The NewMU so far…

Jan-06-12

Hey…it’s our 100th post! And it only took us 3 years and 9 months of constant non-attention to get that far! I can hear all of you clapping out there. Nothing more deafening than silence.

All sarcastic celebrations aside, I wanted to take this time to sum up what we’ve proposed so far and see if there’s any way to integrate our past “revamp” ideas into our NewMU. We still have another 36 titles to go, but this may speed things along and save us some redundant repeating.

So far, we’ve set the Fantastic Four on a path to science adventure…turned Dazzler into a teenage pop star…and fused the angst of the X-Men with the politics of The Authority to bring you The Ultimates. However, some of the other titles we have slated for the NewMU — including Hawkeye, Dr. Strange, Moon Knight, The Defenders, Namor and Nightstalkers — were already given the treatment by our magical maneuvering. The problem is, we’re kind of dedicated to making sure we don’t repeat the use of secondary characters where they don’t fit, not to mention that some of our plotlines could contradict. So, here’s a quick summation of what we foisted upon our curious readers in the past…

Nightstalkers – Dominic Fortune is hired by Frank Drake to investigate some supernatural goings-on. He runs into Brother Voodoo in Charleston, South Carolina and finds out that the mystic man has been having dreams about him. They learn that something is afoot with the Darkhold and Morgan Le Fay is involved. In fact, Morgan is using Tigra as a present-time conduit for her foul dealings. The team rescues Tigra and continues tracking the Darkhold for Drake, unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes.

Moon Knight – Go heavy on the multiple personality angle. Introduce supporting cast for each persona. Relocate to Chicago. Run afoul of crazy Egyptian cultists worshipping Anubis, not to mention a new Serpent Society and a reimagined Killer Shrike.

Hawkeye – Moves to LA where he becomes spokesman for Damage Control West, but he’s also doing espionage work for Nick Fury with the help of Black Widow. He hires Pym as a technical consultant. Starts a feud with Taskmaster and maybe the Night Shift or even our revamped Circus of Crime.

Dr. Strange – Takes Scarlet Witch as his apprentice and falls into a love triangle with her and Night Nurse. He relocates to Boston and writes a self-help book or anti-magic book or romance novel…basically, he writes SOMETHING and goes on a book tour. Befriends a research librarian and an FBI profiler. Runs afoul of Cyrus Black, a more sinister Hangman and a new steampunk-based villain. Book also delves into the deep roots of magic in the NewMU.

Namor – Atlantis is an entire country, not just one big city. Each region is run by a magistrate and all magistrates sit on the Council of Argos with Namor as their king. The economy of Atlantis runs on selling fishing and mining rights and coordinating trade routes, but certain sectors thrive on salvage work and piracy. The island-state of Madripoor is involved as well as Dr. Doom in his bid to build a navy. Atlanteans live in coral caves and shipwrecks, their lands lit by phosphorescent algae. They have a UN ambassador but lack the high technology of the past.

Defenders – Team of Hellstorm, Cat, Gargoyle, Black Knight, Dr. Druid and Cloak and Dagger are brought together to “defend” reality from supernatural threats and to investigate the dark corners of the NewMU. They face off against The Zodiac and wreslte with the Darkhold.

Oh, and I also reread our revamp of the Frightful Four (Absorbing Man, Titania, Trapster and Mysterio working for The Wizard) and think that the idea of a competitive foe would work well in our NewMU FF. Food for thought. We also wrote up retellings of Iron Man and Spider-Man early on in the blog’s life, but those weren’t nearly as well fleshed out as these other six.

It’s now up to John to point out the obvious in these previous revamps and tell me everything that’s wrong with trying to integrate them into the NewMU.

GO!

There are some solid ideas here, and I think we can use them as a starting point for some of the titles we want to launch.  I’m going to touch on these titles a few at a time, so we constantly know about which one we’re arguing.

Let’s start with Nightstalkers.  If you haven’t read our first take on this group, please do so.  It’s in the archives and what I say is going to be drawing heavily on it.  This revamp is likely to make it to a conclusion with the least revisions.  Much of what we said at the time, as far as the concept being sound and wanting to do more magic or horror stories, still stands.  The characters we had chosen, Drake, Voodoo, Tigra and Fortune are all available, and I had no plans to use them in anything else.  Ditto for our main villain, Morgan Le Fay.  However, we were basing this series on a lot of past continuity, continuity which doesn’t exist in the NewMU, so there are going to have to be changes made.

The first and most obvious is Frank Drake.  In our version, he was crippled and broken because of his time with the previous Nightstalkers.  I still like that idea, and I think we just need to adjust it a little bit.  I don’t think there was a previous incarnation of this team so his injuries did not come from that team’s demise.  I think that he was broken and beaten during a previous encounter, perhaps with our main villain, Morgan.  We can still touch on him being a distant relative to Dracula, but perhaps, instead of that turning him into a vampire hunter, it just ignited his interest in the occult and the supernatural.  Through his studies in that area he learned of Morgan and the Darkhold, and while trying to stop her from getting her hands on it, he was badly injured and disfigured.  It gives our team one more tie to Morgan and also means that there may be some interesting team dynamics between Drake and Tigra.

Obviously, Tigra in this world can have her origin considerably streamlined and she won’t have to deal with the stupid pregnancy she was coping with when we did our first reimagining.  I think we take the opportunity to completely remove any type of scientific origin for her powers, and her time wearing a cat-suit, to better fit her in with the tone of the book.  In the new MU, Greer Nelson was also a student of the occult, and she found an incantation that enabled her to summon one of the mystical cat people.  As I mentioned in the original post, these Cat People are not the relatively cheery and bright ones drawn by Al Milgrom in the West Coast Avengers….they are much more cat than people, all dark colors and fanged maws.  When Greer first summons them, she doesn’t realize just how nasty they can be, and is whisked away to their dimension, intended for a sacrifice.  However, once there she quickly forges a bond with Balkatar, one of the preeminent Cat People, who convinced their leaders that she should not be sacrificed, but should be returned to Earth as their emissary.  The leaders agreed, but changed her into the werewoman Tigra to ensure her loyalty.  Once she returned to Earth, she used her newfound abilities to help people, but I think we also need to borrow a little from Catwoman here and make her something of a champion of cats.  It’s not her biggest priority, but she will aid them if she knows they are in danger (like if they’re being mistreated, or if a large cat escapes from a zoo she might be the one to recapture the cat).  Anyway, while doing some heroing a few years ago she crossed paths with Morgan, which is when Morgan bonds to her, as we mentioned in our original revamp.  We could even later reveal that Morgan is the one who manipulated Greer into summoning the Cat People in the first place, and that Morgan helped convince the leaders of that race to return Greer to Earth, just so she could have an agent on that world (and again, this could cause some nice friction between Drake and Tigra down the road).

Our other three characters (Fortune, Voodoo and Morgan) don’t require much change.  All three of them can basically maintain their origins, and we just drop most of their time interacting with superheroes.  Honestly, Voodoo never did much of that anyway until recently, so he’s easy, and Fortune never really did either.  His son can still have died following in his father’s footsteps…we just need to take Iron Man out of that tale (and honestly, Iron Man was barely in it, even though it happened in his title).  Morgan is much the same….we remove her tussles in the present day with the Avengers and Spider-Woman and she’s good to go.

Do you agree with what I changed?  Any thoughts?

The fact that Morgan LeFay is an actual figure from literary legend means that we don’t have to mess with her much at all, like you said. We can just start fresh. Same thing with Tigra. And, on the plus side, we don’t have to worry about the goofy, outdated costumes for Fortune or Voodoo either. I agree that the bones and most of the meat still hold true for this revamp. Probably one of my favorite things we ever conceived.

However, if there were ever an opportunity to present Dracula to the NewMU, this is clearly it. We can introduce Frank Drake as a man who is scarred and broken and slowly reveal that it was because of past struggles with vampires. We can keep a lot of the history shrouded too so the readers are never sure of his intentions.

I like Fortune’s past continuity, except for the superhero involvement you pointed out, and we can always just present it all in a simpler form. Brother Voodoo has some strange continuity that can be jettisoned too. Heck, the NewMU might make this Nightstalkers launch even easier than previously thought.

Now what about Moon Knight? I personally think this one is now easier too. Instead of having to go back and re-explain the multiple personality thing, we can just introduce this character and all his quirks and facets at once. No preconceptions. And instead of “revamping” villains, we just create them as we described. But that origin needs some work…

I agree with you that the villains we picked for Moon Knight and our basic concept of the hero work fine.  But you’d like to find a different way to get him to Khonshu?  We need to keep the Egyptian god for two reasons.  First, his powers depend on the phases of the moon, and one of his main villains is a cult of Khonshu.  I don’t want to jettison those ideas.  Plus, we have Moon Knight slotted into the new MU as a more magical book, and while he won’t be casting spells, I think he does skirt that line between the supernatural and the scientific.

The first thing we can do to help his origin is remove Bushman from it.  We had both agreed in the original post that Bushman is a waste of ink and since we aren’t including the character in Moon Knight’s current adventures, it’s a waste to have him so intimately involved in Moon Knight’s origin.  We need Moon Knight to have started out as a mercenary or else we’re not going to be able to use the Marc Spector origin….he has to have the training to do what he does as a crimefighter.  We could simply replace Bushman with Shrike in his origin, but that seems like a wasted opportunity as well.  I’m going to kick this back over to you…I did the easy thing and removed Bushman.  What else needs done to his origin?

Man, didn’t think you’d punt it THIS badly! Yes, my main problem with his origin was Bushman. With him out of the picture, we can turn Marc Spector into a bit of a jerk on his own.

Let’s say, for the sake of a quick solution, that he’s tromping around Egypt to help quell some radical Muslim uprisings. He stumbles upon a group of Egyptian scientists at an archeological dig and figures “Hey, there may be some money to be made here.” He muscles them a bit, makes some threats about stealing artifacts for the thrill, and accidentally knocks some funky obelisk over. The obelisk cracks and a spirit charges out of it and into Spector’s body. BOOM. He’s now the Fist of Khonshu whether he likes it or not. Moon Knight fixed.

Looking ahead, I think our Dr. Strange title is solid, the Namor pitch I put together actually works better without having to backtrack all of Atlantis’s history (thought Doom’s role will be diminished due to upcoming ideas), and the Hawkeye title should still be okay with the removal of Pym (since we *surprise* have plans for him elsewhere). A Damage Control title is also in the works, so that’s a quick explanation for Hawkeye.

Unfortunately, I think our Defenders idea, that I seemingly loved at some point, is now pretty awful and ruined. Agreed?

Not even close to agreed!  Well, I agree we’re done with Moon Knight (he really was an easy one), but for the rest?  Let’s start with Hawkeye.  We have to remove Hank Pym as we have other plans for him, as you teased.  I’m also not sure if we want to use Nick Fury, as I believe we have plans for him as well.  That leaves a book with only Hawkeye and the Black Widow.  I suppose we can deal with the two of them as our leads, and it makes sense.  Since we’re starting afresh, we can again go back to basics with their origins, both of which work pretty well, and we can pretend that Black Widow’s HORRIBLE 60s outfits never happened (nor Hawkeye’s late 60s horrible redesign).  We can also jettison all of the Cold War baggage of the Black Widow’s character, which is kind of nice.  And we can simply have them operating out of Los Angeles.  But do we really want him to still work for Damage Control?  Is that going to make this a sister title of the Damage Control comic?  We’ve been pretty careful in our titles not to have sister titles and to make everything stand alone.  Sure, there will be crossovers, but nothing that makes you buy multiple titles for one story or that requires a very strong sense of continuity.  I’d prefer to put Hawkeye back with Cross Technology.  So, we have a book where one lead (Hawkeye) is more of your traditional superhero, and the other lead (Black Widow) is more in the vein of your traditional spy.  They’re an item and sometimes he pulls her into his world while other times she pulls him into hers.  Does that work for you?

In a sense, yes. I forgot this was going under more of an “espionage” umbrella (we’ll detail the sub-categories of the NewMU in another post). Although, I’m not adverse to having him work in the public eye and then operate in the shadows as well. Damage Control West would be its own entity and I don’t think there’d be much crossover at all between a Hawkeye title and a regular Damage Control title. Not opposed to the Cross Technology thing either. Just saying it could go either way.

For the moment, I’d prefer to keep the titles completely distinct, so let’s go with Cross Technology.  Perhaps down the road we’d be able to move him to Damage Control without continuity issues, but I think it would be great if all the books started off feeling self contained, with the exception being any team books (like Avengers) that feature characters who have their own titles and our one character that is supposed to be seeded across a number of books (and I’ll be discussing him shortly). 

This brings us to Dr. Strange.  Our pitch for the character is pretty strong, and I certainly think we keep Night Nurse in the book.  Unfortunately, we’re now down an apprentice, since we’ve used the Scarlet Witch in Ultimates.  I’d like to keep our love triangle intact, and I also think that we need a reason for Strange to have an apprentice.  As we mentioned in the original revamp, Strange is a powerful and important figure…why would he even have an apprentice, unless there’s a darn good reason for it.  Originally we had suggested Wanda because her powers were so strong she rewrote the universe.  Now we want to find another powerful woman in the new MU who’s powers are strong enough and uncontrolled enough that she could be a threat if not properly directed.  I’m going to suggest Magik.

Illyana Rasputin is a young mutant with the ability to create portals that can transport her through time, space and dimensions.  She accidentally creates a portal that opens to the realm of Limbo, ruled by Belasco and inhabited by demons.  She is kidnapped and raised as Belasco’s apprentice.  She eventually escapes him and returns to our dimension, the new ruler of Limbo.  This is basically the same as her origin in the original Marvel Universe.  Now, in that original Marvel Universe, she had trouble maintaining the balance between her good side and her demonic side, and this probably wasn’t helped by the X-Men’s attitude, which seemed to be “Oh, she’ll figure it out eventually.”  She didn’t, which led to the Inferno crossover where demons invaded the Earth.  However, what would happen if Strange got involved?  I mean, Magik is an incredibly powerful sorceress, but she seems to use her magical abilities instinctively, without any real knowledge of what she’s doing.  If Strange brought her under his wing and trained her, he could not only help her hone her powers, but he could help her learn how to keep her demonic side at bay.  The only other major thing I’d change about her is her age…in the original she ages from about 8 to 15 years old while in Limbo.  To keep our love triangle from becoming too Lolita-ish, let’s age her from about 15 to 25 while in Limbo.  Boom.  New apprentice.

Otherwise, we had almost all brand new ideas for this title.  Morbius can still stick around as an ally and information source, and our villains were basically all new.  I should say that this way we can add Belasco to the cast of villains.  I’ve always loved Belasco, and he’d be so much better as a Strange foe than he was fighting Ka-Zar (Ka-Zar, for Kirby’s sake!).  I’d also suggest that, if we’re going to have Strange going on the road doing magic to make a living (as we suggested in our revamp) he should have a manager.  How about Madrox?  We’ll be talking more about Madrox when we discuss his book, but I think a dupe of Madrox in that role would be fun.  Otherwise, I think we’re good with him and can move to Namor.  Your thoughts?

I had totally forgotten you used Scarlet Witch in your Ultimates title. How silly of me. I always liked Magik’s look. Never understood what made her a mutant (I guess the portal thing?), but I’m glad she’s been rescued from a horrible continuity loop. Is she still a mutant in the NewMU, or just a being that was born with magical powers? That’s the only question I have.

