems that such a pregnancy would be difficult to carry to term, and a miscarriage is quite likely. So, the baby is gone, and she’s trying to find herself and center herself after the recent events in her life.
I’d like to integrate Tigra more seamlessly into the team, rather than just having her pass by the scene of a fight, have her join Fortune and Drumm, and then have her decide to join their group. Yes, such things happen, but I think that you give your group a certain cohesion if you can give everyone a reason to stay, and Tigra really wouldn’t have one. Tigra does have a few connections to the world of the supernatural, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to work a plot around the cat people. I think that such a plot is possible, but I also think that I have little interest in it. I’m not sure why, but the cat people have always struck me as being somewhat cheesy. Possibly this is because I’ve only ever seen them in the West Coast Avengers comic, drawn by Al Milgrom, and everyone looks cheesy when he draws them (that’s not as much of a slam as it sounds; Milgrom’s work is very clear and he can tell a story well, but his West Coast Avengers issues had a certain “old school” look to them that made the book seem like a slightly cheesy 70s title. This look worked perfectly with the stories Steve Englehart was telling, and their run on West Coast Avengers is without a doubt the high point of the entire series for me, but that being said, I still have problems reconciling the Cat People Milgrom drew with the ones that we would have in a horror title). More importantly, they’re not much of a draw for anyone, and I still think that this title needs more name recognition.
Tigra’s other supernatural contact, Morgan Le Fay, doesn’t have tons of name recognition, but she has more than the Cat People. Moreover, I think there’s a story here. Morgan Le Fay is a woman from the past, who was born and lives during the time of King Arthur. However, she seems to have a fascination with, and desire to move to, the present day. Many of her schemes have centered around the present day, and she even attempted to take control of the body of Jessica Drew in an attempt to live in the present day. Morgan Le Fay has crossed paths twice with Tigra, and has decided that Tigra will be the perfect conduit for her. The first time she met Tigra, they were battling to stop Le Fay from taking over the body of Jessica Drew. As defeat loomed for Le Fay, she mystically implanted a lifeline in Tigra. This lifeline provides Le Fay with a tether to the present day, one she can use to monitor our world, and for short periods, to manifest in our time. Why choose Tigra? Two reasons: Tigra’s association with the Cat People gives her a touch of the supernatural, making it easier for Le Fay’s lifeline to take hold. Plus, Tigra was peripheral. She didn’t seem that important, and so Le Fay hoped her lifeline would go undetected.
As an aside, it was this lifeline that caused Tigra to revert to her feral form during her time with the West Coast Avengers, during Byrne’s tenure on the title. The mystic energy of Le Fay threw her Cat People/Human balance out of whack, reverting her to a feline.
Le Fay has been busy with other plots in the past, but now she is going to use this lifeline. Le Fay wants to possess the Darkhold, something she has tried to obtain in the past. She’s been thwarted in her attempts to steal the Darkhold in her time, so she’s decided to steal it in the present. Le Fay then becomes the big bad of the series, trying to collect the various pages of the Darkhold while our group tries to stop her. Not every adventure would revolve around her or her quest, but she would always be there in the background, scheming and plotting.
In any case, Le Fay would be subconsciously directing Tigra to San Francisco, since that’s where one of the pages of the Darkhold is. Drake knows someone is after the page, so he sends Fortune after it, and Fortune runs into Drumm, and they all run into Tigra. At first, I would keep the lifeline a secret. We don’t know who is sending people after the Darkhold. We also don’t know that there’s anything wrong with Tigra, and when she joins the group, she does it for another reason; possibly just because she feels like this is a good place to be while she figures out her life. We can dole this information out in small doses, before doing a big reveal.
Wow. Did you just make all that stuff up about Morgan Le Fay or was that actually already written into previous plots? If it’s all you, then that’s an impressive way to wrap up a bunch of divergent stories in a way that forms some sort of logic, albeit comic-based. That’s no small feat in itself! However, you took it all a step further and actually incorporated my bizarre, fractured thoughts on villains and subplots into the whole thing too. You’d make a damn good editor. I need to win Powerball so we can start our own comic publishing business!
