NewMU: Thor

Jan-25-12

“It’s bad enough that he just had to fight off the brutal Wendigo for the dinner he trapped in the Yukon frontier, but now Thor’s home planet of Asgard is being invaded by alien hordes and he’s being called back to help by his father Odin…or at least someone who looks like Odin.”

I’m going to be honest right up front and say that I always felt that Thor was a bit of an anomaly in the Marvel Universe. He’s considered one of the “Big Three” and has rightfully taken a position of power because of his station and his abilities. However, it has always rubbed me the wrong way that he is considered a “god” and yet fights (and bleeds) alongside common heroes. He has what I like to call the Superman Complex, where he’s been made (or at least assumed so) to be so powerful that you could never imagine him ever actually losing. After years of early Marvel reading, I just kind of accepted Thor as a side effect of superheroes and learned to ignore him.

Then Walt Simonson had an amazing run on the title from 1983-1987 (and also the 1986 Balder miniseries) that dropped Thor into his homeland among his family and natural enemies. I finally had an avenue to view Thor in context. He was just a guy with family problems who was doing his best to not become a frog. I made peace with Thor and took him at face value.

But then, Marvel took things even further. When The Ultimates first launched, they positioned Thor as a delusional hippie. Was he really a god or did he just think he was? And THEN, they went even further in the live-action movie: Thor was actually an alien from the planet Asgard. Whaaaaaaa??????? My mind was blown. Looking at it now, though, it all makes sense. Our NewMU Thor is a mix of all of these things.

I want to embrace the true Viking lore of Thor and I think that can be done quite easily. Think of the word “Thor” as a title instead of a name. The vikings of the early 8th century had a pantheon of which Thor was a member. Most religions are based on some sort of visions or witnessing of supernatural accomplishments. So, let’s say that “Thor” and his other Norse “gods” were simply aliens that had landed on Earth hundreds of years ago. The vikings saw them doing things they couldn’t have possibly done themselves, maybe they interacted at some point and earned the worship of the vikings. I’d like to think that even the most hearty alien wouldn’t live forever. So, over the course of time, one “Thor” was replaced with another “Thor” and the worship continued. Legends were born. Thor was accepted as a part of Earth history.

The current Thor is a lazy drunk who lives in a remote area of Alaska along the Canadian border. He hunts and fishes and drinks with the locals, but no one treats him like any kind of god or even knows that he’s from another planet. He’s just a vaguely Scandinavian dude with low morals and a high tolerance.

There’s a female scientist who just came to town to study the correlation between the Northern Lights and electromagnetic waves that could affect space travel. Her name, obviously, is Jane Foster. Thor takes a shine to her but is horribly awkward when sober and completely offensive when drunk. This makes courting difficult.

Adding to this, there’s the whole problem with shape-shifting Skrulls invading Asgard under the direction of the nigh-omnipotent Thanos. And it doesn’t help that Thor’s half-brother Loki has struck some sort of tenuous deal with the Skrulls to become “governor” of the newly enslaved Asgard when all is said and done. What Loki doesn’t realize is that the shapeshifters have even more dubious ethics than he does and not all is what it seems.

I think the introduction of an alien species that can change shape dovetails nicely into the earthlings first learning about the true existence of the Norse “gods.” Just as we common folk are celebrating how awesome Thor and his people are, it turns out that some of them are actually disguised creeps looking to overtake our planet as well. Gives another layer of xenophobia to it all.

Thor’s powers will be explained away with scientific reasoning. His hammer is made of a metal that reacts differently to our magentic fields, allowing him to use it to “fly” or to “summon lightning.” We can even use the Superman line of varying gravity or atmospheric weight or solar radiation or whatever this month’s origin is to explain why Thor is super-strong and impervious to regular damage. I’m assuming, at some point, that the Olympian gods will be revealed as aliens as well. Hell, maybe even the Hindu or Egyptian pantheons.

That’s a lot to swallow at once. What do you think of that beginning?

I certainly have no problem with Thor as an alien, because I also have never been particularly thrilled with the “gods” of the past being brought in as part of Marvel continuity.  As much as I’ve learned to enjoy the Asgardian and Olympian pantheons in the Marvel Universe, that enjoyment comes in spite of their origins.  I have no problem with discussing religion in modern comics, but the religion discussions that the origins of these characters sparked were rarely very illuminating, and most writers tended to ignore those aspects of their character anyway. 

I absolutely love the idea that these characters aren’t immortal, and that Thor is more of a title.  I’m a huge fan of legacy heroes, and the idea that there were Thors before the current one and will be Thors after he is gone opens up a lot of storytelling possibilities.  We can now tell stories up and down the timeline, and with that one change, we’ve opened up a much richer well of storytelling than if we were discussing one immortal being.  Unfortunately, it also leaves us with a problem.  His father is named Odin?  His brother is Loki?  Are these also hereditary titles, or are we just going to assume that it’s just a coincidence that their names echo the names we know from the former Marvel Universe?  Or does the ruling family of this alien race have to adopt the names of yesteryear, since that’s how the humans knew them when they worshipped them as gods?

I do enjoy your characterization of Thor.  It can make for some interesting interactions as he begins to take his place as a hero, and as he begins to woo Jane Foster.  It gives you someplace to go, and it’s nice that he has some character weaknesses to balance out his extraordinary powers.

I like the idea that Thanos will be a shadowy villain for some time….the readers know someone is behind the Skrulls and directing their attacks, but they don’t know who.  You could keep the Skrulls center stage as villains for years before finally revealing Thanos.  For all his power, I think Thanos is at his best when he’s a plotter.  Yes, he can demolish stars, but if you look at the best Thanos appearances, they are the ones where he’s not involved in direct fighting, but instead schemes from the shadows.  And the Skrulls themselves are brilliant villains, who I think are best if played less as just another interstellar species coming in with lasers flashing, and more as sly saboteurs and spies.  They also fit better in that respect as allies with Loki. 

There’s a lot of potential here, no doubt about that, but there are still some rough spots to smooth over.

The name thing is just how Earth deals with them. I guess over certain generations of Asgardians, it wouldn’t make as much sense but it’s for identification purposes. After hundreds of years, none of the original “relationships” should be valid…the Odin of now couldn’t possibly still be the Thor of today’s father and so on…way too incestuous to explain. But the positions hold true to earthfolk. Thor is the God of Thunder. Loki is the God of Mischief. Blahblahblah.

My favorite part of using the Skrulls, aside from how well they match up with a shadowy, scheming Loki (and an even shadowier, schemier – are those words? – Thanos), is how weirdly a shapeshifting race parallels our concept that the self-duplicating Madrox is somehow at the heart of the NewMU. We’re beginning to weave a sort of background continuity into our titles.

Plus, the Skrulls can pose as friends or allies of Thor and undermine his attempts to prove his true origins to the people of earth. He could just be brushed off as “that crazy drunk who lives in the woods.”

I agree with you on the Skrulls, but first we have to talk about the characters again.  I’m sorry, but I’m not entirely sure your first paragraph in this section actually makes any sense, and I’ve read it three times.  I’m beginning to believe you may be a politican, as I’m not sure you actually said anything in those sentences, but it does sound good if you don’t really stop to think about it.  Let me explain what I think you’re insinuating, and you can let me know if I’m right.  Are you saying that everyone’s names are passed down throughout the ages?  Well, perhaps not everyone’s names….there were certainly plenty of these Asgardians who weren’t named deities, so their names aren’t important.  However, are you saying that when an Odin dies, a new Odin must take his place?  That Odin may not be the current Thor’s father, but he gets “promoted” to the Odin position?  That means that none of the traditional people we associate with the names are going to be who we might suspect.  For example, couldn’t Odin be a woman, if Odin is the leader of this group, and a woman is put (or seizes) that position?  Besides changing the gender of these positions, could we also change the ages and the descriptions?  For example, Odin is often seen as a robust and stout man, but couldn’t he also be very old and infirm?  Could he be younger than Thor?  We could play these same games with Loki or with any other member of this alien tribe that you eventually introduce. 