Now, about my Namor pitch. Like I said earlier, lifting the weight of continuity off the idea makes it breathe even better. Our new Atlantis is spread out across all the oceans. Factions are ruled in a feudal system below water. Above water, everything is politics from the UN ambassador to scattered embassies. Deals are struck for shipping rights, outlying Atlantean villages turn to piracy, citizens live in shipwrecks and coral caverns. I think Doom can still play a pivotal role here. Perhaps he and Namor are an unofficial “team,” so that the two of them can cross over into each other’s titles? Or do you want to back off Doom completely (so he can shine in his own upcoming book) and give the “fellow monarch” spot to someone else from the Marvel Universe?

I would say that Magik is a mutant born with the ability to open portals.  This leaves us open to crossover with some mutant titles in the future.  It’s not that I don’t want to see books crossing over (what’s the point in a shared universe if there’s no sense of continuity between titles?) it’s just that I want them to happen organically and not right away.  It seems like it’s more fair to the creative teams and readers if each title has a chance to establish themselves before they start crossing over, and even then, I think we should keep crossovers to a more reasonable number, so they stay special and feel like a big deal.

Of course, that leads perfectly into a discussion of Namor.  You’re correct when you say that starting over with a new continuity tends to make your concept even stronger.  I still think that this is a great place for the kingdoms of the new MU to be seen and played against each other.  Doom would certainly have to be a factor, as would Black Panther, but both of these characters are slated for their own titles in the new MU, so I’d like their roles in Namor’s title to be downplayed.  They’ll be around, but not the center of attention.  We’d have to strip out (at least initially) the plot about Doom setting up ports for his new navy.  If that happens, let’s move it down the road and let it happen in Doom’s own title (or a proper crossover between the two).  If we remove Doom from the spotlight, who can we shine it upon?  I recommend the Inhumans.

I think that the Inhumans are a strong concept, but I don’t think they work as well when they try to headline a book.  I think they’re best in a supporting role, and I think this is a role that works well for them.  While Namor and Doom may make sense working together, the actual Atlantean and Inhuman races make a lot more sense as a team.  They’re all outsiders, unable to function easily in human society, so they have a strong initial bond.  Plus, if they would ever have a falling out and go to war against each other, it would be a much more interesting conflict than if Atlanteans simply fought the humans of Latveria.  Heck, you even have a perfect ambassador for the Inhumans in the person of Triton.

The villains you mention all still work well.  Some of them, like Diablo and Mole Man, were also mentioned in our Fantastic Four book, but villains can often be used in multiple titles, and neither of them were integral to the FF.  They could easily move between the two books.  I think it works. 

Sure, I have no problem with the Inhumans. It’d be nice to stick them somewhere…and honestly, looking ahead to our other titles, I don’t see much more room for them. Maybe there’s even an organic way to find a love interest for Namor out of that group. Always nice to see a marriage bring two kingdoms together.

So, this post helped us flesh out five of our pending titles (Nightstalkers, Moon Knight, Hawkeye, Dr. Strange and Namor). The only loose end left hanging is The Defenders. The group has always been near and dear to my heart. That’s why we tackled it so early on in our blog’s infancy. Unfortunately, I don’t think we had our sea legs under us yet and the revamp left a bit to be desired. I think we should start a new post for that one.

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Casting Call: Hawkeye

Sep-17-08

Back in the day, when Wizard magazine used to be relevant and informational (says the writer who still has a slavish devotion to the magazine’s fart-and-boob-joke-filled pages), they used to run a two-page spread about fantasy casting calls for turning current favorite comics into other media applications…television or movies, specifically.

In order to spread our site’s wings a bit, and perhaps put some imagery into readers’ heads in lieu of neither John nor I having relevant artistic skills, I thought it might be fun to do a fantasy casting for one of our Marvel revamps. And, still being fresh in my mind (and not having a HUGE cast), I thought we’d go with the Hawkeye pitch first.

So, who would you like to see play Hawkeye in a movie version of our idea? Who would best fill the roles of Black Widow, Hank Pym, Taskmaster, members of the Night Shift and a possible love interest for Mr. Barton?

This could be fun.

I’m going to avoid the fact that you read Wizard; I prefer my mental image of you to be smarter and have better taste. Ok, ok, I used to read the magazine as well, and their Casting Call feature was always a really neat feature. This is a game that anyone can play, and Hawkeye and his cast are as good candidates as anyone else, since they lend themselves to a movie.

For Hawkeye himself, we need someone who can play cocky and roguish, and still retain a very likable presence. I’d be tempted to cast Justin Hartley, who has been playing Green Arrow on Smallville, but I’m not sure if he’s got enough presence to anchor a movie. A young Cary Elwes may have been a good choice, but those days are past him. I’m going to have to suggest (and I can hear the groans before I type his name) Leonardo DiCaprio.

Look, I’m not a fan of Titanic either, but the fact of the matter is, DiCaprio is actually a good actor. Moreover, anyone who saw Catch Me If You Can knows he can play a dashing rogue, or a con man, and isn’t that what Hawkeye is, a con man with arrows? Plus, DiCaprio needs a movie like this. He seems to enjoy playing morose characters in more serious movies, and playing a lighter character in a fun movie would show a completely different side to him (and if Iron Man proved anything, it’s that super hero movies can be fun and good at the same time, so he shouldn’t worry that it would lessen his career).

I think that our Dr. Pym should be someone a little older, to show that he’s been at the hero game for a little while. I’d love to say Robert Downey Jr., but that’s a simple cop-out, since I think he could play every part in this movie, including the Black Widow, and do it brilliantly. Besides, I’d like to fit our movie into the Marvel Universe movies that have already been released and he’s a perfect Iron Man. Hmmm. You know, perhaps Cary Elwes would be good in this role. He might be a little too old, but he’s got the weight (quite literally) needed to play someone who’s best super-heroing days are behind him. I didn’t expect to cast him, but I think he could do it. It’s quite a different interpretation of Dr. Pym than I was originally considering, but there’s potential there, I think.

The Black Widow is easily one of my favorite comics characters, and were this a few years ago, I would have cast Michelle Pfeiffer, one of my favorite actresses, without even blinking an eye. I think that Pfeiffer can do anything. Natasha is supposed to be a little older as well (I always imagine her in her early 40s), but I’m not sure if Pfeiffer has the bad ass streak she would need to truly capture the spirit of the Black Widow. Sorry Michelle. You’ll still always be my favorite.

If not Michelle Pfeiffer, then who? Unfortunately, Hollywood is not kind to middle age actresses, either favoring very young starlets (and Lindsay Lohan will not be playing the Black Widow) or preferring more mature actresses (and as much as I love Sigourney Weaver, she’s a little too old). I’d love the idea of someone like Amy Adams playing this role, but she’s just too young. If this was animated, I’d say we could just have Susan Sarandon do the voice and be done with it. But we need an actress who can kick butt, be beautiful, and make you very afraid of her when needed. She has to have the gravity to make you believe she’s a world class spy, but still be athletic enough to look like she can perform the sorts of stunts the Widow performs. In the end, I’m going to go with Kate Beckinsale. She’s a little younger than I was hoping for (mid-30s), but she can kick butt, she looks great in leather, and she honestly deserves a good movie.

Whew! It’s much easier to pick someone else’s choices apart than to create your own. Quick! Come up with some ideas so I can do just that!

Wow. Not the direction I was thinking you’d take at all. Of course, I’m having the same problems you were when it comes to finding relevant actors who can fill these roles. Maybe we’re just getting too old for this stuff! Hell, if this was posted 15 years ago, I could’ve easily seen Val Kilmer playing Hawkeye, with Susan Sarandon as Black Widow and an experienced yet plucky Robert Redford as Pym. In the interest of full disclosure, let me be the first to say that I was also pushing for Tom Selleck to play Tony Stark…back in 1984.

Cary Elwes would’ve made a great Clint Barton. He’s got the right amounts of suaveness and bravado. Or at least he did. Val Kilmer used to as well, until he ate a baby elephant. However, I’ve never felt that DiCaprio brought anything to his roles other than some sort of simmering immaturity. I’m just not a fan. And, regardless of how much he ages, I just don’t think Leo looks old enough or experienced enough (or ripped enough) to pull off the role with any sort of believability.

No, I was thinking of someone more along the lines of Kevin McKidd:

First of all, he’s Scottish, which instantly gives him swagger. Secondly, he’s played the adventure-type roles before…starring in HBO’s Rome series and in NBC’s Quantum Leap update Journeyman. He’s blond. He looks a bit older, grizzled and war-weary. And he’s a pretty fine actor.

Cary Elwes might make a good Pym. But, in fair play, I have to throw my own pick out there: John Slattery. Slattery has become the go-to guy for supporting actors (at least on television). He’s currently got a great role on Mad Men, and he has portrayed all types of men on shows as widely varied as K Street, Ed, Desperate Housewives and Will & Grace.

Filling Black Widow’s skintight suit is a bit more difficult. The actress we choose has to be a bit older and wiser, but she also has to be gorgeous and flexible. A redhead wouldn’t hurt. And she should probably be some sort of foreigner. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Kate Beckinsale (one of my favorite females on the planet), but I agree that she’s probably too young (I also agree that she looks mouth-watering in leather). I can think of a few competent actresses who sort of fit the mold for the character…Rhona Mitra, Carla Gugino, maybe even Famke Janssen…but I’m going to lob a name out there and see if it sticks: Saffron Burrows.

A lot of people think she’s a stiff talent, but I think she has the requisite vacant, who-gives-a-damn look and attitude needed in the character. You may remember her from such instant classic films as Wing Commander (with Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Deep Blue Sea (costarring LL Cool J) and Troy. Or, you may recall her most recent role in The Bank Job, alongside my pick to play Taskmaster…

Jason Statham. I think this guy is fabulous. Amazing fight skills. Gritty demeanor. And, from what my wife tells me, he’s not bad to look at either. Of course, his face would be covered in a skullface, so that may not count for much.

Those are my picks for the Big Four roles in this little venture. Start tearing them apart in 3…2…1…

The ripping shall now commence….to an extent.

I love Kevin McKidd and agree that he’s a fine actor. Moreso, as we learned when he was in Rome, he really can sell the idea that he can kick your butt. I’m not 100% sure that I see him as Hawkeye, as I’m not sure if he has the cocky swagger that you think he has, but you know, he’s such a good actor that I have no doubt he could pull the part off. I still think that you’re being too unkind to Leonardo DiCaprio, and doing what so many people are doing, which is judge him by his early years and the awfulness that was Titanic. I think that he’s taken so many dark and serious roles simply to distance himself from that image. But fine, Kevin McKidd it is. He’ll be cheaper, and we can spend the money on special effects.

Did you enjoy the part where I agreed with you? Good, because it won’t happen again for awhile.

I like John Slattery, but for Dr. Pym? I’d rather have the heavier Cary Elwes play him, as Slattery looks old. It’s the grey hair, and it’s not fair, but neither is life, or casting calls. I simply think that he ages Pym into his 50s, whether you want him to or not, and that simply doesn’t work for me. He’s great, and perhaps we can find something else for him to do in the movie (no, I don’t know what). If I’m throwing him out, and you’re throwing Elwes out, we need another choice, right? I’m going to nominate Doug Savant.

You may know him from Desperate Housewives. I think he works. He’s two years younger than John Slattery, but looks ten years younger. I think he looks the perfect age; older than Hawkeye (although, with Kevin McKidd playing Hawkeye, we’ve skewed Hawkeye a little older than I would have liked), but still young enough that, if given the chance, he could still hold his own in a fight. He has a certain world-weariness that is good for the character, but he hasn’t let life beat him yet, which is important.

Now, we come to the Black Widow. You suggested Saffron Burrows. You couldn’t have surprised me more had you suggested Dom DeLuise play the Black Widow. Or, at least, I would have been surprised had I any clue who the hell Saffron Burrows is. The really scary thing is when I looked at her filmography and noticed that I’ve seen her in quite a few things. Now, I’m someone who knows actors and actresses to a decent extent, and I didn’t know this woman? She was so bland and boring that she didn’t leave any impression on me through everything in which I had seen her? Sorry, no. Plus, if we’re looking at age, Burrows is exactly one year older than Beckinsale, so we’re not gaining much there. I’d still pick Kate Beckinsale FTW, but, in the spirit of trying to be helpful, let me suggest another option.

Darn. I wish I had another option for the Widow. Every actress I think of is either too old or too young. Or, in many cases, too willowy (yes, that’s probably not a word. A high percentage of my brain function is being spent trying to cast the Widow, so I don’t have enough left to think of actual words. If this continues, my grammar will continue to deteriorate, and new words will spew from me higgeldy-piggeldy. Soon it will look like Dr. Seuss posted this, with new crazy nonsense words all over the place). By too willowy, I mean they look like a stiff breeze could blow them over, and the Widow needs to look like she could kick some butt. Like Beckinsale can. But I digress.

I was going to originally suggest Maria Bello, but I’m actually not a fan of hers. Then I saw The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and I’m now convinced that she should never work again, nor should anyone in anyway connected to that film. Oh, my head hurts just recalling it. So, I’m going to move onto someone that will, no doubt, create some more nasty comments, but I’ll stand by my choice (unless you have a better one….Saffron Burrows? Sheesh!). I nominate Lucy Lawless.

Yes, she played Xena. But since then, she’s popped up all over the landscape, and she’s shown a very wide acting ability. She is blond, but as the picture above shows, she can do red hair. She’s beautiful, but she’s also 40 years old. Plus, she not only looks like she can kick your butt, but she actually CAN kick your butt.

As for Jason Statham….brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. He’s a great actor who can be serious as hell, still play lighter moments, and again, he can kick your butt all over the place. Great choice.

Once we agree on Pym and the Widow, we can move into a few minor characters.

I apologize…for some reason your photos weren’t coming up correctly, so I replaced them all willy-nilly. The new shot of Lucy Lawless is actually pretty hot (and I always thought of her as being pretty butch). I guess I had an impression of her as a bigger woman. Must’ve been all that Xena armor she wore. I could see her in the role of Black Widow. But I still can’t believe all the hostility that everyone seems to have towards Saffron Burrows. I wonder how the poor girl gets out of bed in the morning. No, seriously, I want to know. Better yet, I’d like to be in the bed with her when she gets up…

I digress.

The picture of Doug Savant that I put in there really shows his age more than any image I had in my head. I still picture the young, idealistic guy from Melrose Place. Looking at him now though, I could almost see him playing Hawkeye! See, I put Slattery in there because I was envisioning Pym as an older dude, someone who put in his years as a hero but was now content to just sit back and help out. Kevin McKidd is younger than me (by a year or two), but has a certain experience in his face. If you want to skew Hawkeye younger, we could consider other options. How about Jesse Spencer?

He’s blond, Australian, almost 30 and costars on House. Relative newcomer. Not too hard on the eyes (I suppose). Definitely has a cockiness to him. And his awesome hair makes me jealous. What do you think?

I think that I agree. I am also jealous of Jesse Spencer’s hair.

I admit to not watching House (and I don’t have time to, so all of our hundreds of readers….ok dozens of readers….ok, my mom, don’t have to waste their time writing in and telling me how great it is) so I know nothing about Spencer. All I do know is that, when I type his name, I want to put …For Hire after it. This means nothing, except for the fact that I am old.

