Title Revamp: Nightstalkers

Jan-07-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, seriously.

Stop laughing!

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

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

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

Honestly, that’s all I’ve got.

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

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

Yes? No? Maybe?

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

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

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

I’m going to ignore Tigra for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dwell on that for a moment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew. Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

I like the sound of this new Nightstalkers book.

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

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

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

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

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


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Dream Team: The Masters of Evil

Dec-01-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you go.

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

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

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

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

Good show!