The other interesting potential of this situation, if what I interpreted above is true, is that we could also shake up the nemesis for Thor.  This Loki could actually be quite a decent bloke, and may not actually be the one who is betraying the Asgardians to the Skrulls.  However, since the Loki of old was a trickster and so many Lokis through the ages have also been tricksters, when things begin to go wrong no one believes this one’s claims of innocence.  The readers eventually find out that the real traitor is Heimdall, who happens to be a right jerk.  When he’s found out, he kills the current Loki and takes that name, saying that he’s tired of watching the name of Loki being dragged through the, uh, meadow (what’s the opposite of dragging a name through the mud?) and is going to show these simpletons what true mischief is!  Then someone new would have to be named the new Heimdall, perhaps someone who now has a special grudge against the new Loki, as the name of Heimdall is now feared and hated by the Asgardians (and really, who would want to be the new Heimdall after the disgrace on the name?  For that reason, it would take a special person to ever want to be named a Loki).

Have I gone way far afield of where you see us?

Yeah…wow. That went way further than I was envisioning it. I do like the idea that the current Loki is actually a nice guy, trying to spit-shine a name that has already been spat upon enough over the ages. But bringing Heimdall into it and then having him try to usurp the “Loki” title is just downright confusing.

I was merely thinking that the names earthlings ascribe to them don’t necessarily mean the same to them on Asgard. Or maybe, over the generations, each title is now a “house” of royalty. So the original Odin was Thor’s father and Loki’s stepfather, but the current holders of those names are only distant cousins at best. It just so happens that the Odins have always been the rulers of Asgard while the Balders, Thors, Lokis and such were just members of the royal court (and vague relations).

Therefore, much like Prince Charles has a recognized but rarely used last name of Windsor (from the House of Windsor), maybe Thor is just this guy’s surname. Let’s call him Elmer Thor. (KIDDING). Is that easier?

And, really, does it matter? On Earth, people will call him Thor. His existence will make people think the Norse gods are real. He’ll try to explain he’s an alien, but other nefarious aliens will say he’s crazy in order to mask their existence. It’s all very deep.

The House of Thor?  You’ve already created Marvel’s next big crossover.  Call Bendis!

But yes, I think it does matter.  Personally, I like my idea, as it gives us a lot of opportunity to really create a unique and fleshed out alien race.  These “titles” are millennia old and quite important to their culture.  Odin is their leader, Thor their protector, Heimdall their guardian, Loki their planner, Tyr their token handicapped guy, etc.  How exactly does this culture go about choosing someone to fill one of these positions when the previous one dies?  Do people vie for these positions?  Are they coveted?  And who would want to be Loki? 

I also think you are way off-base saying my suggested story with a bad Heimdall taking over for a repentent Loki would be confusing.  I have more faith in our readers than that.  And if we learned anything from the Claremont X-Men, it’s that convoluted plots do not preclude a large audience.  However, I recognize a losing fight when I see one, so I’ll back-off.  The names we now know as their “god” names are actually ancient surnames, and someone like Odin is probably Odin XXVII, much like the Tudor dynasty has plenty of Henrys. 

Of course, now I’ve dragged us off course so often that I’ve forgotten where we are.  What were we discussing again?  Skrulls are bad?  Thanos too?  I agree with you on all those points.  Did you have more story beats I can ignore in favor of dragging us down into minutia?

Eh. Your idea still seems too complicated to me. But this back-and-forth is boring me now. How about this? What if we go with my idea for the first year or two of the book and then, in typical comic book fashion, a new writer will come in and retcon everything to your concept? Problem solved.

I really don’t think the specifics of the titles would mean all that much to anyone. They’re all just people on the planet of Asgard. It’s not until they get to Earth that they become “superpowered.” We’re the ones who raise them up to god level, mostly based on the exaggerations of some very primitive minds.

And, reading back over those last two paragraphs, I feel really nerdy.

So yeah. Thor is a lazy drunk guy with a fancy hammer. Thanos is a bad guy who commands an army of shape-changers. Big viking-like fights. Not too much over-the-top dialogue sprinkled with “thous” and “verilys.” Everyone is happy.

You want to talk about the NewMU Avengers yet?

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Making Civil War more Civil

Dec-09-08

I believe that I’ve been somewhat harsh when I’ve discussed Civil War in the past. That may seem unfair. I actually think the general concept of Civil War was interesting, but I believe the execution was flawed. One of the early concepts of our blog was to take concepts that had been done already, but done in a way we felt didn’t live up to the potential these concepts held, and try to find ways to fulfill that potential. That is what we shall now attempt with Civil War. First, let’s start with the basics.

I think that the basics of Civil War are very sound. The government of the United States in the Marvel Universe decides to revive the Superhero Registration Act, a concept that Marvel had discussed during Acts of Vengeance over a decade ago. The general theory behind the Superhero Registration Act makes a lot of sense. After all, in a world where masked vigilantes are so common, there are bound to be a large number of normal people who feel overwhelmed by them. I think this concept does make sense.

Beyond that concept, the idea of heroes being of two minds on the issue, with some supporting registration and some opposing registration, also makes sense. Obviously the heroes of the Marvel Universe aren’t all going to agree on an issue that is this important. Where the actual Civil War comics went wrong was in forcing their heroes to take an all or nothing stance, and especially in roping Captain America and Iron Man into the roles of leaders for the two sides. Marvel wanted a very straight forward fight between heroes, with two sides squaring off in a battle royale. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple, and with an issue as complicated as the Registration Act, the only way to force your characters into the two neat sides that Marvel desired would be to force those characters to behave wildly different than their histories and established personalities would dictate. Marvel took that route, and while that route resulted in some Civil War comics that were decent, the series and tie-ins as a whole were rarely very good.

I think that one of the largest problems with the story of Civil War was the small role played by most of the villains in the Marvel Universe. Yes, they appeared here and there, but most of the story was focused on the heroes fighting each other, and the villains never really capitalized on the chaos to do some real damage. I suppose that, had the villains taken a more active role, it would have forced the heroes to stop beating on each other, which would have derailed the story that Marvel hoped to tell, but in the end, it made for an unsatisfying crossover.

I have some ideas on how I would have told the Civil War story, and I’ll get into specifics. However, before I do specifics, I thought I’d give a general outline, and we can see what Jason thinks.

During the Road to Civil War, we would have seen much of the same thing we saw in the Marvel Universe version, with Congress again discussing the Super Hero Registration Act. I believe that we would have had many of the Marvel Universe heroes testifying before Congress, as they did before. The Fantastic Four, already on record against it, would remain that way. Iron Man, I have always believed, would be against it, as he’s railed against the government many times in his title, and I find it hard to believe that he would suddenly decide that perhaps the government is a trustworthy entity that can be counted on to handle such sensitive data. Captain America, I think, might be for it. Cap is a trained soldier himself, and one who has always stressed the importance of training on his fellow Avengers. While I don’t think he would be rabidly in support of it, I think he might see the wisdom. Spider-Man would not unmask (which was always a stupid gimmick), although he might fall in line with Tony Stark. The lead-in issues are relatively low key, just setting the general mood of the nation.

When the miniseries begins, we start off much like the genuine version: with a giant catastrophe that could have been avoided, but was not. Whether or not we use the New Warriors is something we can discuss, although their role in the beginning of Civil War is something I can live with. But the catalyst that was provided in the first issue of Civil War is important. Now, we have the public point of view turning against superheroes. Considering that Marvel superheroes seem to barely avoid lynch mobs as it is, this is well within reason. We also see some of the attitudes of various superheroes changing with some heroes beginning to believe that perhaps training would be a good idea. Many of Marvel’s superheroes are confused and unsure of their next move.

The government makes things worse when, after the tragedy and under tremendous pressure from the public, they pass the Superhuman Registration Act. Now unregistered heroes are illegal. Those heroes with public identities, like the FF, register, whether they agree with the law or not. After all, it’s the law, and Reed Richards would argue that the only way to defeat it is to fight it from within. Other heroes also register, but for those like Spidey or Daredevil, who are trying to keep their identities secret, the decision is tougher. They could decide not to go into action in their costumed identities, but of course, it’s hard to ignore someone in danger, so they no doubt would suit up, where they would come under fire from policeman and federal agents. I’m sure SHIELD would also be ordered to stop any superhuman who wasn’t registered. The Civil War has begun, but right now, it’s more a tale of atmosphere and dread, without clearly drawn sides. Then, as the first issue ends, we see someone is getting organized; the villains.