He certainly has the look of Hawkeye, and the picture shows the perfect Hawkeye cockiness. While I really like Kevin McKidd, I think that if we paired Spencer up with Savant, we’d have a better feel for the age of the characters. So, we have Spencer as Hawkeye, Lawless as Black Widow, Savant as Pym, and Statham as Taskmaster. Hmmm. Not bad. Who else would we need to cast? Do we want to cast all of Night Shift or is that too many people? I’m thinking it may be a bit much for our movie. Perhaps we should think TV series, since, with the exception of Statham, these actors have most of their popularity from television.

Well, I can see no reason why these folks shouldn’t branch out to a big bad comic book movie. I always favor the Star Wars method of casting anyway…pick established actors that don’t have a lot of exposure and see what they can do. You always throw a ringer in there (like Billy Dee Williams or, to some extent, Harrison Ford) just to prove you understand the process. I think Statham does that for us — he’s a fairly hot commodity right now — and I’d love to have him as an older, more experienced villain type versus a fresh-faced hero who’s still being backed up by his journeyman friends.

We should probably restrict ourselves to these four characters though. If we start casting other roles, then we end up slipping into multiple conflicts that would be best exploited in an episodic television setting. I prefer to look at the Big Picture!

Of course, if we were to attempt to launch a Hawkeye film, we’d have to more or less start from scratch. The story arc we developed for an ongoing comic title wouldn’t hold water on the screen. I say we use the trick Marvel has been using lately of having other characters appear as crossover appeal in their movies. This ties in perfectly with Hawkeye’s origin too, since Iron Man pretty much launched his career and Black Widow played a huge part in his direction too. We could start off showing him catching some common crooks or something and then do a flashback scene with Tony Stark…maybe even Nick Fury. Then they could approach him (and Widow) about joining some SHIELD Special Ops team (like in Ultimates). Taskmaster is the hardest part ot get in there if only because he’s never had a real origin in the comics. The funny thing about him, and something maybe we should discuss in another post (seeing as how he’s my favorite villain), is that no one knows his real identity and yet the government has been able to contact him on numerous occasions and use his services. Weird.

Anyway, that’s how I see things. Hawkeye is young and ready for action. Widow and Pym offer wisdom and assistance. Taskmaster is some sort of weapons runner or government assassin or something. And this is our cast:


Hawkeye: Just a bit off target

Aug-28-08

Ah…archery humor. It gets me every time. There are few things I enjoy in life as much as cracking wise about fletchings and draw weights. Brings a tear to my eye. My side has literally split and I can see all the funny falling out of me firsthand. Ha. Ow. Ha.

Okay, enough of that tomfoolery. We’re here today to talk about one of my favorite Marvel characters of all time: the sarcastic, bombastic and somewhat elastic avenging archer, Hawkeye! Using one of the most proven methods of superhero introduction, the “oops, I thought you were a bad guy” routine, Hawkeye was thrust upon the comic reading audience way back in 1964. And yet, he has managed to retain all of his youthful wit and charm ever since. Well, at least until Bendis set him on fire.

Hawkeye has built lasting relationships with some of the biggest guns in Marvel’s world. Captain America has taken a sort of mentor role with Clint Barton. Iron Man aided in his original reform. Yet, he’s always walked his own path to achievement. For instance, he gained membership in the Avengers by breaking into the mansion and tying up Jarvis. He earned Iron Man’s trust by attempting to steal stuff from him. And, let’s not forget that Hawkeye has managed to sleep with most of Marvel’s important females including Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Mockingbird, Wasp, Moonstone, Echo and She-Hulk (not to mention possible dalliances with Viper, Moondragon, Patsy Walker, Deathbird and…uh…Jocasta?).

He has been a member of the Avengers, chairman of the West Coast Avengers, leader of the Thunderbolts and even briefly tagged along with the Defenders. Still, individual success continues to allude this tried and true hero. Marvel has produced two miniseries (in 1983 and 1994) featuring the character. They launched an anthology title called Solo Avengers (and, alternately, Avengers Spotlight) that featured Hawkeye in most of the main storylines. A one-shot hailing him as “Earth’s Mightiest Marksman” was released in 1998. And there was even an aborted attempt at an ongoing title a few years back. But none of these books really showcased the strengths of the Hawkeye character.

Of course, I guess we still need to define what those strengths are and how Hawkeye can best be utilized. For that, I turn the reins over to my partner to begin our traditional back-and-forth debate.

I’m actually not the Hawkeye fan that you are, and for many years, wasn’t very fond of him. I think that Hawkeye has a brash charm, but honestly, for many years I focused on the brash and not the charm. It took quite awhile before I could see him as anything beyond an annoying loudmouth who happened to use a bow and arrow. I think the turning point for me was when Hawkeye was sent to California to found and lead the West Coast Avengers. At first I didn’t even like him in that book. He was still brash and annoying, and why was he called the leader, because he sure as heck didn’t seem to be doing any leading. Yuck. However, as I kept reading the book, he kept growing on me, and I came to see Hawkeye’s charm through the attitude in which he cloaked himself. This was a normal guy (normal, at least, in that he had no powers) who was struggling to be an A-List hero in the Marvel Universe. Yes, he could be abrasive, but in the end, he was your typical working stiff, trying to get ahead. The only difference between him and Joe Lunchbox was that Hawkeye worked in the Avengers, not at IBM.

At this point in time, I’m a big fan of Hawkeye, and even enjoy him in those old appearances where he used to annoy me. Honestly, were I to try and identify what I like most about Hawkeye, and where I think his popularity stems from, it would have to be his everyman quality. Again, he’s obviously not an everyman, as I know few people who can shoot a bow with his accuracy, but compared to most of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Hawkeye is so very relatable. His speech patterns are close to a normal person’s (love them or hate them, no one actually speaks like Captain America, Thor or Mr. Fantastic), his drive to prove himself to those around him is something we all feel, his romantic struggles are something that everyone goes through…..Hawkeye is like the really cool kids in high school that you wanted to hang with, but you read comics, so they shunned you.

I think it’s easy to see this when you pair Hawkeye up with Captain America, one of his good friends. When Cap gets too out of touch with things, Hawkeye is a great way to bring him back to earth. After “Operation: Galactic Storm” in the Avengers, Cap was upset that he had become unfashionable and wasn’t a good leader for the team. Cap was in a deep funk, and it was Hawkeye who took Cap out for a night on the town and smacked him in the face (metaphorically speaking) and told him to snap out of it. During Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s second run on Cap’s title, when the world was gripped by Capmania, it was again Hawkeye who was there, having fun with the concept and enjoying the heck out of it, while Cap worried and moped.

That points out another thing that makes Hawkeye popular: he’s generally a very upbeat guy. While sadness and drama have their place, they can get a little old when overplayed. I’ve always been amazed that Uncanny X-Men has been such a popular book for so long, when it seems that for years at a stretch the title was mired in depressing persecution and mopey characters. Hawkeye doesn’t have that. While he’s been sad and upset at times, he bounces back pretty quickly. (It’s one of the reasons that killing Mockingbird was such a bad idea….you don’t make Hawkeye grim and gritty. It doesn’t work for the character, and the only other option is to have him bounce back from the death of his wife quickly, which just makes him look like an ass, which is equally unacceptable.) It’s Hawkeye’s positive attitude that makes him such an effective leader, and I think its the reason he was so perfect for Thunderbolts, which needed a character with a more upbeat attitude, since the only one on the team at that time who was upbeat was Jolt, and she was annoying as all hell.

What doesn’t work for Hawkeye? Changing his superhero identity. Twice in his history, Marvel has given him the power to grow in size and become super-strong and called him Goliath. Oy vey, bad idea. First of all, super-strong characters are a dime a dozen in any superhero universe. There is no team that really needs another strong man. However, there are precious few other archers in the Marvel Universe, and none of those other archers come close to Hawkeye’s prominence. Being an archer, and the arrows he uses, makes Hawkeye unique. Second, as mentioned above, Hawkeye is someone people can relate to, partly because he isn’t superhuman. By making him superhuman, you strip that part of him away. Bad idea. Currently, Hawkeye is calling himself Ronin. Yeesh, will Marvel never learn. He’s not a ninja….he’s an archer! Let him be an archer!

What say you, o’ longtime Hawkeye booster?

I agree with absolutely everything you just said. That’s good. That puts us on the same page as far as a starting point for a revamp goes. It’s funny that you bring up Hawkeye’s brashness and his relatability…those are two things that always attract me to any character, whether comics-based or coming from film or television. I don’t like the cool and aloof “bad boys” who glower and sneer just for the effect. I want a guy who can throw out a snarky quip and still be willing to get his hands dirty. The best analogy I can come up with is the Luke Skywalker versus Han Solo debate. Captain America is in the same archetypal range as Luke and Superman and Sir Galahad. He’s the strong, pious warrior who puts everything before himself. Hawkeye is the roguish, “I’ll do it if I have to, but I won’t like it” type…exactly like Han Solo, Die Hard‘s John McClane or Sir Lancelot (who wasn’t above sleeping with his boss’s wife).

That said, I think those qualities are also obstacles in creating a lasting run for this guy. Hawkeye has such a nonchalant personality that nothing sticks to him. Marvel is known for its angst-ridden characters, and a guy who can just bounce around with no attachments is difficult to shoehorn into any sort of ongoing continuity. Spider-Man has his Aunt May and, until recently, his relationship with MJ. He also has an alter ego that worries about paying the bills and getting to work on time. And, even more, he has a home base. Spider-Man is known just as much for swinging through the streets of New York as he is for any villain he’s ever faced.

What does Hawkeye have? Let’s see…he’s an orphan with a dead wife, a mentor who turned out to be a criminal, an older, dead criminal brother that he shot during a botched robbery and, um, a bunch of ex-girlfriends who have various levels of disdain for him. Not really a lot to build a legend on…unless you’re James Bond (or William Shatner).

I think that was the biggest problem with his brief ongoing series. It was like “On the Road” with Clint Barton. He was traveling across the country on a motorcycle wooing strippers and getting involved with drug running bikers…like if Burt Reynolds had starred in Dukes of Hazzard. It fell flat for me. Where did he get his money from? Where did he call home? Who were the people he surrounded himself with? Better yet, what were his problems? And who was Clint Barton when he wasn’t Hawkeye?

In order to re-energize the Hawkeye mystique (after Bendis, in my 100% accurate opinion, has completely ruined the character) and make him a hero able to stand alone, I think we need to go back to the basics: motivation, enemies and supporting cast. Let’s break him down to the traditional 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where and Why). We can rebuild him…we have the technology…

Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you have answers to all of these questions already? Well, let me see what I can do about these questions you pose, because I think you’re exactly right: to make Hawkeye successful, we have to build a life for Hawkeye.

One of the time periods that I think worked for Hawkeye was when, back in the mid-80s (I believe), he was head of security for Cross Technology. As their security chief, he had a job, which gave him money, and he had the perfect springboard for adventures. Moreover, I found it very novel, and so very Hawkeye, that when he needed a job, he didn’t even think of applying for one in his secret identity, but instead went and got his heroic identity employed. How many superheroes do that? Everyone’s always so concerned being employed in their “true identity” (since, for example, Peter Parker deep down considers himself to be Parker first and Spidey second), but not Hawkeye. Honestly, I would think that often someone’s superheroic identity would be much more employable than their civilian identity and props to Hawkeye for figuring that out.

I mention this because, when we try to determine where Hawkeye’s money comes from, we’re going to have to provide him with a source of income, and I think giving Clint Barton some typical job would be a very bad idea. It just doesn’t fit for the character. The only thing I can imagine Barton doing in his civilian identity wouild be working at a circus or carnival, but that’s cliche, and I really don’t think he’d enjoy it. It’s not like Hawkeye’s days in the big top were particularly enjoyable or fun. What might Hawkeye do? Celebrity endorsements. C’mon, he’d be a natural!

Hawkeye’s supporting cast is going to be a bit more difficult. Depending on where he’s getting his money, you could build a supporting cast from that. It’s somewhat ironic, that while Hawkeye is known to and friendly with the vast majority of the heroes in the Marvel Universe, he’s not really close to very many (with the exception of Cap, and he’s a little dead right now). Were it me, I’d pair him up with one of my favorite characters, and someone that I think could be a very interesting match for the battling bowman: Black Widow. Hawkeye and the Widow were a team for quite some time in the Marvel Universe (albeit for much of it on the wrong side of the law) and they were romantically involved as well. They’ve both grown quite a bit since that time, and haven’t worked closely together much since the old days. I think putting them back together at this stage in their lives could make for some very interesting chemistry. However, I wouldn’t want to thrust them together as a couple right away (if at all; I think the story would have to determine whether that happened). So why would they work together?

Well (and this could all change once Secret Invasion is finished) but what if the two of them were running around doing things for Nick Fury? I can’t see Hawkeye working for Iron Man or SHIELD, but Fury is a rebel, and a criminal under the Superhero Registration Act. Hawkeye would love the idea of working with someone like that, and if the missions he was doing helped to undermine the Superhero Registration Act, so much the better. Of course, that wouldn’t be all that he did, and you could still do unrelated plotlines, but it gives him a purpose, and it gives him a reason to hang out with the Widow. He’d still need more supporting characters, but that’s a start.

Enemies? Sadly, Hawkeye has no real rogues gallery. I’m afraid we may have to build that one from scratch. However, I’ve typed long enough, and I still have this feeling that you may have some ideas percolating in your ever plotting skull. Let’s see what you’re thinking, and then we can argue about why Black Widow really does belong in the new Hawkeye series.

I’m honored that you think so highly of my thought processes, but to be quite honest with you I have absolutely no prepared statements to make on this topic. I’ve just been making it all up as I go along. I’ve been exposed as the fraud that I am!

In my original post, I was going to mention his employment at Cross Technologies. That stood out for me as a unique way to handle the whole “superhero needs a job” angle. Perfect for his temperament too.

There’s actually something in the idea of celebrity endorsements. Hawkeye is the perfect type of character to do that too. He has that laidback cockiness necessary to be a good spokesman (similar to Booster Gold over at DC). And he’s not a huge star whose reputation would be tarnished by appearing on a billboard for laundry detergent (or, more appropriately, Target). I could also see an espionage role being played in the background…sort of like that Schwarzenegger movie True Lies. Smiling pitch man by day, covert operative by night.

Love the idea of bringing Black Widow in too. She’s such a useful character who never really gets the spotlight much. And she has ties to many of the other Marvel heroes, not to mention an already established past with Hawkeye. I would like to see them actually play up the fact that a relationship didn’t work between them…have them just being “good buddies” and every time romance is brought up by someone, they scoff at the suggestion of it.

You know who else I could see in this book? One of your favorites…Hank Pym. Think about it, they have history with the Avengers and West Coast Avengers, Hawkeye used Pym particles when he was Goliath, and he’ll need someone steeped in science and technology to help him develop more trick arrows and other weaponry. Not sure how Pym is going to be rectified in Secret Invasion, but a Hawkeye title could be a good place to rehab his character. It would place Pym in a role similar to the one played by Microchip for Punisher.

That’s a good start on supporting cast, but I think giving the book a solid setting will aid even further in establishing the character. My suggestion would be to put Hawkeye back on the West Coast. Realistically, there’s nothing particular keeping him in the New York area. His best friend is dead. He’s technically on the run as a member of the New Avengers. I’m sure he still has a bunch of viable contacts from his years spent in California (not to mention that it plays perfectly into the endorsement idea). He could easily grab a snooty up-and-coming actress as a love interest. Other potential background characters would be his agent/manager, a landlord, some big shot studio exec, maybe a bookie or bartender, and even guest appearances from all his ex-girlfriends. I could even see a braggadocious Hercules showing up (in an homage to his days in the Champions and the ties to Widow).