Morgan Le Fay and her pursuit of the Darkhold are the perfect catalysts for this team to come together. Drake sends Fortune to retrieve pages. Le Fay subconsciously sends Tigra for the same thing. And Drumm shows up to find Fortune and help him explain the visions. Perhaps he senses a “disturbance in The Force,” so to speak. No one knows that Tigra is acting as a double agent of sorts, not even Tigra. And, to be honest, no one knows why Drake is trying to collect the Darkhold pages either. There could be a vicious twist hidden in this whole thing.
I would also see an instant connection between Fortune and Tigra, one where she sees him as a father figure. They’ve both been through a lot, culminating in the loss of a child for each. Tigra is a rather old character too, tracing roots back to a pre-feline run as The Cat…she’s more of a contemporary to Fortune than Brother Voodoo. Voodoo, however, has the strongest connection to the types of threats the group is facing and is able to function on a level closer to Drake himself. I like the potential interactions among the group. Good energy there.
As for location, I completely forgot that the X-Men were now in San Fran. We did put Strange up in Boston during our revamp. So, sticking within our own version of the Marvel Universe and our initiative to “spread the wealth” when it comes to hero concentrations, we should probably find another spot for this group to at least be based out of. I agree that we need a location that has the atmosphere necessary for a horror-esque title. Seattle has the weather, but not really the type of history we need. New Orleans is just overplayed for me and the recent Hellstorm miniseries took place there too. Aside from Boston, New England is fairly nondescript. The midwest is blah (and we placed Moon Knight in Chicago and another adventure in Kansas). What about somewhere in the Antebellum South that ISN’T New Orleans? I’m thinking specifically of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a very old city that has dealt with everything from pirates to slavery to multiple wars with multiple nations. There’s a cultural diversity there similar to New Orleans with many religions and ethnicities, even a unique African-American subset of the population with their own dialect and traditions (could be something that draws Brother Voodoo in). Charleston is also a place with both military and smuggling backgrounds which could play into a lot of secrecy and mystery. So that’s my solution to our location dilemma.
I like the sound of this new Nightstalkers book.
Yes, that was all me with Morgan Le Fay and it took more research than I’ve had to do on one of these in a while. Still, I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had resurrecting a stupid 90’s title like Nightstalkers! I had no idea where we were going to go with this when we started, except I knew that I didn’t want to reunite the original three members of the team. I think we’ve created a very strong book, with the potential for some great character interactions and some really surprising twists for the readers. I love the idea of Drake wanting the pages, and the readers not really being sure why. Is he trying to protect the world from the evil of the Darkhold, or does he have a more sinister agenda?
I also think that Charleston is an interesting choice for a setting. Once you said that, I was tempted to counter with a city that I had forgotten about until you mentioned Charleston: Savannah Georgia, which I think conjures up even more of an atmosphere. However, Charleston is much fresher and an area that hasn’t ever really been tapped, so I agree that we should go with that.
I think one of the things I like about this book is that it would really help two characters. Tigra is a character that has grown on me over the years. She is, in many ways, a very real person. She’s been sometimes written as a one-dimensional flirt, but when a writer really delves into who she is, we find that she’s someone trying to do their best, who doesn’t always find the life of a hero to be an easy one. When Jim Shooter had her join the Avengers decades ago, we saw her falter and run in the face of dangerous menaces. When Steve Englehart used her in the West Coast Avengers, we saw her fighting her cat side, and even contemplating murder to accomplish her goals. She’s not larger than life, and she’s not perfect, but she does try to do the right thing, and she needs a book where she’ll get time in the spotlight (as she tends to be ignored in team books) and get a chance to show what sort of hero she can be.
I also like giving Brother Voodoo a chance to be more than a supporting character. He’s been around the Marvel Universe for decades, either starring in obscure zuvembie stories in the 1970s, or playing sidekick to more powerful magic wielders in later years. I think Marvel has never been entirely comfortable portraying voodoo in their comics, and their discomfort surely hasn’t done Voodoo any favors as far as finding him a permanent home. Perhaps because of this, he’s never been truly explored, either in his abilities as a practitioner of Voodoo, or in his personality. I think this book would be the perfect home to do both those things.
I almost always come away from these revamps thinking that the one I’ve just done is my favorite, but I have to admit, I really like this one.