We start the second issue with the villains beginning to understand that they are at a great advantage. Many of the heroes who keep the streets clean are in hiding, and while they may come out of hiding to stop the villains, doing so places the heroes at a great disadvantage, with law enforcement officials as interested in arresting them as they are in arresting the bad guys. Some of the top criminals like the Kingpin and the new Mandarin begin gathering allies and preparing massive crime waves. In the meantime, the few registered heroes are working around the clock trying to keep crime down, since they no longer have a lot of help and a few of the non registered heroes are caught and thrown in jail. Their identities are now publicly known, so they might as well register, but now their lives are thrown into turmoil, as those around them may be in danger.

We could add in various subplots (I have a few in mind), but this all leads to the last issue of Civil War, where the villains come out in force, attacking the registered heroes. The unregistered heroes see their friends fighting a losing battle, so they come to help. SHIELD and other law enforcement authorities see what is happening as well, so they intervene. This way, we can end the series with a battle royale, as the heroes fight the villains, with SHIELD and its allies taking down anyone who isn’t a registered hero (villains and unregistered heroes both).

Thoughts? It would be more difficult to write and wouldn’t contain quite as many “big moments”, but I do think it could be interesting and exciting and could still end with a big bang. However, I value your honest opinion and perhaps you have some ideas for the general direction which would work better. Once we have a general direction we agree on, we can go into the details.

I don’t think our version of Civil War would lack in “big moments,” I just think ours would make more sense…for example, NOT killing Black Goliath with a fake Thor that came out of nowhere and then had no purpose later in the miniseries either. I would like to think we might have a better grasp on who would fall on each side of the argument (y’know, actually backed up with some rationale instead of just which costumes looked cooler facing off against each other). We’d probably have a better explanation for the decision to use villains to hunt down heroes…that whole Prison 42 thing…Jack O’Lantern’s head exploding to reveal pumpkin inside…the semi-coherent reasoning behind the Atlantean sleeper cells…and dozens of other things.

I would also like to retcon that whole “Norman Osborn shoots an Atlantean ambassador” nonsense, considering this shadowy benefactor of his was never revealed (that I can remember). Plus, even in the face of what would probably amount to treason by trying to kill a foreign diplomat on US soil, Osborn is then handed the reins of the government’s defense system at the end of Secret Invasion. Say WHAT?!?

Oh, and there’s the small problem of Tony Stark hiring a dude to attack him disguised as Titanium Man in an effort to show the government why they should NOT pass the SHRA…and then suddenly changing his mind and becoming the staunchest supporter of the SHRA on the face of the planet.

I have to even disagree with John on the relevance of the Stamford incident. Is this supposed to carry more weight because it didn’t involve a skyscraper tumbling down in Manhattan? No one ever talks about all the people displaced, maimed or even killed by superhuman activity every day in New York City! I’d also like to know when it became customary to try to crucify the only survivor of a horrible nuclear blast as a child killer? When did Speedball ever do anything to anyone?

At the same time, I agree that there was a gigantic missed opportunity to show the villains’ upper hand in this debacle. There should have been ridiculous ramp-ups in crime levels, looting and general unease. I would’ve expected full-scale riots and hate crimes and all sorts of activities in the face of something this massive and controversial. Instead, we got some melodrama over a couple of spandex-clad grown men glaring at each other. And they couldn’t even kill a major character off during the whole thing. Civil War? Brother against brother? Hell, the only brother anyone was against was Bill Foster…and he got offed by perhaps the biggest Aryan power freak in the entire Marvel Universe (or at least a cybernetic clone of him). Symbolic much?

Iron Man would’ve been on the anti-government side, by all rational accounts. Sure, he has big defense contracts and his hands in pretty much every black ops program in existence, but that would just give him more clarity on how easily the government could screw something like this up. Plus, he’s all about himself. His entire career is built on doing things his way and being better than everyone else. He wouldn’t kowtow to this kind of authority. Cap, on the other hand, has a general goodwill towards the government, believing (naively at times) that they always have the people’s best interests in mind. He protects the flag and all that it stands for. Hell, he was created because of the Draft…I doubt he would see this as anything other than a newfangled version of that program. We’d have to examine the other major players to see who would fall on what side. Off the top of my head, I see the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and maybe Ms. Marvel as Pro-SHRA, mainly because of their public identities and/or ties to the military. Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher and pretty much every mutant would be Anti-SHRA for obvious reasons. The villains would, for the most part, go underground and all but the boldest would stay there. Why? Well, it’s not very easy to be a bad guy when the government has your entire life on file. They wouldn’t want to risk being captured at all.

I like the idea of having a prologue to the event. Was there such a thing? I don’t remember any official preamble…though I guess a lot of this was being set up in various titles before the miniseries hit the stands. If it could be properly disseminated throughout a breadth of titles, then we could start the first issue of the Civil War series off with a big event. I’m curious to see where you think this will head. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some details that stuck out for me the first time I read the series. Have at it and we’ll see where it goes!

Ok, so we start with a prologue. I think that we need to do a few things in this timeframe (I’d say 6-8 months before Civil War starts). First of all, I’d love to start this ball rolling with the campaign for Senator, and eventual win, of Henry Peter Gyrich. The man has been a part of the Washington power scene for decades, so he must have a lot of favors to call in, and he’d be a perfect conservative Republican candidate for Senator somewhere. I think watching his Senate campaign happening in the background of a few books (the Avengers would certainly have an interest in this, the X-Men would probably follow it, and it would show up in Spider-Man’s book since all the news of the Marvel Universe is reported by the Daily Bugle) would be a great way to kick things off. One of the main facters of his campaign would be the SHRA, a law which Gyrich has supported in the past. By making the passage of this law one of the major issues in his platform, we not only get to see the heroes following his campaign, but everytime there is massive property damage or questionable behavior on the part of any hero, Gyrich will be there to take advantage of it for his campaign. This happens for a few months, and then Gyrich is elected.

Gyrich is acting out of what he truly believes are in the best interests of the United States, and certainly you can make a strong argument for why the SHRA is a good idea. However, Gyrich needs allies. I propose introducing another Senator who will offer Gyrich his full support. We can name this senator later, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a male or female. What’s important about this second senator is that he’s really a Skrull. Yes, this was done during the original Kree/Skrull War, when a politician was revealed to be a Skrull in disguise, but let’s be honest; it works well, it’s a smart move for the Skrulls (hey, they have one gimmick, and they’re going to use it to their best advantage) and it gives us another face behind the SHRA (I think one of the weaknesses of Civil War is that we never really knew anyone in the government who helped to pass this legislation. It simply happened, and it left the reader feeling very unconnected to the event). Now, our Skrull politician will NOT be revealed as a Skrull during Civil War. He’s just going to be introduced in various titles, as Gyrich’s main partner is pushing the passage of the SHRA. We’ll focus more on the character in Secret Invasion.

So, these two spearhead the push of the SHRA, which takes another 2-4 months in our time. Again, this should play out in the background of more and more books, and again, anytime a hero (or even villain) does something reckless or which results in property damage or loss of life, Gyrich and his allies will be there to use it to justify their campaign. We also see this playing a larger role in the various titles of the MU, as we see heroes begin to take a stand on the issue. I agree that Cap would support it, as would Ms. Marvel. I agree that Iron Man would oppose it. Now, the Fantastic Four have opposed it in the past, but I could see an issue of their title where Iron Man comes to them to ask them to continue to oppose it, and Cap comes to them to ask for their support. Both characters can make strong, convincing arguments, and the FF feels a little awkward and uncomfortable being placed in the unique position of having to offend one of the most well known and respected characters in the MU, no matter which side they choose. In the end, they decide to remain silent, explaining to both Cap and Iron Man they they didn’t want to upset either of them. Unfortunately, staying silent is really a win for Cap and Gyrich and Stark is not happy with this decision. The FF will have to grapple with this later in the miniseries, as they’re confronted with the fact that, had they acted, they might have prevented the passage of the SHRA.

The problem that those opposing the SHRA have is that most of them can’t testify against it, since most of them have secret identities. This is what made the FF’s testimony against the SHRA so invaluable during Acts of Vengeance, and makes their silence in this case so damning. Stark can testify against the act, since his identity is known, and he may try to convince others (like Spider-Man) to announce their identities so they can testify, but I doubt that many heroes would be willing to go to that extent. That leaves Stark and perhaps Luke Cage as the only heroes who can really take a stand against the Act, and it doesn’t look good for those who oppose it.