Villains are a bit tougher to scrounge up. There’s always AIM or Hydra or Sons of the Serpent…good for group fight scenes and counter-espionage angles. Are there any leftover WCA/Force Works villains still prowling the Los Angeles basin? Master Pandemonium? Graviton? The Death-Throws? Batroc’s Brigade? Grim Reaper? Our new and improved Circus of Crime lineup? Is there anyone who particularly has it out for Hawkeye? I’d LOVE to see him have a protracted face-off against Taskmaster…I think the two of them are opposite sides of the same coin. Plus, Taskmaster is sort of the reluctant hero now working for the Initiative while Hawkeye is a true hero forced to be on the lam. Interesting dynamic.

That covers the WHO and the WHERE. I think we really need to dig into the WHY next…

I think your suggestion to use Hank Pym is brilliant, not just because I like the character and not just because Hawkeye really does need someone to help create his arrows and develop new ones, but because I’ve always felt that Pym works best in a supporting capacity. Certainly, putting him back on the west coast harkens back to the days when these two worked with the West Coast Avengers, which were good days.

The villains you mention are good ones, and I love the idea of developing a Hawkeye/Taskmaster rivalry. They’re pretty evenly matched, and there could be a lot of great matches between the two of them. I’d also suggest, if we’re on the west coast, that we could always use the Night Shift as adversaries. Surely the Shroud’s cover has been blown by now, and if we remove him, we have a very interesting group of villains with some different powers and a history with Hawkeye. Truly, haven’t comics been calling out for more appearances of the Brothers Grimm?

However, you want to focus on why. Why? Because we like you. Whoops. Sorry. Reflex. Honestly, I’m not sure that Hawkeye needs a strong motivation to be a hero. I always felt he was a hero because he couldn’t be anything else. It’s all he really knows, and honestly, he enjoys it. If you want to go deeper than that, perhaps Hawkeye has decided to up his super-heroing as a tribute to his late friend, Steve Rogers. If he’s working with the Widow and doing some espionage things, perhaps it’s in response to the oppressiveness of Tony Stark and his new SHIELD. We could start the book with a long-term plot which would give us a semblance of a direction, if you wish. Perhaps he’s trying to find the Scarlet Witch, since he had feelings for her for a time (and they remained close friends for decades). Does Hawkeye know that Wanda killed him? If not, that could be interesting, as I wonder how his feelings would change if he did know (although, considering the fact that he got better, perhaps it wouldn’t be a big deal). I would suggest he’s on a mission to find Cap’s killer, but that would be best suited for the Captain America title.

It’s ironic that I have no strong motivation for this title, since I just commented elsewhere on the site that I felt most of the Ultimate Universe titles suffer because they have no real reason to exist. However, I would counter that most of those books are simply alternate reality versions of characters we can already enjoy in the Marvel Universe. Even worse, many of them are simply regurgitating plots from mainstream Marvel, albeit filtering said plots through a slightly different colored lens. Still, I think that Hawkeye adds something different to the Marvel Universe, and the supporting cast we’ve assembled around him gives us a lot of very interesting personalities to mix together. We’ve taken three of the oldest characters in the Marvel Universe, and we’re now ready to give them attention that they rarely receive. That, I believe, would keep the book an interesting one to read and write for years.

I thought you called yourself an Avengers fan? Did you not know that the first thing Hawkeye did when he reappeared was to track down Scarlet Witch and make sweet, sweet love to her? She had no idea who he was. I think he went looking for revenge, but left feeling sorry for her (you know, after he took advantage of her).

My thinking behind the WHY aspect of any supposed Hawkeye title wasn’t so much to delineate his motivation for being a hero, but rather exploring why he would leave Manhattan and why he would choose to realign himself with Widow, Fury and Pym. I mean, you can’t just launch issue #1 with him kicking up his bare feet on the La Jolla beach and not explain why he’s there or how he got there.

Initially, I was thinking he starts a road trip to escape the drama of Cap’s death, the oppression of the SHRA and the fallout from Secret Invasion. Does he meet up with his supporting cast along the way or does he recruit them once he gets to the west coast? Does he encounter any of his rogues gallery while traveling? Or, like I said before about starting as far into the action as possible, do we just show him in the midst of his “celebrity” career and then fill in the backstory blanks from there?

One of the biggest downfalls of his last standalone title was the fact that it was just Hawkeye and a bunch of people you’d never seen before…there was no history to play off of, no interesting relationships to reference. Without that interplay, Hawkeye’s true character is harder to define. He’s just a smooth guy with a bow. Whoop-de-doo. He’s not really a solo kind of guy.

That said, I could also see a scenario where he gets hooked up as a spokesman for Damage Control (one of my favorite Marvel concepts). That could lead him westward as well.

Also, good idea with Night Shift. That’s a bunch of obscure characters that we could really reinvigorate and make unique to Hawkeye’s world. I’d love to play up our new Circus of Crime to exploit Hawkeye’s background and then introduce a new Night Shift as a “welcome to the west coast” freakshow. I always find it more impressive to showcase Hawkeye’s talents against a group of bad guys anyway. And the Night Shift has some dubious, shadowy business ties too that could be mined for the espionage angle.

I am an Avengers fan, but I have to admit, my reading of the title has been a little spotty after Bendis went crazy, slaughtered some of their more interesting members, and started writing the characters so they all spoke with his voice, rather than their own. Still, I should have known that fact about Hawkeye and the Witch, or done some research. I thought about checking it out on the web before I posted, but there would have been typing and clicking involved, and it seemed like an awful lot of work for a pseudo-Monday morning. Next time I’ll have the intern look into that sort of thing.

As for hooking up with this supporting cast, here’s how I see it. The Widow has been working on the side of Superhero Registration as of late, but really, she’s a spy, so her loyalty is always a little suspect? The Widow has long been a supporter of Nick Fury, and the two are close. Fury sat the Civil War out, but I posit the theory that the Widow has been working for Stark and SHIELD because she’s actually spying on them for Fury. As Fury comes back into the limelight during the events of Secret Invasion, he knows that Natasha is likely to catch some heat if it’s learned that she’s basically been spying on Stark and SHIELD, and Fury thinks it may be best for Natasha to get a little distance. Fury has some projects for Natasha, and they are on the west coast, so he asks her to go out there and take care of them. That puts her on the west coast.

Hawkeye, in the meantime, has headed to the west coast as part of his spokesperson deal with Damage Control (I agree that Damage Control is one of the best ideas in the Marvel Universe, and working them in is great. They probably wouldn’t be seen much, but anytime with them is time well spent). While Damage Control spends a lot of their time and energy in New York (since there are so many superhumans there), the company is looking to expand. Now that the Initiative has put superheroes in every state, there’s going to be work for Damage Control all over the country, and they have decided to open a west coast office. They hire Hawkeye as their spokesperson for that office, hoping that he can help launch their west coast operations and give them a strong start on that side of the country (and since he is one of the few heroes to spend any significant portion of time out in California, he makes perfect sense for such a position). That gets him on the west coast.

With these two both in Los Angeles, it doesn’t take long (like, the end of the first issue) for these two to run into each other. The Widow has been working on trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the Night Shift, so she’s invited the Shroud to her new LA apartment to get some answers. The Shroud no longer leads the Night Shift, which he explains to the Widow. He also explains that the Night Shift want him dead, but not to worry, since he has one of his operatives (he had a few of them in his limited series) watching the building to make sure that the Shift doesn’t try anything. He then begins to tell the Widow what he knows of the Night Shift.

Meanwhile, the Night Shift does indeed want the Shroud dead, and they think that killing the Black Widow makes sense as well, since she could be a danger to them later. They gather near the Widow’s apartment building, but Ticktock warns them against acting now, as he can foresee that the Shroud’s operative will warn the crimefighter when he sees the Night Shift approaching the building, and the Shroud and the Widow will be able to escape. The Shift are contemplating their next move, when Hawkeye comes by. Hawkeye had heard the Widow was in LA and wanted to stop by and say hi. Hawkeye sees the Shroud’s operative, and not knowing who it is, assumes that anyone who’s keeping the Widow’s apartment under surveillance must be up to no good. Hawkeye attacks him, and while it wouldn’t be much of a fight, it doesn’t have to last long. Ticktock suddenly sees the future clear for an attack, and informs his colleagues. The Brothers Grimm fly up to the Widow’s apartment and throw some of their exploding eggs in the windows. Boom! The apartment explodes, and the Shift flees, just as the operative explains to Hawkeye that he was trying to protect the Widow and Shroud. Hawkeye turns just in time to see the explosion.

Hawkeye and the operative check out the wreckage, and find the Widow and the Shroud wounded, but alive. After the four of them help to rescue other tenants of the building, which is a total loss, the Shroud and his operative disappear, and the Widow goes to the hospital, Hawkeye trailing her. Once there, Hawkeye offers the Widow the option of staying with him, and since he was partly responsible for the destruction of her old place, she agrees. That gets them together. Living together they’re bound to help each other out, and with the Widow wounded, Hawkeye would insist on helping her, especially since he bears some guilt over her wounds.

I’d give them a five or six issue storyarc before introducing Pym. We had considered Pym to be a technical advisor for Hawkeye, but if we have him working for Damage Control, Hawkeye may not need an advisor, since Damage Control has one. How about this: after the Secret Invasion, Pym returns to Earth to again find that his name has been slandered and he’s considered a jerk. He’s been in this situation before, and this time, it’s not even his fault! He knows that he can use the “It was a skrull, not me!” defense, but he also knows that people may not buy that. Plus, as a prisoner of the skrulls for the last couple of years, Pym isn’t sure if he’s ready to go back out as a superhero again; he’s a little out of practice. What to do?

Then Pym sees the news of Hawkeye being back on the west coast, and remembers how Hawkeye gave Pym a chance all those years ago when Pym was trying to rebuild his life the first time. Pym contacts Hawkeye and offers his services as Clint’s technical advisor, but Hawkeye says that Damage Control has that covered. Or, well, they would have it covered if they had hired a tech advisor for the west coast yet. But they haven’t. They’re still looking for someone who has the knowledge they need to work as a technical advisor. They’d love someone with a good knowledge of science, who has experience with superhumans, and who doesn’t rattle easily. Hey, that sounds like Pym! Pym takes the job, and now we have the three of them working together. Thoughts?

I find it humorously ironic that Hawkeye was first sent to the west coast to start up a branch of the Avengers, to help spread heroic protection across the nation. Now we have him once again headed west, but this time to help head up a division of an organization dedicated to cleaning up after the heroes have completed their “protection” efforts. The funny part is that I can see Hawkeye finding some sardonic humor in this harsh reality as well.

While I won’t say there isn’t a definite stretch in logic to have the Night Shift attacking Black Widow just for merely being in town, I suppose their pursuit of Shroud would lead to some conclusion jumping. Strike while the iron’s hot, and all that. I do like the way you’ve brought Pym into the picture and it allows Clint and Natasha to rebuild their friendship before introducing another prominent character. Plus, I just love the idea of Damage Control…and, by offering him some public face time and some behind-the-scenes access, it almost combines our previous thoughts on Clint’s new career path. I also like the idea of digging into the celebrity phenomenon as it applies to superheroes…aside from Wonder Man’s brief fling with Hollywood, I can’t remember a time that Marvel has ever pursued this angle aggressively (which is especially telling considering the fact that Marvel claims to set all their adventures in the “real world” and our society seems to be in a constant media-induced euphoria).

Good. Let’s add this to the list of Titles I Now Want to Write. Darn it.


The other FF: The Frightful Four

Aug-12-08

Every superhero or superhero team has it’s archenemy, the one villain or group of villains which act as their opposite number, the foes who return to bedevil them on a constant basis. In the case of some superheroes, there may even be multiple villains vying for that honor. Who’s Spider-Man’s archenemy? Dr. Octopus? The Green Goblin? Venom? That can be a hard question to answer for some heroes, but there’s no doubt that all of the options presented for Spider-Man are well known archvillains. Other heroes also have archenemies who are very well known and respected. In the case of the Fantastic Four, their archenemies are….The Frightful Four!

Right? What, you expected me to say Dr. Doom? Well, I guess you’d be correct, but how could a villain group that patterns itself after the heroes they wish to destroy come in second on the archvillain countdown? In fact, many people would say that the Frightful Four come in a lot worse than second, contending that there are plenty of other Fantastic Four villains who are more dangerous and respected than the Frightful Four. Those people would be correct. So why does the Frightful Four suck so much? How can they be better? Let’s take a look.

The Frightful Four have been trying to destroy the Fantastic Four since 1966, so they’ve quite a bit of history behind them. The group was originally created by the Wizard, a mousy little genius who used to entertain people with his scientific tricks. Then Reed Richards popped up, and the Wizard suddenly didn’t look so cool. He vowed to destroy Richards to prove that himself smarter, and formed the Frightful Four for that purpose. He recruited his closest partner, Paste-Pot Pete, who renamed himself the Trapster. Perhaps recruiting someone named Paste-Pot Pete, who’s power was the ability to use a glue gun, was the first step on the road of suckiness for these guys, but if so, the Wizard was blissfully unaware. He next snagged the Sandman, Spider-Man’s villain. These three characters, for years, would form the nucleus of the Frightful Four. The last recruit was Medusa, the queen of the Inhumans, although she was suffering from amnesia at the time and didn’t realize she wasn’t a villain.

So, the original Frightful Four contained a 90 pound weakling who could fly, a nut with a glue gun, someone Spider-Man beat once by sucking him into a vacuum cleaner, and a woman with the power of super-hair. I have no idea why this group wasn’t taken more seriously.

After a few failed runs at the Fantastic Four, Medusa remembered she wasn’t a villainess, and left the group. She was replaced by Thundra, a super-strong woman from an alternate dimension….who soon decided that she wasn’t a villain either. Hey, at least she had a real power and didn’t try to beat people up with her hair.

The Frightful Four tried quite a few people to fill that last slot in their roster, but no one seemed to stick. They even had tryouts, where they had various supervillains audition for a role in their little criminal group. Yeah, that didn’t end well either. Finally, the Sandman reformed, and perhaps realizing that the Trapster was a total loser, the Wizard decided to rebuild his group from the ground up. He actually went out and recruited some people with power, including Hydro-Man (another Spider-Man villain), Klaw and Titania. He then went one step further, and recruited a rogue Watcher, making them then Frightful Five, but sadly, this proved to be a mistake, as the Watcher betrayed the Wizard’s team.

The latest iteration was originally a team of five again, but the Trapster was soon removed from play by the Wizard. This left the Wizard himself, his ex-wife Salamandra (a half-dragon), Cole (their daughter, who can change her mass) and Hydro-Man. This quartet was beaten because Cole betrayed the team, but the team escaped and is considered viable by those folks at Marvel. But what’s next for them? Is there any room for them in the Marvel Universe? They’ve never been particularly respected or feared; can they make a name for themselves as a super-villain team to beat?

How dare you demean Paste-Pot Pete like that! That man is a legend. Of course, considering the fact that the Wizard recently threw him under the bus, I guess I can’t blame you either. Hell, the guy saves Wizard from floating off into space on his faulty gravity disks and he repays him by throwing him into some weird time suck years later. That’s true friendship for you.