Meanwhile, the villains are paying attention. All the villains would know what is happening, but it would be particularly apparent to those like the Kingpin, who’s been shown to have contacts throughout different levels of government in the past (and may even be throwing his influence behind Gyrich, albeit surreptitiously). The villains can see that it’s likely the SHRA will pass, and if it does, it’s going to hamstring some of their biggest foes, like Spider-Man and Daredevil. Yes, the villains may be concerned about being caught, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be any worse for them to be caught now than it was before the passage; after all, when they got caught before the SHRA passed, they still had their identities discovered by the government who could dig up anything on their pasts that they wanted. I think this is when the Kingpin begins to gather his forces, waiting for what he knows is inevitable. Again, we’d see this in various titles, usually just a page or so an issue, as the Kingpin recruits his forces.

Now, I’ve typed a lot, just for the prologue, but I want to stop and get your reaction. Are we on the same page? I think this sets things up logically. It introduces our main supporters of the SHRA, giving it the face it lacked before (and for a bill like this to pass, it’s going to have to have some strong supporters). It begins to build some tension in the MU between various heroes, and we begin to see how things could possibly go. And, it also shows us that the villains are paying attention and are prepared to capitalize on current events. It makes the MU feel like a real live place. Agreed?

The big question now is, do we have a large event that is the catalyst Gyrich needs to push for final passage?

Now wait just a second. If I understand you correctly, you want Civil War to actually have a plot, right? That just blows…my…mind. Maybe it’s because it has been drummed into my head repeatedly for the last two or three years by the powers-that-be, but I always just assumed that things spontaneously happened within the Marvel U. No rhyme or reason, just consequences and fight scenes. It’s like a revelation from on high to have a buildup with rational pacing, and sub-stories, and behind-the-scenes characters, and actual thought processes. I’m stunned.

As you can tell from my heavy sarcasm, I felt that the reasoning behind Civil War was, for lack of a better word, nonexistent. Even though they tried to shoehorn in some pathos with the blowing up of a school and the whole fake Thor shooting a fake thunderbolt through Giant-Man (or whatever name he was going by at the time…and what was with him not being shrunken back down to normal size before being buried?), the series still lacked any real emotion. The heroes were like empty shells going through the paces. There was very little overreaction to the events or the legislation or the hero hunting. At least by adding a political slant to the background, you’ve planted that seed of “something is bound to come of this.” I believe, the word is “foreshadowing.” Maybe someone at Marvel could send Mark Millar a dictionary for Christmas.

It makes a lot of sense to start having some public pushback on these destructive incidents involving superheroes. We’ve talked about it before and I still can’t believe that any civilians in the Marvel Universe would ever leave their homes for fear of having a giant robot/spaceship/sentient plant/skyscraper/dimension-altering weapon dropped on their heads. Honestly, I can’t believe that a teeny, tiny nuclear explosion outside an elementary school in Connecticut would be the singular event to cause such an uproar. Things don’t just go from calm to natural disaster at the drop of a hat…you can see these things building and rising and coming from miles away. It would be refreshing to have something proactive happen in superhero comics instead of always being so defensive and reactionary.

Gyrich is a good figurehead…and someone who could play a large role in Marvel’s government for years to come. I know I mentioned him in passing during our Marvel Presidential Candidates post. The guy has both the experience and the inside knowledge of superhero activity. I could also see Valerie Cooper getting involved in some of the goings-on. The senior staff from Damage Control would probably be testifying before Congress too. And, of course, I think we’d hear from both Stark Industries (from the military-industrial corner) and Rand Corporation (from the infrastructure and charity angle). Foggy Nelson may even be asked to serve as counsel for someone, since he has a lot of experience defending superpowered individuals. I think that cast of political and legal characters would effectively cover the bases of Marvel’s titles from Avengers to X-Men to the rest of the Marvel U.

This sort of backstory may end up leading to less hero-versus-hero clashes and double-page spreads, but it could lead to a different set of conflicts altogether. Instead of just having Cap going toe-to-toe with Tony, we could inject the villains into the equation and make it a three-sided battle. Everyone wants their piece (or “peace” depending on which side you’re on). And it would make things that much more volatile with everyone having to not only watch their back, but their sides as well…who’s your friend, who’s your enemy?

I like your prologue. It has necessary meat. Where do you see it going from there?

Well, I never got your opinion as to whether or not an actual event was needed to kick things off in the first issue, and lead to the final passage of the SHRA, but I’m going to say that it’s necessary. So, as we enter the actual Civil War series, the first issue begins with a group of New Warriors trying to stop some bad guys. I’d prefer to ditch the reality TV concept. Certainly, no portrayal of Night Thrasher that I’ve ever read would have him agreeing to something like that (he’s in it for the justice, not the fame) and I think that made the Warriors seem too shallow, which is unfair to some of them who have a long history in the MU of being fine, upstanding heroes. Ok, that might be a little much, but honestly, these kids are doing their best and attempting to do the right thing. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if we get rid of the crass Reality Show spin, it actually makes this story all the more tragic. Instead of a bunch of shallow jerks blowing up themselves and some kids, we have good people who are trying to be heroes, and through a simple mistake, end up causing the death of so many.

Where are we? Ah yes, New Warriors fight bad guys, including Nitro, who blows up real good, killing a lot of kids, and some of the Warriors he was fighting. Nitro got some extra power from one of the Kingpin’s subordinates, since the Kingpin thought that juicing up someone who’s power is already very destructive could likely lead to the sort of situation that would provide a groundswell of support for the SHRA. The public hears about the disaster, and thanks to a handheld video which was filmed by a tourist (or heck, someone could have filmed it on their phone), the public sees the Warriors fighting these guys and can see the mistake the kids make.

Now, this might not have been a big deal otherwise. However, Gyrich descends on the scene of the tragedy with his allies and inflates the story into a tale of selfish superheroes and innocent children. He gets the public riled up about it, and a month later, the SHRA passes (I think an incident like this could incite public sentiment, if someone helped push that sentiment, and also if the public was leaning towards frustration with heroes before the incident even occurred). It is now illegal for non-registered superhumans to act. Some heroes register; basically, those heroes with public identities, or those that work for the government anyway. Captain America, of course, and the Fantastic Four are the first to register. However, Cap makes it clear to Gyrich and the government that the heroes will NOT hunt down and capture each other. Gyrich isn’t happy about this, but he does remind Cap that, while Cap may not wish to seek out heroes, if an unregistered superhuman is spotted by Cap, Cap is duty bound to bring that hero in. Cap reluctantly agrees to this, and the other registered heroes do as well.

We also check in with the villains, and see the Kingpin and Mandarin readying their forces to take advantage of the plight of the heroes. Is there much to take advantage of? Oh yes, you better believe it. Cap and the Fantastic Four are still around and fighting the good fight, but the Avengers disband, since the team is torn in two. Cap supports the act, but Wolverine, Spider-Man and Iron Man all oppose it, and they leave the team. Since Stark funds the team, he also tells Cap that they won’t be able to meet anymore in his Tower. Cap pleads with them to come around and support the SHRA, but they refuse, and they start to lay low. That leaves few of the heroes around to battle villains, and the villains take advantage of it by starting a crime wave that plagues New York City. The heroes are stretched thin, and the Human Torch finds himself fighting a powerful trio of villains on his own: the Sandman, Titania and Absorbing Man. The rest of his colleagues are fighting elsewhere on the island of Manhattan, and the Torch is having problems defeating this terrible trio. It doesn’t look good for the Human Matchstick.

Peter Parker, however, hears about the raging battle either on the news, or at the Daily Bugle, or perhaps he simply is passing by. He can’t let his friend by killed by these dastardly villains, so he changes to Spider-Man to help out. The fight is a difficult one, and the Human Torch is eventually knocked unconscious, badly wounded during the melee. Spider-Man eventually ekes out a win, but he’s tired and wounded himself. Just then, the police and SHIELD arrive. The Torch is rushed to the hospital, while the villains are all placed under arrest…as is Spider-Man. When he’s taken to the prison, he’s unmasked, and the news teams at the site are quick to make sure that the entire world knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man! End of issue one.

Now, why did I duplicate two of the big events from the early stages of Civil War? I basically did it to show that the big events Marvel had planned for this miniseries were fine and could be used, but they could be used in a way that fit the plot, rather than simply being thrown into the mix without thought as to whether or not they made sense for the character. By duplicating the events but not the circumstances surrounding the events, we could take the repercussions in many new directions. Over the next few issues of the limited series, we see Spider-Man faced with a dilemma; his secret identity is known, but he’s stuck in prison, so who’s protecting his wife and aunt? Spidey feels he has no real choice if he wants to protect those he loves the most, so he breaks out of jail to find the ladies in his life and get them to safety. His jailbreak in issue two would be the big event of that issue, made even more dramatic when he finds he can’t escape without the help of the Sandman, who’s also been sent to prison. The two reluctant allies escape, and once they’re free, Spidey lets Sandman go, vowing to find him and bring him down as soon as he’s made sure his wife and aunt are safe. (This is another layer of guilt for Peter, especially if the Sandman is part of any dastardly plots before Peter can get to him; Peter is always at his best when he’s swimming in guilt.)

Peter won’t find his aunt and wife in the second issue however. He makes his way back to the house where they’d been staying after leaving Avengers Tower, and he sees May and MJ in an upstairs window. As he rushes to the house, anxious to hold them (but not at the same time…ewwww!) the house explodes! Peter is distraught, and sure that his loved ones are dead, giving him a major mad on for anyone who supports the SHRA. Typically, Parker’s life is not going to be getting any easier, as Gyrich is using Spidey’s presence at the Torch debacle as the reason one of the FF is now in a coma at the hospital. The FF don’t quite believe that, but some of the public does, and these people really hate Spidey now. Peter doesn’t care though, and in issue three, he goes after one of the SHRA boosters (possibly Cap) blaming them for May’s and MJ’s death. Cap doesn’t want to fight Spidey and he tries to talk, but as anyone who’s read an angry Spidey comic knows, sometimes he doesn’t really listen. However, after a large public brawl (which Gyrich again spins to make Spidey look bad, contributing to the ugly public mood regarding him), Iron Man swoops in, and captures Spidey, taking him away from the battlefield.

Spider-Man still has his dander up, and is incredibly angry, but Stark calms him down by explaining that May and MJ are alive. After Stark saw Peter’s identity revealed on TV, he immediately went and got his aunt and wife, taking them back to his current hideout. He left holographic projections of them at their old house, so that anyone aiming to hurt the ladies might go through with their plans, and then assuming the ladies were dead, they would move on to other things. Spidey has a tearful reunion with two people he thought dead forever, but now he has to deal with his actions against Cap.

Meanwhile, just to pick up on the Torch thread, we see that the Torch’s injury is really causing the FF some grief. Reed is trying to argue that Spidey’s interference in the battle is what got the Torch wounded in the first place (since that’s the story Gyrich is spinning), but neither Sue or the Thing really believe it, and it’s obvious that Reed’s heart isn’t in it either. At the same token, Reed still believes the FF need to toe the line regarding this law, and that outright rebellion will only make things worse, inflaming public opinion and convincing Americans that superheroes are indeed out of control, proving Gyrich’s point. Thing and Sue aren’t as convinced, and the first cracks in the FF are planted here, as the team begins to splinter, each of them wrestling with the correct course of action.

Whew! This is just a taste of what we could do in the first few issues; we still haven’t discussed what the final plan is of the Kingpin and Mandarin (you know they have one; in fact, I’m sure they each have a different one that they aren’t sharing with their “ally”), nor have we touched on a lot of the other heroes in the MU. Any thoughts on your end on either what I’ve suggested, or some things you’d like to do in the series?

I wish I could remember all the details as well as you have. For some reason (probably “event fatigue”) I keep getting my Civil War plot points confused with the relatively sparse plot points of Secret Invasion…which I’m sure we’ll cover next, right?

I find it fascinating that you were able to keep many of the original scenes by retrofitting them to our new (logical) direction. Makes me wonder what the writers actually do at one of those Marvel retreats. I mean, you made it all sound so easy in two brief explanations, and it flows from one pragmatic conclusion to the next. Do they just play Twister all weekend and then pick names and storylines out of a hat to mix and match?

Since I can’t seem to pin down any details on my own to exploit, let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment instead. The whole fake Thor thing has been trashed now. Completely and utterly useless. Which is fine. However, the big fight scene where he made his debut has also been scraped since the heroes are not really fighting amongst themselves en masse. Will there be any sort of significant death that we can tally up? Is this a matter of some second-string villain getting the public dirt nap? Or a less important hero falling at the hands of the villains?

To the bigger point, with Cap and Tony on reversed sides in this thing, we’ve eliminated the relevance of Nick Fury helping out Cap. Where do Tony and his band of rebels hole up now? I think we also put the kibosh on the Thunderbolts involvement, which removes the tragically dumb move of putting Osborn in charge of anything. At the same time, with Tony on the anti-SHRA side, he would no longer be in line to take over SHIELD.

So, while I’m following the show on the ground, with the FF and Spidey and the press and the politics, I’m still left wondering what the big picture is for the heroes and villains and what the shake-up will be at the end. Is there a Negative Zone prison? Are the villains shipped off to concentration camps? Is the 50-state Initiative still valid? Have you thought that far ahead? Do my questions help at all? Hello? Hello?

I think your questions help quite a bit, and they also give me a chance to draw out a more general picture, so that I’m not just doing an issue by issue summary of how I see the series going. Let me try and take them one at a time.

Yes, no Thor clone, and certainly no pathetic death of Bill Foster. That was so lame. That being said, it wouldn’t be a summer crossover without at least one high profile death (if one can call Foster a high profile death; with all due respect to the late, lamented Giant-Man/Goliath, he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite). Now, we potentially killed some of the New Warriors in the beginning of the series, just as the official Civil War did. But I also believe we can have death during the miniseries as well. One of the things I haven’t mentioned detailed during these discussions is just what the villains are up to, and I’m not going to start now. However, I will say that the villains are very active. In fact, I’ve figured out a way to work the Thor clone into the storyline, so let’s continue using the events of the original mini-series, shall we?

By the middle of the mini-series, it’s becoming obvious that some of the citizens of the MU aren’t really very happy with the way things are going. The fights between the superheroes and the villains are causing a lot of property damage and most of the unregistered heroes are lying low, meaning that the superheroes that are registered are having a hard time keeping up with the constant villain attacks (we’re checking in with our rebels every issue; they’re being led by Stark and are mostly holed up in one of his safe houses). There are fights between heroes. Usually they occur when Stark’s forces learn of an impending villain attack, or when they learn of a villain-hero brawl that’s threatening to overwhelm the heroes. Then the rebels will go to assist the heroes or stop the villains. Unfortunately, being the MU, this doesn’t always work out so well. The registered heroes are under orders to arrest the unregistered ones, and by this time, they’re getting a little pissy with those who won’t register. After all, the sanctioned heroes are working their keisters off trying to keep order, they’ve seen one of the rebels batter Captain America (that would be Spider-Man, mentioned above) and some of the registered heroes can’t help but blame the rebels for the injuries and property damage the villains are causing. So, anytime the two sides get together, there will be a fight.

Into the midst of the registered heroes comes Bill Foster, whose career as a hero has always been somewhat rocky. He registers with the government hoping that perhaps, now that the hero playing field has been thinned, he can grab some attention. Don’t get me wrong; he’s not a total jerk just looking for headlines. Foster has always been a hero, and still is, but he’s also not above taking advantage of the situation while it’s front page news. Still, public sentiment seems to be moving away from registration, and this won’t do for the Kingpin or the Mandarin. They need more time for their endgame and that means they need to make sure that the Civil War continues. So, they decide to come up with a fiendish plan (as villains are wont to do). Knowing that Thor hasn’t been seen in awhile, but also knowing that he would surely object to mortals telling him what to do, they decide that perhaps he could be the perfect fall guy in their scheme.

Nightshade, working for the baddies, begins moving around the country, spending brief moments at some of the sites of Thor’s most recent battles before his death. At these sites, she searches for and collects any data on Thor, and with the help of someone like Sabretooth (someone with enhanced senses) collects any DNA samples that still exist, if any). She also, with help from some of the other operatives in the villain’s employ, breaks into Avengers Tower (and because the registered heroes are stretched so thin, this proves possible. They also catch a break when Jarvis, who should be able to activate the automatic defenses at the tower, but makes a few poor choices and is knocked unconscious instead. That’s a plot thread to follow up on in Secret Invasion.) and raids the computer files for information on Thor. With all of this information, she returns to her fully stocked lab and, with the help of other criminal scientists like Karl Malus, she creates a clone of Thor. Dr. Faustus helps to program the clone Thor’s mind, and makes sure to fill the Thor clone with a lot of anti-SHRA rhetoric. This clone isn’t perfect (or as powerful as Thor), but it doesn’t have to be. Now, the villains simply await their chance.