I find it kind of humorous that the Frightful Four is always brought down from the inside out. First Medusa pops out of her amnesia funk and turns on the group. Then, in their next go-round, Sandman decides he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. They make the fatal flaw of dragging a hypnotized hero, in this case Spider-Man, into battle alongside them only to have him turn on them. Wizard goes on to recruit an outright ridiculous lineup…Trapster, Man-Bull and Dreadknight…which gets its butt handed to it by some dude named Turbine and the Rangers (who???). Oh, and then there’s the incarnation featuring Constrictor, Taskmaster and Deadpool which is defeated by Ben Grimm and Franklin Richards. FRANKLIN f’in RICHARDS. The Frightful Four was bested by a child! Man, the only thing “frightful” about that group was Taskmaster’s mask.

I think the strength of the Frightful Four (or Five) is the fact that it attempts to set itself up as an opposite version of the Fantastic Four. That’s probably the reason why a lot of these lineups didn’t work. Wizard is always supposed to be the anti-Reed (it’s that whole smart guy ego thing) and I assume Trapster is supposed to match up with Human Torch. Right? Beyond that though, where do they go? Blastaar, Thundra and Titania all have a similarity to Thing, I guess. Not sure about the Invisible Woman doppelganger…was that supposed to be Klaw? Do sound waves counteract invisibility…uh…waves?

That’s where the whole premise unravels for me. If you’re not modeling yourself as direct opponents to your enemies, then you’re just a bunch of lame bad guys trying to make a name for yourselves and you’re going to get beat. Why do you think Spider-Man was always fighting groups of villains calling themselves the “Sinister Six” or the “Eerie Eight” or even the “Dubious Dozen?” They knew they couldn’t handle him alone because none of them matched up well with his powers. And numbers usually win. Except in comics.

The latest grouping, as odd as it was, actually made some sense as a parallel to the Fantastic Four. However, they seem to have taken it too far with the whole family aspect mirroring that of the Richards/Storm clan. Who knew Wizard had time (or the necessary skills) to land a half-dragon ex-wife, let alone create a child? And just how old is his daughter Cole? When did all of that happen? And, living up to the Frightful Four curse, Cole ends up turning on her daddy and causing the group’s defeat.

So how would I tweak things to make them more useful in the Marvel Universe? Well, the first thing would be to force Wizard into retirement. Seriously. He just can’t seem to grasp the notion that he’s not quite on the same level as Reed Richards. Granted, he will never step aside or turn over the name to another villain…so let’s just work with what we have.

Wizard lines up with Reed (at least in the implied intelligence realm…not at all on the powers side of things). I think there was a bit of ingenious casting with Hydro-Man in the most recent group to cancel out Human Torch’s abilities. I’d recommend including Hydro-Man’s buddy Shocker into the group just for the witty banter, but I know that would just lead to some sort of convenient in-fighting sure to doom the group’s success. A female wouldn’t be a bad addition and would play well against Sue…but who would that character be? It shouldn’t just be a female, it should be someone whose power is an opposite force. What’s the opposite of invisible? Not really a power, huh? And then, certainly, you need some sort of strong type to battle Thing. Rhino? Armadillo? Absorbing Man?

Hmm…I’ve always liked Absorbing Man. And he has an interesting skill set. Plus, he’s battled both Hulk and Thor to near standstills. Should effectively go toe-to-toe with Thing. The only problem is that puts two dudes on the team with the word “Man” in their names. Blah.

The female could be…uh…um…I dunno. Can you think of a female supervillain with the relative power of manipulating solid matter? Someone like Terra in the DC Universe maybe? Or someone who can control the air around her? Wind powers? Flight? I’m at a loss. I’m sure there’s someone obvious that I’m forgetting.

That’s a start though. Let’s build a team we think lines up nicely against the FF. Then we’ll try to figure out a motive (besides the obvious “Wizard is pissed that he keeps getting his ass handed to him” angle). Cool?

Lines up nicely against the FF how? It seems you’re leaning towards matching powers, and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go. I mean, does super-strength match up with super-strength, which seems to be where you were going in the above entry? If the answer is yes, then shouldn’t we match a villain with fire powers against the Torch rather than Hydro-Man?

I had always assumed that the Wizard, in wanting to beat Richards at his own game, kept his membership steady at 4 people, since if he beat the Fantastic Four with the Frightful Forty, he’d be in for some valid criticism that you don’t need to be a genius to win with those kinds of odds. However, if the Wizard is trying to beat Richards at his own game, what are the criteria he would use to choose the members of his foursome? All of the Fantastic Four are pretty competent, which should suggest that the Trapster should have been ditched a long time ago; is it possible that the Wizard believes that, if he beats the Fantastic Four using real loser supervillains, he’ll seem even smarter? Are we looking at a new team composed of Wizard, Trapster, Shocker and the Kangaroo? Then, when he stands over the defeated Richards he can scream, “And I did it with these pathetic rejects!”, thereby ensuring an even sweeter triumph?

I find the Wizard a fascinating character. He has such a high opinion of himself, and occassionally he is displayed as having a modicum of style and competence, but he’s never been someone I could consider an A List villain. Back in the 1990’s, Marvel had a crossover called Acts of Vengeance, where the most powerful and important Marvel villains teamed up. Wizard was one of those villains, but it was obvious that he barely qualified, and even the other members of this core group of archvillains considered him a loser. He was like the little kid brother who wanted to go play with his older brother and the gang. In fact, I think he was the only one of that group of master villains who was captured at the end of the crossover; I believe everyone else made a clean getaway. It’s like he has one foot in the big leagues, but he can’t quite crawl up there and take a seat at the adult table.

I think this is where the Wizard’s motivation comes from. He wants to prove he’s smarter than Richards, but more importantly, he wants to prove that he’s got it. The Wizard isn’t respected by anyone in the Marvel Universe; he gets no respect from the heroes, from the other villains, and probably from the general populace. The Wizard started out as a villain because he desperately craved the respect he felt Richards had stolen from him. I don’t think he’s still fixated on Richards (although I’ve no doubt that he’d love to make the stretchy hero pay for past indignities), but he sees beating the Fantastic Four as the first step on the road to the power and respect that he feels he’s due. I think that’s what the Wizard is doing; he’s creating a team that he can use to beat the Fantastic Four once and for all and show everyone that he’s the master villain he believes himself to be. He can’t win by brute force; he has to win in a way that shows off his cleverness and planning abilities, and if he can also prominently feature a few inventions of his, well, that would be icing on his cake.

Does that work as motivation to you? It’s kind of the old motivation, but expanded on and focused. Once we know the motivation he has, then we can figure out what sort of group he’d be likely to assemble.

There is something to be said about assembling a near-mentally-challenged group of baddies to take down one of the most respected clans in the Marvel Universe. Maybe Wizard is just so obsessed with proving himself that he feels he needs to surround himself with co-conspirators who are beneath him so that he can attempt to “shine.” Ridiculous thought, but conceivable nonetheless.

My attempt to line the two groups up hero-to-villain makes tactical sense…counteract their strengths or exploit their weaknesses. There’s not much you can do to fight a big, strong guy other than throw another big, strong person at them. However, you can effectively fight fire with water (or sand or…uh…glue?). That’s where I was looking when I was matching them up. The powers you can’t tangibly cancel out, like super strength or super smarts, you just have to try to line up toe-to-toe with. Which makes me think that you may be able to go a step further to battle back against the Invisible Woman…pit her against a person who can manipulate darkforce (like Shroud or Darkstar or Blackout or maybe even Spot).

Anyway.

Yeah, Wizard is widely disrespected. Maybe that’s why Trapster sticks around? I dunno. Although it makes me think of loser characters that writers have turned around in the comics and made interesting again. The first one that comes to mind is Vanisher, the old X-Men foe. He was completely useless with the most ridiculous costume. Then, decades later, he shows up in a slick business suit and becomes a sort of Fagin to the young mutant thieves known as Fallen Angels. It was a nice turnaround from obscurity to relevance. Maybe we need to do that with Wizard before he’s taken seriously again? Have him actually pull something off that he can brag about or just have him reinvent himself in a new image that makes people stop and think.

That’s two directions right there. Either surround him with complete tools and try to pull off the nigh-impossible…or rejigger his entire persona and make him viable as a leader again. What would you like to do?

You know, we also might consider the fact that he often staffs his team with losers like Trapster because that’s all he can get to work with him. As we continually state, he’s not got a lot of respect in the supervillain community. I would imagine he finds it difficult to get more powerful and competent villains to join his team, since they may be thinking that there’s no reason for them to hitch their wagons to this loser.

For that matter, a lot of villains may be unsure why they’d want to work with the Frightful Four anyway. I mean, what do they get out of it?

Wizard: “Come, join the Frightful Four! It will be glorious!”

Green Goblin: “Great! So, what’s the plan?”

Wizard: “We shall use my brilliant plan to destroy the Fantastic Four!”

Green Goblin (clearly excited): “That’s great! And then…”

Wizard: “And then we shall tell people that we used my brilliant plan to destroy the Fantastic Four!”

Green Goblin (perplexed): “Um, yeah, that’s great Wiz, but I mean, beyond that, what will…”

Wizard: “And then I shall have respect and people will fear me, and I’ll be invited to Doom’s barbecue’s and will finally be able to taste Kingpin’s award winning baked beans and…”

Green Goblin (rolling his eyes): “I’m outta here.”

I’m actually amazed he can even get the Trapster to join his team; what exactly is he offering these people that entices them to join his gang? In any case, all of the problems with the Frightful Four have to be traced back to the Wizard. He’s assembled the group, he’s created the plans, and I believe it’s his loser stench that permeates the group. You asked whether to surround him with losers and try and make him a legitimate villain. I’m not sure that the two are mutually exclusive. I am in love with the idea of the Wizard saying to himself that his victory over Richards will mean so much more if he’s using Mr. Fish from the old Power Man comic as a member of his team. However, even if we go the route of him using losers (and I’m not sure we should), the Wizard has to first be repositioned as a force to be reckoned with. As long as he’s seen as the loser of the Marvel Universe, his Frightful Four, no matter the membership, is going to be a joke.

So, our first mission has to be to make the Wizard dangerous. On the surface, that shouldn’t be too horribly difficult. First, the Wizard actually is very intelligent. That’s been shown again and again. Second, he’s ruthless. In some ways, he may even be more ruthless than your typical villain. This is someone who had no problems kidnapping a four year old Franklin Richards and torturing him for a plot. He made a deal with the Plantman to help him escape from prison, and when Plantman became a liability, he shot the poor sod into space, leaving him to asphyxiate. He is not a nice man and he has no real pretensions of being one.

I think the Wizard has one huge strike against him; he’s a tiny little guy who looks incredibly non-threatening. I think a new outfit is called for, one that makes him seem bulkier and more menacing. Right now I’m pretty sure I could punch this doofus out. While he doesn’t need to look like he can take the Thing in a fist fight, he should look a little more solid. Plus, I’d change his colors; right now his outfit has too many pale reds and light colors. I’d go with more blood reds and blacks. It’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s essential that we try and make the little twerp look more threatening.

Other ideas?

You make much sense, Kemo Sabe. The Wizard is a fool. Surrounding himself with other fools (whether greater or lesser than himself) is a fruitless effort that will continue to lead to defeat. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t really have anyone beating down his door to join up. Slim pickings lead to slim chances, right?

I like the idea of updating his look, however I think it will take far more than superficial tweaks to make him a worthy opponent for anyone shy of the Power Pack. There’s a tried and true cliché of villains pretending to go straight in an effort to lure their enemies into a trap. In the Wizard’s case, I think it holds a little more relevance than, say, Green Goblin attempting to do it for the billionth time. We can make it a really twisted game on his part too.

Take him out of his costume for a while. Let’s have him make a name for himself outside of being a dick. Perhaps he invents something infinitely useful in the Marvel Universe. He gains a level of acclaim, starts going on talk shows and headlining symposiums. We can really let his intellect shine. And then we can have him setting up a charitable organization and showing up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. All of this publicity would eventually get under Reed Richards’ skin…imagine the ridiculous twerp that your family beat up time after time going on to become someone famous. Your name is bound to be mentioned in every speech and interview he gives, yet he will increasingly be shown in a positive light.

The funny thing is, Wizard wouldn’t be doing any of this for any reason other than growing his prestige so he can recruit a better class of villain to assist him in taking Reed down a notch or two. It’s a creepy idea that is also pretty sad when you think about it. However, it would be impressive if he actually pulled it off and it would put him into a new level of evilness. You don’t see too many storylines where the villain wins. I’m not suggesting Wizard destroys the FF, but it would be interesting to actually have him beat them at some level and then escape to fight another day…kind of an “immoral” victory.

Of course, then it would be funny to have him do something stupid and get caught right after his glowing success…just to remind everyone that he’s still the Wizard. Is it wrong that even when I want him to succeed as a plausible villain, I still want him to revert back to his old ways? Is that just Marvel messing with my head for the past 30 years?

The Wizard is sitting in a dark, empty bar on a Tuesday afternoon telling some hack reporter about the one time he was really cool. And then he has to call Walrus to come drive him home, because he’s too drunk to operate his gravity disks…

Poor Wizard. Man, he just can’t catch a break! Even when he’s on top, you want to pull him back down!

Actually, your idea (as far as him becoming a celebrity again) is a superb one. It’s how he started out, and he does have a skill set which should allow him to amaze the masses. I very much like that idea, and I think it could work.

My first thought is not to have him go back to being a complete screw-up though. Of course, it could be argued that there’s no need to give the Fantastic Four a super competent villain in the Wizard; don’t these people already have a rogues’ gallery headlined by Dr. Doom? Do they really need anyone else on their case? I’d argue that yes, you can never have enough cool and competent villains, and when your rogues’ gallery also includes the Impossible Man, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the Puppet Master and the Mole Man, yeah, I think making the Wizard more villainous and keeping him that way could be a good thing. Let’s face it, the Fantastic Four may have the best villain in comics as their archenemy, but you can’t fight Doom every issue. Many of their “villains” have turned out to be misunderstood heroes (like Namor, the Inhumans and the Black Panther), and the rest of their villains tend to be pretty lame. And before someone suggests it, no, Galactus is not one of their villains, and isn’t even really a villain at all. Besides, if you can’t fight Doom every issue, you sure as hell can’t fight Galactus every issue.

I think that a more media savvy Wizard would be hesitant to get his hands dirty. Once he had the love of the masses, he’s not going to want to lose it by getting caught knocking around a four year old kid, or smacking a blind woman who got in his way. I think he’d step back to do more planning, and probably only actually go into action when his new Frightful Four actually took on the Fantastic Four in a fight. I also think, because of that, the Wizard would want a more competent group of allies, so no Trapster in this version of the Frightful Four. So, who would he recruit?

You make an important point about Wizard not wanting to get his hands dirty after achieving some sort of positive notoriety. I was thinking that myself and came to the conclusion that he would probably seek to recruit an entire Frightful Four sans himself. Four people who are wired in to his communication feed would allow him to be the leader without risking his reputation by being unmasked in the field. Plus, as you pointed out previously, it’s not like he’s some sort of combat expert or anything. Hell, they’d probably have a better chance of succeeding without him to slow them down in battle. And it would be rather sneaky of him if he used his intellect to devise some sort of remote-controlled Bluetooth devices that he could literally fry from a distance in case they get captured…like a secret agent placing a cyanide pill under his tongue…eliminating any evidence that could be linked back to him. Of course, he wouldn’t tell his recruits about this failsafe.