Within a few days, another villains attack draws out both registered heroes, with Bill Foster among them, and the rebels. Soon, the villains either are captured or escape, and it’s just the heroes fighting. The sanctioned heroes are tired, and this exacerbates the issues I mentioned above, and the two sides are soon fighting in earnest. The media, of course, records all of this, and Gyrich and his allies continue to use these fights as proof that the unregistered heroes are threats to the country. However, no one expects the scoop they are about to get. Suddenly the Thor clone flies into the fight, spouting the anti-SHRA rhetoric that Faustus programmed into him. Thor is violent and brutal, way over the top, but the cameras are picking all of this up, and he does look and sound like the public assumes Thor would, and he seems to have Thor’s powers. Before the Thor clone is there too long, he lashes out with his lightning, killing Bill Foster. Both the registered and unregistered heroes are stunned, and Stark quickly calls for a retreat (the clone Thor flees then as well, whipping up a storm to discourage pursuit, which helps to maintain the illusion of him being a rebel, but then goes another way once he’s out of view of the TV cameras). The rebels flee, but to the eyes of the world, and to the eyes of the registered heroes, the rebels have crossed the line. This inflames public opinion against them and also incites some of the registered heroes to be even more upset (while the Thor clone seemed off to them, and some may suspect the truth, again, these guys are tired and frustrated, so they’re not all thinking too deeply on the matter).

So, there’s that event covered. What else did you ask? No, Tony wouldn’t take over SHIELD, but Captain America now can. Of course, we want to assassinate him at the end of the crossover (because Brubaker is doing such neat things with that plot in Cap’s own book, and really, Bucky would look silly in the Iron Man armor), but for now, we could make him head of SHIELD throughout the crossover, and Fury could help Stark (it wouldn’t be the first time they were uneasy allies, and I think they make a much more interesting duo than Cap and Fury anyway).

At first glance, I’m saying no on the Negative Zone prison, which I always hated. Of course, with villains and heroes being captured by the government, they’re going to need a place to hold them, and if I’m not mistaken, all of the current government prisons for superpowered captives use Stark tech. So, the government turns to Reed Richards to create a place to put these superpowered people, where the superpowered people can’t escape and Stark can’t use his inside knowledge of security systems to cause a breakout. Now, Reed may be brilliant, but he’s already stretched thin, and he doesn’t have much time. He needs a place that’s impregnable, and he knows of somewhere like that: the Negative Zone. He’s not thrilled with that solution, but really, the captives are going to be stuck in the prison, and will never see the outside. What does it matter where the prison sits, either the Negative Zone or Butte Montana, to the prisoner sitting inside it. So, the Negative Zone prison is still around.

As for the 50 State Initiative, that ties in with the question of how we end our Civil War miniseries. Goodness knows, I thought the end to the original MU miniseries was one of the most stupid anticlimaxes I had ever remembered for a big event. I would like to think that we could wrap things up a little more tightly. The last issue would have the Kingpin and Mandarin’s plots coming to fruition, and a huge villain attack (with the Thor clone participating), which both registered and unregistered heroes involved. Once the villains are defeated, the heroes on both sides would go at it, with Cap and Iron Man fighting each other above it all. Cap would be talking to Iron Man, trying to convince him that he needs to surrender. After all, Cap could reason, the SHRA IS law, and if that is going to change, it’s going to need to change by fighting within the system. Stark’s way is only making things worse, and while he doesn’t blame Stark for Foster’s death, surely this rebellion made that death possible. Stark realizes that what Cap is saying makes sense, and he surrenders (I think it makes more sense that Cap could sway Stark with words, rather than Cap looking around a battlefield and going, “My bad.”).

That wraps up the series. Captain America is the one who suggests the 50 State Initiative, as a way of trying to convince the heroes who haven’t registered to do so. He holds a press conference to discuss this, and during the conference, he’s assassinated by someone yelling “Fascist!” That puts it just about where the MU was after Civil War, with the exception of Stark as head of SHIELD. You’d need someone else to fill that slot, and I think a lot of people could take his place and some great stories could come out of that. I’d think Ms. Marvel might make sense, or if you really want to tie this story into Secret Invasion, how about making Dr. Pym the head of SHIELD. That could be very interesting….

Thoughts?

First of all, “Reed may be brilliant, but he’s already stretched thin” is probably the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Secondly, and this one is not as funny, I’m disappointed in this turn of events. The reason I continue to point out the fake Thor in every reply is because I find the whole concept to be sooooo out of left field as to be nonsensical. And then killing off Goliath (just who is White Goliath, by the way?) just adds to the nonsense. Look, here’s a character that no one has seen (aside form a few appearances) for roughly two decades or more and then he shows up only to be killed off? Ignoring the fact that he had given up the heroing bit to become a serious scientist, it still smacks of over-convenience which itself is a sign of bad writing. I was sure you were going to just let these bits of the story fade away. Who would really come up with the ludicrous idea of cloning a God in the midst of a Civil War? Wow…now that I said it out loud, it is kind of a brilliant idea…but that’s part of the problem too! If you could’ve seen this coming and sat around and daydreamed about the far-reaching possibilities for months on end, then sure, you may have come up with this ludicrous plan. But to just pull it out of your back pocket and casually throw it on the table? Your allies would either laugh at you or have you committed. And don’t drag poor ol’ Bill Foster into your scheme! What did he ever do to anyone? And where’s the significance? He’s not the “go for the glory” type. He has never craved the spotlight or sought unnecessary recognition. That said, your explanation of the cloning quest was pretty spot-on. Kudos for that.

Honestly? I would much rather see a member of the Young Avengers sacrificed for the cause…the new female Hawkeye never did anything for me. She’s disposable. And just the simple fact that she’s so young and new would allow the loss to resonate even more and reinforce the pro-SHRA’s drive for training and discipline. Granted, you don’t have the literal deus ex machina of Thor appearing from out of nowhere (after months of absence), killing a hero, and then disappearing in a puff of smoke, but it could still be managed. You have an unnamed assailant assassinate Cap as he’s ascending to the helm of SHIELD. Why couldn’t this same villain pull the trigger on Hawkeye in the midst of all the hero versus hero chaos? There must be a shape-shifter or marksman somewhere amongst the villainous ranks that we could appropriate for the dastardly deed. If the villains have all been captured or chased away, and the method of attack was parallel to that of a well-known hero, then the media would have a field day with placing the blame on the rebel faction. And the rest of the story could play itself out as you’ve described.

Or, conversely, here’s our opportunity to make Punisher relevant again (since he’s spent the last decade or so becoming a horrible caricature of himself…a soulless, cliched leftover from the “grim-n-gritty” vigilante era of comics). Good ol’ Frank is such a devotee to Captain America and the quasi-military feel of the superhero crowd, that he maniacally follows the SHRA to the letter. He takes it upon himself to stomp out the menace of the rebel heroes and he doesn’t care who gets in his way. Since Spidey actually had the audacity to lay his hands upon Cap, Frank decides he needs to take him out. Only problem is, Spidey senses the danger and dodges the shot…as a result, Hawkeye takes one for the team. This could be the turning point in the media coverage. The so-called heroes have now killed one of their own (in theory) and both sides have growing doubts about the SHRA. Not sure what the fallout would be there, but it puts the onus on the other side to prove this can work. Gyrich, being a politician, can play both sides against each other. He’d claim that the SHRA would be good for everyone, sanctioned heroes included. And Punisher would be made the scapegoat (he could benefit from the depth).

I’m not sold on the Negative Zone prison either. It didn’t really seem to serve a purpose considering how easily folks broke out of it anyway. It may as well just be a part of the Fifty State Initiative…not just training, but rehabilitation. Perhaps the jail could be an extension of Camp Hammond (which would make Taskmaster’s involvement more reasonable…he could be training villains to be heroes as part of a community service sentence).

As for the SHIELD thing, Cap would be the obvious selection. His assassination is the true icing on the cake for the event (and I think it should take place during Civil War and not in his own title). The American people would finally feel at ease with a government official and begin to believe in better days ahead. And then POW! Looking ahead to upcoming events, we know that the Skrulls gain control of SHIELD during Secret Invasion. Since you’ve already brought up the issue in Gyrich’s run for political prominence, why not have the other senator who’s posing as a Skrull become the new head of SHIELD? The government seeks more oversight of the organization and more control, so they name one of their own to run it. Makes sense on paper.

And finally, does Tony Stark have safe houses? I know he has vacation homes and scads of real estate investments, but does he have “drop off the grid” accommodations? I just ask because it seems funny to imagine this billionaire playboy skulking about in abandoned sewer tunnels. There would be a much more interesting dynamic between Stark and Fury, making for an uneasy alliance in the face of so much upheaval. On the plus side, since most of Marvel’s America operates on Stark technology, it’s easy to imagine how the rebels could set up quick response teams to deal with the villains and such. They would have eyes and ears everywhere and access to almost every computer in the country.

So, to recap, I was completely on board with the beginnings of your revamp, but there are a few things here in the middle that I disagree with. Maybe I’m just being picky, but I think there’s a lot of potential to turn this mediocre miniseries into something more long-lasting and meaningful. Do you agree with any of the points I’ve made? Any ideas how we can implement the suggestions I offered?

I agree with ALL of the points you offer (and I’m even ok with the killing of the new Hawkeye, despite being a fan of her character and of the Young Avengers in general).  The ONLY reason I used the clone Thor, killed Goliath and brought in the Negative Zone prison was to point out that all of the big ideas from the published version of Civil War could still be used, and they could be worked into a plot more seamlessly than they were by Mark Millar.  However, with that point made (probably in much more detail than was required) we can go back to putting together a Civil War story that makes more sense and flows even better, and I think your suggestions do that.

Your comments about Tony Stark and safehouses makes sense; he probably wouldn’t necessarily have them, and certainly his partnership with Fury is a lot more interesting if the safehouses are something Fury brings to the table.  It sets up a much better dynamic between them, and puts the two of them on more equal footing, making for more interesting chemistry between them.

We could go on and on about our Civil War, but I think that we’ve detailed it pretty well, with my beginning and your middle and end.  In the long run, we end up almost where the Marvel Universe was at the end of their Civil War, with only Stark being in a drastically different place (but, I think in the end, a much more interesting one for that character.  It’s also a place that keep him a hero, rather than turning him into the fascist ass he became in the MU).  I suppose that Bill Foster’s in a different place as well, being alive rather than dead, but considering he was languishing in Limbo before he was brought back simply to die, there’s not a lot of difference.  We’ll just continue to allow him to languish in limbo.

So, considering the length of the post, I think our work here is done.  Perhaps we can go through this same process again in the future with Secret Invasion, another mini-series with a great premise that was never fulfilled.


Can’t See the Forest For the Continuity.

Apr-25-08

Science! While never one of my favorite subjects in school, I do remember a few precious scientific facts about our world and the things in it. Trees, for instance. I recall learning that there are basically two types of trees: those that seasonally lose their leaves and those that do not. The seasonal types are called deciduous. The others are called evergreen, because, well, they’re always green. Educational lesson aside, here is where I’m headed with this thing. Comics have more in common with tress than merely the paper they’re printed on. If you think about it, the continuity behind comics falls into the same two categories as the types of trees. And the same can be said about many other forms of mass entertainment. The pros and cons of both types are something I want to examine further.

Let’s start with the easier explanation. Evergreen continuity is the basic history of any superhero comic. Each plotline is held as canon for the next. Characters branch off and develop their own roots in the comic universe soil. In the long run, nothing ever changes. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the changes are ongoing. It’s just that they’re ultimately absorbed into the evergreen landscape. You could also refer to this type of continuity as the “Big Picture” view. Everything that has happened affects everything else that will happen. The past shapes the future. Even the event of someone dying is merely a catalyst for their ultimate rebirth.

Broadly speaking, this is an attempt to mirror real-life. For example, Spider-Man meets Dr. Octopus. Years later, Dr. Octopus crosses paths with Spidey again and both remind each other (and the audience) that they met previously. Each instance builds upon the last to give depth to the characters and their backstories. And all of this is fine until you get so weighed down with facts and recollections that the characters are more tied to history than they are to any single plot. Even worse is when a supporting character or particular villain appears in another title and gets strange twists added to their history. This affects not only the villain, but everyone else that they have dealt with in the past or will deal with in the future.

Evergreen continuity is very linear. Unfortunately, comic books don’t follow a linear path. While most companies establish an overarching universe for their characters, each title operates within its own structured sub-universe. Crossover is encouraged (and inevitable), which further muddles the timeline. The closest thing you could compare this phenomenon to is a soap opera where individual sets of characters have their own storylines. When those storylines reach their natural end, the characters are remixed with each other to provide new lines of interest. That’s how you end up with evil twins and convoluted situations where someone ends up being their own mother.

The flip side of this is deciduous continuity. For some reason, this type of history always shows up in humorous situations. I’m thinking of things like South Park, Family Guy and, to a lesser extent, The Simpsons. On these shows, we have a group of main characters that work their way through a half-hour story. Ultimately, the end of the episode has no ill effect on the next episode. Kenny is killed every show and yet somehow magically returns the next week. The supporting characters add color and nuance to the show, but their own backstories are relatively meaningless to the grand scheme of the show.

Deciduous continuity is mostly non-linear. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime. Nothing really sticks. The leaves grow, they’re shed and then new leaves grow in their place. Time moves forward, but the isolation of the main characters helps keep the history streamlined to a degree. This type of continuity is based on episodic stories rather than continuous arcs that lead into each other. Most television shows run on a form of deciduous continuity. Shows ranging from MASH to Law & Order to Friends all deal with this type of history. It’s a type of timeline that runs more on characterization than it does action.

For instance, think of Richie Rich comic books. Richie Rich is the nice guy. He’s loaded, he’s young and he has a funny dog and a helpful butler. Every issue of every title keeps these facts as a constant. The adventures that Richie Rich goes on add color to these facts, but none of them greatly change the main characters. Once you close the book, everything goes back to the way it was and you wait for the next adventure to be entertained again.

So which form of continuity is better? I guess it depends on the type of story you want to tell. But my ultimate argument is that while the name implies that deciduous continuity is always changing, it’s actually not. By shedding whatever history is acquired during a specific story, deciduous continuity brings an air of timelessness to its use. I think it would be more functional to the superhero genre to adopt some of these functions. Look at Iron Man. His origin deals with being a POW in Vietnam. What kind of resonance does that have with kids who were born fifteen years after that conflict? So many villains and heroes sprouted out of World War II or even the tensions of the Cold War. Using a realistic timeline, none of these characters would be functioning at the same level today as they did in their prime. By clinging to an evergreen continuity, superhero comics force themselves to grow up alongside their readers.

Marvel and DC both attempt to do this at a ridiculously slowed pace. And, while I’m a bigger fan of Marvel in the long run, I have to say that this type of history stunts the growth of their characters. The DC universe isn’t specific to any reality. It builds its own history and doesn’t recognize real world events. It can offer broad changes at any time, ebbs and flows. Marvel’s strength, in its heyday, was the emotional power it could imbue in its stories by placing its characters in the real world and having them deal with a form of current events. It was radical in its time, but seems rather dated nowadays. When you try to saddle your heroes to the real world, you’re forced to age them. And everyday occasions…weddings, careers, deaths…add further age to each and every character.

So is there a path to loosening this evergreen status? Is there a reason to do so? Does any of this make sense or am I just over-thinking the whole thing? What does everyone else think?

Whew. I suppose this is a subject we’d have to tackle sooner rather than later, but it’s a mighty complex one. I think that continuity is important, but like everything else in life, needs to be used in moderation. Allow me to clarify my position.