So, the question becomes who would he trust or think he could control, that would also be effective in the field. It’s hard to think of any successful villains in the Marvel Universe who don’t already work for themselves. Being a huge fan of the character, the first person that comes to mind for me is Taskmaster, the quintessential mercenary. However, he’s currently working for the good guys as a trainer with The Initiative (although rumor has it that The Initiative will be ending soon). I’ve already mentioned that I think Absorbing Man would be an adequate foe…he’s got a power that is nearly limitless and has gone toe-to-toe with Thor and Hulk repeatedly.

If you want to think about who could best neutralize the Fantastic Four, you have to consider what those four members are good at and what they sort of fall short in. Reed is the thinker, Ben is the brute, Johnny is the hotshot and Sue is the consummate defender. In that group, there really isn’t anyone who counters psionic abilities like telepathy, telekinesis or the like. And there’s no one in that group who has anything to do with magic. Those are two areas we could explore for additional villains.

And, to tell the truth, I don’t really mind Hydro-Man as a member. He makes a certain amount of sense, although he really isn’t the brightest bulb in Marvel’s villain ranks. I think we need a group of four who will not only work well together, but will also understand what they’re supposed to be doing. Don’t be too quick to throw out Trapster! I have a feeling he could hold a grudge and end up throwing a wrench into the group’s plans somehow…or not. He’d probably just end up gluing his hands together or something.

My internet access is a little wonky right now, so you’ll have to do a little more research on the villain side of things for me. Anyone stand out to you as a potential recruit for the Frightful Four?

The more I’ve thought of it, the more I love the idea of the Wizard achieving some mainstream fame, and being loathe to lose it. One of the things that makes the Wizard so boring at the moment is that he has nothing to lose. You know that, when he goes up against the Fantastic Four, he’s not going to win, and what happens when he loses? He goes back to jail….again. Oh, the humanity (read that in your best possible monotone for the full effect). By giving the Wizard something that can be taken away, we give him something to lose, making him a much more interesting character and a deeper villain (will his plans be better now, as he fears being caught? Will he do even more desperate things to avoid being captured?).

The first time he organizes a Frightful Four and doesn’t take a role in the battle, he can allow the group to know his identity, as he could take steps to make sure that, even if the villains are captured and rat him out, there would be no evidence to link them to him. After that first time, it might become more difficult for him to entice people to work for him, if they see him as throwing them under the bus when the going gets rough. That being said, he might be able to help his allies if they are captured without implicating himself, and I like the idea of him rarely taking direct action, but instead setting himself up as a controller and manipulator.

As for members….while we all tend to dismiss the Trapster as a useless stumblebum, he has on occasion been competent, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. Not only does he have an unbreakable adhesive that has managed to root Thor in place (and to the best of my knowledge, there is only one solvent that affects it), he also is a master of many sorts of traps and gadgets. Effectively directed, Trapster is the perfect member of a team such as the Frightful Four, and could honestly be useful in keeping any of the Fantastic Four out of a fight. Moreover, he’s someone the Wizard can trust, even though the Wizard has betrayed him in the past. I mean, Trapster either has a huge crush on the Wizard, or he’s the dopiest guy in the Marvel Universe, considering what he’s put up with dealing with the Wizard, and he keeps coming back for more!

The Absorbing Man certainly has the power to fight the Fantastic Four, that’s for sure. He’s also not someone that usually works on his own, and would probably be amenable to being a part of the group. Again, while he’s something of a super-strong guy, his powers are more versatile than they first appear, and he can really take on any member of the team. If he touches the Human Torch, he could easily duplicate his powers. He could take the Thing on, brick for brick. He could be rubbery like Mr. Fantastic; and wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when he touches one of the Invisible Woman’s force fields? Yeah, the Absorbing Man could be incredibly dangerous, bouncing around the battlefield, absorbing different powers as he needs them. He’d also be great against a lot of Reed’s inventions, since he could also absorb a lot of their properties.

I’d be tempted to add his wife Titania to the team. She’s been a team member in the past, and like her husband, she’s not someone who works well on her own. She’d cover the super-strength angle, giving the Absorbing Man more of a chance to absorb other sorts of abilities. This also gives the team a husband/wife coupling. I know we’re not trying to match the family feel of the Fantastic Four anymore, but I think it’s always interesting to have that sort of relationship between some members of your team. There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with a married couple, particularly when they’re the villains of the piece.

For the final member, I’m going to toss out Hydro-Man for someone who also does his best work when partnered with others, and someone who has also been portrayed as a loser. That would be Mentallo. This gives us someone with telepathic powers, which, as you pointed out, is something that the Fantastic Four have no real defense against (and precious little experience with). Moreover, if Mr. Fantastic’s brain is one of the Fantastic Four’s best weapons, what’s the most expedient way to neutralize that weapon? Find someone who can read his mind (telling you what that new invention is going to do before you get blasted by it, or knowing his plan before he even has time to tell his teammates), and potentially shut down his mind.

There’s my Frightful Foursome, who could combat the Fantastic Four under the direction and planning of the Wizard. All four of them can be effective, none of them are the leader type or likely to try and wrest control of the group from the Wizard. I think they could give a very good showing of themselves, and with the right plan, I think they could win.

I have a few thoughts on your selections, some positive and some questioning. First, the good stuff: Titania is an inspired selection. I knew she had a past with Absorbing Man, but I didn’t realize the depth of it. Not only has she previously been a member of the Four, she would also be the catalyst to bring Absorbing Man into the group…something I had been trying to figure out how to do. Also, the WIzard had attempted to use his family in the last incarnation as a sort of mirror of the Fantastic Four’s family dynamic. That didn’t seem to go so well. However, using Titania and Absorbing Man as the “family” is a way to inject that part of the team aspect without involving the Wizard and having him order his own peeps around.

I’m not as sold on your other half of the group though.

You spent the first half of this post dogging Trapster for being a loser and then you want him on the team after all? I have two thoughts on why he shouldn’t be involved. First of all, he and Wizard don’t seem to be getting along so well lately. I’m not even sure why Trapster continues to come back for more punishment, especially after Wizard maliciously put him in that time-loop thingy. Secondly, I don’t think Trapster has it in him. His abilities seem to work best in one-on-one fights against street-level heroes. He has beaten Daredevil and Spider-Man on separate occasions, but he always falls short in team situations. I still think Hydro-Man makes more sense and matches up well against Human Torch.

And Mentallo came to mind for me as well. He has a past in team-up situations and he has fought against Thing and the Fantastic Four. However, upon further research, his powers have some severe limitations. He can’t really use his talents against moving targets (???) and he’s susceptible to psionic feedback. I’d just be concerned that he’d be the weak link in the group (if Trapster is already taken out of the picture). So I’m on the fence about him right now. If you can make a credible argument for him, that’s fine. Perhaps it’s as simple as retooling him a bit…like we’ve talked about doing with Wizard. I mean, Mentallo is one of Marvel’s oldest villains (as is Trapster for that matter) and it would be cool to give him some new life as a character. It worked for his old partner The Fixer, who is now a long-term member of the Thunderbolts.

I don’t know if you read the recent Modok’s 11 miniseries, but Mentallo showed up in that (as did The Spot, a former member of the Legion of Losers, that I had talked about earlier on) and they added a few interesting personality bits to him and the others. Not a great story, but it had some cool character moments in it…and showed how treacherous it is to work in a group of back-stabbing, self-serving villains.

Like I stated in my previous response, I think it would be an intriguing side story to show Trapster irritated at being left out of the group. Maybe he tries to start up his own answer to the Frightful Four at some point and makes a complete fool out of himself. I dunno. There’s got to be some way to stick to the traditional view that the Frightful Four can’t cut it and yet have them win at the same time. It’s like I’m only half-serious about making this a successful revamp, huh?

I certainly understand why my feelings about Trapster seem a little schizophrenic. The reason I think he could work is because he actually is a talented maker of traps and glues, and used intelligently, he could be very effective in a team situation. In some instances, he has been effective within the Frightful Four, although that was mostly back in the 1960s when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first introduced this villainous quartet. So, yes, he has been portrayed as a total loser for years, but it seems that somewhere in there we have a character with potential, and one that really needs to be in a group. After all, the Trapster doesn’t really hurt people with his abilities, but instead he sets them up for other people to hurt. He needs those other three people.

The reason I keep trying to remove Hydro-Man from the team (he is so going to be your next one-shot, since you obviously have some sort of special place for him in your heart) is because he has NO personality. He is a walking gimmick, a set of powers to be used, but there’s no character behind them. He reminds me of the old Silver Age DC villains, where all you had was a neat costume and a specialty, so you got to be a villain, personality be damned. Trapster, on the other hand, has a personality, and if he’s trying to prove himself in this group, it makes him even more interesting. Why would the Trapster return to the group, and why does he keep submitting himself to the Wizard’s bullying? I think it’s obvious that the Trapster has a crush on the Wizard, and the Wizard knows it, and so he knows he can treat the Trapster any way he wants, and the Trapster will keep coming back for more.

Don’t like that? I’m okay with your not liking it, but if you really don’t want the Trapster (and I do like the idea of the Trapster creating his own team; he’d have to staff it with total losers. That could be a great story, and I could go that route.) could you possibly supply the team with someone besides Hydro-Man, someone who has a personality? Or at least come up with a personality for him?

As for Mentallo, I’ve never seen enough with him in it to say how well his powers work in a fight. If you think he’s underpowered, it would be simplicity itself to have the Wizard devise a helmet that could boost his powers. Or, perhaps Mentallo is more powerful than we’ve realized. I did read Modok’s 11 and Mentallo was killed in that series, only to reappear alive and well a few months later. Maybe he’s always downplayed his power so that people would underestimate him. If we don’t want Mentallo on the team, who else could we use?

I had more written, but the blog ate my post (which is “the dog ate my homework” for the new century). I wanted to suggest past members like Sandman or Klaw, but honestly, they aren’t really doing it for me. I also considered Volcana, since she has cool powers, and a history with Titania, so we could try and draw a Reed/Ben comparison with these two, but Volcana is a goodie goodie, and would never join the team. The Wizard could also do the mind thing with her that he did when the Sandman reformed, making her evil, but then would she have a personality?

We have half the team agreed on (Absorbing Man and Titania) and I think they’re excellent choices. Who rounds out this team?

After doing a bit more research on Wizard, Absorbing Man and their various connections, I’ve come to a few conclusions. First of all, there are a lot of useless villains in the Marvel Universe. And most of them appeared at one point or another in the Masters of Evil. Folks like Eel, Whirlwind, Tiger Shark, Gypsy Moth and Melter should probably never have been created in the first place. I do have a soft spot for Grey Gargoyle though.

My research also led me to accept Trapster as a necessary member of the Frightful Four. I mean, he is one of the founders of the group and has appeared in nearly every single incarnation. Also, if we’re going to remove Wizard from active battle, we should probably have someone out in the field who will easily represent the group. Trapster’s skills are a plus in team combat…did you know he has a powder that can render Mr. Fantastic’s “unstable molecules” inert? I’m not sure how turning the Fantastic Four’s uniforms into normal cloth will help in combat, but the visuals would be amusing. Add to that the bizarre love-hate history between Trapster and Wizard and I think you have the makings of some good comic books.

And I also discovered a one-off connection that could prove useful to the team. Wizard and the original Mysterio teamed up to battle Spider-Man once. That probably doesn’t mean much on the surface, considering Mysterio’s powers basically revolve around stage magic and a fishbowl helmet, but the newest Mysterio has much to offer the Frightful Four.

See, Kevin Smith introduced Francis Klum in his long-delayed Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries. Francis is a mutant with teleportation and telepathic powers. After being forced to kill his brother and then being attacked by Spider-Man, Francis vowed revenge. He contacted Kingpin and purchased Quentin Beck’s original Mysterio costume (along with a warehouse full of weapons and devices). Here’s where I think things could get interesting. Klum’s mutant abilities allow him to control people’s bodies without actually controlling their minds. He can also teleport himself (or just parts of his body) and has the full range of Mysterio’s costume tricks at hand…from smoke machines and leaping boots to electric-blasting gloves, dissolving acid fingertips, holographic projectors, hallucinogenic gases and built-in sonar. Lots of stuff to confuse and incapacitate.

Wizard, with his tech prowess, could most likely contact this new Mysterio through his suit somehow. He’d have no way of really knowing that this wasn’t the original Mysterio that he had teamed up with in the past. Could build an interesting dynamic. And, as a side note, could expose the fact that Wizard has been surreptitiously keeping tabs on all of his former associates.

Mysterio adds the mental power angle we were looking for, without tossing a perennial loser like Mentallo into the mix (though I could see Mentallo in an advisory role at Wizard’s side). And, with the addition of Trapster, gives us two characters who can run the whole “confuse and capture” angle of any successful superhero conflict. They provide the set-up while Absorbing Man and Titania execute the takedown. Mysterio and Trapster also give us some weapons that don’t involve hand-to-hand combat…distance and range can be effective tactics on their own, especially if they allow the rest of the team to get closer without as much danger to them.

So what do you think of that lineup? And how do you see the whole thing scenario playing out…from gathering the team, to laying down the plans, to following through?

I love that team! I’m a huge Mysterio fan from way back, and he’s always been my favorite of Spidey’s villains. I was quite perturbed when Kevin Smith killed him, but it looks like the new one has even more potential than poor old Quentin Beck ever did. Honestly, Absorbing Man and Titania have so much raw power between the two of them that the new group doesn’t need more power; having people with more subtle powers and powers that allow them to set up the bad guys is much more useful to the team (and can I say how much I love the idea of neutralizing the Fantastic Four’s unstable molecule clothing? Sue would have to expend extra power to make her clothes invisible, Johnny would be naked, and Reed would be stretching out of his clothes all over. I’m not sure if there’s combat potential here, but it would be amusing).

How does this play out? Okay, the Wizard gets out of jail and starts his plan to become the darling of the media, and gain popularity and the cover spot on People. He’s successful, but realizes that he still needs to show up (or destroy) Reed and his team. However, Wizard is loathe to lose his newfound acceptance, and also realizes that it can be helpful to his plans in the future. So, he needs to put together a new Frightful Four, one he can control (so no heavy thinkers) and one that has a chance at destroying the heroic FF. However, he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s behind this. What can he do?

He needs someone that he trusts, and the only person he knows who won’t betray him is the Trapster. Wizard had hoped to put this group together without including this guy, but he knows that the Trapster is loyal to the Wizard no matter what happens, so he approaches him. He explains to the Trapster that he wants to reform the villainous FF, and that he wants Trapster to lead the team in the field. Good old Pete is beside himself with glee, as it means that the Wizard is finally being nice to him and finally recognizing that he has some potential. Of course, that’s not really what this means, it just means the Trapster is the perfect fall guy, but hey, Pete can think whatever he wants to, and the Wizard sure as heck isn’t going to correct these misconceptions. The Trapster is in; he knows to never mention the Wizard and not to let anyone know the Wizard is involved. The Wizard also gives Trapster a new earpiece, with which the two of them can communicate.

Wizard knows the new team needs raw power, and Titania, a former member, has raw power in spades. He sends Trapster to recruit her. At first Titania is unimpressed with the idea of joining a group led by Trapster, but the Trapster (at the Wizard’s prodding, through the earpiece) offers her much money and the chance to take on Spider-Man (as a revenge fight) after the group is done with the Fantastic Four. He also outlines a little of the plan against the Fantastic Four; enough that Titania feels he knows what he’s doing. She agrees to join, with one condition; her husband, the Absorbing Man, joins as well. The Wizard is thrilled, as he wanted the Absorbing Man anyway, and the deal is sealed.

That’s three of the four. Wizard then sends Trapster to find Mysterio, and the scene before more or less repeats, using a form of persuasion more likely to entice the new Mysterio, although that might not be difficult, since Mysterio could see this as a chance to establish a new rep. There’s your foursome. Now they fight the Fantastic Four.

I think the fight would be a victory for the Frightful Four, and a victory in a public place. The victory would come from the plan; the Frightful Four would fight with the Trapster leading them, while he is receiving instructions from the Wizard (who can be a better leader now that he’s out of the battle and can sit back and observe). Once they beat the heroic FF, they keep them captive, and that’s when things go bad. The heroes get free, and without the pre-planning, the new FF lose; however, this isn’t a total rout, and they manage to escape, keeping them free and allowing us to do more with them in the future.

Also, while you could go through the entire story of the Wizard talking to the Trapster, and the recruitment of the team, which could be interesting, you could also do it a different way. Perhaps the first time we see the glimmerings of the new team is when the Trapster goes to recruit Titania. When he informs her that he’s restarting the Frightful Four, she asks about the Wizard. Trapster scoffs, saying that his former partner has gone legit, but just because the Wizard has left the field, it doesn’t mean that the Trapster has. This continues for the next few issues, and we move forward to where the Frightfuls beat the Fantastics. “But, how could you beat us?”, a broken Sue asks right before she slips into unconsciousness. “How indeed?”, replies the Trapster, as the camera zooms to his earpiece, and we then see the Wizard sitting at his control board, watching the scene and laughing to himself. “Yes, how indeed?”, he reiterates. Then we keep the Wizard’s involvement secret until late in the plot.

I think there’s a lot we could do with this villain group, and I’d want to keep these five together for quite a awhile, exploring the relationships between them. You?

The setup makes sense, but the way it is carried out has to be clear. If we’re going to spend time setting up the Wizard as a “winner” again, then it would be pretty silly to try to hide from the readers the fact that he’s behind this new Frightful Four. I mean, the Wizard’s comeback would be the backup story in the Fantastic Four title for a few months and then, just as he achieves something, we suddenly forget him and focus on this scene of Trapster recruiting members? Overall, I like the idea of holding back some info, but this way just seems rather jumpy to me.

In my college writing classes, I was always taught to start the action as late into the scene as possible. Perhaps we take some of that advice and tell the story in a disassembled outline…similar to Tarantino’s vision of Pulp Fiction…or we start at the end sort of like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Also, I think some of the problem is that we’re trying to tell two different stories here at the same time. Wizard’s rise to fame needs to happen almost on its own, with a few issues’ worth of pause in between before the new Frightful Four recruitment drive begins, just so readers can let it all settle in first. Or, even after Wizard reaches the top, we can continue to show backup stories where his new public persona really starts to get under Reed’s skin. There are definitely a few ways to handle it.

I’m also not sold on the idea of the Frightfuls holding the Fantastics captive. I’d much rather see some sort of hit-and-run attack where they survive to cause havoc another day. Better yet, I’d like to see a series of victories that really force the Fantastics to reevaluate the way they do things. Could start out with small wins like disabling Johnny for a while, then stealing some gadget of Reed’s, then popping Ben into another dimension, and so on until the big faceoff. Let’s give the heroes a real threat that keeps coming back to hit them in the jaw…divide and conquer, rattle their beliefs, instill some doubts and fears. You’re right that there’s some real power in this foursome and there’s also some really conniving individuals who have been beaten down repeatedly and are looking for some payback in any form possible.

And you’re right, there are a lot of internal relationships we could explore in the group…from Crusher and Titania’s marriage to the volatility between Wizard and Trapster to the unknown identity issues of Mysterio. There’s also the new dynamic of Trapster being some sort of a “leader” in the group versus what is really going on behind the scenes. Lots of layers there. Layers are good.

So I’ve reached a resolution within myself not to push so hard to make these guys a failure again. I’m behind the revamp 100% and I think our reasoning is pretty sound. And I think we can deliver a shocking arc that really gives some strength and emotion to the sometimes namby-pamby feel of the Fantastic Four book.

Y’know, then we can get some Doom in there!

I like it! Your points are well taken, and I think this can work. I also like the suggestion of some hit and run attacks on the Fantastic Four, and while we’ve been focusing on the villains, this team has the real potential to affect the heroes as well. I love the idea of Reed becoming annoyed at the Wizard’s success. He’s often shown as being above all human emotion, but of course he isn’t. It’s not so much that he is jealous of people, but the Wizard has tried to kill Reed and his family many times in the past; of course Reed would be frustrated when this guy starts becoming popular!

I also see Johnny and Ben being annoyed that this team of lame losers, who the Fantastic Four have defeated handidly in the past, now is beating them, even if it’s just small victories in the hit and run style. Those small victories might not normally be enough to really annoy anyone, but because they’re being won by a team that the Fantastic Four had written off as useless makes them that much more meaningful (I can hear Johnny worrying about what Spider-Man will say when he finds out that the Trapster somehow got one over on the Torch).

You ended this so well, but I had to make a few comments, because this me more excited than any revival of the Frightful Four rightfully should. But here, since your ending was good, we’ll just use it again.

So I’ve reached a resolution within myself not to push so hard to make these guys a failure again. I’m behind the revamp 100% and I think our reasoning is pretty sound. And I think we can deliver a shocking arc that really gives some strength and emotion to the sometimes namby-pamby feel of the Fantastic Four book.

Y’know, then we can get some Doom in there!


Circus of Crime: The Greatest Foes on Earth?

May-29-08

Let’s do something new this time around. Bring on the bad guys! Sure, we could’ve picked a big name like Magneto or the Red Skull as our first villain revamp…but where’s the fun in that. No, we decided to go with a little-known group that has gone up against such formidable opponents as The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Sensational She-Hulk and…uh…The Hilarious Howard the Duck.

Circus of Crime

Look, I’m kidding. I actually REALLY like the Circus of Crime. I think it’s a cool idea for a villain group. Let’s face it, circuses are sort of creepy. And the traveling ones already have that fly-by-night rip-off vibe to them (in addition to the creepiness). The Circus of Crime has an even weirder vibe: it was begun by Nazi sympathizers! Yes, Maynard Tiboldt led a ragtag group of German spies posing as circus performers. Their modus operandi involved gathering an audience, hypnotizing them and then stealing their stuff. That was about it. Although the magic of it all was that the victims didn’t remember being robbed, which meant the bad guys could move on to the next town without worrying about getting caught.

The lineup for the Circus of Crime most often included the following: Ringmaster (with his hypnotizing hat), The Clown (with a unicycle and juggling balls), Bruto the Strongman (who wasn’t all that strong), Human Cannonball (who, uh, was shot out of a cannon), The Great Gambonnos (two leather-loving acrobat brothers), Princess Python (who had a snake) and Live Wire (a cowboy with an electric rope). It was a grouping sure to induce fear at its very sight…or waves of uncontrollable laughter.

As things stand in current Marvel continuity, Ringmaster and the Gambonnos were captured during Civil War. The Clown, who I feel had the most potential, has joined the Gamma Corps as part of World War Hulk and is now the oddly feathered and clawed Griffin. And Princess Python is now on her own and was last seen at the funeral for her “husband” Stilt-Man. That leaves a dude in pretty good shape, some guy with a huge cannon and an electric cowboy…not the best makings for a powerful group dedicated to evil and mayhem.

Granted, some of the characters shown being captured during Civil War have already been seen back on the streets (see Trapster, Wizard, Hydro-Man, Titania and Klaw as the new Frightful Five), so it should be pretty easy to bring out Ringmaster and start fresh…but I recommend leaving the S&M twins in the pokey.

So where do we go from here? How do we make the Circus of Crime into impressive enemies? Circuses are kind of strange in today’s culture. A lot of the stereotypical characters are outdated. And the hypnotism angle is pretty one-dimensional. But it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, get ready for the most stupendous, most spectacular, most fantabulous revamp in the history of comics…

You know, for many lame, D-List villains, you have to work on giving them a personality. However, the Ringmaster has been used to great effect by some previous writers (like Peter David during his run on The Incredible Hulk) and he has a personality. I also agree that the circus angle is actually pretty cool; love them or hate them, circuses tend to evoke strong emotions in people, and evoking emotions is something you hope to do anytime you’re writing something. Plus, you have a lot of room to work with some rather odd, perhaps disturbing characters in a circus setting, since, to a large extent, anything goes!

Saying that, the entire concept never worked. The idea of hypnotizing everyone in the circus tent and then robbing them and leaving is truly absurd, even for the Silver Age. First of all, how could you possibly hypnotize everyone in a circus tent? In every drawing I’ve seen of the Circus of Crime, they sat people all around them, so at least 25% of the audience was staring at the Ringmaster’s back, while fully half of them could have only been getting his profile. That means you’d almost have to hypnotize the audience in stages, and how could the people who had not been hypnotized yet possibly have not noticed that huge chunks of the audience were now sitting still and doing nothing? Plus, what happened if someone left the main tent to go to the bathroom or something? If they walked back in when the looting was going on, wouldn’t that put a crimp in the plans of the Circus (although this could be prevented by locking down the tent right before hypnotizing began). One more problem: the Circus robs the entire crowd and then moves on (in their first appearance in The Incredible Hulk, if memory serves, they left town as soon as they were done looting and didn’t even finish the show. Plus, they looted the entire town, houses and all, not content just to loot the crowd at the big top. Apparently the entire town went to the circus. This town obviously loved themselves some clowns and trapeze artists). Surely, when hundreds of people find themselves much poorer, it wouldn’t take an Elongated Man to notice that they had all been to the circus and there would be quite a few arrest warrants out for the Circus. I mean, it’s not like they could hide….they’re a freakin’ circus!

Plus, the individual characters had their problems as well. The Ringmaster has one gimmick, and darned if he doesn’t drive it into the ground. If you’re blind (like Daredevil), close your eyes (as Spidey has) or grab his hat (which is pretty easy to snag), he’s powerless. Good grief, the hat doesn’t even look like it fits on his head snugly….I think he’d be defeated by a strong breeze! The most amusing character had to be the Human Cannonball, who often had to go into action sans cannon. In those instances, he basically put his head down and ran into people. I suppose I shouldn’t joke, as he put J. Jonah Jameson in the hospital that way once, but he looked ridiculously silly. Ugh.

But there’s hope for these malcontents yet! I like the Ringmaster, and would love to see him headline a new circus. However, I believe the hat has to go. Looking at modern circuses (which, I will admit, I don’t attend, so my research is being done through the magic of the internet), I’m not seeing anyone wearing a goofy hat like that. I think his outfit needs modernized. The hat looks silly, and to be honest, it’s too easily taken away. I’d recommend one of two options. The first would be to fit him with some sort of hypnotizing contacts. Too silly, you say? We’re talking about a man who leads a Circus of Crime, I say! My problem with it, actually, isn’t that it’s silly so much as it seems cliched. “The man with the hypnotizing eyes!” sounds like the title of a 1950s 3-D extravaganza, not the man we need headlining the Circus of Crime. Plus, it has nothing to do with him being a ringmaster, which, you know, is kind of his schtick. I’d instead recommend that the hypnotizing effect be built into his coat. Ringmasters still wear the more outrageous, colorful coats that old Tiboldt sports, so why not put the effect there? It’s more stable and not likely to fall off, as the hat was, and it looks better. Plus, he could make the coat durable (perhaps bulletproof it?) so not only does it hypnotize folks, but it also helps to protect his skinny ass from the Hulk the next time the Circus tours the southwest.

Even if the original Clown is now running around as the Griffin (and I have no idea how I missed that development, and more importantly, why it seemed to fit the Clown’s character) we need a new clown. In fact, we might want more than one. If memory serves, the original Clown rode a unicycle and juggled. While I have no doubt that these abilities gave Peter Parker nightmares, we might want to find another angle for our new Clown. Now, the juggling and unicycle riding did point out two traits of a good clown; balance and coordination. I see us being able to take a Clown in two different ways; we could go more of an acrobatic route, making him a tumbling, spinning loose limbed harbinger of destruction. However, that doesn’t yell out clown as much as it yells out contortionist or acrobat. So, I would say we could go more in the other direction and make him like the Jester. In fact, let’s make him the Jester! I mean, a jester is really nothing more than a medieval clown. Plus, many storylines over the years have revolved around the Ringmaster and the Clown vying for control of the Circus (geez, these guys have really got to aim higher). What if Tiboldt approaches the Jester, and the two form a partnership. The Circus is basically co-run by these two, although, of course, neither one trusts the other. It provides some interesting give and take within the Circus, as the two work together relatively well, while still trying to outshine the other and seize solo power, while giving us a Clown who’s more than just a guy on a unicycle.

I think having a strongman is a good idea, whether it be Bruno or someone else. Does he need to have his “powers”, such as they aren’t, updated? I don’t know. There’s always room for a guy who’s just human level strong. I think Bruno just needs a personality. Perhaps he’s driven to be as strong as he can be, since he knows he doesn’t have another gimmick. Perhaps, in his quest to be as strong as he can be, he’s started using steroids, and is hooked on them. He’s even bigger and stronger than we remember, but also perhaps a little more prone to rages and harder to keep under control. He also now has a more personal reason to steal money; to pay for more steroid treatments. I also think he’d like to try and show off his strength against the heroes they encounter. While he may not be a match for Spider-Man, he might be stronger than Daredevil, the Black Widow or many other non-super strength heroes.

I also think adding in some new characters is imperative. We had a lady that trained snakes, and that’s somewhat impressive I suppose, but there are a lot more animals than snakes at a circus (actually, now that I think about it, what circus has snakes?). What about trainers that have lions, tigers and elephants at their beck and call? Side point: using these trained animals also provides a nice way to dispose of snoopy townspeople who may think the Circus is up to no good. What about some trained horseback riders? They can do some amazing tricks, so surely that could be put to good use in a fight. I think that acrobats are important, even if the Gambonnos were not the best example of the breed. Plus, if we throw in a freak show, as you sometimes see at a circus (or carnival, and the Circus of Crime always seemed to be a mixture of both) you can really get crazy!

That’s a lot for you to chew on though. Go ahead, chew, and then let me know what you think. There’s lots we can do with this, though.

Agreed on all of the above. You actually made me laugh out loud and I had to explain this whole thing to my wife. She just stared blankly at me when I was finished. Different strokes, right?

Ringmaster is an interesting character that has been given a personality (albeit one that involves him getting beat up and running away a lot). A clown is necessary and, as you mentioned, perhaps more than one. Your Jester idea has promise. I’ve always liked Jester. However, what if we take the clown to its next logical conclusion: multiple clowns coming from a single source (similar to Madrox’s power)…that would solve the “how many clowns can climb out of a tiny car” conundrum. Perhaps you can even mix in a bit of Speedball’s original power. Could you see an entire team of clowns bouncing all over the place in total chaos? And he needs a ridiculous name like “Chuckles” or “Giddy” or “Jerky.”