I think that deciduous continuity can rely on characterization, as you mention above, but it’s very static characterization. If the events of the past do not affect your character in the future, then your character’s personality doesn’t really ever change. This works well for children’s fare (check out any long running Saturday morning cartoon series, like Scooby-Doo or Bugs Bunny) and for some humor projects like South Park since you want the characters to be eminently recognizable to your viewers, or in the case of South Park you want to be able to do whatever you want to a character in one episode, and not have to worry about fixing it in subsequent episodes. There’s a lot to be said for that, and anything that makes it easy for a new viewer/reader/listener to pick up on the concept of the series on their first exposure to it can only be a good thing. That being said, there’s a limit to the amount that can be done with this sort of continuity and only so many stories that can be told (with the Simpsons trying to make that statement untrue by telling pretty good stories in this type of continuity for two decades now).

Evergreen continuity, on the other hand, gives you a lot more opportunity to actually allow your characters to grow as the stories continue. Almost every serialized fiction of any real length has used evergreen continuity to an extent. I think it would be next to impossible to find a pure example of deciduous continuity as even shows like The Simpsons will refer back to previous episodes on occasion. I think the difference between a show like Friends and a comic like Iron Man isn’t the type of continuity to which they adhere, but the degree to which they adhere. I believe you were going in this direction in your initial post, but I believe that, like everything else in life, continuity should be used in moderation.

I don’t believe that a writer should come in and ignore everything that has gone before on a title. Those stories happened, and a new writer needs to work with what they are given. Nothing frustrates me more than one a new writer jettisons a previous supporting cast with no explanation, inserts dear old friends that we’ve never seen before (but are now expected to care about) or ignores important events that happened mere weeks ago in the hero’s life. That being said, some stories are just plain bad and trying to explain them so that they fit into continuity is pointless. Let’s use an example…during the mid-90’s, Marvel Comics revealed that Tony Stark had been manipulated by Kang the Conquerer for the past several years. Kang forced Stark to murder people and to fight the Avengers. The Avengers decided that no one could beat Tony Stark except for Tony Stark, and the only possible way to defeat him would be to travel ten years into the past and grab Tony Stark as a teenager and bring the teenage Stark into the future. This they did, and during the battle, the older, Kang-controlled Stark was killed, and Teen Tony took his place as the Iron Man of the Marvel Universe. This met with widespread derision (as well it should) but was quickly undone when teen Tony sacrificed his life to stop Onslaught, was thrust into an alternate universe, and was aged to adulthood once again. When he returned to our universe, his time as teen Tony was not mentioned.

Some readers weren’t satisfied with this. “It makes no sense!”, cried they, eager for clarification. “If Teen Tony was aged to adulthood for the alternate universe, he still wouldn’t have the memories of the Tony Stark from the original continuity, so how does the current Stark possess those memories? Explain please!” Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, Iron Man writers ignored those pleas and never really delved into his past as Teen Tony. This is good. Trying to explain this continuity gaffe would have taken up time and space and would have been helpful only to a small portion of fandom. The series re-aged Teen Tony, which was sufficient. Let your readers come up with their own solutions as to why he has memories that he perhaps should not have.

Again, we want to make the stories fun and accessible to new readers. Delving into the deep dark recesses of continuity to explain away obscure plot points is not a good use of a character’s series. Some writers don’t understand that. John Byrne, when he wrote Wonder Woman, spent entirely too much time trying to explain why there was a Wonder Woman in the original Justice Society, when Diana hadn’t been introduced into Man’s World at that time. Way too many writers have spent way too many comics trying to untangle the tortured continuity of Donna Troy. Kurt Busiek, a writer I very much enjoy, used a good portion of Avengers Forever, otherwise an excellent miniseries, untangling plot points from the Avengers. And this is not a new phenomenon. Steve Englehart, during his Celestial Madonna saga in the Avengers, back in the 1970s, did the exact same thing, going on for issue after issue in an attempt to explain discrepancies in character’s histories. I like his run on the Avengers, but those issues still put me to sleep, and I would imagine they would leave new readers scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Continuity should be a tool to allow a writer to tell deeper stories and to allow characters to grow and develop. Unfortunately, too many of today’s comics professionals use continuity as a blunt object, and want to craft stories around it, around fixing it or altering it to better serve their visions of what a character’s history should be. Too many of today’s comics professionals are stuck in the past. We need to move into the future, telling new stories. It doesn’t mean you don’t refer to the past. In our Defenders discussion below, you’d refer often to the relationships the team’s roster shared with one another in previous appearances. That deepens their characterizations and makes them more interesting. What you don’t want to do is spend a four issue storyarc explaining how Patsy Walker could have appeared in Avengers #138 with her Hellcat costume, when The Cat #7 clearly states that it was put in storage in Detroit, and none of the members of the Avengers at that time had ever been in Detroit.

Continuity. Writers: Take in moderation.

What’s the downfall of today’s superhero? Retconning. In the Assembled book I’ve been reading, one of the contributors made a comment about Kurt Busiek’s run on the Avengers, saying that “while he was indeed revisiting old-school characters, relationships and situations, he was doing so in the context of the many new developments on those fronts since the olden days, taking assorted old-school concepts in new directions.” Or, to sum it up, he used bits from the past to frame the future.

This is the expected use of evergreen continuity. And perhaps I should have written two posts on the subject, because here’s the true crux of the argument. The “retconning” or deliberate changing of established facts is what ruins evergreen continuity. If all writers would simply work with what’s already been shown, then these superhero comics would be much less confusing and convoluted.

I’m reminded of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men and how the writers that followed him, whether through company mandate or their own failing to understand what to do next, systematically took apart everything that he had built up. Characters that already had bizarre, twisted histories were given another layer of muddle…even characters that Morrison himself had created from nothing.

I’m all for continuity. I love it. It gives me something to think about and study. And I wouldn’t mind if every writer used all of the continuity of any given character while they’re writing them. When you’re done with your run, the next guy should come in and just pick up from where you left off. The problem is when certain writers come in (yes, I’m looking at YOU John Byrne) with the belief that their talent supersedes the character itself. They feel that they can create their own version of the character’s history and pay absolutely no attention to what happened before. The creative team that follows them is then left scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to accommodate what just happened with what came before AND with what they want to accomplish themselves. This gives you things like Hawkman, Supergirl and Aquaman (is it just coincidence that this seems to happen more often with DC even though I just praised the company for their non-real world universe?).

Of course, then you also have cases where new characters are explained into past history. The first example that comes to mind is Marvel’s Sentry character. Beginning as a hoax on Marvel readers, the Sentry was then integrated into Marvel’s history rather well (though some would argue unnecessarily) by writer Paul Jenkins. Brian Bendis did the same thing with his Jessica Jones creation. This kind of retconning is interesting to me. Here’s a character that blatantly never existed before, yet creators are able to use bits of other characters’ pasts and small vagaries in overall continuity to place their new creation in the fabric of the established universe. It’s a neat kind of phenomenon that can work quite well in building a past for a new character. I think this is another beautiful use of evergreen continuity (and that’ll probably be the only praise you’ll ever hear me heap upon Bendis).

It’s of interest to me that deciduous continuity is used primarily in humorous situations. Not sure what’s behind that thinking except that the telling of jokes is more easily accommodated by simple set-ups. If you have too much history piled upon your characters, there are certain ways you expect them to perform and react to things. Plus, the superhero world already has a problem with bringing characters back from the dead…imagine how horrible it would be with South Park rules!

Wow. Well said. I think that sums things up nicely: deal with the continuity you have, and stop trying to make it the continuity you want. Perfect. You know, creatively, I’m surprised so many creators have problems with this concept. For example, I always loved the Vision and the Scarlet Witch as a married couple. But they’re not. Were I in a position to handle the characters, rather than trying to say that, I don’t know, the two characters had been replaced by Skrulls before their divorce, and then bringing the married couple back, I’d work with what is currently in continuity. It may not be what I consider ideal, but it’s a very good creative exercise to try and make what you have work in a way you find interesting.

Some creators, as you noted, are worse than others on this score. Some creators simply can’t let go of the way they want things to be, and to be fair, neither can some editors. Your example of the way the X-Books dismantled Morrison’s run as soon as he left the book is spot on; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company back pedal so quickly from a former writer’s work on a book, especially a run that had been so universally praised by critics and fans.

Of course, now we have entire event miniseries (like Final Crisis and Secret Invasion) which seem to exist solely to muck with current continuity. I hope that neither of these series make sweeping changes to try and reset the universes to previous settings. I have no problem with surprises and exciting changes, as long as we’re moving things forward and building on what has been done, not knocking down previous structures and invalidating things that are considered inconvenient for the current and future creators.