I also agree with your feeling that we need more members. There’s two ways we can go about this: tack on some existing villains that would fit in with the Circus’s theme or create some new villains specifically made for the team. I’m just going to vomit up the ideas I scribbled down last night and see if anything clicks with you:

EXISTING CHARACTERS: Madcap (this old Captain America foe is impervious to pain and quite insane and his costume is ridiculously garish), Machete (the knife-thrower from Batroc’s Brigade), Puppet Master or Tinkerer (someone who can create marching toy soldiers or other weird circus-themed machines), Stilt-Man (currently deceased, but the suit is always up for grabs), Red Ghost and his apes, whatever is left of the Death-Throws(Knicknack, Tenpin, Ringleader), maybe even Taskmaster?

NEW CHARACTERS: You mention the sideshow freaks, which I think is a perfect idea. Let’s create a new shape-shifting character named Sideshow. Let’s get a new strongman but give him a Bane vibe where he can increase his strength through some sort of pump or something. We can name him Blockbuster or Big Top. Maybe Ringmaster doesn’t have his hypnotic powers anymore and is just a schemer like Lex Luthor. The new hypnosis guy could be a mystic Swami or Fakir, like a snake charmer. An animal expert is key too. Someone not unlike Kraven the Hunter, but with the Aquaman-esque ability to control the beasts. And then there are the generic stereotypes that could be worked into any of these characters to good effect…a midget, a carnie, a contortionist, etc.

I also agree that we need to take a different look at the circus theme. When I think of a circus these days, I think of two things. The first is the traditional Ringling Bros. show. The second is something along the lines of Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque angle provides a new level of weirdness and creepiness…the colors, the music, the very strange scenes. Ooh, that gives me an idea too. What if Ringmaster plays a hypnotic calliope (sort of like Hypno-Hustler…hehe)?

What characters do you think work best? How many do we want in the cast? And how do we put this all together organically?

Wow. Lots of great ideas here. Let’s take a look.

I love your new clown! Combining the powers of Speedball and Madrox makes for a surprisingly formidable opponent (perhaps too formidable, to the point where I’d recommend limiting the amount of duplicates he can create at perhaps five or six, so you don’t have an army of Speedball types overwhelming any good guys, and more importantly, overwhelming the other members of the Circus) and I also like using one of the names you suggest. Giggles would be my pick for the new Clown. I’m not sure that we couldn’t use both Giggles and the Jester, but certainly the Jester would not be necessary.

I don’t see Machete in the Circus. He seems too serious to me, although I admit his ability with knives is perfect for a circus setting. However, it could be interesting to have a former South American freedom fighter (if I remember his origin correctly) working with the Circus. My question would be why would he work for the Circus? I guess he could do it for the money, since that’s why he joined Batroc’s Brigade. Still, he wouldn’t be my first choice, although I think a knife thrower is a good idea. Perhaps someone younger, a little more punk…let me think on that.

The Red Ghost also doesn’t seem to fit, personality-wise. The only way I can see him working is if he ran the Circus, and I prefer the Ringmaster in charge. We could have the two of them in a partnership, as I suggested with the Jester, and there is some potential there. Certainly his super-apes would fit in perfectly with the Circus; perhaps we could have the apes, but not the Red Ghost? I’ve never liked the Red Ghost anyway, and he doesn’t really fit anymore, now that the Communist threat he personified no longer exists. Perhaps something happens to the Red Ghost, and the apes escape, and the Circus finds them? That could be quite interesting, as they form a bond with their new trainer (who would probably treat them better than the Ghost ever did), and eventually, when the Red Ghost came searching for them, lots of interesting plots could ensue.

The Taskmaster doesn’t work as well for me, as again, he’s pretty successful on his own, so why would he work with the Circus? The Puppet Master is a possibility, but I don’t think he’s a perfect fit. The Tinkerer might be, since he could work behind the scenes and make some money; I’d say that he should be available to supply the Circus with their needs, even if he’s not an actual member.

I’m not trying to discard all of your suggestions, since I think they’re good. I love Madcap with the Circus; I don’t know if he’d stay, since he’s insane, but that’s also just as good a reason for him to stay. The whole concept of the Circus seems like it would work well for him, and he’s certainly dressed for it. The Death-Throws are perhaps the most perfect fit in the entire Marvel Universe, and I’d sign them up immediately. Someone new using the Stiltman armor also makes sense. You could also grab whoever the heck the current Ringer is and use him, and I think you’d be in good shape. The Circus could be a great way to grab some of the poorly used (or rarely used) Marvel villains and really make them matter again.

I do like your Sideshow idea, and I also like a snake charmer. However, while I can appreciate the appeal of a Lex Luthor, I’d really want to give the Ringmaster some sort of abilities. In the end, he’s a decent schemer, but he’s not the best, and I’m not sure that’s where his strength lies. I certainly don’t think that we want to make him too good at it, since he’s certainly never been the criminal mastermind in the past. Hypnotism always made sense for him, since it was the job of the Ringmaster to grab the attention of the audience and keep it. If we’re going to remove that power (which works, since we already wanted to get rid of the stupid hat), I’d like to replace it with something else that fits the Circus or Ringmaster theme. How about some sort of light powers? It may not seem to make much sense, but I think it could. Using mechanisms sewn into his jacket, he can raise and lower light levels. As a ringmaster, he would use this to raise and lower the lights in the different rings of the circus (again, drawing an audience’s attention to where he wanted it by lowering the lights in one area and raising them in another), and as a supervillain, he could create darkness or blinding flashes. It’s still not tremendously powerful, which fits him, but gives him a gimmick, which I think he needs.

With that being said, how is the Circus going to commit crimes (or what sort of crimes are they going to commit)? If the Ringmaster isn’t hypnotizing the entire town, what are they going to be doing for money, as they tour the country?

Imagine the chaos the Circus could create if they had half a dozen clowns bouncing around, coupled with every small-time projectile-hurling villain throwing out their weapons of choice. It’s like the perfect storm! Add in an armored dude on stilts, a maniacal contortionist with a bubble gun, an Indian fakir commanding a crowd of wild beasts, a shape-shifting freak, a ‘roid-powered brute, and an army of remote-controlled toy soldiers…all led by the hypno-hype of Ringmaster…and I think you’ve actually made the Circus of Crime into formidable foes. I can hear the happy-go-evil pipe organ music already.

Despite my ideas and your counter-ideas, I’ve come to the realization that Ringmaster should be left as is. Sure, his power is a bit sketchy and pretty handily diffused, but his personality and his background are well established and he makes sense as at least the figurehead of the team. The snake charmer can couple as a controller of tigers, elephants, baboons and other native Indian animals. That makes sense. You didn’t comment on my suggestion of a Bane-like strongman but I think it’s a logical progression (and could add some tension in the group if his usage gets out of control). Hell, Madcap could just wander in and out of the team as he pleases. We’d need to come up with some sort of twisted origin for the Sideshow character…I’m thinking something to do with coming from an inbred family of former circus freaks (eww). Finally, even though it was my idea, I’m not completely sold on the idea of the Tinkerer in the group either. Though I could see a path involving he and Ringmaster coming to some sort of agreement to aid each other.

As far as actual crimes go, it has to be wide open. Look, everyone is going to see them coming from a mile away. I would assume that at some point in Marvel’s history, its inhabitants have been made aware of the weirdo in the top hat running the evil carnival. With that in mind, and with the powers of the group we’ve established, I say they go after big targets with big crowds. I’m thinking Times Square on New Year’s Eve…big ticket political fundraisers…high-profile charity events…public unveilings of prominent structures or exhibits…anything that would attract a lot of people with a lot of money. Hell, they could slip in unnoticed at an amusement park and pretty much hold the place hostage too. There’s no way Spider-Man or Daredevil could take them on by himself. This positions the Circus as major foes for a heroic team.

The big step is the origin story. Obviously a group of Nazi sympathizers is a little anachronistic these days. Of course, with Ringmaster and the concept of the Circus of Crime already established, they don’t need a full-blown origin…just more of a “hey, where’d all these new folks come from?” update. But what’s their motivation? Pure crime? And who do they end up tangling with? Put it all together for me, please…

I don’t think the Nazi sympathizer angle has been mentioned since the early 60s, and honestly, I’m not even sure it was mentioned then. It may have just popped up in a Marvel Universe Handbook, linking the Circus to a like named creation from the Golden Age. That being said, I also agree that we can easily ignore this little bit of continuity.

So, what’s their new origin? Well, the Ringmaster has been having a rough time of it lately. Actually, he’s always had a rough time of it. He’s been abused and made into a punchline (which, admittedly, isn’t too difficult when you run with a clown, a couple of twin acrobats and someone who thinks head butting is a super-power) and he’s rather tired of it. He tried to cooperate a few times with SHIELD and the federal government, and got nothing for it. He’s broke, he’s frustrated and he doesn’t know where to turn. That being said, he really only knows one thing; committing crimes with his crazy circus crew. Sadly, that crew hasn’t worked too well in the past. He decides to talk to the Clown and see if the Clown has any ideas, since the Clown always had a devious brain. When he tries to contact the Clown and finds out that the Clown has become the new Griffin, Ringmaster is despondent….even the Clown is poised to hit the big time, and he’s a freakin’ clown! But then the Ringmaster stops….if the Clown can reinvent himself so wildly, why not the Ringmaster?

The Ringmaster decides to rebuild the Circus, bigger and better than ever. Using his hypnotic hat, the Ringmaster can commit enough small and petty crimes to get himself some traveling money (how hard would it be to knock over the local gas station or liquor store if you could just hypnotize the clerk into giving you the money?) and he starts scouring the globe for his new recruits. In whatever series the new and improved Circus would make their first appearance, I’d start showing little tidbits of the Ringmaster’s search…a page or two for a few issues of him meeting some of our new characters and convincing them that he can make them a lot of money. It may be a hard sell for the Ringmaster at first, since it’s not like the Circus of Crime is a big name that criminals will flock to, but I think he can do it. In the long run, a ringmaster is a salesman and they’re good at getting your attention, so I think he could be successful. I mean, he’s always been a little geek in a blinding suit and he got the original Circus to follow him for decades.

Once his Circus is assembled, he knows they’re going to need some tech supplies. He contacts the Tinkerer, who’s in retirement, and offers him an interest in the Circus if the Tinkerer will supply them with their gadgetry. The Tinkerer is a little dubious, but the Ringmaster promises that the Tinkerer doesn’t have to be involved in any of the overt legal activity and the Tinkerer finally relents (perhaps he sees this as a steady source of income so he can retire somewhere nicer, like the Caribbean, or perhaps he needs money for a child or grandchild that’s in trouble). In any case, he’s around in a part-time capacity. I don’t see him traveling with the Circus, but I do see him showing up on-site occasionally, to make adjustments to his equipment and to see exactly what the Circus requires of him.

So, we now have the Circus assembled, and we’ve been teasing it in a page or two for the past few issues of our title. We can then reveal them in their full glory and set them against our hero team. Yes, I said team; while they could go up against a single hero, I always like setting teams against teams. Let’s put them up against our new Defenders, from a few posts back. To me, however, the important thing that makes this Circus so much better than the old is that they don’t lose, at least, not at first. I’d prefer to use them like the old Serpent Society in Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run. Let’s allow them to commit some successful crimes, and perhaps, let’s see a little of them in smaller groups, where perhaps two or three of them are committing crimes on the side (sanctioned by the Ringmaster, I think, although it could be interesting if they’re doing it without his knowledge, especially if they jeopardize the larger operation).

Thoughts?

See, it’s the little things like that last idea that could make this villain team interesting again. Some of them end up being like rogue factions of their own team. The strongman has a drug problem. Maybe the new Clown or the Fakir beastmaster or Madcap just rubs some of them the wrong way. There are a lot of little subplots we could throw in there that would make it even harder on Ringmaster to hold the group together. And maybe, ultimately, he can’t hold it together.

Perhaps Ringmaster doesn’t have the charisma to collect the team and he’s actually begging all these new recruits to join up, making promises that he can’t really keep. He needs the Tinkerer (or Jester) to step in and help him control the chaos. The Serpent Society is the perfect comparison for this. I remember the build up with that group…they had their own compound, there was a constant struggle for leadership, and they actually made some progress in their agenda. Plus, the Serpent Society had that same kind of kitschy, classic comic book villain vibe. They have a goofy theme that fits so well in the comic book world. I think that’s why I always had a thing for the Royal Flush Gang over in DC’s universe too.

I’ve also always liked those two or three-page backup stories that appeared in certain series. The oddly paced buildup, the curiosity as to what was going to happen, those kind of things are great for comics too. The sad thing is that Marvel doesn’t have a lot of team books. I’m not sure this group would make sense against the supernatural concept we devised for the Defenders. At the same time, they don’t seem powerful enough to face either of the Avengers teams that are currently in play. Obviously, none of the X teams are a good fit either. Is there a new New Warriors title out again? That could work. In the long run, I don’t think the Circus of Crime is actively looking for anyone to fight. They’re going to try to make as much mischief as they can while also avoiding any potential beatdowns.

Sure, we could have them randomly appear in any number of titles just to be token villains that get their butts handed to them in every appearance. But if we really want to up their image and make them formidable again (or for the first time, really) I believe there are two perfect titles to showcase the new Circus of Crime. The first is Marvel Comics Presents…a book that would allow us to tell our own story, standing alone from the more rigid continuity in certain key titles (and also allowing the Circus to be the main focus of the story instead of whatever hero they were fighting). The second book might make even more sense, and lead to an extra long story arc: Avengers Initiative. Imagine, if you will, the Circus of Crime touring the country on a crime spree and having confrontations with the Initiative team in each state. It would be a great way to show how these state teams work and allow us to showcase various members of the Circus and how useful they are. At the end of the run, the Circus of Crime would either be impressive enemies or soundly defeated and never heard from again.

Bingo! You nailed it, I believe, with your last suggestion of using them in Avengers Initiative or MCP. The fact of the matter is that they don’t want to fight heroes (or, at the very least, the Ringmaster doesn’t want to….perhaps some of his new recruits would like to take down some heroes, which, again, could create some interesting problems within the ranks), and I don’t see them being the main villain for any team out there right now. However, showcasing them in a title where they could run up against multiple heroes is a brilliant move.

I also really like the idea of the Ringmaster starting out confident that he’s created a new and much more impressive Circus of Crime, and slowly coming to realize that he’s actually succeeded far beyond what he had intended. This Circus is simply too much for him to control (perhaps the reason the Circus was always so lame is because they were being held back by the Ringmaster). He eventually reaches a point where, to maintain control, he realizes that he’s going to need help, and partners with someone (or, perhaps, tries to have the Tinkerer upgrade his powers and abilities, hoping that new ones will help him retain control). There’s actually a few different ways this could go, as the Ringmaster struggles to maintain order in his Circus. Does he succeed? Is he forced to forge a partnership with someone else (and if he does so, is it really a partnership? If he chooses someone who can control the Circus where the Ringmaster can’t, why would this second person need the Ringmaster? His best bet would be to choose someone who can’t control the Circus without the Ringmaster’s help, to maintain a balance of power in the partnership, but would the Ringmaster realize this? Or will he be too desperate at this point in time to think that far ahead?)? Or is the Ringmaster driven out of the Circus he helped rebuild, and who would take his place?

Yes, there’s some great stuff here. Perfect for a run in Marvel Comics Presents, I’d say.